Faculty Innovator: Quinn Dauer

25th February 2020

Quinn Dauer

Assistant Professor of History and International Studies

School of Social Sciences

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Quinn Dauer’s path to becoming a Latin American historian was . . . unusual.

He grew up in a small Minnesota farm town of about 500 souls, and attended a high school that maxed out at about 200 kids. For reasons he still can’t explain, he was on the golf team as a sophomore. One day his best friend, a runner, challenged him to race up a hill. Dauer responded, and nearly beat him to the top. He ran often after that, and developed a knack for it. The two friends decided to join the cross-country team–or rather to form the cross-country team. Aided by their school’s special ed teacher, who had once been an 800-meter champ, they made it to state. After high school, he enrolled at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and ran well enough in his first year to earn a scholarship.

Dauer is the first to admit that he was not focused on history. Or anything.

“I had no idea what I was interested in,” he said. “I went to college because I was recruited to run cross-country.”

And so he ran for four years, building dedication and discipline, but unaware that running was bringing him closer to more than just his athletic goals. On the team Dauer met fellow athletes from Kenya and other long-distance hotspots in East Africa. He visited their homes and families in Minneapolis on weekends, soaking up sights and sounds and tastes and life stories that were new and intriguing. He found himself drawn to student clubs and organizations with an international focus. He began to learn Spanish, and was hooked by the intersection of language, culture, environment, history, politics and social issues in the literature of Latin America.

The longer he ran, the more the world opened up, and Dauer ran right out into it.

The thing about running is that, it truly is about the journey, and the things that happen along the way, physically and mentally–some devotees would even say spiritually.

For Dauer, college was an epiphany. And he has worked to recreate that experience for his students. Though few will become working historians, Dauer is determined that all will become conscious of the world “out there.”

A constant evolution

Dauer sees innovation as a “constant evolution.” It is not about imposing a paradigm. It is more organic, an openness to considering the insights and experiences of colleagues from across the academic spectrum, and finding ways to adapt these to his own classes. The goal is to keep the subject matter interesting by keeping it fresh.

Interested students tend to stick around, to move forward, to graduate.

The runner in Dauer knows that the body and the mind are always fighting the tendency toward inertia. That’s one reason why it’s important to keep changing the intervals, the distance, the route, the difficulty.

To keep growing as an instructor, Dauer takes advantage of the community around him, synthesizes inputs from FACET conferences, faculty presentations, collaborations, guest speakers.

Honoring mentors

Great teachers either emulate or rebel against the way they were taught.

Dauer is an emulator, quick to recognize the contributions of his college instructors to his success as a student and practicing academic.

“The professors I learned the most from had a passion for their subject; taught rigorous courses with high expectations and standards; encouraged active learning through discussion of primary and secondary sources, analysis of art, film and literature, debates, mock trials, role-playing games and other engaging activities; created warm and friendly classroom environments, were accessible and displayed a willingness and patience to answer questions related to course content and assignments,” Dauer said. “They also provided helpful and influential advising about academic and career goals and support in achieving them.”

But Dauer’s own journey has been eclectic and idiosyncratic, so that the fabric of his pedagogy is an blend of influences that he has considered and incorporated consciously into a method that is uniquely his.

Running eliminates the superfluous.

Mostly Dauer seeks to recreate the experience that his mentors gave him. That experience of the doors of his life being blown open onto a world of glorious complexity and disarray, full of unfamiliar sounds and smells, languages and music, movement and tastes.

“I like to engage the students in as many was as possible, to make the content relevant, to connect it with the larger world,” Dauer said. “It’s important for them to understand different points of view, different ways of thinking about things.”

There is a theatrical aspect to this, as Dauer is keenly aware that the most effective teachers are those who take creative risks, in order to keep students engaged.

This process involves being somewhat entertaining, but it rests on a strategic scaffold of four basic objectives: introducing students to historical problems in Latin American and world history, introducing them to the complexity and diversity of peoples around the world, developing critical thinking through the analysis of primary sources, and finally to build writing skills through synthetic and argumentative essays based on those sources.

The bedrock of the method is his commitment to involving students in original research as early as possible. And so he integrates role-playing games such as Reacting To The Past in his 100-level classes.

“It gets them to see history not as a linear narrative, but as a more dynamic and complex process involving perspectives, contingency, motivations,” Dauer said. “This helps connect the events of the past with what’s going on today, here in the U.S., which makes it more relevant to their lives.”

History and other disasters

Dauer’s focus as both researcher and instructor is the ways in which individuals and societies respond to disasters.

He doesn’t lecture about earthquakes in Argentina and Chile in the 19th century. He puts students in the midst of questions that arise from those cataclysmic events. What happens to political structures in the wake of an earthquake or hurricane? How do individuals react? Why are some people and communities more resilient or fragile than others? How do disasters shatter belief systems that support a system of government or a social order?

History unfolds not as a programmed drone of causality, but as…well…a disaster: chaotic, unprecedented, confounding, fearsome.

As students figuratively walk amid the rubble, searching for answers, they must rely on clues provided by the historical and cultural context. To get to a decent understanding, they must fully immerse themselves in the social and mental world of the time and place.

Dauer is acutely aware of context—that “wider world” that he became so keen to explore in college.

As a graduate student, he came to live and teach in Miami, a city of many cities. Known as the “Gateway to Latin America,” it is a microcosm of that world, with its Cuban, Argentine, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, Paraguayan, Guatamalan diasporas, and more besides. During that time, he spent a year and a half researching in regional archives in Argentina and Chile, essentially living out of a suitcase, pushing himself outside his comfort zone.

“The experience of traveling to so many places was eye opening,” Dauer said. “You learn a lot about yourself, come in contact with a lot of different perspectives that you would not have known about had you stayed in small-town Minnesota.”

For Dauer, these learning journeys were transformative, and he enjoys teleporting his students into these far-flung corners of time and space, watching the germination of a similar curiosity and passion for what lies beyond the horizon.

He sees many similarities between his rural Minnesota home and the IU Southeast service area, and sees himself in many of his students. Having seen what lies beyond, he relishes his role as a guide in life as well as in academics. He serves as a faculty mentor, as a member of the Fulbright Committee, as a co-faculty advisor to the Global Grenadiers, besides many more involvements on behalf of students.

“Professors are hopefully going to have a positive effect on you, whether it’s through teaching or providing letters of recommendation, helping you strategize your next steps after college, or in other ways,” Dauer said.

That wider world is probably not going to involve researching history in a regional archive in the Andes. But it is likely to being part of a team in a company that is international in scope. By encouraging students to develop sensitivity and awareness to diversity and social context, Dauer sees himself preparing them to be successful global citizens.

“To do your job, you have to interact with people from different backgrounds,” Dauer said. “Cultural competency and awareness are critical to your success in the workplace, and in the world.”

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