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Distinguished Teacher

While waiting for a friend at New York’s Penn Station, Scott Rosenberg, then in his 20s, remembers conversing for roughly an hour with a homeless gentleman. Rosenberg told the man of his plans to enter the Peace Corps, and shared his enthusiasm about going to the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho to serve and fight apartheid.

The gentlemen listened, and soon thereafter asked, “Why do you want to go over there, when there are so many in need right here?”

Rosenberg has never forgotten that conversation despite the passing of years. In fact, in some ways, the man’s question has guided Rosenberg during his own 20 years of volunteer service and his careerlong quest to engage students in the world, both overseas and close to home

“I want students to think, to be aware,” Rosenberg says. “I want them to understand why things are they way they are, and how and why things happen.”

His current and former students also want people to know how Rosenberg’s dedication to service has inspired them to serve as well, so much so that they recently nominated him for Wittenberg’s prestigious faculty award, The Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching. Rosenberg received the award in April, and says that one of his greatest joys in life is witnessing firsthand how quickly the walls of uneasiness erode when people serve.

“When I served overseas, the experience opened my eyes and changed who I was,” he says. "It made me want to get engaged with the world."

For three of the last four summers, Rosenberg has made sure that Wittenberg students also have that eye-opening opportunity, taking nearly 90 students in that time to Lesotho. In 2006, Rosenberg says he received a record number of applications – 60 in all.

“I didn’t want to turn anyone away, but the maximum we can take right now is 35.”

With each trip, Rosenberg admits that the respect he already has for his students grows even more.

In Lesotho, “the students opened their hearts and minds. They cared, and they helped. It was amazing to see.”

For the students, all of whom must take six Sunday seminars of cultureintensive orientation prior to the trip, the common refrain upon their return is “life-changing.”

“There are only so many things you can learn from reading a book or talking with others who have a similar background as yourself,” says Pam Evans ’06, who participated in 2005. “But there is no limit to what you can learn from walking with a person from another country, working side by side with someone who speaks little or no English, hugging someone who can only offer a hug in gratitude, or watching a small child when they recognize your face.”

As part of their time in Lesotho, the participants take classes at the National University of Lesotho, and they volunteer with Habitat for Humanity (HFH), building homes and digging pit latrines in the capital city of Maseru. They also spend time volunteering at area orphanages, including the Maseru Children’s Village, home to more than 40 orphans, many of whom are afflicted with AIDS. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, affecting approximately 30 percent of the population. Students have cleared fields, created seed beds and set up farms, among other service projects at the orphanage.

“To see our students play with terminally ill patients and spend time with children who don’t often get the one-on-one attention that they require, and above all to watch the attachment those kids form with our students, is overpowering,” Rosenberg says.

He understands this attachment personally. Ever since Rosenberg’s Peace Corps days in Lesotho, he has considered the impoverished nation his “second home.” His office décor confirms it as mementos, throws and a large banner bearing the words: Habitat for Humanity Lesotho Office cover his walls.

His family also understands the lifelong connection, having experienced the warmth of the Lesotho people with him. Rosenberg’s wife Crystal and their now two-year-old son Joshua have accompanied him, and his four-monthold daughter Diane will travel to Lesotho with them next year.

Rosenberg would argue that the experience benef ited his son in immeasurable ways, even at nine months and again at 17 months, Joshua’s age when he made his second trip to Lesotho.

“I watched him walk up to a young African boy and hold his hand, without fear and without hesitation. A connection was made in that moment.”

It's those kinds of connections that make Rosenberg ref lect on his own childhood. A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Rosenberg remembers seeing something odd during his trips between home and school. Each day he would leave his hometown, head through Harlem and then arrive in Manhattan to attend a private school, and each day he would see his small world change color and composition drastically.

“I remember going from white to black to white each day, and feeling that something is not right with this picture.

As time passed and his Peace Corps tenure began, Rosenberg realized that he couldn’t change the world by himself but that he could fight for justice and work to inspire others to do the same. He also found his passion along the way – teaching – and he has never looked back on his career choice.

Today, Rosenberg teaches a range of courses on African history, including Settlers and Liberators in Southern Africa, and The Making of Apartheid. He also teaches a class on the Negro League and one on Contemporary Africa: The Roots of Genocide, which delves into the complex issues surrounding the deaths of millions in Rwanda, Uganda, the Sudan and Sierra Leone.

“We need to try and understand why this happened and then make sure that it never happens again,” Rosenberg says.

Rosenberg also hopes that his students in this course and in all his courses will begin to question more about what they read, hear, learn and see just as he has throughout his life.

“Questions have pervaded what I do,” he says, noting that “you can’t change a situation until you understand how it developed.”

Perhaps it’s that understanding, gained through firsthand experiences, intense study and related research, that now allows Rosenberg to answer with confidence the question posed to him by the homeless gentleman in Penn Station years before:

“You serve abroad and you serve at home. You do both.”

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In This Issue
Around Myers Hollow
perspective
reflections
education
Witt World
Tiger Sports
Alumni World
Class Notes
Class Notes

- by Karen Saatkamp Gerboth ’93
- portrait by Robert Gantt