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The professor who changed my life III

We asked our alumni to tell us about the professors they had at Lehigh who really made a difference in their lives, and the response was great! In the stories that follow, you’ll read about seven extraordinary faculty members. In the coming months, we’ll continue to post more of your stories, so be sure to check back.

Rocco J. Tressolini, Constitutional Law
By Robert I. Freedman ’64

Of all my teachers in college and graduate school, my classes with Rocco J. Tressolini stand out. Professor Tressolini taught Constitutional Law. The lectures and course book were outstanding, but then Professor Tressolini also wrote the text we used. He always made his classes seem intimate, and as we reviewed each of the major Supreme Court cases in his book, we took away a deep understanding of the American Constitutional system and how our system of government and laws evolved.

I began his course with an idea that I would go into city management. I came out of his course knowing that I would be a lawyer. My 43 years of law practice are a direct result of his teaching and his ability to bring to life complex issues of law and government. 

Professor Tressolini also undertook to write a definitive biography of Associate Justice Owen G. Roberts, who sat on the Supreme Court for 15 years. I thought it was a singular honor to be a Supreme Court biographer, and one of my retirement projects is to write a definitive biography of another Supreme Court judge with an acknowledgement to Professor Tressolini, who set me on this path.

Michael Hodges, international relations
By Stephen Collins ’78

Professor Michael Hodges changed my life. I was a quiet international relations major. In the fall of my senior year, Professor Hodges asked me about my future. I told him that I had no interest in law school, which is where most of my classmates wanted to go. I explained that I enjoyed international relations, my Latin American Economics course and the semester I spent in Spain. He asked me about what I wanted to do. I mentioned my interest in learning about foreign cultures and business.

Professor Hodges walked me to the hallway and showed me a poster, which highlighted Thunderbird, the number one international business school in the world. A little over a year later, I was enrolled at Thunderbird. From there, I embarked on an international business career that took me to over 60 countries and afforded me the opportunity to live overseas. It is amazing how one conversation with a trusted teacher can change your life.

I was saddened to read about Professor Hodges’ passing. He took a genuine interest in his students.

Joseph Libsch, metallurgical engineering
By Elliot Rennhack ’58 MS, ’65Ph.D.

While working fulltime in Palmerton, Pa., in 1958, I was a part- time graduate student at Lehigh and received a master's degree in metallurgical engineering. At this point, I had no intention of continuing my education until Professor Joseph Libsch of the metallurgical engineering department contacted me and suggested that I enroll as a PhD. candidate, because the required time to complete all graduate work in my case was nearing an end (i.e., seven-year limit).

He persuaded me to prepare and submit a plan of research on a topic that was acceptable to the company I was working for and the Lehigh engineering faculty. My submittal was approved by my doctoral committee and I was allowed to perform my research at the company in Palmerton. Since I already had published a number of technical papers and held several patents, I also was allowed to reduce my required course load. As a result of Professor Libsch's initial guidance throughout the conduct of my doctoral program, I successfully completed my degree in 1965.

I might mention that returning to Lehigh for my PhD. also gained me a wife.

Pete Beidler, English
By James R. Baker ’83

Professor Pete Beidler of the English department had the greatest influence on me. At the time I was matriculating at Lehigh (1979-83), he offered a course on the Hopi Indians of Arizona that included a 10-day trip to the reservation.

I've had a lifelong interest in Native Americans partly due to being raised in a family where I had a great aunt that was a missionary to the Navajo and being told of her experiences. I wanted to be able to place the family stories into a personal context, make them "real."

It has been more than 25 years and, sadly, most of my Lehigh memories have faded, except those 10 days! I believe I could with a little effort recall our itinerary, the many wonderful people I met, the places Professor Beidler took us, the ceremonies we witnessed. His coursework leading up to the trip and following are a treasured part of my library, along with a growing collection of Hopi and Navajo artifacts. Professor Beidler offered a subject that really appealed to me and one in which I could explore deeply and broaden my perspective.

John Ondria, electrical engineering
By Mitch Liswith ’78

I spent my first two years really struggling with my engineering course work. In fact, I was really afraid that I would flunk out of Lehigh. In my junior year, I chose electives called “Transistor Theory” and “Transistor Circuit Applications” from the hardest electrical engineering professor, John Ondria.

He taught analog device theory and I found him to be tough in his expectations, but fair in his grading. I can still hear him telling the class, “I demand attendance for the first month of class. I will take attendance and you can miss only three days. My tests are usually open book, and if it is closed book, it's closed book for a reason. However, any formula you want, I will give you.”

His take-home tests were legendary for their difficulty, until you finally found the “trick” that reduced the problem being solved down to something manageable. He was an outstanding teacher who took the time to explain concepts in different ways until the class understood. He also had an incredible head for numbers—using a slide rule, he could calculate the base of the number resultant and, in his head, add or subtract the exponent (power of 10), then put the two together to achieve the answer.

It was amazing to watch him solve example problems. He was such a dedicated teacher that he would miss class for only one reason—he was a marathon runner, and would take off on Fridays to run his East Coast races. I flourished in his classes because he stressed understanding basic concepts, and he helped me begin to fire on all my cylinders and enjoy electrical engineering.
 
Henri Barkey, international relations
By Andrea Trapnell-Chrétien ’90

I wouldn't say that any professor from Lehigh "changed my life," but several made a lasting impact. As a college teacher myself today, I find myself applying the same methods of three of my teachers in particular: J.R. Aronson ("butters and guns"), Alexander Waldenrath ("keine franzosich das ist Deutsch bitte schon!") and Sophie Armstrong. With regards to staying calm and collected when the students are particularly agitated, I think of Marie-Hélène Chabut, whose quiet and patient enthusiasm for what she taught always won out.

But if any teacher was a particular inspiration, it has to be Henri Barkey. Even if I did not go into International Relations as a career as I had intended to, I will always be grateful to the time he spent and the (good!) advice he gave as my counselor.

Thomas Jackson, mechanical engineering
By Peter W. Miller ’66

Professor Tom Jackson was my faculty advisor during my years in mechanical engineering at Lehigh. I was not a gifted or inspired mechanical engineering student and although I did graduate in four years, my GPA was not very good.

As I began my senior year, with the prospect of job hunting approaching quickly, I had grave concerns about my ability to find good employment. Professor Jackson was my one-man motivation team. He continually urged me to continue to work on my grades. He was always encouraging me about my ability to sell myself to recruiters and carefully guided me to employment opportunities that would utilize skills other than my mechanical design capability.

Professor Jackson had very quickly captured who I was and had determined in what direction I should move. Fortunately, I listened to him. Professor Jackson was always supportive and regularly asked me how I felt about this or that interview. He gave me his opinions on companies and opportunities and told me about his discussions with the recruiters.

In the end, he simply told me, “I am not worried about you, you will do fine. I have lots of other students that I am not so sure about.” To this day I still smile when I think about that discussion. And so you know, Professor Thomas Jackson was correct … with his help I did just fine.

Story by Jack Croft

Posted on Thursday, April 29, 2010

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