For some, Bruce Wallin was a man who made topics such as American government and budgeting “come to life” in the classroom. For others, he was a man with an infectious laugh, a passion for discussing politics or a reputation for “calling it like he sees it.”
But for all who knew him, Wallin was a passionate teacher who both demanded a great deal from his students and cared deeply about them — as he did his colleagues, friends and family.
The Northeastern University community is remembering Wallin, associate professor of political science, who passed away on Dec. 29 after a short battle with cancer. A memorial service for the Northeastern community will be held Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 3:30 p.m. in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.
Since joining the faculty in 1990, Wallin made an enormous impact on the university. He instructed hundreds of students in the fields of American politics, public finance and budgeting, and his dedication to the craft of teaching — combined with his vibrant personality — made his classes legendary. Twice, he was recognized by his students and colleagues with the university’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
“Bruce always put students first,” said Chris Bosso, professor and associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “He cared deeply about their success, and he poured immense energy and time into ensuring that his students learned what he felt they needed to know to thrive in their careers, and as people.”
Wallin worked with students each year to apply for the Truman Scholarship — a prestigious honor recognizing students with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, the nonprofit sector or other public service. He also led student trips to Japan and was instrumental in setting up a partnership with Meiji University in Tokyo.
Wallin’s scholarship also earned praise in academic and public affairs circles. His book on federal revenue sharing received an award from the American Political Science Association, and he authored insightful studies on government finance for the Brookings Institution and Twentieth Century Fund.
Northeastern political science professor and close friend John Portz gave the eulogy at Wallin’s funeral service in Boston last week. Portz, who worked as his teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said teaching was Wallin’s true calling in life.
“Bruce touched the lives of so many students, not only when they were in his classroom, but well beyond,” he said. “Bruce kept in touch with so many students. He wanted them to succeed.”
He shared many of Wallin’s quotes, including: “If there is no wind, row.”
“Bruce would help students ‘to row,’ but he knew they needed to reach those heights with their own efforts,” he said.
One of those students is doctoral candidate Chris Chanyasulkit. She also worked as Wallin’s teaching assistant for three semesters, and recalled how he could make any topic interesting in class. Chanyasulkit called him a mentor, noting how he not only helped her secure an internship in U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s office but also regularly talked about the importance of family.
“He was so much more to me than just a teacher or professor. He was a friend,” said Chanyasulkit.
John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community relations and a former Boston city councilor, recalled that when he first began reaching out to Jamaica Plain residents in his district while running for office as a 24-year-old, Wallin was one of the first people to call him back.
They ultimately formed a strong bond that extended beyond Tobin’s office in City Hall, where several of Wallin’s students worked on co-op.
“He was a great friend and a great mentor to his students,” Tobin said. “His name will live on for a long time at Northeastern and in Boston.”
– by Greg St. Martin