John Strauss ’82–Inspired to pursue his vocation by another current adjunct instructor and alumnus.

This article appeared in The Magazine of Dominican University (November 2019)

Adjunct instructors give back to their alma mater
Alumni continue relationship with Dominican by connecting with a new generation of students.

Dominican, like most universities, engages adjunct instructors with specific expertise and knowledge to complement the work of full-time faculty. Most adjunct instructors teach one or two classes per semester while maintaining full-time careers in the public or private sector. For those adjunct instructors who are Dominican alumni, returning to their alma mater is a way of continuing their relationship with the institution and carrying forward the traditions and values they were taught by the Dominican Sisters and faculty.

John Strauss ’82 is an example of the transformation that can occur when a student’s learning is sparked by an emotional connection with a great teacher. He is determined to replicate that experience with his students.

Strauss is a retired high school English teacher who this fall is teaching two senior honors seminars. He was inspired to pursue his vocation by another current Dominican adjunct instructor and alumnus, Tom Secco ’74, when Strauss was a student in several of Secco’s English classes at Triton College.

Strauss, who had never been a particularly committed student, was turned on by Secco’s brilliance, passion for ideas and love of teaching. Noting Strauss’ enthusiasm, Secco encouraged him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English.

“Tom literally drove me in his car to Rosary,” Strauss recalls, “and brought me right to the head of the English department, Sister Caroline McGinty.” He graduated three years later as a triple major in literature, philosophy and education.

As an adjunct instructor for the past seven years, Strauss has tried to impart to his students the joy and confidence in learning that Secco instilled in him. “Tom had the ability to sear through an author’s ideas to the essence of his or her work,” he explains. Strauss is particularly excited that the honors seminar he is teaching this fall explores Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov—one of the works he studied under his longtime mentor’s guidance.

Since recently retiring after 29 years as an advanced placement English teacher at West Leyden High School, Strauss also has become an academic advisor to incoming freshmen for Dominican’s growing Honors Program. It is a role for which Strauss seems especially well-suited. He and Secco count Sisters Jean Crapo, Clemente Davlin and Melissa Waters—in addition to Greek philosophy professor Basil Papadakis—among their most influential colleagues.

Strauss’s connection to Dominican runs deep. He met his wife, Terri Houdek ’83, here and proposed to her in Dominican’s parking lot just before her Candle and Rose ceremony. (And yes, they served as each other’s Candles and Roses—in their respective graduating years.)