The World According to Mando Dan
Dan Hellinger, Ph.D.
“I’ll go anywhere they aren’t shooting me.”
Dan Hellinger teaches in Webster’s College of Arts & Sciences, where he’s long been known as an expert on Latin America – as well as a mandolin player in multiple local bands. A pioneer for Webster’s exchanges with Cuba, he’s traveled all around to help students understand the world that’s to come.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Socratic. When I was an undergraduate, I came thinking I had most of the answers. The teachers who most moved me to think about my values, especially my political ones, never disrespected my views but posed questions and really listened to what I had to say. I try to treat my students same way.
What motivates you?
As I’ve gotten older, it’s wanting to help young people deal with the very challenging decades ahead of them. I still like teaching older students, making sure that they don’t underestimate their own abilities. But today it’s got more to do with wanting young people to see politics as something that they have to take seriously, for their own sake. I’m liking what I’m seeing in the current election campaign, in this respect.
What makes teaching at Webster distinctive?
The classroom environment, at least in Arts and Sciences, is so encouraging of student engagement and participation in the classroom. And of course, few institutions can offer the opportunity to teach abroad, where a classroom of 15 or 20 students often represents 7 or 8 different countries.
What is the focus of your scholarship?
For years I have been a Venezuelan expert, though I’ve written on lots of other topics as well. I’ve made several trips to Cuba and begun to write on the reforms underway there. I also research on the international political economy of oil. In a very different direction, I’ve developed a proposal to write a book on conspiracy theory, based in part what I’ve learned teaching a senior seminar in our department over the last 15 years.
What are you most curious about?
What the world and this country will look like by the time my students have reached my age! This requires some projection, obviously, and I don’t have a crystal ball. But we can see the challenges.
What is your favorite travel destination?
That’s a hard question. I’ll go anywhere they are not shooting at me, and there are still so many places to see. If there was a country the combined the best of Venezuela, Scotland and Vienna, that would be it.
What's always in your suitcase?
My travel mandolin and sheets of music of fiddle tunes I want to learn.
Hellinger is interviewed on Latin Pulse discussing the legacy of Hugo Chavez
Listen to Professor Hellinger discussing Chavez's legacy and the impact of his death on Venezuela during a Latin Pulse interview in 2015.
How do you translate your passion in life to the classroom?
It’s easier to do that now. Contemplating (partial retirement), I want to go out giving my best to the students.
What is your superpower?
Ability to direct a group without pissing someone off.
Who is the person, living or dead, you most admire?
Salvador Allende, the elected socialist president of Chile, who was committed to social justice and democracy, and died defending those things.
What three words best describe you?
Frumpy, empathetic, easy-going.
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