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Academic Odyssey

Michelle Zerba Announced as Sternberg Honors Professorship Recipient
Academic Odyssey

Professor Michelle Zerba

Professor Michelle Zerba of the English and Foreign Languages Departments has been selected as the Erich and Lea Sternberg Honors Professorship for the 2013-14 academic year. 

Established in 1996, the Erich and Lea Sternberg Honors Professorship was instituted in memory of Erich Sternberg. The Sternberg family fled Nazi Germany to come to the United States in the 1930s, eventually finding success in both their personal and professional lives, due largely in part to their high humanitarian values. Mrs. Sternberg’s philanthropic bestowal of the Sternberg Professorship represents the deep respect and duty designated to the Honors College to uphold the pursuit of academic excellence exemplified by Mr. Sternberg and his life.    

Among the criteria for the professorship are outstanding academic credentials and qualifications, an excellent teaching record, impeccable moral and ethical character, and a record of fostering the standards of trustworthiness, leadership, patriotism, racial and religious tolerance. 

Professor Zerba is a comparatist with specializations in Greek antiquity, literature, and philosophy, the English and French Renaissance, and Shakespearean literature. Over her 25 years at LSU, Professor Zerba has had the opportunity to teach a wide variety of subjects. 

Raised in a military family, Zerba spent much of her young life traveling, settling temporarily in countries such as Italy, Germany, and Japan. Zerba cites this itinerant lifestyle as the source of her fascination with different languages and cultures. Among the languages in which she is proficient are Greek, Latin, French, and German.   

As Zerba’s academic interests span across several disciplines, she has found a home at the Honors College. She has taught such classes as “The Classical Mediterranean”, which encourages an interdisciplinary scope.     

“I think the Honors College has been a very powerful instrument at LSU in creating and supporting interdisciplinary teaching,” said Zerba. “The reason why that's important is because universities are places in which departments often don't speak outside of their limits, but to create opportunities for professors to teach and for students to take courses so that they can re-imagine disciplines, that opens up the possibility for learning and knowledge that is more exciting and, I think, boundary-stretching.” 

Zerba has utilized the Sternberg Professorship by creating a class titled “Ancient Athens and Modern America”. The class parallels the two cultures of Athens and America and how they represent democracy. This bridging of the ancient to the modern, according to Zerba, is essential to understanding the world.  

“What the Sternberg Professorship involves, for me, is the ability to continue to find new ways to teach ancient texts in the modern world,” said Zerba. “How to keep the culture of ancient Greece and Rome alive today, and to be able to demonstrate for students and to explore with them the importance of how these ancient texts can help us think today through the problems that we're facing.” 

Among Zerba’s interests in Greek culture is the prevalence of the “Odyssey” as a journey that has pervaded different cultures, and influenced the way humanity views an epic exile and return home. Zerba links the epic “Odyssey” to the Sternbergs and their journey as a struggle of extraordinary perseverance. 

[The Sternbergs] were a family forced into exile in the United States, and they were able to find here a society and an economic system that enabled them just through the ethics of hard work,” said Zerba. “Their lives involved an odyssey, exiled. Their lives exemplified the difficulty of return.” 

For Zerba, the Sternberg Odyssey captures the heart of the Professorship. 

“I take the experience of the Sternberg family, and the fact that they've felt so committed to the importance of keeping open a very high level of dialogue about the human experience, and…[I] keep that alive,” said Zerba. “The professorship does that. It does that by affirming an interdisciplinary way of thinking.”

Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College

For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831