The lasting impact of great teaching

on August 23 | in Featured | by

Tributes to three retiring professors

fleckJuergen Fleck, economics

Horace Mann once observed that unless a teacher inspires a pupil with a desire to learn, any effort to instruct will be as effective as hammering cold iron into shape. Never could one accuse Juergen Fleck of failing to inspire. The energy he generated in his Pleasants Hall classroom has been nothing short of legend for decades.

In 1987, as I left the first session of “Intro Fleckonomics,” as Econ 157 was known around Tinker in those days, I noticed the students descending the steps in a daze, but grinning from ear to ear. To me, two things were certain: I was determined to understand all those issues, and I might as well walk on over to the registrar’s office to declare my major.

As our country grapples with deficiencies in math and science, the irony of relegating liberal arts education to the back burner boggles the mind. Once I asked Professor Fleck if he regarded economics as a science or an art. After his characteristic jokes about dismal science and inglorious art, he passionately spoke about how economics is in everything, and vice versa. The effort to maximize utility is manifest in history, politics, philosophy, biology, public service, love—indeed, every human endeavor.

As word spread of Professor Fleck’s impending retirement, one reaction surfaced repeatedly: “Oh, no! He’s wonderful. Does he really have to go?” It is bittersweet; we’re old enough now to appreciate even more fully the privilege of his instruction, but mostly we wish Hollins students could experience his tutelage in perpetuity. But then again, that is the essence of his legacy: He fortified the Hollins bond between professors and students, inspiring us with knowledge and refreshing us with wisdom—about how to teach and learn.

—Cynthia Swain Strassberg ’91 majored in economics and earned a Russian studies certificate. She received an M.B.A. from Yale University. She lives in Great Falls, Virginia, with her husband and three children.

Professor Fleck began his career at Hollins in 1984.

poskocilArthur Poskocil, sociology

Almost 20 years on, the course I took with Art Poskocil is still clear in my memory.

The Unabomber had just had his manifesto published in The New York Times, and we spent one class discussing the real substance of the text, as well as the madness, and what that disparity might mean.

In all our classes, whether we read scholarly pieces, literature, or about current happenings, Professor Poskocil was a sociologist with the insights of a social psychologist. His clear thinking was always interdisciplinary in its breadth, and he employed the Socratic dialogue to engage us with himself and each other. I must admit that sometimes we students engaged in angry disagreement with all our flags flying. This class was, above all else, great fun.

I keep an eye out for Dr. P.’s op-ed pieces in The Roanoke Times. No matter the subject—the polarizing issues of race, abortion rights, science, gender; the wealth divide of economic status; the problems of local, state, and national leadership; the “us versus them” topics of the day—he always speaks to the individual’s responsibility to employ critical thinking. He is morally and politically engaged with the issues of our time and always on the edge of the larger historical context.

Art Poskocil may have stopped his classroom activity, but I look forward to his continued engagement as an educational resource for the community.

Thanks, Doc. Enjoy your retirement. See you in the funny papers.

—Mary Sue Luker Johnson ’95, M.A.L.S. ’96, M.A. ’01, now retired from IBM, is an artist and a published poet. She lives with her husband, Ben, in Salem, Virginia.

Associate Professor of Sociology Arthur Poskocil taught at Hollins for 41 years.

smithEberle Smith, sociology

Professor Smith changed my life.

When I was applying to graduate programs in social work during my senior year at Hollins, she told me she would not write a letter of recommendation, despite my standing as the top student in the department. Her explanation? She had spent three years watching me grow in the classroom and had a profound understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a blossoming professional. She knew how my personality, work ethic, and passion for serving the underprivileged would have the best impact on human services. Her patience, guidance, and intuition set me up for a career that maximizes my skills and talents while it continues to challenge me.

Fellow Hollins graduates and current students who have had the opportunity and honor to learn from Eberle understand the tremendous loss the Hollins community will experience as a result of her retirement. The only saving grace is knowing that I am not alone when I describe how deeply her involvement in my life as an educator and mentor has made me a stronger professional and more compassionate member of the community. Her time at Hollins has clearly been too short, but she has had a lasting impact on the students, faculty, and staff.

—Carla G. Santos
’07
 is chief operating officer of the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke.

Associate Professor of Social Work Eberle Smith worked at Hollins for nine years.

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