||Doctoral candidate Jeff Aziz (left) with Professor Richard Tobias
Love’s Labor’s Not Lost
Gift helps PhD students at just the right moment
During his undergraduate days at Ohio State University, Richard Tobias took a writing class that he’ll never forget. As part of the class, the students shared their writing with each other for critiques. Carbon copies of the students’ work were placed in the English department’ s library for comments from classmates. “Of course,” says Tobias, “you knew which students were which by their handwriting.”
As each of his own short stories came back to him, he especially noticed the insightful comments of Barbara Nietzsche, an undergraduate English and philosophy major. She didn’t waste words, and she didn’t particularly like his story content—he was writing about his infantry experiences in World War II. One day, near midsemester, a classmate mused to Tobias that he was thinking about asking Miss Nietzsche for a date.
Tobias took the cue. Soon he was courting the articulate young woman with the neat handwriting. “Our first date was in the second row of the Hartman Theatre for the musical Up in Central Park,” he says. “I think I paid $4.35 each for the tickets.” The couple’s courtship became an enduring partnership that lasted 44 years, until Barbara Nietzsche Tobias’ death in 1993.
In 1996, Tobias—a professor of English at Pitt—created a living memorial to honor his wife and their shared love of words, books, and academic life. Through his generosity, the University of Pittsburgh’s English department now offers the Barbara Nietzsche Tobias Fellowship, which gives doctoral students in English one year of funding to support the completion of a dissertation.
As someone who benefited from financial support as a graduate student at Ohio State, Tobias understands the difficulties posed by the completion of a doctoral dissertation. “You’re on your own. It’s a hard period of time for anybody,” he says about the point at which the coursework is done and the camaraderie of classmates disappears. “You have to do the isolating work of the dissertation. But a lot of students lose their energy and drive at this point, after years of working toward the degree. One sees this around all the time—ABD, all but dissertation.”
The Tobias fellowship helps PhD students in English at precisely this moment of transition. It’s meant to keep the momentum going, so that doctoral students finish what they started six or seven years earlier.
Tobias has taught at Pitt since 1957, handling both undergraduate and graduate classes. His courses have included 19th-century British Literature, Shakespeare, Modern Poetry, the Victorian Novel, and Comedy, with a graduate-level focus on writers such as Wordsworth, Dickens, Robert Browning, and Matthew Arnold. His publications include The Art of James Thurber, Shakespeare’s Late Plays (co-edited with Paul G. Zollbrod), and T.E. Brown, the Manx Poet. He is a longtime contributor to and editor of Bibliographies of Studies in Victorian Literature.
Barbara Nietzsche Tobias also devoted much of her professional life to Pitt. After earning a master’s degree in library science here, she worked in the University Archives in Hillman Library and as a research assistant on Robert Alberts’ landmark book, Pitt: 1787-1987. She was also associate editor for Professor Mary Briscoe’s Bibliography of American Autobiography: 1945-1980.
“We were great collaborators,” says Tobias about their partnership. They had different approaches—she worked the ideas out in her head before writing; he still sits down to write as a way of discovering what needs to be said—but, for each other, they made the arduous process of scholarly writing and critical thinking more enjoyable, less lonely.
His wife’s endowed fellowship is so important to Tobias that he continues to help the fund grow by contributing his teaching salary each year—he launched the endowment by donating all of his salary to the cause. Friends, colleagues, and family have also made gifts so that the annual income generated by the investment can be used to help worthy doctoral students persevere.
The first Tobias fellowship recipient is Jeff Aziz (FAS ’98, CGS ’95). Reared in New York City, Aziz is the son of university-educated parents who met in Illinois. His father was an exchange student from Afghanistan and, later, that country’s emissary to the United Nations for a time. His mother came from Chicago.
Both Aziz and Tobias share the experience of being influenced by women who loved books and the beauty and power of well-chosen words. For Tobias, it was his wife. For Aziz, it was his mother.
“I have the life that my mother would have wanted,” says Aziz. “She was a voracious reader and the template for my interest in literature.”
Having grown up with educated and articulate parents—a Lutheran mom and a Muslim dad—he developed a keen interest in religion and its impact on literature. His dissertation involves the religious debates of the Reformation in England and how Shakespeare incorporated those issues into his plays, especially the history plays. Aziz has a strong interest in the ways that written works reflect the times in which they are created.
The Tobias fellowship will give him added incentive and critical support to finish the daunting dissertation process. Then, he plans to continue teaching. He wants an academic life much like the one Tobias has lived. “I like being a researcher, but I love being a teacher,” says Aziz, who taught undergraduate students at Pitt while getting his master’s degree here.
Tobias was on the committee that selected Aziz. “He’s going to have a great career,” says Tobias, who’s eager for others to follow in Aziz’s footsteps. He knows that the fellowship recipients, with their PhD degrees, will go on to teach at other institutions around the country—and that will benefit Pitt’s reputation. Eventually, he expects the endowment to support at least two doctoral students each year.
Meanwhile, it’s clear he’s proud of the fellowship’s first recipient.
“I never give people A-pluses,” he says about his tough grading standards. “But I gave Jeff two. His mind just goes leaping along.”
Notes from Novak
The fall season is here—with all of its wonderful sights and smells—yet, I’m still dazzled by the wonderful and memorable summer we had here at Pitt.
This summer, the University’s $1 billion fundraising campaign reached a very important milestone—achieving its 100,000th donor, Valerie Hopkins (SIS ’05, GSPIA ’05). Valerie, a first-time donor to Pitt, made her gift to the Donald Goldstein Endowed Fund online (www.giveto.pitt.edu) just after graduating with a degree in information science and security intelligence.Valerie is one of 63,089 alumni donors and 102,702 other donors who have, so far, made a gift to the University of Pittsburgh during our Discover a World of Possibilities campaign.
There’s more good news, too. The campaign had its best individual giving year ever! With $51.8 million raised from individuals, this fiscal year’s fundraising total represents a 43 percent increase over the $35 million raised in 1997, when the campaign began. “Enthusiastic” doesn’t begin to describe our reaction to the tremendous and steady growth in support of the University’s fundraising efforts. With your help, we may well continue to shatter institutional records.
In all, Fiscal Year 2005 was a banner year for Pitt’s campaign, with 287 new endowed scholarship funds, 26 new endowed fellowship funds, and 65 new endowed faculty positions, in addition to enhanced support for educational and research programs, student-life initiatives, and facilities. These funds are helping to secure lasting, sustained resources for the University’s future.
Thank you for your continued generosity at all levels—you are making a difference, gift by gift, in Pitt’s ability to thrive for years to come.
Until next time, Al.
For more information about the Discover a World of Possibilities campaign, go online: www.giveto.pitt.edu
Institutional Advancement is working hard to reach the goal of $1 billion, and Pitt’s alumni and friends are responding. We are now more than three-fourths of the way there: $850 million!