Zero to 65 in 80 Semesters
by Oliver B. Pollak *
I am approaching my 65th birthday, with nearly 80 semesters of teaching, not including summer school. My 34 years at UNO comprise one-third of our campus's 100 year existence. We can only imagine the excitement and anticipation of our first day of kindergarten or the opening of Omaha University in 1908 at 24th and Reddick. The immense popularity of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture attest to the great stock we place in education and influential teachers.
Much has changed, but the essentials endure. Scratchy chalk black boards gave way to erasable felt markers on white boards, and electronic Blackboard.
The traditional lecture is refashioned by Elmo, Power Point and smart classrooms. My predecessor, A. Stanley Trickett, taught history at OU and UNO from 1957 to 1974, delivered a paper at the 1959 Missouri Valley His-tory Conference, "The Uses of the Overhead Projector in College History Teaching."
Faculty once initialed memos circulated in the department. We progressed from manual to electric typewriters, IBM Selectrics, daisy wheels, dot matrix, ink jet and laser printers. The words Gestetner, mimeo, ditto, Friden, Marchant and Burroughs have gone to the landfill.
Now memos are sent by email to appropriate faculty. Larry McMurtry apparently still uses a typewriter, where does he find a repair person? Of course gender-neutral language has become the norm.
The library moved from the 1956 Eppley Building to the western edge of campus, which is now sort of mid-campus. Genysis, the online catalog, eclipsed the lunky wooden card catalogue. Print books and journals are joined by Google Scholar, Kindle and untolled electronic sources. Ease of access may foster laziness for pursuing the out of the way, the obscure, the unique, and the undiscovered.
Nostalgia has its place. Getting used to change, and utilizing innovative technology, notwithstanding the ill conceived MyMAPP dragnet, faculty do enjoy continuous learning. Ironically parking space at UNO appears to be almost solved, just when rising gasoline prices may have curbed the need for new spaces. Our environment is inestimably cleaner for "No Smoking" in buildings.
Teaching students, transferring knowledge, creating a platform for greater knowledge, is at the heart of our mission. Our student constituency has changed--they are much younger. Thankfully the G.I. Bill is not yet such a major producer of returning students. Criticism of high school preparation for college in reading, writing, and mathematics skills is chronic.
I have taught undergraduate students taking classes required for graduation, history majors and graduate students. Relationship ranges from possible anonymity in a class of 60, to close up individual mentoring. In my early teaching career less than 10 years separated me from my students. Now almost half a century of culture may separate us.
History happens. Historians have a habit of mind - observe, interpret, relate. My teachers were World War II veterans. The youngest Vietnam Vet is 52 years old, most are in their 60s. Our contemporary society suggests re-understanding the past.
How do we bridge the potentially semi-arid half-century divide between student and teacher? Do we listen to the same radio station, see the same movies, watch the same television programs, read the same books, and newspapers (hardcopy or on line), and perhaps most trenchant, enjoy the same music. Blogs, YouTube, MySpace, Ipods, texting are still almost a foreign country.
Four decades of roll books reveal students who became journalists, lawyers, librarians, ministers, physicians, politicians, teachers, or went into the military service. Some earned doctorates becoming professional historians. Many became mothers and fathers and their children attended UNO. I recently met an adult grandchild of a student I taught in the 1970s. Sadly I recognize obituaries of students who preceded their teacher to the grave.
Nothing improves self worth and life opportunities more than education and reading. The institutional education life cycle includes pre-school through terminal degree, returning mature students, and elder hostels. UNO faculty and expanding facilities perform admirably providing students with state of the art quality education responding to the challenge of balancing continuity and innovation.
* This sketch is inspired by Manil Suri, "X = 50 Semesters," New York Times Magazine, Sunday, September 21, 2008.
October 2012 > A Closer Look at IS&T's NUCIA
October 2012 > UNO Engages Students, Community for 2012 Elections
December 2011 > Conference Tags
September 2011 > Roskens Hall: An Educator's Dream
July 2011 > Arts and Sciences Hall: UNO's Cornerstone
April 2011 > UNOCCC: Twenty-Five Years of Caring
March 2011 > UNO's Libraries: A History
March 2011 > The Henningson Memorial Campanile
February 2011 > Mammel Hall
February 2011 > The Sapp Fieldhouse
January 2011 > Heydays of the Hayden House
December 2010 > UNO Faculty/Staff Earn WELCOM Light of Wellness Team Award
August 2010 > Anna S. Forman Commencement Remarks
May 2010 > John Treinen Commencement Remarks
March 2010 > My Ties and Cliff Hillegass
January 2010 > Megan Schuster Commencement Remarks
December 2009 > Man Killed by Pheasant
November 2009 > New Molecular Modeling Lab Key to Chemistry Research Work
September 2009 > Technology and Term Papers – A Photo Essay
October 2008 > Zero to 65 in 80 Semesters
September 2008 > H.RES.1372: Celebrating the 100th
September 2008 > UNO Researcher Spotlighted
March 2008 > Culture on Campus
February 2008 > In Her Own Words: Technology is crucial to spurring growth
December 2007 > Pacific Street Memories
November 2007 > WISE Women
October 2007 > Vincent Empowers Teachers, Students With Technology
August 2007 > Orientation Leader Represents UNO with Exuberance
August 2007 > In His Own Words: On Summer School
July 2007 > Changing Faces
June 2007 > MVHC @ 50
February 2007 > At Your Service
December 2006 > A Job Well Done
September 2006 > Australian Finches Aid UNO Professor's Research
July 2006 > Finding His Way
May 2006 > Calming the Anxious
April 2006 > The Kid's Doing All Right
March 2006 > Shot of a Lifetime
March 2006 > Going for Four
February 2006 > Standing Tall with Sierra
January 2006 > In-Your-Face Geology
January 2006 > Religion Meets Film
January 2006 > Finding a Home Port
December 2005 > Man of the Cloth
November 2005 > Volunteer Field Work
November 2005 > Charting the Unknown
October 2005 > Developing Business Overseas
October 2005 > After The Storm
September 2005 > Building Better Officers
September 2005 > Saving the Planet
August 2005 > Making the Abstract Tangible
August 2005 > Helping Neighborhoods Help Themselves
July 2005 > Improving Health through Technology
July 2005 > Reading the Signs
June 2005 > Small Steps to a Better Life
April 2005 > Honest Art
March 2005 > Sharing The Wealth
March 2005 > Engineering His Own Masterpiece
February 2005 > Native Daughter, Native Dreams
February 2005 > Puck Stops Here
January 2005 > Stressing the Familiar
January 2005 > Connecting the Community
January 2005 > Ticket to Cooperstown
December 2004 > Spirit of the Season
December 2004 > Nicholas Stergiou: Research in Motion
fall 2004 > Alzheimer's: Caring for the Caregiver's
fall 2004 > David Hawk: All In
fall 2004 > Anadelia Lamas: Planting Roots
fall 2004 > Dean Olson: Assessing the Threat
fall 2004 > Tom Warren: From the Chiefs to the Chief