Dr. Ray McKnight recalls his years as London Semester director

Dr. Ray McKnight

Reflecting on his time in London, Dr. Ray McKnight, professor emeriti, recalled one evening in the last days of the 1987 trip.

“One of the customary events each year was a performance of various scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. A large number of students participated. Jan Bryon, the theater professor who was a part of the faculty just about every year, drew remarkable performances from the students.  Afterward, the entire London Semester group gathered for a party in my flat. Fortunately, my wife Marge, who had joined me halfway through the semester, was on hand to help organize the party. I remember it as a very joyous occasion.”

Dr. Ray McKnight with his two grandsons Logan Wippern and Theo Serafimidis. (Photo courtesy of Kate McKnight)
Dr. Ray McKnight with his two grandsons Logan Wippern and Theo Serafimidis. (Photo courtesy of Kate McKnight)

The London program began in 1984 as a semester-long program. Every spring semester, the faculty involved would teach a series of courses as they lived in London for several months. Every year the program courses were different as various faculty rotated in and out.

Within every successful program, you will find people who are passionate about it and work hard for years to keep it going. McKnight taught in the English Department at Fresno State for 33 years and was involved early on with the London Program — serving as director in 1987, 1989 and 1996.

“The Dean of Arts and Humanities at the time, Joseph Satin, asked me if I was interested,” said McKnight. “I also was friendly with Dr. Lyman Heine, who initiated the London Semester with Dean Satin.”

As director, McKnight taught some of the courses, planned the tours of sites around London, organized overnight trips to places such as Canterbury and York, and arranged guest lectures. The director also had to keep the peace between students and make sure the living conditions were suitable — which McKnight says even included some light plumbing.

Dr. Ray McKnight on Indian Rock in Berkeley.
Dr. Ray McKnight on Indian Rock in Berkeley. (Photo courtesy of Kate McKnight)

With full immersion in the culture, students can find a deeper understanding and connection with the course materials. For many students, the London Semester is their first time traveling abroad.

“I think it is common for the typical student to experience some culture shock which can be discomfiting, but learning to adapt to what is new and unfamiliar ultimately gives the student a sense of accomplishment,” said McKnight.

The rewards for this work are seeing the lives of the students forever changed as they are absorbed in the experience.

“Written evaluations and occasional comments from students I have encountered over the years suggest it was a life-changing experience for just about everyone,” McKnight said. “I think the effect on students is long-lasting. How can they not be inspired and stimulated by exposure to great architecture, art, music, theater and the rich variety of one of the great cities of the world?”

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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