SUNY elevates Oswego's Tracy Lewis to distinguished teaching professor

Dr. Tracy K. Lewis, widely praised for his 30 years inspiring students of Spanish and Portuguese at SUNY Oswego, has earned the rank of distinguished teaching professor, one of the State University of New York system’s highest honors.

“Dr. Lewis is revered among legions of current and former students, many of whom teach Spanish and Portuguese in schools and universities around the world,” wrote SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley, recommending the rank for Lewis, professor in the department of modern languages and literatures.

“He sets a fine example for others through tireless international service, award-winning performance as a master teacher, advisor and mentor, and his sometimes unconventional yet highly effective approach to teaching that consistently challenges and engages students to whom he is devoted,” Stanley wrote.

Tracy LewisRenowned and decorated for his scholarship on the languages and literature of Paraguay, lecturing there and in Brazil and Argentina, Lewis received numerous letters of support for his elevation to distinguished rank, conferred May 14 by the SUNY Board of Trustees. Among the backers are a well-known Paraguayan poet and a university president in the South American country, colleagues at Oswego and other campuses, and current and former students.

“I enrolled in an intermediate level Spanish class to simply get my General Education requirement completed,” wrote Spanish teacher Mary Ann Reitano. “The professor of that class was Dr. Tracy Lewis and my life would forever be changed.”

SUNY Oswego senior Brianna Carnevale, who aims to be a Spanish teacher, provided vivid examples: “Whether it is ‘walking down the runway’ to practice clothing vocabulary or ‘completing tasks around the classroom’ to practice daily chores, the learning that takes place isn’t copying notes from the board but instead, becoming part of the lesson.”

‘Lively, charismatic’

Juan Manuel Marcos, president of Universidad del Norte in Paraguay and a close friend and colleague of Lewis, said, “In his teaching, as I have directly observed it in innumerable classes and lectures in the United States, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, Dr. Lewis is a well-prepared, lively, charismatic instructor who not only never bores his students, but also has the capacity to move them to the point of tears.”

As an undergraduate Spanish major at Dartmouth College, Lewis had scarcely given any thought to being a teacher when he became influenced by Dr. John Rassias, now a famous proponent of the Dartmouth Intensive Language Model. With the added influence of Robert Russell, another member of Dartmouth’s Spanish faculty, Lewis found himself on a career path with a set of ideas for teaching that encouraged active participation in the languages.

Constantly experimenting and eager to use theatrical twists, Lewis seeks to create a highly charged classroom atmosphere that gives students the opportunity to create, for example, a mini- society in “the Kingdom of Lewislandia,” a metaphorical approach that immerses students in Spanish or Portuguese as they create provinces and share cultures and viewpoints.

“Dr. Lewis sets high standards for students and helps them attain academic excellence through carefully designed courses and by fostering active learning rather than passive reception of information,” wrote fellow SUNY Oswego Spanish professor Dr. Georgina Whittingham, who noted that Lewis’ style allows his students to “take charge of learning.”

Also a noted scholar, translator and poet, Lewis in 2012 received the Albert Camus Prize from Universidad del Norte [CORRECTED 7-24-14], as well as the highest medal bestowed by Paraguay’s Ministry of Education, for his decades-long efforts to focus attention on the country as it made its way out of dictatorship to parliamentary democracy. His publications include a highly regarded translation of Marcos’ “El invierno de Gunter” (“Gunter’s Winter”) and books of poetry in Spanish and Guarani, the only indigenous language of the Americas whose speakers include a large proportion of non-indigenous people.

Lewis, whose doctorate is from Brown University, is a past recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

(Posted: May 14, 2014)

Tags: tracy lewis, modern languages and literatures, distinguished teaching professor