posted February 5, 2013

Prof. Ernest Cole to Speak through Last Lecture Series on Feb. 19

Dr. Ernest Cole of the Hope College English faculty will present “The Road of Life: The Dynamics of (Un)Fulfillment and Accomplishment” on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Maas Center auditorium through the “Last Lecture Series” organized by the college’s Alcor chapter of the national Mortar Board honorary society.

The public is invited.  Admission is free.

Cole is an assistant professor of English and Towsley Research Scholar at Hope, where he teaches Post-Colonial Literature, with an emphasis on Sub-Saharan Anglophone Africa, the Caribbean and India.  In his research he has been interested in the topics of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in conjunction with a focus on post-civil war Sierra Leone, where he was born and raised and began his teaching career.  He has been documenting the experiences of survivors of punitive amputation used as a military strategy during a 1991-2002 civil war that saw neighbor pitted against neighbor.

His research, which has included interviewing survivors who continue to be isolated in refugee camps nearly a decade after the war’s end, is exploring the way that the amputees’ self images are shaped by their injuries, and he argues that it is crucial for them to be provided the opportunity to become functional and re-integrated into society rather than left in a state of dependency, not only for their sakes individually but for the future of the country itself.

Cole is currently writing a book based on his research, and has also created a series of video-based interdisciplinary learning modules based on the project, working in the college’s New Media studio with students in the digital humanities and in the Mellon Scholars program at Hope.

In 2012, he was one of 15 scholars nationwide chosen to participate in that year’s Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers, “Teaching Peace and Reconciliation: Theory and Practice in Northern Ireland.”  Hope named him a “Towsley Research Scholar” in 2011 in support of his research.  He discussed his work during the college’s Winter Happening event in February 2011, presenting the seminar “Negotiating Amputation, Forgiveness and Reconciliation,” and this past September was among the presenters during the college’s 2012 Critical Issues Symposium, which examined “Reconciliation: Hope in a Divided World.”

Cole completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sierra Leone, and began his career conducting research and teaching English at Fourah Bay College. At the outbreak of the civil war, he left for The Gambia, where he taught at The Gambia College for a number of years. He subsequently pursued a doctorate at the University of Connecticut; he completed the degree in 2008, the same year that he joined the Hope faculty.

The title of the lecture series, which the chapter initiated during the 2008-09 school year to feature members of the college’s faculty and staff, is rhetorical.  The lectures are not literally presented as the last that the speakers will deliver at Hope, but are meant to highlight the advice that they would most want to share if the event was indeed the final opportunity for them to address the college’s students.  The speakers are asked to reflect on their careers and lives, and to think deeply about what matters to them and about what wisdom they would like to impart.

The concept was inspired by the “Last Lecture” delivered at Carnegie Mellon University by Dr. Randy Pausch on Sept. 18, 2007.  Pausch, a member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty who had terminal pancreatic cancer--a fact known at the time that he spoke--presented “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”  He died on July 25, 2008, at age 47.

Mortar Board is a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for outstanding achievement in scholarship, leadership and service, and provides opportunities for continued leadership development, promotes service to college and universities, and encourages lifelong contributions to the global community.  Since its founding in 1918, the organization has grown from the four founding chapters to 229 collegiate chapters with nearly 250,000 initiated members across the nation.

The Alcor chapter has existed at Hope since the 1936-37 academic year, although it did not become part of the national Mortar Board organization until 1961.  The chapter has received multiple awards at the Mortar Board National Conference during each of the past several years, including being named the top chapter during the national conference in July 2010.  During the conference this past summer, the chapter received a “Golden Torch Award” and 17 “Project Excellence” awards.

The chapter also sponsored a “last chance talk” during the 1960s.  The idea back then was to invite a faculty member to express his/her ideas under the hypothetical assumption that this would be the last opportunity to address the student body.  The late Dr. D. Ivan Dykstra, professor of philosophy, delivered the first “last chance talk” in the spring of 1962.

The chapter will give away copies of the play “The Road,” by Wole Soyinka, to the first 100 in attendance, as well as copies of the “Last Lecture” to audience members following the address.

There will also be a freewill donation box, with all gifts supporting Mortar Board’s many service projects.

The Maas Center is located at 264 Columbia Ave., on Columbia Avenue at 11th Street.