Kalb speaks with a student about Russian literature
Photo by Ali Mullane

By Ali Mullane

Judith Kalb’s office is filled with brightly colored Russian nesting dolls, books from all the great Russian literary heroes and even a balalaika. Students know Kalb is passionate about Russia.

Kalb, the program director of the Russian department and a Russian professor at the University of South Carolina, stands out as a teacher to almost every student who has taken her class. She came to USC with her husband, John Ogden, who was hired to teach Russian at the USC. When she came, the program was tiny, with under 10 graduates each year. She and Ogden set out to recruit more students while still maintaining the closeness of the original program. They began expanding the courses, teaching students with the passion each brings to the department. Soon, enrollment began to increase.

Kalb enjoys the small community of the Russian department. She says that it is the reason the department is so tightly-knit and how she gets to be so close with her students. Kalb’s students are influenced by her enthusiasm and love of everything Russian. As the program grows, she still maintains her relationships with most of the students and is always willing to make time for any student looking for extra help.

Brendan Mooney, a USC graduate, fell in love with Russian literature during Kalb’s twentieth century Russian literature course his senior year of college. The class went over Mikhail Bulgakov’s book The Master and the Margherita. Mooney was transfixed. He became so fascinated by the book that he reached out to Kalb to talk about it outside of class, something he had never done with a teacher before. He recalled many Fridays before class time where the two would discuss the ethical dilemmas and writing styles brought up in the literature. Even today, they catch up to discuss the intricacies of The Master and the Margherita when they can.

Mooney is now pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. About Kalb, he said, “she has been a big influence on my life and general career path, how I teach, the way I approach things.” The two have now known each other for almost seven years.

Mooney isn’t alone. Other students say that Kalb is by far one of the best teachers they have ever had. Tim Chorazak, a USC junior, has taken two courses with Kalb and is planning to enroll in a third next semester. He says Kalb is special because, “she is one the professors that actually cares if you learn the material, and she actually enjoys teaching and has no problem giving extra help.” Chorazak remembered a time when he had the flu and missed a week of a Russian language class. During the week, he missed an exam. Kalb was quick to help him make up all of his missed work, teach him any missed material and prepare him to take the test.

Lauren Bullard, a USC freshman, agrees, saying, “Kalb is very enthusiastic about teaching Russian and she is such a wonderful understanding professor and is so willing to help you achieve your goals.”

Bullard has even decided to become a Russian major instead of her initial plan to minor in Russian. Kalb helped Bullard look at both requirements and decide what she had time for. Bullard also realized how useful majoring in Russian might be.

Russian is one of the languages that the United States government looks for when hiring college graduates. Even outside of the government, it is a plus to know Russian in the business world.

The usefulness of Russian combined with the current newsworthiness of the country may be a reason that more students are taking Russian classes. Kalb says that when Russia is more newsworthy, students seem to take courses more and have more interest in the culture and world of Russia.

But Kalb’s enthusiasm and energy may be the largest draw for students at USC. When sitting in on a class of Kalb’s, it’s easy to understand why students like her.

In a literature course, she can be found using hand motions in her talking as her voice rises in excitement when she gets to scenes in books that she enjoys. In class discussions, she thoughtfully responds to each student’s idea, discounting no one.

In Russian literature, there are many characters to keep track of with long and confusing last names. To help, Kalb draws stick people to give a visual for students while also adding humor as she describes the characters in more modern terms. If students are still struggling, Kalb will always make time to discuss course material. In a university with over 33,000 students, Kalb makes her students feel that they always belong.

Mullane is a public relations senior.