Letter to the Editor: Student appreciates guidance of professor

Like most of the poor, misguided souls who enter our questionably fabulous institution, I proclaimed myself Pre-Med. I suffered through General Chemistry and Calculus with the others, but I was decidedly less dedicated. So much so in fact, that I dropped a mere two weeks into the quarter.

This isn’t a letter about that, though. It’s about what happened after. It’s about being lost in the quagmire of academia as an ignorant freshman with nothing resembling a goal. Fall quarter finished, and I entered winter bright-eyed and excited. Clearly that died immediately, but not just because of the weather. The classes I took were abysmal: Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Anthropology. Sure, they could have been interesting. The teaching was mind-numbing, as was the reading, and by the end of the quarter, I was beginning to hate Northwestern.

That’s when I found religion. Capital R Religion, to be more accurate. Spring 2005, Dr. Stuart Sarbacker’s Intro to Hinduism lecture. How I got in as a freshman, who knows. Must have been karma. The first day of lecture, I knew I was in love with Religion. Moreover, I’d found a type of academic mentor in Dr. Sarbacker.

I had heard the boastings of NU admissions about close professor-student relationships, but I had yet to experience them. Sarbacker was different. Somehow, he learned the names of most of the 250 students, and when I went to his office hours, it was hard to keep our talks to under an hour. He became my religion major advisor, helping me plan and execute a successful three years in the department.

Since my freshman year, I have taken a class with Dr. Sarbacker almost every quarter. The classes that he teaches are almost impossible to find at NU, and it’s almost a breath of fresh air to find areas so far outside of the mainstream. The quality of his teaching and his impact on students should be clear by the sheer number of us who flood his classes. There are countless personal stories that speak to this as well, most of which are currently being sent to Dean Morris.

There’s one I’d like to share, though, that really highlights the kind of man Dr. Sarbacker is. After spending most of winter quarter helping me apply for an undergraduate research grant, Dr. Sarbacker was just as excited as me to hear that I had been awarded the grant. It had been a long quarter, with a seemingly unending number of rewrites, but Dr. Sarbacker knew how to focus my writing and even my thought processes. In the end, I had a grant proposal of which I was quite proud.

Upon hearing the good news, Dr. Sarbacker shared his own experience in India, telling me anecdotes and lessons that he learned. As Spring Quarter progressed, the impending trip to India became, somehow, less concrete. After school let out, I returned to Evanston – the flight to India left from Chicago, and it was only two days away. I stopped by Dr. Sarbacker’s office on a whim; I was quite surprised to find him in, and we spent an hour talking about, laughing about, and agonizing over the Trip (at t-minus two days, it had become capitalized!).

When it was time for me to leave, he wished me a fond farewell, bidding me a safe trip and a fruitful project. I felt watched over as I left, as though Dr. Stu would be boarding the plane with me. I checked myself, thinking I was just feeling sentimental because I would soon be leaving. I was proved wrong the day before the flight, when I got an unexpected phone call from Dr. Stu, insisting that he drive over his Rough Guide, a travel book. I thanked him, but told him I already had one.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone sound that relieved. I didn’t know why he sounded so glad that I had that silly book until I went to India, and it became the most important thing I owned. When I returned, I didn’t see Dr. Stu for a few days. When we finally bumped into each other, he smiled bigger than I’ve ever seen him smile, shook my hand warmly, and said, “Man, I am so glad you made it back. I was worried the whole time.” He laughed some more, and it looked as though he was going to float.

– Josh Urich

Weinberg senior