Her office is cluttered with three decades’ worth of personal history. A shrine to Bon Jovi sits on top of a shelf, photos from her many travels fill the room and plaques from numerous awards collected over the years tie the room together.
This is the academic home of SU’s Sara Grove.
A professor of both political science and criminal justice, Grove is preparing to retire from Shippensburg University after a career that began in early 1992.
“I have mixed emotions,” Grove said. “I’m thankful for everything I’ve been able to do since I’ve been at Shippensburg, and I’m going to be sad to miss many of my students and my colleagues in the political science department especially.”
Before coming to SU, Grove taught at Frostburg State University in Maryland. Grove had met two SU political science faculty members at a conference, so when an adjunct position opened up in the spring semester of 1992, Grove applied, got the job and began as a full-time professor that fall.
In her 30 years here, Grove has seen five university presidents, countless building renovations and even the birth of Big Red in 2006. However, Grove said, “It still feels like Ship.”
“You can talk to people if they graduated in 1995, 2005 or 2015 — everyone has this attachment to here, and that’s really what makes it special and important,” Grove said. “Here, you can go across campus and know people no matter what your major or department is — and that’s good.”
There were certainly challenges along the way, but Grove said almost all of hers have been issues with individual students or faculty rather than more widespread problems.
When Covid hit, Grove was on sabbatical, but she opted to return to her classroom for the fall 2020 semester. Grove says the pandemic continues to affect students and amplified the divide between haves and have-nots.
“It showed the divide between people who had resources and were able to manage and people who did not and had to wait for resources to find them,” Grove said.
Grove is well-known for her dedicated teaching style and passion for both political science and criminal justice. One of the techniques she has used to stay engaged with her content through the decades is to never teach a class the same way twice, which helped Grove adapt to virtual learning during the pandemic.
“I try to keep things interesting because it is supposed to be relevant to your life, especially the gen eds,” Grove said. “One of the goals for me always with general education and the courses in political science is to get you to see how this connects to you and why this matters.”
One of Grove’s favorite courses to teach has been World Politics, which has satiated her never-ending desire to travel and explore more of the world.
In one iteration of the course several years ago, a student gave a presentation on Switzerland and Jungfraujoch, which is the highest observatory in Europe. Grove deliberately traveled to Jungfraujoch, often known as “the top of the world,” and captured “one of my most iconic pictures of my life” on the train ride there.
At different points in her SU career, Grove has worn the hats of department chair for both criminal justice and political science. Grove said balancing those two duties taught her different disciplines view the world differently and that criminal justice has to be more rigid, especially courses centered on the law.
Working in two departments has given Grove quite the roster of faculty friends, many of whom she chose not to mention so as to not leave anyone out.
Grove told stories of beloved English professor Mary Stewart and shouted out political science colleagues Lonce Bailey, Niel Brasher and Alison Dagnes, who will replace Grove as department chair.
“Dr. Sara Grove has been an essential leader of the political science department and of the broader Shippensburg University campus,” Dagnes said. “She has mentored faculty, staff and students alike and has devoted personal time and attention to all. When she retires, she will leave behind both a tremendous and incomparable legacy as well as shoes that are too big for anyone to fill. We will miss her powerfully.”
After her final commencement on May 6, Grove will be moving to Pittsburgh to work on some “special projects” at the Duquesne School of Law. She didn’t rule out possibly teaching a class again but does not see that in her immediate future.
Grove also plans to keep running “as long as I don’t fall in any holes,” has season tickets to the Pittsburgh Pirates and looks forward to exploring the Carnegie libraries.
Grove hopes her students and colleagues will remember her as someone who did her best to give students a better understanding of the world and was always willing to learn.
“I hope that students have a better understanding of the things going on around them, whether it’s in the United States, in the world or in the law,” Grove said. “I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t figure out something that I want to look up.”
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