Professor Oberlechner and his daughter Elizabeth. Photo courtesy of Oberlechner.
While most students were taking their midterms this year, professor Steve Oberlechner was preparing for the “test of his life”: becoming a father.
His wife and fellow professor, Cassandra Pritts, gave birth to their daughter on Sept. 27, 2017. On that day, Oberlechner added “proud dad” to his list of accomplishments, which includes hiking over 2,000 miles and being a published author.
Oberlechner is using his English background to pick up on ways his newborn daughter communicates. “Instead of just crying, we can hear cooing noises,” he said. “She can make some very funny faces!”
The test of fatherhood is one that Oberlechner finds exciting and terrifying. He and his wife are adjusting and learning as they go.
“No regrets, just less sleep!” he said with a chuckle. “It helps to have Cassie going through it with me. We’ll be supporting each other while we learn to support a child.”
Juggling the responsibilities of grading midterm papers and a newborn in the hospital made Oberlechner’s time dedicated to hiking the Appalachian Trail alone seem like a walk in the park.
The trail runs from Georgia to Maine, through 12 different states with hazards that include severe weather, black bears, venomous snakes, limited water and tick-borne diseases.
Oberlechner on the Appalachian Trail. Photo courtesy of Oberlechner.
“I really love it, despite the difficulty,” Oberlechner said. He plans to keep working his way south, finishing up the last 400 miles of the trail.
The beauty of the world and the adventure in seeing it appeals to him.
“Part of what I enjoy about it is just being in nature and being alone to reflect and take in a gorgeous view.”
Oberlechner often finds inspiration on the trail, too. “There’s little to distract me,” he said.
Inspiration is the first part in Oberlechner’s long process of writing. He’s had nonfiction pieces appear in The Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner and most recently, The Cimarron Review.
His fiction work has appeared online at The Cortland Review and Connotation Press.
In his published writing, Oberlechner has written about his family and growing up in rural Pennsylvania.
He plans to write about his time spent hiking, and he is working on a collection of essays linked by people and places.
Getting his work published is something that has taken much time and attention. Oberlechner’s goal is to one day be published by the Alaska Quarterly Review, a biannual literary journal published by University of Alaska Anchorage.
“I like the idea of my work laying around in some coffee shop in Anchorage or Juneau for somebody to pick up and enjoy or suffer,” Oberlechner said.
Recently, Oberlechner received a personal note from The Alaska Quarterly Review encouraging him to send more pieces, though his submission was not published. This has driven Oberlechner to continue to perfect his work.
“I don’t send out a piece unless it’s ready, and that means it can take a long time,” Oberlechner said.
He tries to stress that message to his students. “If [being published] is something that excites you, [it] can absolutely happen, but you’ve got to submit your very best work. It requires good care and attention.”
That level of care and attention is something he will teach his new students in English 100, 101, 102, and 214 next semester.
In English 214, Creative Non-Fiction, Oberlechner places value in peer feedback and collaboration. Students ‘submit’ pieces to the class, and the works are discussed as a group with other students offering praise and suggestions in a friendly atmosphere.
Unlike composition classes, the focus is on creativity, allowing students to get concrete feedback on their concepts and ideas without a heavy focus on grammar.
“Writing is a way to represent yourself,” Oberlechner said. “I hope [students] can see the broad application of effective communication, no matter the career goal.”