USD Just Read! Faculty Highlight

with Dr. Kathryn Statler, Professor, History

Image of Professor Kathryn Statler 

Join The Book Club With Dr. Kathryn Statler

With Earth Day approaching in less than a month, it’s important to be consciously aware of our environment and to start getting students involved by teaching them about sustainability topics.

Kathryn Statler, history professor here at USD, is always seeking ways to get her students interested in sustainability. Tying in USD’s Just Read book, The Price of Thirst, with the Vietnam War and issues of water pollution and conservation, Statler incorporated academic learning and volunteer opportunities for students to explore issues of water sustainability from a historical, political, economic, and psychological lens. Read below to find out more.

 Describe how your course ties into the Price of Thirst.

One of the things I did in my classroom this year was to ask all of my students to read the chapter on Iraq in The Price of Thirst and then compare American destruction and then reconstruction of that country with American actions in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s.  My class is focused on the Vietnam War.  They wrote a reflection piece and then we discussed it in class.  The discussion was enlightening because they were able to draw so many parallels between the two countries and overall American policy in the world.  We discussed the fact that America often has the best of intentions but that the implementation of those intentions sometimes goes horribly awry because Americans have failed to understand the history, culture, and political situation in a particular country.  In other words, trying to nation-build in the American image usually does not work.

You're quite an avid reader, did this influence your passion to introduce Just Read in your classroom? And what other activities have you incorporated with the Just Read program?

Reading is hands down my favorite thing to do.  I belong to multiple book clubs and I find discussing books with others incredibly valuable because they offer insights I did not manage to arrive at on my own.  I also love when others have contrasting interpretations and then we can debate them. For me, the book in the Just Read program that had the biggest impact was Bottled and Sold.  I have not bought a plastic water bottle since I read that book over a year ago.  I also made sure as director of the Insight LLC that students received a sustainable water bottle at the beginning of the year. What I would love to see next in the Just Read series is a fictional work.  My recommendation is The Circle by Dave Eggers.  Everyone in our technological age should be reading that book. It’s incredibly provocative about where we are heading as a society.

What is your proudest teaching moment at USD?

I don’t know if I have a single moment but probably what I am most proud of during my 18 years at USD is my involvement in the preceptorial program.  I have now taught my Vietnam War preceptorial class 14 times.  I love working with no more than 20 students, as small groups are where the most teaching occurs. There is more time for discussion and it’s easier to organize extracurricular activities like movie nights, going out for Vietnamese food, and taking students to exhibits and events that pertain to the class. One year I took them to a POW exhibit talk in Coronado.  Another year we went to see Last Days in Vietnam at the Ken Cinema in Kensington. I also love helping my students figure out USD and get started on their college career. What I love even more is when they show up in my upper division classes a couple years later.  It’s amazing to watch them develop as critical thinkers.  I have stayed in touch with many of my preceptorial students after graduation, so all in all, it’s just an incredibly rewarding experience. 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

 I can do better than that.  One word, and the title of the book by Frank Partnoy, professor of law at USD--“Wait.” The subtitle is “The Art and Science of Delay.”  Read this book.  It will change your world view.

Just Read is helping to invite students in on the conversation about water conservation, how do you create a dynamic and passionate environment for students to get involved?

One of the things I did with my Insight LLC last year was volunteering as a group for the San Diego River Foundation. About 60 of us spent a morning helping clean up the San Diego River.  Wow, that was an eye-opening experience.  We cleared out about 5,000 pounds of trash that would have been swept into the ocean.  It was pretty disgusting, but we were really proud of all we accomplished. Another way we thought about water conservation in a concrete manner was by doing posters for the Insight LLC end of the semester symposiums last year and this year. Last year, engineering students looked at designs that could help with water conservation, and my students explored the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnamese water and ways to eliminate it.  We also had a guest speaker come in to discuss how to deal with increasing ocean acidification. This year students highlighted the importance of river systems and conflicts over those rivers.