“I like teaching here because we have many academically ambitious students,” says Channa Newman, Ph.D. “My job, as I see it, is to enable these intellectually inclined students to gain knowledge – especially those who understand the value of critical thinking and who want to know history and consider the global picture.”
Newman believes that these talented students are often neglected, she says, in the push toward career preparation that is so prevalent in higher education today. “If you offer students cultural capital – knowledge – when they reach their chosen profession, or face any challenge, their knowledge is a major asset.”
Few people are as ideally suited to impart that cultural capital as Newman, who came to Point Park in the mid 1960s to teach French and eventually founded the University’s Global Cultural Studies program. Her first year salary was just over $3,000, she recalls. “In the early years, many of my students were double majors in French and ballet, “she recalls. “They were some of my best students.”
Many alumni have fond memories of participating in Newman’s popular cultural trips to France. She has taken groups of students to France more than 30 times in the past four decades. It’s an opportunity, she says, “to get close to the French culture and engage in thinking and comparisons, for example, with American culture.”
For example, “one of the perennial topics on our trips is comparison between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. We discuss how each revolution continues to manifest itself in the society and the lives of citizens in each country today. There may appear to be many similarities but the differences are enormous. And from the differences we learn that there could be alternatives to the status quo,” explains Newman.
Ten years ago, Newman created a Point Park course called “Wealthy White Males,” which provided the impetus for establishing the University’s Global Cultural Studies program. The provocative course that started it all “was not about attacking anyone but rather was intended to examine how our society and our cultural-political system operates,” she says.
“I respect students and want them to know and to question,” says Newman. “Point Park has many students who are thirsting for knowledge for knowledge’s sake.”
“Those who are thirsting for knowledge, and are ambitious but not status-seeking, are my favorite students, because they have already achieved a certain maturity,” says Newman. “They have an inner strength, and a desire to learn and to think independently. They don’t depend upon external approval. I am happy to say I have had many of these students in my classrooms over the years.”
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University