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Bus driver job led Steve Siporin to a career in folklore

December 12th, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

By Ty Rogers

LOGAN—After graduating from Stanford University, Steve Siporin spent a year living and working on a farm in Italy, and then lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year.

After his foreign travels, he decided to return to school in the U.S. and earn a master’s degree in English literature, and got a job driving a bus in Eugene, Ore.

Siporin, now an associate professor who directs USU’s folklore program, worked as a bus driver while attending graduate school at the University of Oregon in the early 1970s. That job decided his career.

“I think my life was determined by driving a bus,” he said.

Siporin drove that bus route for about a year. It was a period of time in which he escorted both his future wife and his best friend to their destinations. The bus route also drove him from a focus in English lit to folklore.

“The James Joyce class clashed with my bus driving schedule, and the folklore class didn’t,” said Siporin. So he took his very first folklore class.

More than a decade later, in 1986, Siporin moved to Logan to teach in USU’s folklore program, which was directed by his first folklore professor, Barre Toelken.

“The great thing about the job here was that I got to teach what I wanted to teach,” Siporin said.

His first class at USU was folklore and religion. While Siporin has taught a broad range of classes, many of them have been based on the folklore in religion, and more specifically, folklore in Jewish religion.

Erin Rhees Gabriel took Siporin’s Jewish folklore class last fall. “I think Dr. Siporin is a really dedicated teacher and he seems to really love and respect his students,” Rhees Gabriel said. This makes Siporin an ideal candidate to embark on teaching a subject as volatile as religion.

Siporin generally teaches two classes per semester, including one undergraduate class and one graduate course. This Fall he taught Intro to Folklore and Folklore Theory and Methods.

“I think students really like him,” says colleague Lisa Gabbert. “Frequently they will come into the folklore program because they’ve had a class with Steve.” Gabbert is an assistant professor in the Folklore Program and teaches various folklore-based classes.

Siporin became the director of the Folklore Program in 2008. “We pride ourselves in being accessible to students, friendly to students, and hospitable to guests and faculty members,” he said.

Rhees Gabriel says Siporin and his colleagues succeed in that. “His sense of humor is sharp and witty, which made the classroom experience very fun,” she said.

Last spring, Siporin won a Lady Davis Fellowship, something he’d applied for before but hadn’t won. “It’s one of those third time is a charm things,” said Siporin.

The fellowship gave him the opportunity to take his knowledge of folklore to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, where he taught a class based on American folklore covering regions from the Texas Gulf Coast to Utah to the Pacific Northwest.

“A lot of them (students) are familiar with American culture in ways such as television programs, movies, music, pop culture stuff, but they have a hard time conceiving how big and diverse America is,” Siporin said.

“It was a prestigious university he was at, and as I understand, they have a really vibrant folklore program,” Gabbert said. “It was a really, really good place for him to be.”

It was a good place for him to be for more than one reason. “I was glad that I got it then rather than the other times because my son was there,” Siporin said. One of his three sons moved to Israel and is now a citizen and currently in the military.

While in Israel, Siporin also took an intensive Hebrew language course. In addition to studying Hebrew further, Siporin still has projects and ambitions that he would like to accomplish at USU in the future.

“I would like to teach a course in Biblical Folklore, but that would take some major preparation,” he said.

Looking back after all the years of studying, research, writing, and collecting, Siporin reflects on a single job he had as a college student.

“Bus driving gave me my wife, my kids, and folklore,” he said.


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