One of MU Learning Center’s newest hires, Chris Dobbs, is a master at a few things: Classical studies, ancient leisure and board games. In addition, he is a competitive chess player. First getting into the game as a teenager, Dobbs has competed in tournaments and won his section in the Missouri state championship a few years ago.
“My favorite thing about chess is how relatable it is to everyday life,” Dobbs says. “It fosters creativity and abstract thought, and you can apply all those skills to everything you do.”
As a tutoring coordinator in the Learning Center, Dobbs focuses on hiring tutors for courses in life sciences, foreign languages, psychology, philosophy and other areas of Arts and Sciences. Dobbs is responsible for finding tutors for students, training tutors and providing them with whatever resources they may need.
“It’s a great place to work, and everyone is super excited about helping students,” Dobbs says. “It’s great that we all sort of think the same way. We put student success first and foremost on the list, and having everybody in the office share those values makes it a really great place to work.”
The Learning Center is an academic support unit for campus and provides tutoring support for as many courses as possible. This happens through open sessions or in conjunction with the TRiO program—a program designed to help students from underrepresented groups meet the academic, financial and social demands of a college education.
“Our role is really to support students,” says Learning Center Director Phil Deming. “Being that support through the Learning Center is really nice because we don’t ever give anybody a bad grade; we aren’t here to evaluate them, we’re here to be supportive. We’re very happy to add (Dobbs) as a fulltime member of our staff. I look forward to having him here for hopefully 25 or 30 years.”
Dobbs started his fulltime position in early September, and is currently working with 40-50 tutors. His involvement with the Learning Center actually began two years ago, when he tutored courses in classical studies, religious studies, Latin and Greek.
His interest in classical studies began when he took Latin in high school. Once he got to college, he was unaware that Classics was a field of study and became a business major. A Roman history course at the end of his freshman year threw him back into it, and he realized that classical studies was the subject area that most captivates him.
After receiving his undergraduate degree at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Dobbs completed his master’s degree at Columbia University in New York and is currently working on his doctorate at MU.
Part of Dobbs’ area of expertise is in ancient leisure—board and dice games in particular. As the subject of his dissertation, Dobbs is researching roughly 1,000 years of Greek and Roman history, looking mostly at epic poetry, lyric poetry, tragedy and philosophy.
“I look at the way these various authors relate games to life or life to games in order to answer really big questions about the universe,” Dobbs says. “Why do bad things happen? Everybody since time immemorial has asked that question, and it’s hard to give a good answer. But it’s really easy to use a gaming metaphor and say, ‘well, life’s just a roll of the dice. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good.’”
Dobbs uses quotes like that to show that there is a broad conceptual tool and a big way of looking at the universe through this form of ancient leisure. He looks at festivals, gladiators, chariot races and other forms of entertainment as well.
He hopes to get back into competitive chess after completing his dissertation. In the meantime, Dobbs encourages MU students to reach out and take advantage of the numerous resources available on campus if they need help with any of their courses.