Professor Jim Hedtke, Ph.D., begins his daily routine at 6 a.m. as he settles himself at his dining room table and starts to write. His workday ends 11 hours later as the twilight is descending.
In the time between, the historian surrounds himself with papers and photos gathered over decades, materials he now is transforming into a book. They document a fateful day in August 1944 when the crash of an American B-24 bomber on a routine test flight changed the life of an English village forever.
On that day, as World War II raged across Europe and the Pacific, a fast-moving thunderstorm caused the crew of the B-24 first to attempt an emergency landing, then to abort that attempt, and ultimately to crash into—and through—the village of Freckleton, Lancashire. The crash killed 61 civilians, including 38 children, almost every child in the community between ages 4 to 6.
As Hedtke commits this remarkable story to the page, he’s transported to the Northwest of England, where he traces the effects of tragedy through the years.
That spring semester was an exceptional one for Hedtke. Rather than teaching his regular roster of classes, meeting with students in his campus office, and attending meetings, he experienced a time of immersion and focus, completing his book during a three-month sabbatical.
The hours were long, but that was exactly the point. “To write something large, you need a large chunk of time,” Hedtke explains. He then quickly adds, “I loved it. I loved every minute of it.”
In summer 2012, Professor Jim Hedtke (seated, third from left) and his wife Judy (standing, fourth from left) met survivors of the 1944 American B-24 crash in the village of Freckleton in Lancashire, England.
Each year, a handful of Cabrini faculty members have the same opportunity as Hedtke, to immerse themselves in a substantive project through a sabbatical. Their experiences span a wide range, from laboratory research to teaching abroad on Fulbright fellowships, from exploring techniques of online instruction to exploring the roots of depression in teens.
All the projects, though, have a few features in common. “The first requirement is that the faculty member is taking on something that just would not be possible if they maintained their responsibilities on campus,” explains Anne Skleder, Ph.D.
“That’s really the point of the sabbatical.” As Cabrini’s provost, Skleder is one of several people who evaluate each sabbatical proposal, making final recommendations to the president after a competitive process including evaluation by the department chair and review by a faculty committee.
It’s also key, she says, that work yields a significant benefit. “When we grant a sabbatical, we are making an investment in the faculty member and the College, and, of course, we want to see a return,” Skleder explains.
“We want faculty to complete important research and publish new work, to enrich the curriculum, to grow personally and develop professionally. We want them to gain new recognition for Cabrini. And when someone has an idea that promises to do all these things at the same time, it’s hard to say no.”
Often, as in Hedtke’s case, a sabbatical means the opportunity to bring a major project to completion. In other cases, though, it’s the chance to move in a new direction.
“There’s great value in an experience like this,” Hedtke says.
“Once or twice in life, there should be the opportunity to step outside your regular routine and do something that’s important and interesting and new. It’s a time for self-fulfillment and self-actualization.”