Mike McQuaide

McQuaide leaves legacy of impact on students, faculty, college

Professor of Sociology Mike McQuaide retires at the end of May, leaving a four-decade legacy of impact on the lives of his students and on Oxford College as a whole.

Sitting in an office in the process of being emptied and looking out at a place you’re leaving after four decades, many people would be morose, anxious, or even cynical. Instead, Mike McQuaide exudes nothing but joy and gratitude. Putting it all in a nutshell he smiles and says, “I’ve had a wonderful job.”

That job is professor of sociology, a position he assumed in 1979. With a freshly minted PhD from Pennsylvania State University, he turned down five job offers, all with a higher salary, before accepting the position at Oxford College. Why? Because, he says, he knew Oxford was right for him as soon as he saw it. “It was small, it was porous. I knew I could marry my own virtues to the familiar nature I found here.”

Oxford’s enrollment at that time was 500 students, about half of what it is today. The number of faculty members was smaller, too, and that meant a heavy workload. “My first year I taught 10 courses, had 38 advisees, and served on five committees,” he says. Besides teaching sociology, McQuaide rounded out the social-science curriculum, leading classes in social psychology and behavioral psychology for the first few years. Soon, though, he could concentrate solely on sociology. “I was a department of one.” 

In the first year he was also asked to teach a course entitled Social Problems, which was first introduced by Hoyt Oliver, professor of religion at Oxford. The course teaches students about chronic societal problems through the real-world lab of downtown Atlanta. For one intensive January week students come face-to-face with health and social services through the perspective of those who deliver them and those who require them. The week includes experiences such as riding with Atlanta cops on a night shift, touring a prison, spending time in Grady Memorial Hospital, or seeing a homeless shelter first-hand.

Adrienne Vinson Waddey 09Ox 11C 19MBA, who took the course in 2009, says, “Although one can learn about the challenges around water sourcing for large cities in a science course, it is a whole different experience to be in the water treatment plant hearing directly from the engineers and techs who are in the thick of the debate. It is one thing to read and discuss societal attitudes towards police, towards Alzheimer’s care, towards public hospital emergency rooms, towards jails and penitentiaries. But the Social Problems course took students out into the world to experience and learn directly from these places and the people that are affected by them.”

This method of combining classroom study with real-world applications has been a hallmark of McQuaide’s teaching career.

In 1982 he first taught the Emory College summer course Comparative Health Care, a subject that aligned with his research interests. The course takes students to London, where they see the British National Health Service in action. McQuaide led it 18 times, inspiring numerous students to enter the healthcare field.

His best known and perhaps most talked-about course, Social Change in Developing Societies, grew out of a 1998 sabbatical. “I wanted to get away from my own culture,” he says. After discussing various options with Myths and Mountains, an agency specializing in arranging such travel, McQuaide chose an itinerary to Rio Blanco, a Quichua village in the upper Amazon basin of Ecuador. His time there, “on the cusp of nature,” as he describes it, was life-changing, and he wanted to give students the same experience.

McQuaide offered Social Change in Developing Societies in spring semester from 1999 to 2017. Classroom study that began in January led up to the trip to Rio Blanco in March over spring break. Students flew to Quito and from there rode buses, traveled in canoes, and walked into Río Blanco. Once in the village, students lived with the Quichua, interacting with them and their environment, eating, sleeping, and spending the day as they do. Back in the classroom at Oxford following the trip, McQuaide led students in interpreting what they had experienced.

There are now more than 250 alumni of the course, and for many, the impact remains.

Allison DeFrees 08Ox 10C went to Ecuador as a student and returned for a second time a few years later as a trip assistant to McQuaide. She says, “Mike, through his reputation and loyalty to his connections in Ecuador, gained us an audience with local and national leaders as well as everyday citizens who would speak with us through a translator about the concerns of their country. Participating in this trip twice…encouraged me to learn more about complex issues where there may be no singular solution and inspired me to make personal choices in my own life related to globalization.” 

The classroom is not the only setting where McQuaide has made an impact. Steve Henderson, Oxford professor of geology emeritus, cites McQuaide as a role model for him as a new faculty member, though the two were not that far apart in age.

“When I came I knew that he was successful, and I wanted to learn from him. We became friends over the years, and I have valued his sense of humor and very caring nature. He’s dependable, and he’ll tell it to you straight.” Henderson assisted on four of McQuaide’s trips to Ecuador, and he in turn often assisted Henderson on his annual trips with students to the desert Southwest.

Deric Shannon, associate professor of sociology, says, “As the senior sociologist at Oxford College, he also served as a mentor to me—helping me as I built my own experiential courses. I owe much of my creative pedagogy at Oxford to conversations, travel, and teaching alongside Mike. He is a valued member of our community and citizen of the college.”

Although his degrees are from Florida State University and Pennsylvania State University, McQuaide has worked tirelessly to raise funds for Oxford, working alongside the staff of the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR). In 2008 he was awarded Oxford’s Honorary Alumnus Award and the following year he received DAR’s first STAR award for his work on Oxford’s behalf.

After 40 years in the classroom and trips with students that took him to seven countries, McQuaide is not about to pack away his passport. “I’m glad to be able to leave before my ‘sell-by’ date,” he quips. On May 13, he and wife Stacy Bell, professor of pedagogy in English, will lead the 2018 Global Connections trip, taking 12 students to Vietnam for a two-week study of diversity, development and the global economy.  Also on the calendar is return travel to southern France and to England, now a virtual second home for McQuaide and Bell. He will continue to work with the Oxford College Organic Farm, which he was instrumental in founding, and with local organization Sustainable Newton.

On May 4 the Oxford College community will gather at the farm to celebrate with McQuaide and send him into his next adventure.