Faculty Profile: Dr. Sterken

Tell us about your very first travel experience.

From my very earliest years I wanted to fly. So for my twelfth birthday, my grandfather bought
my cousin Jeff and I roundtrip tickets from Houston Hobby to Dallas Love Field on Southwest
Airlines. On a hot day in July, we boarded the colorful Southwest jet just after lunch, happily
buckled in, enjoyed the flight, some peanuts, and a Sprite during the hour and a half travel time
to Love Field. Once at Love Field we walked around in the airport for about thirty minutes and
then boarded our return flight to Houston Hobby. I still remember walking out to find my
grandfather waving and smiling at us. I think that he enjoyed it every bit as much as we did.

What made you decide to teach in Europe’s most moving classroom?

Dr. Doug Mackaman has the rare and remarkable ability to pull together the most incredible
team to make a life-changing study abroad experience for students. It is a thrill and delight to
work with the Catalyst professors, to teach, and to experience Europe through the eyes of the
wonderful Catalyst students.

What makes your class on The Catalyst different than a course set in a traditional classroom?

My Catalyst class is not boxed into four boring white walls with harsh lighting. Instead, we meet
in the streets, coffee shops, pubs, museums, and even in the halls of power to learn the lessons
and excitement of youth political movements. We walk in the actual footsteps of the
revolutionary young people who challenged the most powerful of evil forces.

What is your favorite city on The Catalyst and why?

Berlin. In Berlin one finds the culture of London, the hip attitude of Seattle, and so much rich,
deep, and mindboggling history. Mark Twain said it best, “I don’t believe there is anything in the
whole earth that you can’t learn in Berlin- except the German language.” For my students,
students who are reading and learning about political protests and social movements, President
Kennedy sums it up well, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And
therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!”

Tell us about a travel moment that changed your life perspective or worldview.

Walking down a dark street in Yangon, Burma one night I came face-to-face with my own
limited worldview. My socialization and life teaching up to that point had taught be to be afraid
of situations like that one. I realized in that moment that my social training was nearly useless
and had not at all prepared me for that new place and the wildly different culture of that dark
street in Yangon.

How long have you been going overseas to teach?

I have been teaching overseas every year since 2008.

How do your travels enhance the way that you teach and what you have to offer to Catalyst
students?

There are, of course, many ways to learn. I think of learning as an opportunity that ranges from
quietly reading in your own home, to reading online, to taking an online course, to learning in a
face-to-face course, to the learning and experience of being in a place/space and seeing first
hand, and finally to the experience we get from actually doing. Each learning opportunity has
real rewards but the “seeing and doing” learning opportunity is often the most intense and the
most rewarding. Study abroad is like other learning opportunities on steroids. Time spent
learning in another culture is so intense that we come away changed and with such a far deeper
sense of not only the content of the material – but of ourselves. Travel study offers deep
immersion and intense learning that is very hard to achieve in other settings. It’s costly and
inefficient, but it is by far one of the most effective ways to learn.

What does your favorite teaching day on The Catalyst consist of?

6a: Seven mile run in Berlin’s largest park – the Tiergarten – run past Bellevue Palace, the House
of World Cultures. Students are welcome to join me.
8a: Meet students at 19Grams Coffee Shop in Mitte for discussion of readings and planning the
day. Coffee and great discussion make for exciting learning and planning!
10a: Visit the Topography Of Terror History Museum. Discuss and learn with students.
12:30: Lunch with students at Thai Park. In Thai Park, a large number of Thai ladies congregate
under colorful umbrellas and sell a sublime selection of homemade noodle soups, curries,
desserts, and drinks.
1:30-2p: Reading and discussion with students in the shade of Thai Park to prepare for an afternoon
visit.
2p to 5p: Visit the German Resistance Memorial Center. The memorial commemorates members
of the German army who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler on 20th July 1944, and
were executed by a firing squad at this site. Today, the memorial symbolizes overall German
Resistance by individuals and groups against the National Socialist dictatorship between 1933
and 1945 and is also a center of learning.
6p: Dinner with students and Dr. Mackaman at The Bird. The Bird serves Belin’s most
celebrated burger, but since I am vegetarian, I order the “The Lousy Hunter” which is an
excellent deep fried double lentil & zucchini patty with cheese.
8p: A beer and a long conversation about the resistance at Café am Neuen (located on the shore
of a lake in Tiergarten park, this is quite possibly the most beautiful biergarten in all of
Germany).
10p. Bed.