Sacramento State philosophy Professor Matthew McCormick is passionate about challenging his students to think for themselves. That’s one reason he was cited by the College of Arts and Letters as this year’s outstanding teacher. But winning two such honors in the space of six years suggests several other reasons.
McCormick’s student evaluations are superb. It’s one thing to get a maximum rating on your knowledge, clarity and helpfulness. Factor in consistent warnings that the instructor is very demanding and a tough grader, and it’s clear that McCormick has an old-school approach to learning.
Professor Matthew McCormick exhibits his built-from-scratch R2-D2 to a rapt gathering of students at Willett Elementary School in Davis.
He won an honors scholarship to Missouri Southern State University two decades ago and discovered early on that higher education was far different from high school. “My history professor set very high standards,” he says, “and I panicked after receiving a C- on the first test.” The shell-shocked freshman soon regained his academic balance once he understood “this is for grown-ups.”
The erstwhile English major developed a passion for philosophy and headed to the University of Rochester for a Ph.D. Upon completing his dissertation on Immanuel Kant’s Theory of Mind and gaining some college teaching experience, McCormick set out for California – “the finest state for rock climbing,” yet another of his passions. “I was an adjunct instructor at California State Hayward for a bit and then came to Sac State in 1996, where I eventually secured a tenure track position in 2003.”
McCormick’s academic specialties are philosophy of religion, atheism and Kant. “The point of studying philosophy is to become a clearer, more critical reasoned person and not to arrive at any predetermined conclusion,” he says.
The charismatic professor is no less committed to community service. The last couple of years, he’s given public lectures for the department’s Future Philosophers program. “We go to local elementary and high school classes,” he says, “and teach them about some interesting topic in philosophy.”He’s also an accomplished robot-builder whose creations are a big hit with kids. McCormick did an event at Willett Elementary in Davis with the fully functional R2-D2 he built. “I raised money for the local elementary school with R2-D2 and we’ve done several classroom visits,” he says. “I've also taken R2-D2 to visit sick kids in the ICU at local hospitals. That's particularly rewarding because the kids just love to see R2-D2 drive into their hospital rooms and beep at them.”
– Alan Miller