For Bill Cumiford ’63, a passion to teach is now woven into the double helix of his DNA. “If you tell me on Friday that I’ll be teaching a new class,” he says, “by Monday I’ll be ready.”
But even after decades as a history professor at Chapman University, he can easily remember when all he had were professorial aspirations. In fall 1965, a 23-year-old Cumiford boarded the MS Seven Seas to begin a 3-1/2-month voyage as a graduate teaching assistant, packing virtually no teaching experience to fall back on.
“Like everything you get into that’s brand new, teaching can look fun and easy,” recalls Cumiford, Ph.D., associate professor of history in the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “It was my baptism of fire.”
The good news is that for Cumiford, as for so many who have taken the Chapman-affiliated academic journey variously known as University of the Seven Seas, World Campus Afloat, and now Semester at Sea, the around-the-world journey turned out to be “a life-changing experience.”
“In places like Japan, we would go into a café and young people would surround us because they knew we were Americans and they wanted to ask questions,” Cumiford says. “In India, the vice president called in a special train to take us to Bombay, where we talked with people who had never met Americans. Just to sit in Cairo and watch the sun go down behind the pyramids – that was breathtaking.”
Now as his 75th birthday approaches, Cumiford is far from finished changing lives at Chapman. He traces his enthusiasm for teaching to experiences in the classrooms of his own Chapman professors – educators such as Bert Williams, Jim Miller and Ron Huntington, whom he calls “the best professor I ever had.”
“The dedication they had, the passion they showed – it was infectious,” Cumiford says. “I’d be sitting in Professor Huntington’s class and I would think 10 minutes had passed, and I’d look up and the class was over. I didn’t want to leave.”
Cumiford’s own teaching impact continues to span the globe. Over the recent winter Interterm, he and Chapman Department of History colleague Lee Estes, Ph.D., taught a class called “A Tale of Two Cities,” in which they led an academic exploration of London and Paris. After more than a dozen study-abroad teaching experiences, “it’s always new, and I’m a lot better at it than I was the first time,” Cumiford says.
The professor’s connection to Chapman is now more than a half-century old, but it remains so strong that he has included the University in his estate plan. His legacy gift will create the William L. Cumiford ’63 Endowed Scholarship for Humanities and Social Sciences.
“Had it not been for my Chapman experience, I probably wouldn’t have gone into teaching – it was that powerful,” he says. “And that close connection I felt as a student I still feel today. A good teacher should be learning right along with the students, so your teaching and your experience are always getting clearer.”
And what of the chance to continue influencing young lives by providing clarity “and context for the modern world”?
“That,” he says, “is the fulfillment of my professional life.”
Bill Cumiford ’63, Ph.D., is establishing his Chapman legacy with a gift that will create the William L. Cumiford ’63 Endowed Scholarship for Humanities and Social Sciences. For information about including Chapman in your will or living trust, contact David B. Moore at (714) 516-4590.
Display image at top: Bill Cumiford ’63 had scant teaching experience when he stepped before students on the MS Seven Seas as a graduate teaching assistant in 1965. “The students put up with me,” he says, “and it worked out pretty well.” Cumiford, Ph.D., soon will turn 75, and he still brings passion to his teaching as an associate professor of history. “A good teacher should be learning right along with the students,” he says.