He holds two B.A.s and three M.A.s from universities in Germany and England, and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
What makes his approach to teaching special? “I always encourage my students to learn to empower themselves as writers, thinkers, and communicators,” Eger said. “It’s important for students to develop that power constructively and ethically, rather than seeing themselves as empty vessels that depend on teachers to get mentally filled,” said Eger.
For example, all students in Eger’s classes work in teams and regularly read and comment on each other’s work. Also, each student is expected to have at least two mentors from the local community to work with the individual student. One mentor serves as a general reader, while the other mentor is an expert in the student’s major, for example, an engineer, a nurse, etc. Both mentors give the student feedback and help them to grow as writers [see Reaching Out: mentoring as an empowerment of self and others: A collection of reports on mentoring experiences by Henrik Eger, SHU, January, 1992].
Eger explained that some students seem to be puzzled initially by his approach to self-empowerment through writing, thinking, and communicating.
“Low self-esteem is common among many students who tend to feel safe and secure with more traditional approaches,” said Eger. “They often don’t believe that anyone outside the classroom is willing to help them grow. However, by the end of the semester, the majority of students have learned to reach out and learn more than they ever could by just studying textbooks.”
The new faculty member at SHU sees writing not as an isolated activity of learning how to write essays and pass exams, but writing as a way of generating and communicating knowledge. “That is why I encourage frequent rewriting and why I ask students to negotiate with me and with each other,” said Eger.
“I ask for student feedback on the syllabus to encourage them to contribute to a revised version. After all, a university is a place to discover your own voice and those of others,” he added.
According to Eger, his philosophy of teaching has its roots in his greatest defeat—the time in Germany when he had to leave [the Gymnasium] at the age of thirteen because he couldn’t speak English. “Not only did I feel that I was letting myself down,” he said, “but I felt that I had let down my family, especially my father. He was a writer and foreign correspondent and had been killed while reporting from Russia in 1944.”
As a result, Eger later attended evening classes and spent all his vacations with English families as a “paying guest.” Later he became manager of a book import company in London, England:
“I remember my first day at work. I was terrified when the phone on my desk rang because I realized that I had never spoken English on the telephone and didn’t know how to handle that situation!” And then something important happened: “By actually picking up the phone, I learned to overcome my fear. What a breakthrough it was!”
Less than two years later, Eger was accepted into a college in Germany and majored in English. During his first year, he won a scholarship to study in the U.S. There he became interested in the Civil Rights Movement, visited Harlem–right after the riots of 1964–stayed with a black family in Memphis, TN, met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and became his German Nobel Peace Prize mail translator.
“That one year in America has a lot to do with who I am today. It shaped my life,” said Eger. “Living in the US as a young student made me realize that I had control of my life,” he added. “For example, if I wanted to go on the air, I could—and did—every night. Or, if I wanted to write, I could—and did—write a regular column for the campus newspaper.”
Eger is particularly proud of the fact that one of his students at SHU has begun writing a column for Spectrum and that a number of other students are thinking about getting their work published, too.
It was as an undergraduate that Eger realized that his voice counted. “In fact,” he said, “I knew that I no longer was on the conveyor belt of failure. Once I made good use of the opportunity at college, everything in my life began to move forward.”
After his return to Germany, Eger completed his studies, taught English for three years, and wrote his MA thesis on the integration of underprivileged pupils in to the school community.
After he had become tenured, and begun to live comfortably, he decided to give it all up to teach in England and study literature at British universities. “Imagine,” Eger said, “here I was, the kid who couldn’t speak English a few years earlier, now teaching English to the English!”
After getting one B.A Honors and two Master’s degrees from British universities in only four years altogether, and with job offers from a number of different countries, Eger accepted a position at Kerman University in Iran in 1977 where he taught English and became Head of the German Department.
Leaving Asia, Eger returned to the US in 1980. He taught English at Oklahoma State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago (USC), and Indiana University at Kokomo (IUK). He also served as assistant Director of Composition at USC, and became Director of the Learning Enhancement Center at IUK. During his time in Chicago, he became the founding president of a chapter of Toastmasters International and the Society for Technical Communication (STC).
Eger also became a consultant for business people, and worked as a ghost writer for psychologists, physicians, and engineers. He specialized in unblocking blocked writers and evaluated manuscripts for textbook publishers. In addition, Eger edited an educational magazine called Aristotle’s Word Processor.
After teaching in numerous environments, both here and abroad, Eger has decided to settle in Connecticut. “I am dedicated to the mission of Sacred Heart University,” he said. He enjoys teaching greatly and will be offering two research courses next semester, as well as an advanced writing class. During the latter part of spring, he will be teaching a graduate course in International Communications--another first at SHU.
Eger is particularly happy with the progress his students are making and has edited a booklet entitled
Be Your Own Coach, which was distributed on Parents’ Day. The response to his students’ writing has been excellent. [Click here for more information on Reaching Out: Mentoring as an Empowerment of Self and Others. A collection of reports on mentoring experiences by students at Sacred Heart University.]
Eger stressed the positive attitude toward students among faculty members and administrators. “That makes SHU the right place for me,” he concluded, “especially with the support for the ‘Think globally, act locally’ philosophy at SHU.”
Eger who has witnessed torture in Iran – firsthand, is planning to found an SHU chapter of Amnesty International soon and is looking for supporters amongst students, faculty members, and administrators.
The man who has lived and taught all over the world ended the interview by equating his experience at Sacred Heart University to the discovery of the Holy Grail --“at least as a potential.” And he concluded, “searching for the Holy Grail may take more than a semester, perhaps even a lifetime. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to reach inside and find that, maybe, it’s all sitting deep inside the heart of our brain.”
Textiles by William Morris and Morris & Co. 1861–1940, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, 1981.