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Dr. David Conwell: Valued and Versatile
Barbara Kennedy

Dr. David Conwell is upfront about his preference for Greek, even though he was hired by former assistant headmaster Doug Hale in 1995 to teach Latin.

“I have always liked Greek more,” muses Conwell, “It’s like a preference for a PC or a Mac, or dog people versus cat people. I’ve always been a Greek person.”

Conwell has done a lot of adapting in his 25 years of teaching at Baylor, most recently adjusting to remote classes due to the COVID-19 shutdown.  As a new teacher, Conwell says he did not arrive with an established pedagogy, joking that he had “a natural inability to lecture students.”  Instead, he instinctively started asking questions of his students, a practice which became fundamental to how he engages them. “I take the temperature of the room by asking them what they know and what interests them, and then I go from there. We do the learning together.” 

I take the temperature of the room by asking them what they know and what interests them, and then I go from there. We do the learning together.

Student engagement became a challenge for teachers throughout the U.S. when schools closed nationwide in March. “I was at a disadvantage.  There was no way to take the temperature of the room by looking at faces on Zoom,” says Conwell, who found that asking questions was “more like a dead end.”  He turned to Zoom breakout rooms in order to allow him to split his classroom into separate sessions; as the meeting leader, he was able to drop in on them.  “They saw my face suddenly appear and they were consistently engaged, so I began finding a way.”

A native of Philadelphia, where he was valedictorian of his high school class, Conwell then majored in art history at Trinity, was a fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, received a dissertation grant from Mellon Bank, and earned his PhD in Mediterranean archaeology, spending eight summers excavating in Cyprus.  He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals and speaks and/or reads six languages. He has taught at Penn and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart (Germany), and he worked as a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania museum. In the summer of 1997, he received a Fulbright Fellowship for study in Italy. In summer 2004, Conwell received a Summer Stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities for research in Athens, Greece on his book, Connecting a City to Its Navy: The Long Walls of Athens. In 2016, he received a Barks-Guerry Grant to travel to  Normandy, France, where he studied the physical remains and sites from many periods, but particularly the many World War II-related sites and museums.  He was selected by his colleagues as the 2018 recipient of the Glenn Ireland II Chair for Distinguished Teaching.

Conwell was named history department chair in 2012. In addition to Latin and European history, Conwell has taught an elective entitled Archeology of Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as U.S. history and Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography.  He started and led a Latin club, with activities that included building wooden Roman columns and a medieval rock machine.  “The Medieval rock-throwing machine was a trebuchet, which could in fact throw rocks, although we actually used tennis balls.  David also admits, “I wanted to build a chariot, but we didn’t get to it.”

In 1995, we wanted to find a place that was good for raising kids...we could see that [Chattanooga] was one of those places, and we have had no regrets. We had wanted to go to the northeast, and we are just doing it 25 years late.

His career has also included leading the school’s debate team, which competes in the local Southeastern High School Model United Nations conference, the statewide Youth in Government conference in Nashville, and the annual Harvard Model Congress in San Francisco.  “My job was to get the kids organized...It was really the [student] officers who were fantastic in that they did most of the hard work of preparing Baylor delegates to excel at conferences” notes Conwell. 

Reflecting on the path that led him to Baylor, Conwell says he and his wife, Eva, had been planning to live in the northeast before Hale enticed them to Tennessee.  Although the Conwells raised their children, Lucas ’12 and Sophia ’14, in Chattanooga, they are ready for a new adventure.  They love Brunswick, Maine, and are planning to move there once it is safe and logistically possible to do so.  “In 1995, we wanted to find a place that was good for raising kids...we could see that [Chattanooga] was one of those places, and we have had no regrets.  I used to say that the power of Doug’s personality was instrumental in turning us 180 degrees opposite of the direction we wanted to go.  We had wanted to go to the northeast, and we are just doing it 25 years late.”

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