Teaching through memes, kindness: Uwe Stender wins ‘Best Gen-Ed Professor’


Image via University of Pittsburgh

Uwe Stender, a lecturer in Pitt’s German department.

By Kendall Swift, Staff Writer

Students voted Uwe Stender, a lecturer in the German department, as the “Best Gen-Ed Professor” in The Pitt News’ annual “Best Of” survey. It’s his first time winning the title since he began working for the University in 2006.

Stender said he was surprised to hear the news of his win.

“I’m really excited. I was shocked when I got [the] email [announcing the win],” Stender said.

Stender primarily teaches Germanic Myths, Legends and Sagas, Indo-European Folktales and New German Cinema — all three of which can be counted as general education courses.

Corie Miller, a junior psychology major, took Indo-European Folktales with Stender. She said she was not surprised to hear that Stender had won best gen-ed professor.

“He’s a really good professor, so it doesn’t really surprise me [that he won],” Miller said. “But I’m glad that other people realize how great of a professor he is, too.”

Gabriela Hutter, a junior psychology major, also took Indo-European Folktales with Stender. She said she enjoyed taking a class with Stender because of his kindness.

“He is really nice and super sweet,” Hutter said. “He was always organized when it came to class discussion, but organized in a way that also allowed for us to discuss.”

Miller said Stender made a big effort to relate to students.

“He was very understanding and he really tried to understand our generation’s way of thinking and our point of views,” Miller said.

Stender said he tries to make his classes relevant to modern times, especially because some course content — such as myths and folktales — is hundreds of years old. He recalled a recent time where a student compared a saga they were reading in class to catfishing.

“I love when students can apply something that is really ancient and not completely modern,” Stender said. “I love that they are thinking that way and try to put it in current times. That’s what I try to encourage — making it relevant to 2022.”

Hutter and Miller both said their favorite memory of class was the day that they made memes.

“He wasn’t just lecturing on what we were learning in history, he was trying to connect it to what’s going on in the current world because a lot of the folktales we read were written forever ago,” Miller said. “He would try to connect it to things that were happening now and talk about how things have changed, which I thought was nice.”

Stender also said part of his teaching strategy is to get students to engage with one another.

“What I’ve noticed is the classes are pretty silent, people don’t talk to each other and they kind of stare at their phones,” Stender said. “[So I] break them down into smaller groups and then just encourage them to engage with each other and get to know each other.”

He said he does this because he wants students to become familiar with one another.

“When [students] leave the course, the people they’re with are complete strangers to them, even though they spend 15 weeks with [each other],” Stender said.

Hutter said the class’s communication structure allowed for good conversations.

“It was still structured, but we were allowed to converse in class,” Hutter said. “We had some fantastic discussions. He wasn’t afraid of tangents.”

Hutter also said she liked the freedom that Stender allowed in the class.

“He gave us creativity and the freedom to change plans, but not enough to be chaotic,” Hutter said.

Outside of teaching, Stender works as a literary agent at TriadaUS, a literary agency he founded. The agency represents authors such as Olivie Blake, author of ”The Atlas Six”, and Chloe Gong, author of “These Violent Delights.” Both books have been on the New York Times Best Seller List.

As part of his work with TriadaUS, Stender also collaborates with movie studios and production companies to adapt books to film. He has worked with companies such as Amazon Studios and Amblin, Steven Spielberg’s production company.

When Stender is not working, he enjoys running, swimming and biking. He also enjoys watching German soccer.

Miller and Hutter said they were pleased with their experience having Stender as a professor. Both said they enjoyed his teaching style and demeanor.

“I really wish more teachers were like [Stender],” Hutter said. “Some people you can really tell genuinely love teaching and love interacting with students our age. [Stender] was definitely one of those types of people.”