Professors Go to the Head of the Class
the fall issue of SFSU Magazine we asked readers to tell us about the
SFSU professors who made a positive difference in their education and
in their lives. We hope these stories spark a few memories of special
professors who encouraged you to pursue your dreams.
As the first person in my family to pursue a college degree, I didn't
know anyone who had even considered higher education before I came to
SFSU. Because of my background, there was always a lingering feeling
somewhere inside that I just didn't belong in college. That is, until
I took a class with Professor Velia Garcia. She validated
my presence at State and opened so many doors for me.
Velia quickly became a role model. I learned that she started out as
one of SFSU's first Educational Opportunity Program counselors and with
perseverance climbed the ranks to chair of the Raza Studies Department.
She showed me that the desire for academic success has to come from
within. Her story inspired me to set high standards for myself and eventually
pursue my master's degree.
When I returned to SFSU after completing my graduate studies at the
University of New Mexico, Velia encouraged me to join the Raza Faculty
and Staff Association. Today I'm the staff co-chair.
Velia has mentored and touched the lives of so many first-generation
college students. We are truly blessed for her presence.
--Renée Stephens (B.A., Psychology, '92) is an
admissions counselor in Enrollment Services at SFSU.
In the spring of 1976 I was enrolled in two classes taught by Professor
Herbert Feinstein. My college career lacked luster
of any sort. Academically I did just enough to get by. Money was
tight, and the prospect of spending any more time on campus was rapidly
losing its appeal.
Midway through the semester, I thought I'd give school one last half-hearted
attempt before I quit altogether and accepted a full-time job as a teller
at a local bank.
I made one of my rare appearances in Dr. Feinstein's class the very
day of our mid-term exam. I walked in and promptly walked right back
out the door. I wasn't prepared. I couldn't have been since I'd missed
the last couple of weeks of class.
The next morning Dr. Feinstein called me at home. "I saw you in
my class last night, Mr. Brennan," he said. "But you
walked out before you took the exam." I explained my situation--or
lack of one--to him, concluding with the fact that I was going to drop
out of school.
"You know, Mr. Brennan," he said, "the job of a college
professor is to teach. And when students do something stupid, the job
of a college professor is to correct them. Your leaving school would
be a very stupid thing to do." Dr. Feinstein then proposed
a plan that put me on a path to the dean's list, graduation, and a terrific
Every day I look at the thesaurus he gave me as a graduation present
and feel thankful for his guidance. Inside Dr. Feinstein wrote, "The
pay for teachers is both tangible and high!" I'm surely glad he
felt that way.
--Greg Brennan (B.A., Broadcast Communication Arts, '77) is a freelance
writer and has directed public television programs.
for the Aging
Professors Anabel Pelham and Brian DeVries
of the Gerontology Department shared their passion for the field and
stressed the importance of giving back to your community. Always accessible
and asking how they could contribute to my learning experience, they
embodied the spirit of teaching that I carry over to my students today.
Both Professors Pelham and DeVries provided me with role models who
went the distance with compassion for students and integrated learning
experiences with real-life contributions. As our world grows older,
more leaders are needed in the field of gerontology. Professors Pelham
and DeVries are cultivating these leaders every semester.
-- Jill Schneider (M.A., Gerontology, '98) teaches in the Gerontology
Department at California State University, Fresno, and is the executive
director of Fresno's Older Adult Social Services organization.
Out in the '60s
Otto Butz was a fantastic teacher who loved working
with his students. Every class session and every visit to his smoke-filled
office was a learning experience for me.
He encouraged us to read every book we could get our hands on--politics,
sociology, history, science, and fiction. His lectures were filled with
exciting stories, including those of his Princeton days when he edited
"The Unsilent Generation," a controversial book that made
the cover of Life magazine.
Otto stressed the importance of standing up for one's beliefs. He encouraged
us to get involved in the civil rights movement, to organize and to
speak out on campus.
At his initiative, I set out to write my thesis about the leaders of
the civil rights movement. I spent the summer of 1962 traveling the
country with a tape recorder, interviewing student leaders including
Julian Bond, Stokley Carmichael, John Lewis, Charlayne Hunter-Gault,
and Diane Nash.
Otto believed in me and helped me get into fantastic graduate programs.
He was the reason I became a professor.
In 2000 I arranged to meet him for coffee in San Francisco. Although
it had been 20 years since I last saw him, he walked in carrying a copy
of my senior thesis.
--Tom Rose (B.A., Interdisciplinary Studies, '63) has taught a variety
of social science classes at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. After
32 years as a college professor, he retires this June.
Tune With Students
Ed Kruth was in the classroom for one reason--he truly
loved his subject matter. Playing in his symphonic band at SFSU built
on the passion I was feeling in my soul as a young musician. Ed showed
me how important and necessary it was for me to pursue my musical dreams.
I know many, many musicians were forever changed by his teaching. He
encouraged his students to care deeply about music and to share their
love for it with others. He is one of a kind and the foundation that
he gave me at State will never be forgotten. I would be honored to play
under his baton any day of the week.
--Paul Gemignani (B.A., Music, '68) has been the conductor and musical
director for dozens of Broadway shows. In 2001 he was honored with a Tony
Award for Lifetime Achievement.