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Dr. Walter K. Sherwin writing on a chalkboard in front of class, circa 1970-1979. Photo courtesy of the University Archives, UARC Photos-08-02.

Remembering founding faculty member Walter Sherwin

In January, UMBC lost an integral piece of their community: Walter Sherwin, a man who taught for over 40 years and had an immeasurable impact on the development of several programs, including study abroad.

Sherman taught from UMBC’s beginning in 1966, until his retirement in 2011 and founded the ancient studies department, then called classics.

“He embraced the promise of UMBC at its inception and breathed new life into the teaching of classical antiquity for generations of students,” said David Rosenbloom, professor and department chair of ancient studies.

Sherwin’s impact, however, reached far beyond the classroom; he founded the travel study program in 1968 and led students on trips around the world for decades.

The travel study program, which began with a trip of 40 students in January 1969, was the precursor for the vibrant study abroad program that exists at UMBC today. The trips began with European destinations, but in the years to come, students and faculty traveled everywhere from China to Egypt.

Sherwin worked together with his long-time colleague, professor emeritus Jay Freyman, to develop this program.

Students earned academic credit while abroad by hearing lectures from faculty members and local guides and often keeping a journal for reflection. This model is very similar to faculty-led study abroad programs today, which typically occur during summer session. The trips were open to community members as well; those interested and financially able could register to attend.

Sherwin’s passion for educating the entire community, not just those on campus, was evident throughout his career. He lectured in local schools and churches, including teaching New Testament Greek at St. Mary’s Seminary and University.

Sherwin became more than a professor; he was a mentor, advisor and friend to many students.

“Walter was a master in being able to talk to students, calm them down when they were overly concerned, [and] point them in the right direction,” said Freyman, who retired in 2013.

Sherwin was a textual critic and translator of Greek and Renaissance Latin texts, translating pieces such as Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and St. Jermone’s On Illustrious Men. He also studied Roman texts and classical mythology.

Harry Gross, a member of the inaugural class of UMBC and a 1970 graduate in classics, remembers Sherwin as integral part of the faculty, building strong connections with students and breathing life into the new institution.

“Surprisingly, my most pleasing memory of Dr. Sherwin in not of the fine educator that he was, but of the tenacious point guard on the first intramural basketball competition at the university,” said Gross. “Dr. Sherwin – mild mannered, gentle, unpretentious – was a fierce competitor and a committed team player.”

A former college athlete, Sherwin was a season ticket holder and passionate fan of UMBC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Viewing services and the funeral were held on Feb. 2 and 3, respectively, in Catonsville. In lieu of flowers, the family requested contributions to the UMBC Foundation Christopher Sherwin Fund, which enables students to embark on study-travel and excavation opportunities. This scholarship, which is distributed by the ancient studies department, was endowed by 1972 graduates Jack and Carol Mullen in memory of Sherwin’s son, Christopher.

In some cases, Sherwin’s teaching influenced the future careers of his students. Timothy Phin, an ancient studies professor, is a UMBC alum and took several courses with Sherwin in the department during his undergraduate career.

“One of the students in that class was having a difficult time…He was likely to fail or just barely scrape by. Dr. Sherwin, however, I believe, saw potential in this student. He gave the student another chance. He provided him with extra work at the semester’s end. He told the young man, finish this work and you’ll fix your grade. Well, the young man did more than that. He went on to be one of the finest Latinists that I know. He became a phenomenal teacher,” said Phin. “I try every day to live up to the type of teacher that Dr. Sherwin was.”