June 1, 2010
Elizabeth Klipp, 404-413-1356
On his desk, Regents’ Professor Robert Sattelmeyer has a wood block with a quote by author Henry David Thoreau that reads, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”
Over the last three decades, Sattelmeyer has used Thoreau’s wise words to guide students to realize their potential and achieve their dreams. Sattelmeyer, who will retire in July, has worn many hats at Georgia State during his 22 years at the university, from English professor to chair of the English department to international program chair for the College of Arts and Sciences and interim associate dean for the humanities.
What he has enjoyed most, however, is directing the University Honors Program, which he took over in 2006 and grew into a university-wide program. The Honors Program now recruits nearly 200 talented incoming freshmen each fall and totals about 1,000 students across GSU.
“This is definitely the most fun,” Sattelmeyer says. “Being able to work with bright and dedicated students and helping them realize what they can aim for and achieve is tremendously rewarding.”
Originally from Ohio, Sattelmeyer knew his direction in life from a young age. As a junior in high school, while reading Thoreau’s “Walden,” Sattelmeyer decided he wanted to be a professor of American literature.
“The discovery that there was this world of challenging ideas and great writing and wonderful language there to be explored made me think that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
Sattelmeyer earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Indiana and taught English in public schools for a few years before going to graduate school. He then earned his doctorate in American literature from the University of New Mexico in 1975. His first academic job was at the University of Missouri, where he spent 13 years teaching American literature.
In 1988, Sattelmeyer was ready to move on to a more dynamic and growing university. He chose Georgia State.
“It turned out to be the best professional decision I ever made,” he said. “What has really made it great to get up and come to work every day has been the sense of rapid advancement, improvement and challenge we have here.”
While he has held administrative roles, Sattelmeyer has continued to teach English and Honors courses at GSU and keep up his scholarship on American literature from the colonial period to the 20th century. He is particularly interested in the work of American Renaissance writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathanial Hawthorne, Mark Twain and of course, Thoreau. One of Sattelmeyer’s largest projects was putting together fragmentary pieces of Thoreau’s journal and doing the historical annotations for a scholarly edition.
“The constant in my career has been Thoreau, he’s always appealed to me as a counter cultural voice in American history who speaks to a kind of individual seeking that has nothing to do with material culture, wealth or success in a conventional way,” Sattelmeyer said. “He writes about nature, the relation of self to society, and slavery – issues that we are still wrestling with today in America – and frames them for later generations.”
Although official retiring in July, Sattelmeyer plans to work part-time for the Honors Program as a professor emeritus and continue his scholarship. He’ll have more time to spend with his wife, Leigh Kirkland, a GSU doctoral graduate now pursuing photography and painting, and their three adult children. Sattelmeyer will likely spend more hours on his hobby of bird watching, an interest also cultivated by Thoreau.
“He was probably the best birder among American writers,” Sattelmeyer said. “An interest in natural history comes with the territory. What I like about birding is it is an intense way to be in nature that doesn’t leave a footprint.”