At a university such as Cal Poly Pomona, where the philosophy is “learn by doing,” there are numerous hands-on, scholarly and well-qualified faculty members who teach and mentor their students closely so that by the time they graduate, they are well-prepared, educated and knowledgeable members of their respective fields.
Across the eight colleges of the campus, each professor and lecturer has credentials that their students aspire to emulate in the future. Apart from stellar education, many instructors also have a unique ability that many of their students find to be “cool.”
Amanda Podany, a professor and head of the History department is one of those highly esteemed professors.
“[Dr. Podany] warrants a consideration as a role model,” said Mark Cadenas, a graduating history student. “I think that kind of thing is implicit. One of the things I learned from her was how to think like a historian. That’s kind of an abstract, but I think her genuine passion sort of rubs off on her students—I know that was the case with me.”
Not only is Podany loved by her students, but she is also able to read a 4,000-year-old script called Cuneiform.
According to Podany, Cuneiform is a script where each symbol usually forms a sound, word or a determinative, a sign. It was what was used to write Akkadian, the language spoken in Ancient Mesopotamia. This was the predominant language in Mesopotamia for 2,500 years.
Podany said she learned about these ancient languages by accident. Initially, she wanted to become a professional in the Archaeology field and when she was applying to graduate school, she was recommended to learn an ancient language to help her with her field work.
“I wanted to [learn about] the Middle East because I was really interested in the first cities on Earth, where the beginning of civilization was,” said Podany. “I started learning Cuneiform and I loved it. I thought it was fascinating to be able to take these texts and understand what people were writing about back then. I didn’t understand that what I was doing was history. I was interested in learning about the language to learn about the past.”
Besides teaching, Podany is also an avid researcher in her field. Since teaching her first class at CPP in 1989, Podany has simultaneously published books. Recently, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities Award.
She received a scholar grant to study Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Syria to find the ways in which ancient kings controlled their kingdoms without the use of mass communication that we have today.
“I studied things like the judicial system and how it was possible that in each legal decision, the king must be present, even without the means of transportation we have today,” said Podany. “And [these kings] ruled without terrorizing.”
The professor took a sabbatical last year to do this research and is in the process of writing her book which she hopes to publish by 2016.
As a History department head, Podany also works closely with graduating students by advising them on their senior thesis, which she said is one of her favorite classes.
Cadenas is one of the students who Podany is helping with his research. He said that Podany goes above and beyond other professors and because of that he sees her as a role model.
Cadenas said apart from learning valuable tools from her, Podany is affable, helpful and accessible, and has a unique perspective on things. These aspects make her an asset to the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences.
Another one of her senior thesis students is Alan Parkes, a fifth-year history student who said Podany is very knowledgeable about history and that her knowledge has helped him with his research.
“She’s really knowledgeable on different approaches to history,” said Parkes. “So even if she doesn’t know what I’m studying, she has a good perspective on how to approach things and so she gives me a new perspective on things.”
Podany said she enjoys the process of guiding her students through their research for their senior theses. Often, she too learns from her students’ thesis subjects.
Regardless of the class she teaches she said she hopes her students take something away from her approach.
“I hope that they come with the realization that history is an investigation,” said Podany. “I think students come to a history class thinking that history is all about memorizing. What historians do is not that at all. They take all of this evidence of the past and they have all these questions they want answered. That’s what I want my students to experience—to do history rather than memorize history.”