English professor passionate about reading, writing, teaching and learning

Michelle Heiman

Junior Leslie Joyce met with Dr. Dilks for an advising appointment.
Junior Leslie Joyce met with Dr. Dilks for an advising appointment.

The Englishman who studied in Scotland and New Jersey, and taught in North Dakota before coming to UMKC

Stephen Dilks, Ph.D., has been a part of the UMKC faculty since 1997, but has been teaching since 1985.

“In a nutshell,” he said, “I see myself as a teacher with a vocation to open my students and colleagues to more joyous and effective ways of thinking about learning and teaching.”

In June of 1983, Dilks earned a Bachelor of Arts with honors in English Studies from the University of Stirling in Scotland.

“Perhaps the most formative experience when I was at Stirling was when two Scots from the Highlands took me on a tour of the Battlefield at Culloden, a site that witnessed a major, genocidal atrocity by the English in 1746. This inspired me to work very hard to understand what was going on in Northern Ireland,” he said. “So, at Stirling I learned to think.”

The next step for Dilks would be a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

“At Rutgers I learned to teach,” he said. “I was fortunate to be selected to teach in the Equal Opportunities College at Livingston and this put me in contact with students who were struggling to make the transition from home and high school to college. In many ways I identified very closely with these students and became deeply engaged in the effort to help them succeed.”

At Rutgers in 1985, Dilks started teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and Writing Center tutor. By 1995, he had been promoted to a non-tenure track assistant professor of English. In 1995, he taught as an assistant professor of English and director of composition at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. Then, in 1997, he joined the UMKC faculty as an assistant professor of English and Irish literature.

Since then, he has been awarded the Meriwether-Lewis scholarship by the Provost’s Office (2001), promoted to associate professor with tenure (2003), and promoted to full professor (2011).

“I love the diversity of students at UMKC; not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in terms of their lived experiences, what they do to support themselves through school and the range of ideas they bring to the classroom and to conversations in my office,”Dilks said.

Throughout his time thus far at UMKC, Dilks has been involved with numerous organizations, committees and boards, including Writing Across the Curriculum, budget committees, Campus Mediation Services, the Kansas City Urban Literacies Project, the Faculty Senate, the College Curriculum Committee, the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching, the Missouri London Program, the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Universal Design for Learning, among others.

Dr. Virginia Blanton, associate professor and Chair of the English Department, works with Dilks.

“Dr. Dilks is a great colleague – enthusiastic, energetic, engaged,” she said. “He’s always eager to be involved, no matter the issue. He takes teaching seriously, he takes campus service seriously, he takes his research seriously. But, he does it all with a great deal of fun.”

Dr. Thomas Stroik, English professor, also had positive things to say about Dilks. “Over these many years I have come to see that Professor Dilks is one of the best teachers at our university,” he said. “He has an uncanny ability to engage with students and to help them grow academically as thinkers and critics, and personally as deeply involved and concerned citizens.”

Dilks listed his professional organizations as: the Modern Language Association, the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the International Association for Philosophy and Literature, the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature, the Professional Organization and Development Network and the Rhetoric Society of America.

Also included in his curriculum vitae are 64 significant extracurricular teaching activities (since 2006), 48 conference presentations, six new courses designed and taught at UMKC, and 18 publications. One such publication is a book titled “Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past,” published in 2001. This book is used at more than 100 colleges and universities across the U.S., juxtaposing “important historical texts with archival material and contemporary essays.”

Currently, work is progressing on a project about Alfred Tennyson’s career as a professional writer.

“I am interested in Tennyson’s status as one of the first authors whose image was part of popular culture and who established a series of publishing contracts that gave him almost complete control over his work,” Dilks said. “I am also interest in Tennyson because he is from my home county of Lincolnshire, because he wrote one of the most important poems ever written (‘In Memoriam’) in terms of its impact on contemporary culture. And because he makes even the most mundane language SING!”

Books about Tennyson and Samuel Beckett are only a part of what Dilks would like to research.

“I have a long-term plan to write a book called ‘Decolonizing the English Mind,’” he said. “I read books about Englishness all the time but I have a lot of work to do.”

Dilks also enjoys other things outside of his English and Irish studies.

“I like old Jaguars and recently sold a very lovely 1967 Jaguar E-type,” he said. “I love music. My favorite artist is Joe Strummer from the Clash and the Mescaleros.”

He’s also involved with local soccer teams.

“I have two adult teams, and am a player-manager for both: the indoor called Omega has been playing at the Soccerdome for five years and the outdoor team, Waldo United, has been playing in an over-30’s league in Overland Park since 2009,” he said. “I am currently working with Tim Hall, UMKC’s Athletics Director, to develop faculty/staff playing times at the Durwood with the goal of creating a league where UMKC plays Rockhurst faculty/staff, Park, JCCC, etc.”

This busy professor has recently returned from one of his extracurricular teaching activities on the East coast.

“I was invited to run an in-service day for faculty at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I am running a seminar for the entire faculty on techniques for teaching students with different learning styles,” he said of the Jan. 11 event. “In the afternoon I presented a model I call ‘Essayisms and Interperformativity’ as a way to help Liberal Arts faculty at Curtis engage in curricular review.”

Although he spends a considerable amount of time visiting other colleges and universities, Dilks holds a special place for UMKC.

“I think UMKC is an excellent educational environment and I think it gets better every year. When I arrived in 1997 it seemed very fragmented, but it has gradually become more integrated, with faculty and students creating more and more connections and collaborations across both campuses,” he said. “I love teaching the course on Modern and Contemporary Irish Literature because it allows me to fully develop my argument that poets and playwrights, novelists and storytellers were major players in transforming Ireland.”

Beyond specific classes, Dilks appreciates teaching in general.

“I like the classroom as a social space,” he said. “I like meeting students who are motivated to learn, but I also like meeting students who are still figuring out why they are at college and who become inspired by the experience of learning, making the transformation from being at sea in the college environment to having a purpose, having reasons to learn, becoming passionate about learning.”

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