Campus and Community


Inspiration Point

"Professor Shanny Luft is an asset to the university, and he should make a quarter of a million dollars a year.” So said Amy Vida ’16, who studied under Luft, associate professor of religious studies at UW-Stevens Point. In lieu of a sizeable salary bump, however, Vida found another way to show her appreciation of Luft; She presented him with her 2016 Token of Inspiration.

While inspiration has long been a crucial component of life at the university, the Token of Inspiration is a relatively new tradition at UWSP. The physical token is a keychain inscribed with a credo every Pointer knows: Discover, Engage, Serve. They are words that Vida certainly took to heart. As an undergraduate, she was a volunteer staffer at the Cupboard, an advisor in Hansen Hall, a master tutor and Honors intern for the Faculty Senate, and vice president of Phi Kappa Phi. Within the Student Government Association (SGA) she served as a senator for the College of Professional Studies, speaker of the Senate and, later, vice president.

A December UWSP graduate and Slinger, Wisconsin native, Vida transferred to UWSP from UW-Washington County. She was drawn to the university by the sense of community in Stevens Point, as well as the great English education program, the campus environment, available student support ... and the fact that there was a Target nearby. She plans to pursue graduate degrees in education and education policy.

While an undergraduate, she enrolled in Luft's Religion in America class as an elective. Right from the start it seemed as if she had found a mentor in her professor. “I thought he was funny and that he knew how to teach," she said of Luft.

“As someone studying education, I thought I was immune to the ‘tricks’ great teachers use," she added. "But that’s the thing I learned from [Luft]—they’re not tricks. They work, even if you know they’re there, because they stem from genuine passion and caring."

But back to that Token of Inspiration for a moment. Also inscribed on the keychain are the words, "Pass It On." This, in effect, is what Luft did for Vida–sharing his love of knowledge and a passion for teaching. In turn, Vida was inspired to given Luft her token. “I wish I could give him more recognition than I did,” said Vida, “It was the least I could do."

Luft received his undergraduate degree from Towson University (Baltimore, MD), earning his master's and doctoral degrees from Boston University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, respectively. He joined the UWSP Department of Philosophy faculty in 2009.

“What’s kept me here is the community," he said, "my family and my colleagues. UWSP is a fantastic university for professors who love teaching.”

Luft knows from his own experience how teachers can inspire students. He admits that he was a  less-than-conscientious student in high school, but that changed when he got to college. His professors played a big part in the conversion.

“I met faculty who had such insight into the world, and who made time to meet with and engage with students," said Luft.

“Sometimes people have the impression that academia is where elitists sit around thinking lofty and pointless thoughts. That has not been my experience. Professors are engaged with the world. They help us understand what’s happening and why. They understand the complexities of arguments and introduce us to new perspectives. That’s what motivated me to become a teacher."

It might be fair to say that Luft–or, more specifically, his teaching style–strengthened Vida's resolve to become a teacher herself.

 “When something or someone inspires you, it awakens something in you,” she said. “It helps lift you to reach an increased potential. It makes you recognize you want to be part of something great.

"I respected what he thought of me as a student and as a future teacher.”

While he was honored to receive Vida's token, Luft makes it clear that he does not work to achieve accolades. He has a much different agenda when he's standing at the front of a classroom.

“When I teach, I’m not trying to inspire students," he said. "For me, the most important trait I can instill in my students is curiosity. I don’t know how to inspire students because I don’t know what’s in their heads, but I recognize when inspiration is happening. It’s when they start asking questions. Curiosity is the fuel for inspiration.”

Which is not to say that Luft was unmoved by Vida's gesture honoring the fact that he did, indeed, inspire her.

“When I was standing on the stage with her, I was surprised how emotional I became," he admitted. "It was a lovely moment and the speech she gave was so moving and funny and charming.

"These types of recognition mean more to teachers than students realize. I have held on to that token, as well as every note or email or postcard I’ve ever received from students expressing their appreciation.”
“Every day that I’ve known Dr. Luft has been another reason I’m glad I chose him for the Token," said Vida. "I got to learn from him. It was an honor.”

Now that’s inspiring.