Before they were educators: Dr. Vicki Szabo

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Dr. Vicki Szabo of Western Carolina University is a proud Michigander and loves everything about her job as an environmental Associate Professor of the History Department.

Dr. Szabo received her undergraduate degree in History and Anthropology from Kalamazoo College, completed her master’s at Cornell University in medieval history and did her Ph.D. research in Northern Scotland.

In August of 2001, she left where she was working in upstate New York to begin her career at Western Carolina and has been here ever since.

“I had never been to North Carolina. I kind of figured I’d stay here a couple years and then look for another job, but here I am still 16 years later!” she said.

Dr. Szabo was excited when the opportunity opened up for her to teach at Western Carolina.

“It was a job I was really interested in because I could teach a whole bunch of different classes and it was a pretty small university,” she said.

She came to the campus for the first time in March of 2001. Despite the typical winter weather, she said it was a beautiful place to her even in the dreary months. She enjoys teaching at Western Carolina because, although it is a smaller university, it is big enough that she can do several types of research. She also loves the challenge that comes with getting to teach a variety of students.

Dr. Szabo enjoys trying to find ways to make her students think in her history classroom.

“You can’t discover the past through just one means so I make my students think about places and objects and environments. That seems to me a better way to grasp how the world used to be by thinking in that complex way,” Dr. Szabo said.

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, an auto town, made Dr. Szabo want to do something for her career that was as far from that as possible. She always enjoyed learning about the medieval world. When she found out she could study that further in college, she began to think of how she could make that her career.

“I went from a depressed auto town to studying monasteries in Scotland. My favorite part about this is that I teach students who also come from places that are economically challenged and I want to show them that they can experience different parts and times of the world,” Dr. Szabo said.

Dr. Szabo said she feels her job is luxurious. She gets to travel to new and exciting places. She is currently planning a trip to Iceland in a few weeks.

The History Department is one of the many things that makes her love her job. Her colleagues research and teach different aspects of history but they all encourage and support each other. She says everyone is dedicated to his or her craft and it is a great environment to be a part of and learn from.

Outside of teaching and researching, Dr. Szabo loves to hike and travel. Even though she has lived in North Carolina for a while, she still hasn’t seen many parts of the state and enjoys exploring. To her, Michigan football is a hobby. She considers herself a “political junkie” and claims to be a typical professor.

She is currently working on a half million-dollar National Science Foundation grant. The grant is a three-year grant to study Viking age whaling in Iceland. This grant would allow her to travel to Iceland a few times a year, pay students to do research and work with several
different departments. This grant is the only Arctic Social Science grant in North Carolina.

Dr. Szabo said, “I tell my students every class I respect effort above everything else. I don’t care what you know; I just care how hard you try. I like curiosity, hard work, people who are willing to take risks and try new things.”

Dr. Szabo thinks studying history gives students a way to escape the hard parts of the world today and explore another time. She encourages students to always take advantage of every opportunity they are given. She said college is the best time to try new things, go abroad and experience the world.

“Go away and try to go somewhere that makes you wildly uncomfortable and see how people live differently than you do…students need to learn there are ways to get places you just have to be persistent…and Western is here to help them do that,” Dr. Szabo said.

For more information on the classes Dr. Szabo teaches or the History Department, email her at szabo@email.wcu.edu.