Teacher Feature: Professor Moeckel-Rieke


Quick cup of coffee, run up the steps, make some copies, return to the classroom, then teach the class.

Professor Moekel-Rieke.  Photo by Tatiana Shams-Costa

Professor Moekel-Rieke. Photo by Tatiana Shams-Costa

Moeckel-Rieke might be always on the go, but she is one of the most knowledgeable and dedicated professors when it comes to her students at Norwalk Community College.

Professor Moeckel-Rieke was born in Bad Homburg, West Germany. Coming from the post-war generation, she attended many different schools when she was younger. Two of those schools emphasized modern languages to help prepare the youngsters for the new world.

Her father was a biologist who specialized in bacteriology and had his own business. When Moeckel-Rieke was a little girl her father would take her and her two siblings for walks in the forest to teach them the Latin name of “every grass and plant on the planet.”

Moeckel-Rieke confessed she can’t remember all the names her father taught her, but she loved the poetry of it.

“I think it taught me to see individual little entities where others saw forest,” Moeckel-Rieke said.

Her mother didn’t attend college but she was a very artistic person.  After she  passed away, Moeckel-Rieke attended a college close to home so she could take care of her father and the house during the weekends. The first university she attended was Ruhr-Universität Bochum in the Ruhr-Industry, Germany, which was recognized for having famous professors.

“My initial dream had been to become an artist, but my parents did not think that was a good idea,” said Moeckel-Rieke. Instead, she went for her second choice: math and sociology. She pursued these academics even though she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with them.

After reading Shakespeare at college level, she decided to change her major to English and Scandinavian studies. She met two professors that made a huge impact on her.

From her English professor, Reinhold Schiffer, she learned to love poetry, art, romantic literature, American literature and aesthetic theory, for he was working on George Oppen’s work, an American poet. She also became passionate about the Republic of Turkey, thanks to Schiffer’s work and annual trips to this country and also due to the large community of Turkish migrant workers who adopted Berlin as their home.

From her Scandinavian studies professor, Walter Baumgartner, she learned about Freud, Hegel, Marx, Bebel, Foucault and history. He was originally from Switzerland and he was working at the time into completing a new translation of August Strindbergs’s work from Swedish to German for a publishing house named Suhrkamp. Baumgartner also encouraged students to write and translate for publication, which Moeckel-Rieke did.

After a while, Moeckel-Rieke grew tired of Bochum, and decided to move to Germany’s cosmopolitan capital, Berlin, to study philosophy and to work towards her Ph.D. There she started working as a teacher at the interdisciplinary John F. Kennedy Institute for American Studies. Later Moeckel-Rieke was awarded with a scholarship and came to study in America at Berkeley in San Francisco.

“After six weeks it was time to go home, but I could not. I felt I had not even begun to understand the American society, so how could I write a Ph.D. thesis on its poetry?” said Moeckel-Rieke.

Before she went back to Berlin to finish her Ph.D. she stayed in America for a year attending to as many poetry readings as she could. Back home, she continued to work at the JFK Institute for American Studies in Frankfurt for two more years. After finishing her Ph.D., she got married and received another scholarship that brought her back to America, this time in Buffalo, N.Y.

“The greatest poetry archive you can imagine,” said Moeckel-Rieke.

During her second stay in the United States, she studied Susan Howe’s work, an experimental poet. She got to meet her and other interesting people such as Robert Creeley, an American poet, and Robert Coover a famous American author, over dinners where poetry and contemporary novels were discussed.

Moeckel-Rieke recalls she “underestimated” the fact that her husband had always wanted to live in America. After he received a job offer from his company, Moeckel-Rieke and her family decided to come here for two years. After that time, they decided to make America a home away from their own. In the beginning, it was difficult because her kids were very young and she wasn’t able to work.

“We bought a cheap but ruined house, so I learned how to put down hard wood floors and how to tile. It was actually fun because you see at the end of the day what you had accomplished,” said Moeckel-Rieke.

She started out at NCC as an adjunct professor in the English as a Second Language program (ESL) and also as an English professor at both Fairfield University and University of Connecticut. She works now as a full time English instructor and she considers herself very fortunate for having a full-time job.

“I love working at NCC! It is so exciting because of all the different individuals we are offering our services to … The diversity of the people means constant influx of information for me and the fact that I sometimes have a chance to make a difference in people’s lives gives me great satisfaction,” Moeckel-Rieke said.

She is constantly seeking different ways to make learning for her students effective, which also helps her own learning process.

Even though she became a teacher almost by accident, she loves it because it brings out her best features and she is constantly engaged in learning new things every day. Her Ph.D. was in American Literature and Culture, but part of her training was similar as the one for the ESL program and that is how it came to be.

Moeckel-Rieke described that her most cherished experiences as a professor are to witness how students who struggle in the beginning become successful after working hard on their writing and research. As for her work, she described her colleagues as caring, giving and knowledgeable. She also likes learning from other professor’s topics and methods.

“I think she is extremely knowledgeable about English language, literature and American culture, and she is extremely dedicated to her students; she is a very creative thinker. In general working with her has enhanced my own teaching,” Burkhardt said.

She still misses her family and old friends in Berlin, but after all these years, she has become accustomed to the American way of life.

“They say that after five years your identity changes. I think that is true in some ways. My brother thinks I am very American, but I think I am a real hodgepodge,” Moeckel-Rieke said.

Moeckel-Rieke suggests to all the students at NCC not to get discouraged by obstacles, but to fight in order to achieve what they want.

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