This week’s Gustie of the Week is Dr. David Obermiller, who is an Associate Professor in History, Environmental Studies, and Japanese Studies. He received the Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2015 for his excellence in the classroom, and enthusiasm for teaching and advising. Obermiller holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.
Obermiller came to Gustavus in 2008. He chose to relocate to Gustavus while looking for schools in southern Minnesota and stated “The way the job description was written, it was almost like it was written just for me.” He liked the idea of bringing an East Asian curriculum to a school with a European focus and considered that a challenge and an opportunity to make a bigger difference to students who would never have considered East Asian.
Obermiller states that his favorite opportunity at Gustavus is to teach and work with students, not only advising and mentoring them but especially teaching general education courses. “You get all types of students: whether they’re first or fourth years, with lots of different majors, so it’s a really difficult thing to do,” Obermiller said. “I think it’s an opportunity to get students excited about a content area, and so I try to work hard to offer a GenEd experience that hopefully students will remember in a positive way and think it’s worth their time,” Obermiller stated.
First-year Grace LaTourelle stated that in her first semester, Obermiller has already become a great role model for her. “He’s one of those teachers that will leave a life-long lasting impact on you in the way that you write, learn, connect, act, and think. Dr. Obermiller inspires me in the things he’s done – how he’s led a life of not only changing and growing himself but also revolutionizing the world,” LaTourelle said. LaTourelle said that being in Obermiller’s class pushed her to become a deeper thinker and a more compassionate human.
Senior Maggie Anderson stated that Obermiller and his classes have changed her life. “He was my FTS professor over Zoom, and on Zoom again in the spring of that Covid year. Somehow he managed to keep all of us laughing, inspire us, keep us engaged, and give us hope through the computer screen,” Anderson said. Anderson said that with Obermiller’s support, she has grown tremendously in her writing and in her own intellectual curiosity. “He is one of the most passionate people I have ever met and always works to bring the best out of every student,” Anderson said.
Between Obermiller’s three academic programs he’s involved with, he doesn’t have a lot of extra time but states that an extracurricular activity he enjoys is Boom Time. “We play soccer on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons – it’s a group of faculty, staff, students, coaches, and people from the St. Peter community that just get together and play recreational soccer,” Obermiller said. “It’s an opportunity for people to make connections in ways that they typically wouldn’t that’s been going on for the last about 10 years. In academia, you kind of get confined by this style that you don’t get a chance to break out of, which has made it one of my favorite experiences on campus,” Obermiller said.
Junior Jonathan Cordano stated that Obermiller has shaped his college career into what it is today. “While the courses he offers are quite rigorous, I can confidently say that he is the most motivating and compassionate professor I’ve had in my time at Gustavus,” Cordano said. Cordano also stated that while the course content he has learned from Obermiller’s classes has been invaluable, he also enjoys the perspective and things he’s learned about life from talking to Obermiller.
Obermiller stated that his favorite part about Gustavus is shaping the paths of students he works with. “I think that students who know very little if any history, they tend to take something more familiar like US or European history. Sometimes students who take my Introduction to Modern East Asia class have a lack of interest – and I find it a welcome challenge to get them to care about the content area,” Obermiller said. Obermiller stated that there are many students who take that class that end up becoming history or Japanese studies majors.
“It’s the best aspect of a liberal arts college which is intellectual serendipity, where you take a course you would’ve never taken by your own choice and then you find it quite interesting,” Obermiller said. Obermiller’s office door is covered in many postcards from students in numerous countries in Asia, of which he says that about 80% of those students who studied away didn’t consider it until he advocated for it. “It greatly altered their undergraduate experience because it wasn’t on their radar on their first day here until they took my course and it led them down a different intellectual path,” Obermiller said.
Senior Sydney Mancini claimed that Obermiller is one of her favorite professors, with him teaching some of the most rewarding classes she has ever taken. “I know I can count on him to bring his passion, insight, and brilliance into each class,” Mancini said.
Junior Anders Taylor stated that Obermiller always goes above and beyond what he can do for his students. “He is always eager to help foster our curiosity on any subject; ask him about his tea collection!” Taylor said.
Obermiller continues to influence students in and outside of the classroom for years on end. Taylor describes Obermiller as insightful, and inspiring, and that his day is “better every time [he] meets with [Obermiller.]” “Whether by giving baby plants to his environmental history students, offering tea to those who enter his office, or simply by stopping for a quick chat between meetings, he makes it clear that he genuinely cares for his students,” Mancini said. “Gustavus really lucked out getting Obermiller as a professor,” Taylor said.