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Harvard Alumnus Continues Education at UAFS

Harvard Alumnus Continues Education at UAFS(Posted: April 2, 2014)

After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in applied math nearly 45 years ago, Paul Hackbarth is continuing his passion of lifelong learning at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

Hackbarth, who decided to move to Fort Smith in 2008, enrolled at UAFS in the fall of 2011 and immediately fell in love with a campus that was a far cry from the institution he attended decades before.

"At Harvard, I felt a very strong disconnect with the faculty. For the most part, they were not much into personal communication. It was, 'Here's the material, you go learn it,'" he said. "And UAFS is just so different. I feel like I've got friends amongst the faculty members that I've had classes with. They're very generous with their time."

Having an open dialogue with his professors is important for Hackbarth, who is returning to his studies in math partly to revisit difficult material he didn't fully understand in his first collegiate go-through.

"I had a feeling of unfinished business. Not only over 40 years had I forgotten much of [what I had learned], some of the stuff I learned I felt like I didn't understand," he said.

But math isn't the only thing Hackbarth, a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, wants to study. With a unique work experience that has seen jobs as a teacher, software engineer and shiatsu therapist, Hackbarth wants to continue to expand his horizons by taking courses in information technology, biology, chemistry and foreign languages.

Dr. J.C. Price of Fort Smith, assistant professor of mathematics, says Hackbarth's passion for learning is what makes him a "wonderful student."

"His questions are always insightful, and he is interested in learning for learning's sake," he said. "In the classroom, nontraditional students such as Paul add diversity through their life experience and serve as exemplars of lifelong learners to our younger students."

Dr. Myron Rigsby of Fort Smith, associate professor of mathematics, said Hackbarth keeps him "on his toes."

"The course in which Paul is my student, abstract algebra, challenges math majors to understand on a far deeper level the basic concepts of high school algebra. In such a course, attention to details is fundamental," he said. "Paul is the student who routinely focuses on these details, sometimes providing the justification, sometimes recognizing where more justification is needed, and sometimes challenging whether the justification is necessary."

For Hackbarth, every day is a chance to learn, and he plans to spend plenty more days at UAFS.

"I think I've got several more years of fun things to take here," he said. "Just after graduating from college in 1969, I became fascinated with the author Carlos Castaneda, who wrote several books detailing a many-year apprenticeship with a Mexican Indian seer. Castaneda was tasked by his teacher to become a 'man of knowledge.' I, too, am driven to become a man of knowledge, and I see UAFS and its many generous teachers helping me to do that."

Article by: John Post, Public Relations Assistant
Photo(s) by: John Post, Public Relations Assistant

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