History professor Dr. Susan Hanssen recently returned from a yearlong sabbatical at Princeton University, where she participated in the prestigious James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and finished a manuscript of a book on Henry Adams, the 20th century journalist, academic and author.
Hanssen taught at the University of Dallas for seven years before spending a year away and “never felt like [she] needed a break.” However, the opportunity to join in seminars and discussions with scholars from all over the globe was a great environment in which to write. Hanssen received a Residential Visiting Fellowship at Princeton to support her book on Adams.
The book focuses on Adams’ life, especially his efforts to educate his nieces, whom he adopted at the age of 62. Adams authored an autobiographical book on his idea to “educate for freedom” called “The Education of Henry Adams.”
Hanssen had many opportunities to see the differences between UD and Princeton during the past year. She observed that UD students seem to have a sense of the big picture, understanding how the material learned in class applies to real life, instead of seeing it simply as career training.
“They have a larger view of education in general,” Hanssen said about UD students. “UD students are a little more focused.”
She also added that there is a different atmosphere at UD, where those coming into the university “already have a desire for truth and knowledge.”
It is not only the students but also the faculty that makes UD unique, Hanssen said. Faculty members “are tied to re-reading and re-thinking just as much as the students,” she said. “They are educated by the core.”
She compared the professors here to “a tea bag steeping”: The longer they teach the courses, the stronger and deeper their understanding grows.
For Hanssen, the overall atmosphere of the school is what makes the difference between UD and Princeton. The community is connected “by ties of friends and intellectual common ground,” she said. “We’re actually family.”
She sees UD as “a powerful place” and believes that the students and faculty together can produce some “deep archeological thinking.”
The careful selection of the students here sets UD apart for her also.
“I feel like the undergraduate population is quite handpicked. The student body is not an accident,” Hanssen said, but instead, it is the result of “very clear divine providence.”
Reflecting back on her experience, Hanssen is enthusiastic about her sabbatical. However, she adds, “I don’t regret coming back from Princeton at all, we’re rather spoiled here.”