Dr. Sam Overstreet: Resident medievalist, education enthusiast

Students know Dr. Sam Overstreet as a man of passion and brilliance. Teaching
language and literature classes, Overstreet takes topics that may seem dry at times
and keep students engaged and informed. This is partly due to his excitement in the
classroom, and partly due to his own personal mastery of the course content.

Overstreet’s academic background is one of prestige. His undergraduate years were
spent at Yale where he majored in English Literature. The major at Yale was unique as
students could choose their own areas of expertise.

“To be admitted to the literature major you would propose a focus for your study,”
Overstreet said.

At Yale, Overstreet’s time was spent studying literature written before the 18th
century. After graduating, he went on to continue his studies at Cornell. It was here that
he received his doctorate in an area he is perhaps best known for at Maryville College:
medieval literature.

Almost anyone who has taken an Overstreet class can attest to his knowledge in
Chaucer, Old English and medieval languages in general.
Overstreet said that reading and speaking Old English was not a skill one simply
develops overnight.

“It was like learning a foreign language,” Overstreet said.
Still, his college years proved he had a knack for it. As a freshman at Yale, he proved
himself knowledgeable enough to begin taking a sophomore level classes. During his
studies, he noticed the older literature was easier to interpret. He went on to take a
course in Old English that spanned two semesters, an opportunity that most students do
not receive until graduate school.

While the notion of Old English might seem a foreign one to some students, the origin
of Overstreet’s interest is one topical to those interested in the fantasy genre of novels.
“Probably the first thing that ever got me interested in the Middle Ages was reading
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,” Overstreet said.
According to Overstreet, Lewis was a medievalist, and Tolkien utilized the language
to add more depth to his language.

“Another thing that charmed me about Old English was that it helped me understand
what some of Tolkien wrote in ‘Lord of the Rings,’” Overstreet said.
Overstreet said his knowledge of medieval literature added new layers of depth to the
classic tales.
Perhaps even more than medieval studies, Overstreet is passionate about education.
He said that he believes in keeping his students familiarized with the material and using
class time to ensure that they properly understand the content.

When teaching a literature course, Overstreet likes to lead class discussions and
get input from his students. In language courses, he utilizes textbook assignments and
calls on students to answer questions. Citing a method used by a former professor,
Overstreet has a randomized list of students, one that continually repeats. This ensures
that students come to class prepared.

Even outside of school, he continues teaching. Staying active as an instructor even
outside of Anderson Hall, Overstreet home-schools his two daughters.
After searching for schools nationwide, Overstreet was hired at MC and said that he
feels that it is exactly what he was looking for.

“Anybody who comes to any academic job, in the first three years, figures ‘out is this
a good fit?’” Overstreet said.

Overstreet said that he found that both he and the college shared the same values
when it came to teaching.

“Although the school values whatever research scholarship I can do, it regards
teaching as fundamentally more important than research,” Overstreet said. “I do, too.”

2 thoughts on “Dr. Sam Overstreet: Resident medievalist, education enthusiast

  • March 8, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I enjoy these profiles of the faculty. It looks like Maryville is blessed with some fine faculty members.

  • December 26, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    I was Dr. Overstreet’s student from 2003-06. His classes were always well organized and entertaining. He thoroughly knows and enjoys his subject and makes individual time for each of his students. The Shakespeare class that he teaches is challenging. I will never forget working hard on a 20 page paper and getting a C+. Boy, I was extremely happy with that grade.


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