SPRING 2015 / GIVING PROFILE
In retirement a professor sets up scholarships
to aid students of his former department
BY JOCELYN Y. STEWART
The life of a university professor is a life of influence.
During his 34 years in the English Department, John Cleman influenced legions of students through classroom instruction, mentoring and friendship. His impact was also felt in less obvious ways: He was chair of the English Department, director of the Writing Proficiency Examination, and a member of committees that set educational policy and affected curriculum.
Now in retirement, Cleman is extending his influence to new generations. The professor emeritus has created and helped fund two scholarships for students in his former department. “I had the idea because [my wife and I] don’t have a mortgage,” Cleman explains. “We have available funds. We wanted to do something for the department.”
For the first of these awards Cleman collaborated with friend and former colleague Carl Selkin, to create the new Terry Flores Scholarship, which provides one undergraduate and one graduate student with a $1,000 scholarship each year. The scholarship honors the memory of Theresa “Terry” Flores. She was part of a beloved trio of staffers in the English Department that included Yolanda Galvan and Jeanne Gee.
“They were really remarkable in terms of the way they worked together and the way they served the department,” Cleman recalls.
Flores held the official title of administrative support assistant, but in the office she was much more. She was the keeper of institutional knowledge, versed in rules and regulations. She knew just whom to call when a student had a need.
“Everyone always went to her because her institutional knowledge was very great,” Galvan says.
Flores worked at the University for 32 years. The Rosemead resident and UCLA alumna loved the outdoors, the Dodgers, and planning and taking trips with her family.
Last summer Flores died of cancer at the age of 61. The loss was felt deeply throughout the English Department.
Cleman and Selkin worked to build the scholarship fund through contributions from various sources, including former department chairs, emeriti, and other faculty.
“It’s wonderful,” Galvan says. “It’s so ‘Terry.’ To be able to have a scholarship in her name that will help students, she would have loved that.”
English Department staff will be invited to participate in the selection of scholarship recipients, which is a nod to the important role staff play and the knowledge they possess.
“The staff know who should get the award,” Cleman says. “Terry [knew] particularly because she had to deal with all the students.”
The second award is for outstanding Teaching Associates in the English Department. During his years on campus, Cleman played a crucial role in the English Department’s Teaching Associate Program. Created in the 1980s when Cleman was chair, the program provides training to graduate students who teach English to undergraduates on campus.
“Teaching writing…has got to be one of the hardest things, the most frustrating things in the universe,” Cleman says. “It’s labor intensive. You’ve got all those papers to grade. It’s complex.”
The graduate students in the TA program gain experiencing teaching and tackling the kinds of writing problems that students often face. This experience “makes them very marketable,” Cleman explains.
Many who have worked as TAs have gone on to success: Bidhan Roy received his M.A. from Cal State L.A. and earned his Ph.D. in English from the University of London. Roy is now an assistant professor at Cal State L.A. Lise Buranen, one of the first TAs in the Department of English, is now the faculty director of the University Writing Center.
Although the value of the program is clear, some students bypass the opportunity because the pay is not enough for them, Cleman says.
“I thought [the scholarship] would be a way to help TAs,” he says.
It will reward graduate students for their academic excellence and for their work teaching English. It may even help maintain the pool of skilled English professors.
Buranen, a friend and colleague of Cleman’s for 30 years, said he left an indelible impression on the department and the University. The new scholarships are another expression of a generosity that he displayed for more than three decades; one that former students and colleagues remember.
“It’s in keeping with his character,” Buranen says of the scholarships. “He’s very highly thought of—and rightly so. He has a great deal of integrity and civic-mindedness.”