COLLEGE PARK (5/14/18) — When Carl Sessions Stepp interviewed for a job at the University of Maryland in 1983, the newsroom veteran said he thought it would be fun to teach “because it’s so much fun to learn.”
Stepp taught his last class at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism May 10, concluding a 35-year career during which he helped thousands of students become better journalists — and took joy in learning from them, too.
“It’s so much fun to be around young people,” Stepp said in a recent interview. “They keep you thinking … and teach you things every day.”
Dean Lucy A. Dalglish announced June 11 that Stepp had been appointed professor emeritus by university President Wallace D. Loh.
Dalglish called Stepp “one of the best teachers the college has ever had.”
“For 35 years, Merrill College has been able to rely on Carl Stepp’s wisdom, maturity and skill,” Dalglish said. “I am grateful that he was chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee when I started as dean — I was able to benefit from his knowledge of the college’s history, the capabilities of our faculty and the unparalleled quality of our students.”
Those students, many taught by Stepp, have gone on to work for some of the nation’s top news organizations. One such student, Ivan Penn (‘92), started a job at The New York Times this past fall.
A former Diamondback editor, Penn said he still remembers the excitement expressed by campus newspaper colleagues when Stepp told them he liked the lead they wrote on a story.
“He was a great journalism instructor,” Penn said. “The bigger thing was, he always provided great counsel.
“I’ve been graduated 26 years, and much of that 26 years I would bounce career things off of him. … A lot of times that counsel was the Socratic method of him asking you questions and you end up answering the question that you brought to him.”
Because he taught history — among the first courses taken by undergraduate journalism majors — Stepp was often Merrill College students’ first journalism professor.
“On the first day, he reads off a list of on-campus resources to students if they’re in a crisis, or need someone to talk to,” said sophomore Leah Brennan, who took two courses taught by Stepp. “He cares about students’ well-being inside of the classroom, and out, and that always stood out to me.”
Stepp says he’s leaving happy with the contributions he’s made, and with what he’s taking with him. On his very first day at the university, Stepp said he posted a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on his office door. He’s reposted it on the door of each of the four offices he’s had here.
“It says something like ‘the things taught in colleges and universities are not an education, but a means of education,’” Stepp said. “And to me, that’s it. What you want to do is come here and learn and learn. And teachers do that, too.”
Stepp has written two books, “Writing as Craft and Magic” and “Editing for Today’s Newsroom,” and for many years was senior contributing editor of the college-owned American Journalism Review.
He doesn’t plan to do more teaching, editing or writing. But then, he didn’t necessarily plan to spend more than three decades doing those things here.
“I’ve had a good career, and I was really happy with it, and now I can do other stuff,” he said. “There was never a master plan. And there still isn’t.”
Alexander A. Pyles