A Tribute to Professors Shahak and Hawkins
Although I have never written for The Commentator, I felt as though I needed to share with fellow students a tribute to two extraordinary teachers that I have been blessed to have during my YU experience, both of whom will be leaving the University after this year. While some professors are “an easy A” and others have interesting life stories, professors Yair Shahak (of the Hebrew department) and William Hawkins (of the Economics department) succeed in teaching and connecting to their students in a way which enables long-lasting learning and establishes them as truly extraordinary educators.
I was lucky that my poor Hebrew skills resulted in my placement in Professor Shahak’s classroom. Although young and unassuming, his vast intellect soon became known to all. Whether it was the myriad of languages he speaks, his grasp of Tanach and Talmud, or his musical skills, his knowledge seemed to be never-ending. This image of him was reinforced by his winning the International Bible Contest for adults in Israel, where he contended with many other extremely intelligent individuals. In the classroom, he is not only brilliant, but also interesting.
Professor Shahak used all areas of his expertise, only some of which I mentioned above, in his classes. He showed his students the meanings of words and their origins from Arabic. He explained difficult conjugations based on their common uses in Tanach. I recall sitting in his class, amazed by his intelligence and yet easily understanding all of the material.
Perhaps much of the above can be said of other teachers. What I believe distinguishes Professor Shahak is his devotion towards and care for his students. I remember that at end of semester evaluations, Professor Shahak urged the class to complete them in their entirety, explaining that he reviews and uses them to improve his future teaching methods. Throughout the semester he asked for our opinions on which methods would be best and what could help the class going forward. It was clear that to him, there was always room for improvement, and he was intent on acting on it. In Spring 2013 Professor Shahak was awarded the Professor of the Year Award by the student body, illustrating the impact he has had on his students.
Professor Hawkins, although somewhat less known, is equally incredible. After our first class of Intermediate Macroeconomics, we each left with the same look on our faces: “Did you get a word of what he just said?” His rapid-fire speech had everyone anticipating a difficult semester ahead. And the class did prove to be challenging. But his dedication towards his students earned him the reputation of being an excellent teacher. Professor Hawkins was available at all times in person or by email to answer students’ questions. I am certain that all of his students can attest to his lengthy email responses, explaining in detail each aspect of the question presented to him, making sure to settle all issues. He taught on a high, detailed level, but he explained on a high, detailed level as well. His syllabus was ambitious, but his clarifications were equally ambitious.
As a young professor, he was still extremely knowledgeable and accomplished. It is often said, “You don’t really know it unless you can explain it to others.” Professor Hawkins' ability to explain all issues with clarity is a testament to his firm grasp on the material. Each question could be explained in a way in which students would understand. Furthermore, his clarifications did not come at the expense of the quantity of material taught. At the end of a semester with Professor Hawkins, after a difficult final, students felt both educated and accomplished.
I personally feel privileged to have learned from professors Shahak and Hawkins. I know the knowledge that they taught me will remain, but perhaps more lasting will be the memory of their dedication and commitment. I am saddened to know that future students at YU will no longer be able to learn from these extraordinary professors. Hopefully they will continue to be amazing educators, teaching and inspiring many more students in the future.