Hands-on History

Jeffrey Saba

Jeffrey Saba. Photo by Micki Leventhal

Jeffrey Saba (2014 Germanic studies and anthropology) has been interested in history since childhood and studied German in high school, but it was not until he came to UIC that these two pursuits intersected, leading to a highly-successful undergraduate career and his current graduate studies at Brandenburgische Technische Universität (Brandenburg Technical University/BTU) in Cottbus, Germany.

Saba is part of BTU’s international master’s program in World Heritage Studies, the first degree program in the world with a curriculum designed around the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted in 1972 to designate, catalog, and help protect and conserve “sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.”

His graduate studies are supported by a full scholarship from the highly-selective DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst/German Academic Exchange Service).

“I started out at UIC as an anthropology major,” said Saba. “The undergraduate program here gives you a good foundation in a range of courses. I was most interested in archeology and had a great teacher and mentor in Mitch Hendrickson. However, I also wanted to continue building my German language skills, so I met with Professor Emeritus David Weible, the department head at the time, to inquire about appropriate classes.

“Dr. Weible encouraged me to pick up German as a second major and I’m really glad I did. Not only is the faculty ranked third in the nation for scholarship, they really care about their undergraduate students. All along the way they were incredibly supportive and very excited about my achievements. Without the mentorship of professors like Sara Hall and Elizabeth Loentz, I never would have thought this future possible.”

A high-achieving student, Saba landed numerous merit scholarships, honors, and awards including the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) Northern Illinois Chapter Outstanding German College Student Award, the Jeff E Lewis Scholarship, the James A. Hagan Scholarship, the Columbia Club Award for High Achievement in Germanic Studies, the Delta Phi Alpha undergraduate study abroad scholarship, the Flaherty study abroad scholarship, and the Flaherty Award for Achievement in Undergraduate Studies. He was inducted into Delta Phi Alpha—the National German Honor Society—in 2012, and into Phi Beta Kappa—the National Honor Society of Liberal Arts and Sciences—in 2014. The International DAAD is supporting his graduate work. In May, he graduated with highest distinction in Germanic studies and high distinction in anthropology. 

Saba at Humboldt University

Saba at Humboldt University in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Saba

Saba spent the 2012-13 academic year studying German and Cultural Science abroad at Humboldt University in Berlin, where UIC and the German department have a major partnership. Saba’s parents provided some financial support, but scholarships made the trip feasible. “This experience was a huge impact on my academic progress,” Saba said. “Except for one archaeology course taught in English, all my coursework was in German, so that really meant a big bump for my language skills. I studied cultural science, reading authors including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht in the original—some really dense stuff. Plus, I started studying Turkish while I was at Humboldt and I plan to continue those studies.

“I also became familiar with the German university system, which is very different from the U.S. undergraduate experience. There is no hand-holding, no assignments, no homework, no quizzes. You are given the readings and the topic and your entire grade rests on a final paper or an oral exam based on an original thesis statement you provide to the examining professors.”

Saba and Hall

Jeffrey Saba and Sara Hall. Photo by Joshua Clark

Capping off his senior year at UIC, Saba won first prize at the 2014 UIC Student Research Forum. Working under the guidance of Sara Hall, he researched and presented on the “Expulsion of the Sudeten-Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II through Personal Accounts.”

“Ever the self-directed and resourceful student, Jeffrey found a trove of overlooked letters and government documents deep in UIC’s library holdings,” said Hall. “Using them as his primary sources, he made new inroads into a topic that is of great interest in German media and popular culture, as discussed recently in a cover story in Der Spiegel magazine and dramatized in a television mini-series. Jeffrey grappled ambitiously with challenging questions about how recent events and new national agendas impact the formulation, transmission, and preservation of personal memory and physical artifacts from the past. He made the most of his background in both German and anthropology.”

“I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, ideally in Germany, but I also knew that I needed financial assistance to realize this goal,” Saba explained. “Professors Hall and Loentz encouraged me to apply for the BTU program and a DAAD scholarship at the same time. The DAAD is one of the largest granters of student aide in the world, but they are very selective. Professors Hall and Loentz, as well as Marie Kahn in the graduate office, really helped me work through my applications for both the program and the scholarship and I can’t thank them enough.

“With their support and the financial support of the DAAD I am facing a very exciting future,” Saba concluded. “The program at BTU is tops in the world for heritage studies, with a really transnational, interdisciplinary focus. After I complete my studies there, I hope to get a job in Germany managing one of the historic sites. I really want to do something hands-on with my education.”