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Faculty in Focus - Lee M. Roberts

Associate Professor of German Lee M. Roberts joined the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of International Language and Culture Studies in 2005. Roberts is also the interim associate director of IPFW’s Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. His research focuses on German literature, with special interests in German-Asian studies and the Holocaust.

Roberts’ interest in German language and culture began in junior high school when he read a book about a young girl in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. Though he cannot remember the title or much more about the book, Roberts vividly recalls his own reaction: “It gave me a burning question: how is it that, for example, in cases of genocide or attempted genocide, people can live right next to someone else an entire lifetime or hundreds of years, and then from what seems to be one day or one year to the next, they become mortal enemies and do horrible things to their neighbor? It’s a very human question, that I think that I still carry with me, and I think I’ll carry it with me all of my life.” This interest in Germany and the Holocaust led Roberts to study German literature and culture in college and beyond.

At IPFW, Roberts is actively involved in the German program and advocates the advantages learning German offers majors and non-majors. Many former German majors have graduated and become teachers in the area or gone on to graduate school. Several students in the German program have been very successful, including two who received prestigious scholarships from the Deutscher Akademisher Autausch Dienst (German Academic Exchange Service), which pays for an entire year of study in Germany. Jansen Langle received the award in 2010. With it, he conducted research on how German magazines encourage green consciousness among their consumers. In 2011, Adam Papp received the scholarship and used it to study non-native German authors who write German literature.

Non-majors also benefit from learning German. Roberts explained that several of his former students tell him about of the usefulness of their German language skills. One of his former students, Michael Balogh (B.A., ’15), majored in psychology, but obtained a minor in German. He is currently at Xavier University, working on his master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology. Balogh claims that learning German is useful in his current field: “Obtaining a German minor has helped me network with other German-speaking academic and business professionals in graduate school. Learning German has given me a deeper understanding of classic psychological literature as well as contemporary terminology used in my field.”

Roberts also shared that many music majors take German language courses. Two of his former students—Megan Derbyshire and Hope Arthur—are featured singing in German in Roberts’ Faculty in Focus video. Derbyshire spoke with us about how learning German enhanced her singing:  “It is so essential for a performer to know the ins and outs of the song they are performing. Taking a foreign language, such as German, reinforces what we are required to learn. We learn the translation, and the International Phonetic Alphabet that helps us to pronounce each word correctly. Even though speaking German and singing German are completely different, having the background in the language lets the performer sing more fluently and allows the singer to perform the piece more confidently.”

It’s not difficult to imagine the benefits of learning German, as Roberts notes, “Germany is the number one economy in Europe, the number four economy in the world, and has 9 of the 50 largest companies in the world. So, anyone who’s doing business with Germany will have an advantage if they know German. Germany is a leader in engineering and has lots of scholarships. If an engineering student were to take German and apply for a German scholarship, they may have some advantage over someone else who doesn’t know the language.” There are around 100 German companies in Indiana, and Roberts encourages students to apply at specific companies while in school. Students could study a summer, single semester, or even a year in Germany where the company headquarters is located, which other countries also advise. Roberts encourages everyone, even those majoring in other languages, to consider learning German.

To learn about Roberts’ research on Germany, current projects, and work for the Holocaust Institute, see his Faculty in Focus video. For more on Roberts or the Department of International Culture and Language Studies, contact them here.