Professor Mike Steele can still recall coming to Pacific 36 years ago with long brown hair and a new opportunity to teach while pursuing his personal interests.
Steele has been a professor in the English department and Pacific’s handball coach for more than three and half decades.
He will be retiring at the end of this semester, but Steele said he would still be active on campus. Next year, he will continue to coach handball and teach two English classes per term.
Teaching at Pacific was quite different from his previous experience at Michigan State University, according to Steele.
“Pacific has turned out to be the perfect place for me,” Steele said. “It supported me.” Steele received support from the university to pursue his individual interests such as handball and Holocaust literature.
He said he also developed a deep attachment to the students, which he never would have had at a place like Michigan State. Steele has built many life-long friendships with students, including the best man at his wedding who attended Pacific’s School of Optometry.
His favorite moments at Pacific stem from witnessing his students’ academic and personal growth.
“I’ve seen that moment for a student when something dawns on them—when things really click,” Steele said. “So many students take boring writing classes. I try to show the beauty and importance of writing to people who wouldn’t normally show an interest in it.”
As a winner of eight Trombley Awards, which students award one faculty member every year to recognize positive student-faculty relations, Steele’s dedication to the university and his students is clear.
Steele has also formed close friendships with many of his handball players. Pacific’s handball team has won 20 national championships through the years and just returned from the national championship tournament in Arizona with a third place finish.
His love for handball was born his freshman year at University of Notre Dame and has been growing ever since. He is now the president of the United States Handball Association and will be traveling to Ireland with his wife in April 2012 for the world championships.
In addition to his devotion to handball and his students, he has a great admiration for his fellow faculty members.
“Our students and faculty and the university are lucky,” said Steele. “People aspire to go to the big schools, but I go, ‘you’re missing the point, this is the place to be.’”
However, through the years Steele has noticed a slight tendency for some Pacific faculty members to shift their priorities toward their individual projects with goal of getting published.
“The focus needs to be on the students, not on the self or one’s profession,” said Steele. “We need to model how you help people. I do think the majority [of faculty members] still focus on the classroom, though.”
Steele said he feels comfortable with his decision to retire because he will still get to do what he enjoys most at Pacific.
After retiring as a full-time faculty member, Steele plans to read as much as possible, spend time with his family, travel with his wife, golf, work out and “just enjoy life.”
“I love this place,” Steele said about Pacific. “People call me Mike. I like that.”