If VFMC Professor Sean Chambers were a sculpture, he would most certainly be Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. While he teaches classes in composition, rhetoric, ethics, literature and the arts, he is always thinking about how those subjects can help Cadets improve their understanding and advance the greater society.
“I teach students – not stuff,” said Professor Chambers. “And I teach the whole person because I want them to learn and grow not just to be prepared to advance to the follow-on school of his or her choice, but to be able to communicate well as leaders of society. The courses we teach are vehicles to get them there.”
Professor Chambers is Associate Professor of English and Assistant Dean for Faculty. Since 2017, he has been bringing that thinking to Cadets at VFMC. Before that, the Virginia native taught English and Global Studies at Arcadia University, Technical Writing at Temple University’s College of Engineering, and was a reporter for the WHYY Newsworks.org civic journalism project. (WHYY is Philadelphia’s Public Broadcasting outlet.) He has edited award-winning magazines authored by teenage journalists at Youth Communication/NYC, Inc., and applies those skills to teaching the writing process in his classes, or in summer workshops for international students in the State Department’s SUSI Programs (Study of the US Institutes for Scholars). Professor Chambers holds a BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Manhattanville College.
“Our Cadets come from all parts of the US – and in fact, the world,” said Professor Chambers. “Each brings an individual experience that VFMC has an obligation to broaden – in my case through English language and the arts.” Doing that means taking bringing Cadets into the community around VFMC.
“Our campus, located in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia, differs in many ways from the rural areas, urban spaces, and middle-America neighborhoods and towns that our Cadets are from,” said Professor Chambers. “Helping them to network in spaces that differ from their hometowns – with upscale area shops, museums, libraries, state parks, and other learning experiences – helps expand their perspectives. Even if they also are from affluent areas, learning what their college town has to offer can be intimidating just because Wayne/Radnor is new to them.”
More than just taking Cadets on short trips to places in the area, Professor Chambers challenges the Cadets to become involved in the community. Working with the Radnor Memorial Library, he has liaised with both VFMC and VFMA to support the library’s annual Elves for the Shelves run to raise funds for books. Cadets from both schools support the run and even participate.
A notable initiative is Professor Chambers’ commitment to honoring diversity and helping students embrace pluralism as a deeply held American value. He works with VFMAC’s chaplains and the speakers’ committee to bring diverse presenters to address the entire campus. Among the notables are bestselling author Jonathan Coleman, video gaming expert Andrew Ervin, and retired White House Cardiologist Col. Eugene Soh (Army). Each spoke about their paths from high school to career, as well as the value of learning from peers from different racial and religious backgrounds.
VFMAC has always taken an active role in celebrating MLK Day and bringing Cadets to roles of service on the federal holiday and throughout the year. “Service is a state of mind not relegated to just one day of the year,” said Professor Chambers. “The MLK Day of Observance, Service & Reflection invites Cadets to advance the idea that the ‘beloved community’ Dr. King dreamed of is possible no matter one’s economic background or social standing.” In 2023, Professor Chambers and Dr. Jesse Phillips, Dean of College Services, arranged for Cadets to prepare and pack meals in a food bank, clean up a local church, and engage other community activities. Cadet options on MLK Day also included studying speeches, literature, op-eds and film to contextualize Dr. King’s mission, life, and the holiday to honor him.
“The service learning options get Cadets moving and talking about pluralism and recognizing diversity of backgrounds and opinions as mature thinkers and responsible citizen leaders,” Professor Chambers said. “As an English professor, I know well that to have meaningful dialogue and advance understanding, we must have the right words and language to address issues so we can talk about things – even and especially when they are uncomfortable conversations. I am adamant that we neither whitewash nor water down diversity so we can bring about a greater understanding.”
Institutional history and coming of age literature is a stalwart of his teaching. He has incorporated former student JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and VFMAC graduate and newly inaugurated governor of Maryland Wes Moore’s memoir, The Other Wes Moore.
In 2017, he revamped the Mask & Spur drama club of which JD Salinger was a member in the 1930s, renaming it the Soldiers’ Theatre, earning two Pennsylvania State Council on the Arts grants, and being awarded Alumni Association funds for trips to Broadway, Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre, and Malvern’s People’s Light Theatre. He also is founding adviser to two other student groups – the Creative Camo Arts Society started in 2019 and College Press Corps in 2020.
“Cadets with the privilege of being in Professor Chambers’ orbit are richer for it – and that means the influence they have as graduates, and the impact they in turn can have on the greater society, is much improved,” said VFMC Provost, Robert Smith, Ph.D, M.Ed. “And if he were a sculpture, the only one he could ever be compared to is the Carlos Varotsos piece in Athens known as Dromeas (Greek) or The Runner.”
VFMC Cadets are educated around Five Cornerstones and are called upon to live into them. Using his own education and experiences, and language, literature, and the arts, Professor Chambers exemplifies the Cornerstones, expanding the world of those in his sphere and equiping them to so the same for others.