Scholar for Life

Scholar for Life

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 professor's connection to Chapman spans more than a half-century, and it has become 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. This is one more way that Cumiford is positively 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 2017 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.

"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.

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