After coming back from an eight-month sabbatical, political science professor Eric Jepsen said he couldn’t wait to see all of the horse trailers pulling into Vermillion bringing students and their belongings, marking the beginning of another University of South Dakota school year.
This time last year, Jepsen found himself in a much different setting in a state within Kerala, India, as he spent a sabbatical fulfilling his Fulbright Scholarship which allowed him and his family to live in the country while he researched political reform at the state level.
“Institutionally, sabbaticals typically have been thought of as a way for folks to work on a research project and maybe come back also recharged both in terms of their scholarship and their teaching,” Jepsen said.
As a comparative political scientist and a majority of his work involving other countries, Jepsen faced distance difficulties with his research.
“It was very rewarding for me to be able to be situated and living in a place for many months, which allowed for conducting interviews, collecting data, meeting both scholars and business leaders, folks in the government,” Jepsen said.
German professor Istvan Gombocz spent his spring semester sabbatical leave, his second since starting at USD, and studied the German newspaper, Eureka Randschau, which was published in Eureka, S.D. from 1915 to 1927. He was able to order the 12 volumes of the entire newspaper in microform version from the Collections of South Dakota Historical Society and carry out his research in Vermillion.
Both Jepsen and Gombocz are using parts of their research in classes that they are teaching this semester.
“I do talk about the German heritage in the upper Midwest regularly,” Gombocz said. “I’m glad to be back in the classroom.”
Especially in his class Politics of India and Pakistan, Jepsen discovered that citing examples from his time in India has been beneficial.
“If a certain amount of time goes by where I haven’t spent time elsewhere, I lose some of the awareness I have about the world,” Jepsen said. “So the benefits for a university are that you have professors who come back with a larger base of knowledge, both from the project they were working on and also in that they were exposed to new ideas.”
Graduate student Lucia Carlson, who has taken previous classes with Jepsen, said she has already noticed an interesting twist in his class that she is taking this semester.
“He is just as animated and interesting as ever, but it’s really interesting to have him as an instructor in my Politics of India and Pakistan class since he returned because in addition to his academic virtues, he has a lot of real-world experiences in India to share with us,” Carlson said.
Carlson agreed with the continuance of USD’s sabbatical program for the professors.
“I think that if it benefited Dr. Jepsen’s teaching, it can do the same for the rest of our professors,” Carlson said.
From a professor’s standpoint, Gombocz said the advantages of being able to take a sabbatical cannot be appreciated enough.
“It’s my hope that (sabbaticals) continue,” Gombocz said. “It’s a great opportunity for not just research, but for continuing education and self-improvement.”