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Cover of the spring 2003 SFSU magazine. Geography Professor Max Kirkeberg and students tour of San Francisco's Western Addition.

 

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These Professors Go to the Head of the Class

In 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.

Raza Role Model
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.

 

To the Rescue
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. 
Former SFSU English Professor Herbert Feinstein reading aloud to his students from an open book in his hand. Feinstein taught at SFSU from 1959 to 2002.
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 professional life.

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.

Gerontology Professors Anabel Pelham and Brian DeVries standing together smiling on campus.Wisdom 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.

 

Former Social Science Professor Otto Butz with his hand to his chin as if deep in thought. Butz taught at SFSU from 1961 to 1970.Speaking 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.

 

In 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.

 

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