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Pitz Empowers Students to Go the Distance

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February 2011 | by Sarah J. Gardner


When Barbara Pitz, PhD, professor of English at St. Ambrose University, began college as an undergraduate, she had the kind of experience no parent would want for their student. In a conference with her advisor-the only time he would ever meet face to face with her during her college career-she was told she probably shouldn't have come to college at all. "‘Your goal should be to become a secretary,'" Pitz recalls her advisor saying, a not uncommon piece of advice for female students at the time. Even so, says Pitz, "I was distraught."

It is hard to imagine an example more opposite of how Pitz herself treats students. Pitz, who has taught at St. Ambrose for nearly 25 years and was voted Professor of the Year in 2008, is a dedicated teacher. She believes in the value of one-on-one instruction. "You have to genuinely like students and want to get to know them as people," she says. "It is important they know that you respect them as individuals."

When asked if that early encounter influenced her own approach to teaching, Pitz responds thoughtfully. "I think what I learned from that experience is perseverance. When I work with students now, it is with the idea that if something isn't their best work, let's make it their best. It's never time to give up."

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Pitz serves as Fulbright Program advisor at St. Ambrose, helping students prepare their applications to the overseas post-graduate program. It is a very involved process. Students "have to do research on their country, they have to place themselves into it, they have to think in terms of a project, and they have to write about it in a very sophisticated proposal that takes them weeks to put together," says Pitz. Through her guidance, six students from St. Ambrose have been accepted into the program in the past seven years.

Among those Fulbright students is 2009 St. Ambrose graduate John Kuhn, who is currently teaching English in India. He credits Pitz's never-give-up philosophy with the success of his application. "She spent countless hours reading and re-reading drafts of my essays during the application process. She knew what Fulbright was looking for and wouldn't let me submit without putting forth the best effort I possibly could," he says.

You could even say it is a philosophy Kuhn now carries into his classroom in India, where he teaches 50 students at a time. It's a challenge for him, but, Pitz says, "He's doing wonderfully, learning about himself, learning about teaching, making friends. That's exactly what I hope for these students."

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