Marvin Druger made the decision to enroll in college on a whim, and has since enriched the lives of more than 50,000 college students during his 60 years as an educator.
Four years after his retirement from Syracuse University as a long-time biology professor, Druger is still sharing his life’s work.
He is working on his sixth book, a self-published piece that is a collection of his 55 Plus magazine “Druger’s Zoo” columns, along with a section on “More Misadventures of Marvin,” including “Insulting Insults.” He has yet to give it a title.
His first poetry book was “Strange Creatures and Other Poems” followed by a second poetry book, “Even Stranger Creatures and Other Poems.”
He also penned a recent book for children, “Mr. Moocho and the Lucky Chicken.”
“Misadventures of Marvin” (2010) is a book for the older set.
“‘Misadventures’ is sort of a true memoir and describes all the stupid things that I’ve done in my life. His wife Patricia concurs: “It is a very fat book,” she said jokingly.
SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor wrote that this book was “a delightful read,” while local media personality George Kilpatrick wrote that the book was, “Laugh out loud funny.”
His other book is “Practical Perspectives on Science Education” (2010), geared for teachers and professionals. It is a collection of essays on science education that was published in the “Journal of Natural Sciences Education.”
“I’ve taught for more than 55 years and this book provides practical tips on teaching and many insights that I’ve gained about science education,” he said.
His latest yet unnamed work is a collection of wisecrack remarks made by his wife Pat and friends who enjoy poking fun at him.
The book has more to do with his life as a retired college professor. It ties in aspects of his area of study, biology, and his quirky personality. He takes pointed jokes and turns them around on the jokester.
It also includes funny scenarios and interesting stories from his personal life (See sidebar, this edition).
Growing up, Druger was the product of a low-income household in Brooklyn. His father was a truck driver and his mother, a housewife. While his older sister went to work after high school, he and his two younger brothers were preoccupied with playing basketball, punch ball and stickball in Borough Park.
“In fact, I belonged to a gang: the Wild Cats,” Druger said. “It was a good gang. We didn’t drink, we didn’t smoke, and we didn’t like girls. It was a social-athletic club. We had purple jackets. We had a clubhouse, but in our clubhouse when we had a party we didn’t have drugs. We had Pepsi-Cola and salami sandwiches.”
Ironically, Druger met his wife Patricia at one of his clubhouse parties. At the time she was 15 and he was 20, but despite the age difference, he couldn’t help but think that moment might change his life forever. He tells that story to his students, noting that a single moment in time can have a great effect on the rest of their lives.
Along with teaching biology, Druger also likes to teach his students life lessons. His main lesson is to have as many experiences as life will allow because that is how to gain knowledge, not through memorization and testing.
It’s about the journey
“I want to do everything because we’re not going to be here that long. Those experiences are going to stay with you and make you who you are. It’s not going to be the information that you memorize or the tests that you take,” said Druger. “Every opportunity that comes up to do something that is an experience I try to take advantage of. I’ve tried personally to enrich my life so I can bring those enrichments to my students.”
Druger has those experiences to thank for becoming a biology professor. He said when he graduated high school, he originally planned to go to work to support his family, because that is what people did in those days. But a conversation he had with a friend changed his mind.
“When we graduated high school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” Druger said. ‘Beezy,’ Ronald Kronheim, who was the leader of the gang said, ‘I’m going to college.’ I said, ‘College, what is that?’ He said, ‘I’m going to Brooklyn College, it’s free.’ I said, ‘It’s free? I’ll go too then.’”
At Brooklyn College, Druger discovered his love for teaching biology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in science education. He was equipped with teaching experience after graduating, and was offered a job as a lecturer of zoology at Columbia University. There he would earn his master’s degree and doctorate.
When he went to Columbia, Druger looked up the name of a lecturer he had sat in on one afternoon while at Brooklyn College. His name was Theodosius Dobzhansky, and his lecture on the genetics of flies, for some reason, stuck in Druger’s mind.
“He became my mentor. He had a tremendous influence on my professional career. He was one of the leading evolutionary geneticists in the world. I did my Ph.D. under him. When I graduated, the value of that was I never had to look for a job. I got offers from all over the place,” said Druger.
Among the offers was an assistant professor position at Syracuse University. He accepted the job because his family was still living in New York and he loved the area, he said. In 1962, Druger started his career as an assistant professor at Syracuse University, where he eventually worked his was up to associate professor, then full professor and finally professor emeritus after his retirement in 2009. He stayed there for 47 years, and still maintains an office.
“The way I developed my course was unique. I always felt that because experiences are so important to students, I wanted to make sure that you don’t just go to class to sit there and hear a boring lecture. You want to do something exciting, something interesting, something that will stick with them and stimulate them to want to learn more,” Druger said.
Tossing of the keys
One unique experience in Druger’s class was throwing the answer keys to his tests out the window.
Druger said the one thing students remember from his course is that he would gather them outside after his tests and toss down the answer keys from an above window. It became a tradition until someone got hurt.
“Suddenly an ambulance drives up, picks up this body and drives off. I got a phone call that this girl was standing on a rock, and she jumped and fell off the rock and sprained her ankle.
So I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. What am I going to do?’ A student asked, ‘Why don’t you go on television?’ So for many years we had the Bio Answer Show. I would start out with a Saturday Night Live type skit, followed by going over the answers,” he said.
His “weird, nuts” methods of teaching are what kept students engaged, Druger said. He tried to come up with new and different ways for his students to take part in learning opportunities.
The most satisfying part of teaching, he said, was seeing students who are stimulated to move on in life in a positive way and have a positive attitude about everything around them. He loved to see kids’ faces light up and to know they are thinking. The excitement of doing something really good for someone that influenced the rest of his or her life is what he strived for.
On the other hand, Druger said motivating the unmotivated was his biggest challenge.
“You always have students that you love. They’re interested, they’re shining stars, they can’t learn enough. But on the other hand, you always have kids who just don’t do it. They cut class; they’re out drinking. That’s a challenge. How do you motivate the unmotivated? It’s aggravating. His parents are paying $50,000 for the kid to be there and he’s cutting class, goofing around and going to the parties, barely scraping by. You see the kid has talent but he’s not using it,” said Druger.
The chase is on
One way he would dissuade students from walking out of his class was to chase after them, he said.
“In the big lecture halls there is an aisle up the middle. I was giving a lecture one day and two people got up and started to go out the door. I thought, ‘I’m not going to let them get away with that.’ So I jumped off the stage, ran up the aisle and caught them outside the door. Once a semester I did that to get the attention of the class,” said Druger.
His focus on gaining and maintaining the attention of his class was what set Druger apart as a professor. He said students will not remember the “same old boring lecture classes.” He had to be strange and different not only for his students to remember the biology material, but for them to remember the experience as well. “We learn from everything we do, and everything we do becomes a part of who we are,” Druger said.
Since teaching so many lessons to tens of thousands of young adults for the majority of his life, what could Druger do but continue his influence after retirement?
He is still hosting a radio program on WAER-FM 88.3 entitled “Science on the Radio,” as well as writing articles for the Natural Science Education Journal and 55 Plus Magazine, performing poetry readings and campus tours of Syracuse University, and teaching a freshman forum course at the university.
“Many professors are very focused on one thing. I don’t do that. I do everything,” Druger said. “I like to look at the world and see what I can find out about it.”
Druger said he is inspired by everything around him, and he will never stop learning from the experiences he is lucky enough to have and the people he surrounds himself with.