All in the Family

To be Theofanis Stavrou’s student is to join the Stavrou family. Professor Stavrou makes his south Minneapolis home a biweekly classroom.

by Jessica Breed

Theofanis StavrouIn that classroom, the affable professor and his students exchange ideas over coffee, share books and smiles, and imbibe history and hummus while piles of olive pits gather at the edges of their plates. Amidst his photographs, Stavrou proudly displays the faces of former students, “oi gorgones kai oi psarades”—the mermaids and the fishermen—as he affectionately calls us.

I first met Professor Stavrou in a freshman seminar, “Introduction to the Arts and Sciences.” He’d assigned us a short story to read about Cyprus. His lecture was genial and enthusiastic. He laughed, he told stories, he mesmerized us. At the end of the class, he delivered two gifts to every student: a book and an open invitation to stop by during office hours.

That night I called my parents back home in Missouri to rave about the amazing faculty at the University of Minnesota. “Professor Stavrou!” said my dad (Edward Brent, Ph.D. Sociology ’76). “I took all his Russian history classes.” It was Stavrou I had to thank for my father’s interests in the former Soviet Union, the book of Russian poetry he still keeps, and the stories he told me as a child about the physicist Andrei Sakharov and the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

So I did what many U of M students have done: I signed up for every class that Professor Stavrou taught. He was my modern Greek language instructor, my study abroad adviser, my Russian history professor, and my mentor in the truest sense.

My father’s story—and mine—speaks to the quality of Stavrou’s teaching and to his enduring influence, which pervades many of our lives years after we were students.

It is not surprising that Professor Stavrou has received nearly every University teaching award, including this year’s Rutherford Aris Mentoring Award. The root of that Homeric word mentor, μεντορ, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is “intent, purpose, spirit, passion.” Stavrou embodies each—intent in scholarship, purpose in service to the community, spirit in teaching, and passion for living history.

He is a visionary, whether building the gem collection of modern Greek literature at the Andersen Library or founding the University of Cyprus in Nicosia. Where translations do not exist and scholarship lags, Stavrou pioneers his own. Under the direction of Theo and Soterios (his brother) Stavrou, the office of Modern Greek Studies edits a journal, publishes books, and hosts an annual lecture series that has attracted ambassadors and authors alike.

The Modern Greek Studies Yearbook
features translations, reviews, and
articles from the best and brightest in the field. In the first journal, you can find Eugene McCarthy’s reflection on the Nobel Laureate George Seferis; in the tenth, a thorough exploration of the Cyprus problem from historians around the world. For longer works and complete translations, the Nostos series of history and culture has produced more than two dozen volumes. Each book is bound in the same blue and white of the buildings nestled along the Aegean Sea.

This year marks a decade since I traveled to Greece and Cyprus with Professor Stavrou and seven other students. Under the aegis of Student Projects for Amity among Nations, we studied, traveled, and conducted research. Stavrou is the executive director of this unique program that has sent more than 2,500 students to visit 76 countries on six continents.

Traditionally such trips are called “study abroad,” but I learned vast amounts before ever using my passport. To better our understanding of Greek culture, Professor Stavrou spent a year preparing us for the voyage, laying the foundation of Greek language, history, politics, religion, food, music, and hospitality.

Over the years I spent in Minnesota, I tutored with Professor Stavrou’s brother Soterios, shared coffee with his wife Freda, traded the names of playwrights with his son Gregory, applauded the singing of his daughter Nikki, and celebrated Easter with his grandchildren. I became part of his extended family.

Professor Stavrou treats his students like family, and it is with great respect and admiration that we count him among our own.

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on April 8, 2009 11:57 AM.

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