Rob Beck: A first look at LU’s ‘First Man’

Reid Stratton

Rob Beck is more than just the husband of the president of our university. He is an extremely accomplished scholar in his own right, and has held positions at seven institutions of higher education. He has been awarded numerous grants for his research in the field of education, and has been widely published in books and periodicals.Robert Beck’s latest appointment is right here at Lawrence, as visiting professor of education. He also continues to hold his appointment at the University of California at Irvine. He will spend a portion of his time this year back in California completing research on the use of technology to develop teachers’ skills.

Beck grew up in New York City as the son of a watchmaker. He moved to Hollywood later in his childhood, and so, as Beck says, “I’ve always been a bicoastal person, right from the beginning.” Beck spent his undergraduate years at the University of Chicago, majoring in the tutorial program there, an option relatively unique to U of C. Because Beck passed out of many courses in his first year at the University of Chicago, he was recommended to spend time working with tutors learning educational and theory and practice.

In his bachelor’s essay, Beck studied the psychology of legal competency, which is basically how judges find whether or not someone is able to differentiate enough between good and bad to serve in court. His essay also researched the psychology of legal examination.

Though Beck considered law school for some time, he eventually realized it was “kind of a fanciful idea.” Instead, Beck traveled in Europe after graduation, developing his love of language. After coming back to the States, Beck went back to the University of Chicago to conduct his master’s and doctoral work in the field of human development.

After receiving his Ph.D., Beck took his first college-level teaching position at Clark University in Massachusetts. His first appointment was actually in the School of Geography teaching environmental psychology.

It was during his time at Clark that Beck first met Jill. She was dancing as the lead in a performance when Rob Beck first saw his future wife. Upon seeing her, Beck decided he had to meet her, so he made his way into the cast party and introduced himself. Rob and Jill married the next year.

From there Beck taught in the School of Architecture at the Universit’e de Montreal. After that came the City College in New York, followed by research positions at Southern Methodist University and the University of California, Irvine. He was named assistant professor at UC-Irvine in 1999.

Now that Beck is at Lawrence, he is ready to begin implementing a few of his ideas both on- and off-campus. Beck wants to see Lawrence more closely tied to the Appleton school district, which includes encouraging more LU students to work with Appleton students and making sure that Lawrence students are recognized for their efforts in programs such as LARY. Beck would like to offer a tutorial this year that will help students examine their beliefs through writing and reflection, creating teachers who are able to deal with their prejudices.

Beck also plans to implement a program in Appleton schools that he began in California, in which young students use photography to develop “students’ moral and linguistic competencies in communicating the many meanings of peace.” The program has enjoyed great success in deepening students’ vocabulary while fostering creativity and critical thinking.

Of course, Beck has plenty of responsibilities outside the classroom, too. As the husband of Lawrence’s president, Robert Beck has certain social responsibilities. This includes attending all manner of functions, fundraisers, and dinners, and meeting with alumni. It is the latter responsibility that has had the biggest impact on Beck thus far. “Discovering the incredible dedication alumni have for LU,” says Beck, “has been one of my best experiences so far. Coming from Irvine, seeing alumni that are so dedicated was a surprise.”

Other favorite Lawrence experiences include seeing Jill Beck’s first matriculation convocation and visiting Bj”rklunden, a place Beck describes as having “enormous potential.”

More than anything, Robert Beck wants to become as deeply involved in Lawrence as possible. Both in and out of the classroom, Beck has already dedicated himself to improving our liberal arts education and improving ties to the community. For these reasons and more, he is a welcome addition to the Lawrence community.

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