Dr. James Sheppard is an associate professor of philosophy at UMKC. He graduated from Binghamton University with a Ph.D. in 2002 and his research focuses on ethics and public policy, environmental ethics, and social and political philosophy. Sheppard has had several works published on a wide range of topics including architecture and sustainability. His forthcoming books, Rethinking Cities and Heartland Green: An Environmental History of Kansas City (coauthored with Dr. John Herron), are breakthroughs in the fields of urban environmentalism and history. Sheppard, who has been a professor at UMKC for 10 years, is an instructor for some of UMKC’s introductory philosophy and ethics classes and has been an active member in the Kansas City community servicing KCPD and The Environmental Protection Agency.
Continuing this semester’s theme, “Inspired and Inspiring,” Dr. Sheppard spoke to the honors students about whom and what inspires him to spend his life as a professor. His presentation highlighted six historical figures along with how each one continues to inspire him after a decade in academia. Sheppard started off with Henry Beston and shared some excerpts from Beston’s book The Outermost House. He reminded students to appreciate the importance of elemental things in the world around them. He used Buddha’s teachings about the role of suffering to encourage students to feel the rhythm of the earth and concentrate on meditating on these elemental things. Going off of Buddha’s beliefs about suffering, Sheppard cited Ralph Waldo Emerson and his ideas of compensation. Students should be reminded that the earth functions as one magnificent system and individuals really are not isolated as they like to think. Sheppard took a moment for all students to take a deep breath and feel the world around them, tying in the fact that our entire system is represented in each individual particle that makes up the universe.
Sheppard then focused on the daily struggle between what is right and what is wrong. Using Colonel William Eckhardt, a professor at the school of law, as an example, he encouraged students to always stand up for what right, even when it means a large amount of ridicule from peers. Sheppard played off of this idea of doing what is right and brought of the idea of self-transcendence. Like Dr. Catherin Hamlin who has devoted her life to her hospital in Africa to service women suffering from fistula, he wanted students to find meaning in their lives by giving themselves over to cause that they could firmly stand behind. Finally, Sheppard mentioned that UMKC students inspire him and should inspire other students to become self-transcendent in their own lives. He used Hannah Lofthus, a UMKC Honors alumna, and her work in the NYC school district and Kaufmann School as an example of this quality.
Dr. Sheppard ended his presentation by inspiring students to impact the world in the short amount of time that they are alive. He said that students have no reason not to do something and that if one did not know what to do, begin by acknowledging issues that one does not stand for and work to change them in our daily lives.