Chandler zeroed in on the individual goals and strengths of each of his students and found joy in working as a mentor. He always looked forward to seeing where his students would end up in the future, believing that they would become greatly successful. Yurman said Chandler was not loved by students for easy grading or leniency. He was championed by his students for his investment in their growth and his honesty.
Many professors dread looking themselves up on ratemyprofessors.com, as it is an anonymous website students use to communicate their thoughts and feelings about classes and professors. Chandler’s page is filled to the brim with positive comments from students, urging their peers to take his class.
“One of the best professors in Penn State if you’re a communications major, his lectures are extremely interesting and relevant to current events so it’s never boring,” one student wrote.
Another wrote: “Curt is a great guy. I wish I could have had him in person, he is very passionate about journalism and his lectures.” Pages upon pages of ratings read nearly identical statements from students who loved Chandler as a person and a professor.
“He always gave students the benefit of the doubt, but he would tell them honestly what the work needed and push them and challenge them. He was always there for students. If any student wanted help, they could find Curt,” Yurman said.
Teaching was not just a job to Chandler: He cared beyond the classroom. He looked at each student as a person with great potential and identified their strengths as storytellers to help them find themselves as aspiring journalists. Not only did he hope that they would succeed, he kept up with students and eagerly awaited and watched their futures unfold.
“He really saw the best traits in his students. He would always say, ‘Wow, this student really knew how to do this,’ and ‘This student was really good at that,’ and ‘I can't wait to see where this student lands.’ He really loved seeing where they landed; how they took those strengths and turned them into success,” Ostendorf said.
Franklin is currently a professor at Montclair State University and feels that watching Chandler teach at workshops helped him learn how to address the challenging side of teaching. Franklin remembered a time at the workshop when he was getting discouraged while trying to help a student in the editing stage of a project. The student had a very different idea as to how he wanted to approach the project, and Franklin was recommending an alternative way of doing so. Chandler saw the building tension between the two, and “in a way that only Curt could, asked if he could step in.”
“He connected with this student beautifully, magnificently, and remained calm and compassionate and helpful to this student. I learned so much from just witnessing that; just being able to see his calm, confident, competent approach to teaching. I took away from that a tremendous lesson, that teaching requires some patience, and sometimes there’s common ground that needs to be reached,” Franklin said.
When Chandler found out he was terminally ill, Ostendorf remarked upon his selfless reaction. In the face of tragedy and fleeting time, Chandler gathered and organized his massive collection of storytelling books and equipment and donated it to schools in need. With Chandler being known as a “gearhead,” one can only imagine the impact his immense array of tools will have on future generations of journalism students.
Ostendorf described Chandler’s priority to spend his last months paying his love for journalism forward and working to give all that he had — both physically and mentally — to helping aspiring storytellers find their own passions.
“He was this gentle, kind, incredibly smart, giving human being. He made me a better teacher; he made me, I think, a better person. And I know he did that for so many students,” Yurman said.
Sarah Elissa Dolgin is a journalism student at Syracuse University. She can be reached at [email protected] and on social media @sarahdolgin.
As a tribute to his impact and legacy, Chandler’s family, friends and the Bellisario College have established the “Chandler Grant for Storytelling,” a nonendowed fund intended to provide support for multimedia storytelling activities and programs, both domestic and abroad, for students. Gifts may be made to the fund to honor Chandler and provide a way to continue his impact and influence with students.
A memorial service will be held at Penn State at a later date.
Full obituary: Curtis William Chandler
Penn State story about Curt Chandler