German-born professor Peter Rollberg followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a teacher. Only his teaching career started a world away in the United States. The chairman of the German and Slavic Languages and Literatures Department, Rollberg adds another accolade to a diverse career: the 2001 Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Teaching award.
Rollberg will receive the award at a ceremony Friday, when he will present a lecture in the Media and Public Affairs building.
Rollberg said he dreamed of becoming a film director growing up in Russia and East Germany, but political reforms in the Eastern Bloc allowed him to come to the United States, where he made to a career change.
“It’s a fairy tale,” said Rollberg, who came to the United States in 1990 from Germany.
Born in Halberstadt, East Germany, Rollberg grew up in Moscow, where his father was a teacher at the East German embassy school.
Rollberg moved back and forth between East Germany and Moscow during his childhood, attending several schools.
“I always loved literature and film. Originally, I wanted to become a film director, but in East Germany I didn’t have the right credentials,” he said. “You needed to come from the working class.”
Rollberg decided to come to the United States when a colleague invited him to teach at Duke University in 1990. With the fall of communism in East Germany, Rollberg was no longer restricted from entering Western countries.
Rollberg said he made an easy transition to teaching at GW in 1991.
“I guess they liked what they saw, and then (the next year) I applied here and I won that job,” Rollberg said.
A panel of professors select recipients of the Trachtenberg teaching award, but all candidates are nominated by students.
“I have no idea who did this,” he said. “Usually at the end of the year you get a little note that says you’ve been nominated. Nomination itself is an honor. A couple of weeks ago (Vice President for Academic Affairs) Don Lehman called me and I screamed.”
Rollberg said his work has been fulfilling since he became a department chair, but he does not have as much time to devote to research.
“You have to deal with questions about budgets, hiring faculty – particularly part-time faculty – major and minors and salary raises,” he said. “It gobbles up all of the time you have.”
President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who established the awards in 1990 in honor of his parents, said winners receive $1,000 along with the award.
Rollberg said he plans to address poetic images of society, which he said Western culture often lacks, in his lecture Friday at 2 p.m.
“I believe our Western civilization is very un-poetic, and so I want to show that poetic imaginations adds a very vital element to our lives, without which it would become a very barren marketplace without magic and faith,” he said.
Although Rollberg spent the past 11 years in the United States, he said he does not feel he has one home.
“I love all three countries – Russia, Germany and America,” he said. “I very much care about what’s going on in them.”
Although Rollberg is still a citizen of Germany, he is a permanent resident of the United States.
“When they say welcome home here (at the airport), I’m very touched,” Rollberg said.