In his 40 odd years teaching at the College of Charleston, professor Andrew Lewis has held just about every role one could imagine within the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance. That’s why his impending retirement is almost unfathomable.
Lewis started at the College as a generalist in what was then the Department of Physical Education and Health in 1974. Specializing in aquatics, Lewis ushered in the dawn of the College’s men’s and women’s swim clubs. He became the College’s first African American department chair in 1991.
Lewis later served as associate dean for the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance from 2009 to 2012. In his most recent role as the director of professional development in education, he has focused his efforts on outreach to practicing teachers across South Carolina.
The College Today posed a few questions to Lewis on the eve of his retirement about his work, what has kept him motivated and his thoughts on the legacy he leaves behind.
What has kept you motivated?
First and foremost, I enjoy what I do. My philosophy about work has always been the day that you get up and you say to yourself ‘I really hate going to work,’ that’s the day that you should write your resignation. But I think being in the college environment you always get to meet young minds that are coming up with new ideas, different ways of doing things. So that’s been challenging. And each time I assumed a position, I would set goals and objectives and say ‘OK, I want to accomplish these things.’ I would always ask for feedback from my colleagues and students. I have a great deal of respect for all the persons that I would work with and the students who evaluate me. I always wanted honest, corrective feedback so that I could make my class, the department or the school better the next time.
What kept you at CofC all these years?
I was among the first African American faculty (in the 1970s). One of the things that happened to me very early on at the College was one of my colleagues here and I engaged in an informal, on the street, off-the-cuff conversation, and his comment to me was “Who made the mistake of hiring you? You will never last at the College of Charleston.” That comment lives with me even today. That individual didn’t really know me, had never really spoken to me and had no idea of my ability, my background, why I was here or what I could offer the College at the time. He only saw my color.
That became a driving force for why I stayed. Not that I was here to represent every African American, but that I was here to prove that I could make – and others who looked like me could make – a contribution to this institution. That comment and an opportunity to do a number of things over the years is really what kept me at the College. I figured if I stayed and cut the path others would come and stay, and the college is a very different place today and has changed for the better over the years.
Do you have a fondest memory?
There are a lot. There’s not one particular thing that I would say overshadows many of the other things. I was elated when my swim club won the first two or three meets we were involved in. I am absolutely overwhelmed at what the college is today versus what it was when I came in 1974 student wise. I’ve had a lot of fond moments with students and faculty. We did a lot of great things together.
I got an email just the other day from one of my former students who’s actually on the staff here now, Tom Carroll ’91, who said, “You were sitting on my shoulder during my first conversation with my principal 27 years ago as I defended my philosophy on pulling students out of physical education for classroom work, and you were sitting on my shoulder when I had to address a student-teacher challenge…I was able to stay with your concept of honesty and integrity, and handle the situation positively.” Isn’t that great? I have a lot of fond memories, and for me, I don’t think one overshadows the other.
What’s your legacy?
My wife and I started the Dr. Andrew and Josephine Lewis Scholarship as a way to help some students reach their potential, but really my students are my legacy. I feel right now very comfortable professionally that the department I devoted my career to is in a very good place, and I can retire now because all of the work and effort that those of us who have been with the department over the years have put forth to get it to the point of being successful will continue. I feel very confident the school will move forward in a way that will continue to produce quality graduates.
What’s next for you?
I’ll sleep well when I leave here at the end of December. Being a faculty member, especially in an administrative position, you don’t know what’s going to walk through that door every day. So, that I’ll probably miss. But, I have a few things in mind I want to do, some work with nonprofit organizations and other volunteer efforts. And the department has asked me to come back and teach one course in the fall. So, I’ll take eight months off and come back and teach adapted physical education, which is course I absolutely love. I know I impact the lives of my students when they leave that class.
Featured above: Joseph and Professor Andrew Lewis.