Daniel Kotzin, Ph.D.: An Avid Researcher

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Medaille Faculty Mary Louise Hill
August 11, 2011 - 8:00am

For Daniel Kotzin, Ph.D., assistant professor of social sciences and chair of Medaille’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, history isn’t something that can be learned from simply cracking open a textbook or watching a documentary. An avid researcher, he prefers to gain his knowledge from those who were actually there experiencing it—and relaying their observations to others.

"Right now, I’m involved in a project having to do with letters written to Rabbi Isaac Klein," said Dr. Kotzin. "He lived in Buffalo and was a chaplain in the U.S. Army during WWII." He continued, "It’s fascinating to learn about these servicemen stationed around the world, and how through their relationship with the chaplain - through letter writing - they were able to maintain their Jewish identity at the time of this great conflict."

Dr. Kotzin feels so strongly about the power of written correspondence that he taught a course in which students examined letters written by soldiers in the Civil War. "I was extremely lucky to have wonderful history teachers throughout my early education," he offered. "They grabbed my attention and made the past come alive through creativity and interaction." In one notable exercise, said Dr. Kotzin, his teacher had the students play stockbrokers as a way to underscore the importance of the Great Depression. Ironically, he had no plans to teach history, opting to study law instead.

All that changed, however, when in sophomore year of college Dr. Kotzin had an extraordinary history professor who inspired him. "I feel very fortunate to have made the decision I did," said Dr. Kotzin. "For me, once I set my mind to becoming a teacher, there was no looking back. I felt like I was on a straight path and never questioned my decision."

Dr. Kotzin is grateful to have the opportunity to bring his teaching style to Medaille. "I’ve always wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college and jumped at the chance to come here," said the Los Angeles native. "I went to larger schools and even though I received a great education, I always felt like something was missing." Dr. Kotzin noted the small classes at Medaille give him the chance to get to know his students and he loves to implement a curriculum that is more discussion-based as opposed to lectures.

Dr. Kotzin notes the value of interdisciplinary courses at Medaille, in which students examine issues through different lenses. Analyzing a problem, for example, through the eyes of an historian, archeologist and psychologist, gives students an understanding of the complexity of issues and the frequent difficulty of finding solutions. "Once you realize what you don’t know, you become very wise. If we as teachers are forcing students to question themselves or their world...we’re doing our job."    

This content originally appeared in the summer 2011 issue of the Medaille Magazine.

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