Dr. John Kuykendall

 

Growing up in a professor’s household, and despite his resistance to the very idea, Dr. John Kuykendall believes he was called by God to teach as surely as if he had been called to the ministry. A class in differential equations during his sophomore year at Erskine College, where his father was a seminary professor, convinced him that math and science were not as lovely as he had once thought. Delayed enrollment in a western civilization course, however—where his classmates bemoaned the content and he reveled in it and where he could not only follow the professor’s logic but anticipate it—set him on a new course. From that time on, he prepared to teach history. The professor of the western civ class, who later supervised him in an independent study, may have been unaware of the impact he had on young John, but the BA in History earned at Erskine and the MA and PhD degrees earned at the University of South Carolina were testimonies to that influence.

Dr. Kuykendall says that friends warned him about the poor job market for history professors, but he had a quiet assurance that all would be well. When he received multiple offers upon completion of his doctorate, including one from Charleston Southern University, he knew that his sense of “calling” had been validated and that CSU was where he was meant to be. He began teaching at CSU in 2003, and in 2006 he became Chair of the History Department.

Under the influence of his father and others, including CSU English professor Dr. Tunis Romein's father, a professor of philosophy at Erskine, Dr. Kuykendall says that teaching is instinctive for him. As a participant in a college theater program, beginning in his freshman year, he realized that he was comfortable in front of an audience—a valuable commodity in the classroom. He also adheres to the philosophy that if he can get students to understand history as the story of real people, with the same frailties and foibles that exist today, he can usually convince them that history is, at the least, "less than revolting" and maybe even relevant to their own experiences. The challenge, he says, is to move them beyond anecdotal study to the analytical stages.

Dr. Kuykendall recognizes that it is God's handiwork that shaped him into the man and the teacher that he is, but he also credits his families—the family from which he came, his immediate family (his wife and two young sons), the CSU family and the broader family of believers—with encouraging him along that journey. Although his time is limited, he enjoys reading (not just history, but fiction—mysteries, classics, science fiction and P.G. Wodehouse), hiking and bird watching. He has a particular fondness for train travel—a love which he plans to share with his sons when they are a little older. He also likes to sample both foreign foods (especially curries) and foreign films, and he has eclectic musical tastes, from Celtic to baroque classical.

When asked what he would care to reveal that others might not know about him, Dr. Kuykendall says that he may be the only history major with a minor in math. He also laughingly says that his mother-in-law reminds him that the first time she met him he was wearing makeup and tights—for a Shakespearean production! He hopes that there is a theater role somewhere in his future.

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