Stephen A. Mitchell, soon to be the fourth master of Eliot House, believes that students and faculty have a lot to learn from each other.
A self-proclaimed member of what he terms the North House crew team's "Z boat," Mitchell may pick up a thing or two from Eliot's top-ranked rowing ensemble. And if the cult following that Mitchell has brought to his Core course, "Frozen Heroes," is any indication, the professor of Scandinavian and folklore may soon make Viking ships as appealing as crew shells.
Says one Folklore and Mythology co-worker of Mitchell, "He's a professor of Scandinavian, and it comes out in everything."
And although Cambridge, Mass. shares few features with the European peninsula, Mitchell still manages to fill his life with reminders of Scandinavian culture and literature.
His three children, for instance, share Scandinavian names. Mitchell's five-year-old fraternal twins are named Katrina and Erik, and his 11-month-old daughter is called Anneke.
Erik Mitchell, a huge Lego fan by his parents' admission, discovered that there are fringe benefits to having a father who loves Scandinavia; he was able to visit the Legoland theme park on a recent trip to Denmark.
"I located a field that really set my heart on fire," admits Mitchell, who begins his term as master of Eliot House in the fall.
Kristine L. Forsgard, who is married to Mitchell, will be co-master of Eliot. A former residential tutor, Forsgard has also been a teaching fellow, and served from 1987 to 1988 as director of fellowships at the Office of Career Services (OCS).
Besides "Frozen Heroes," officially called Literarure and Arts C-37, Mitchell teaches a graduate seminar on medieval Scandinavian folklore and an undergraduate course on witchcraft. He also chairs the Department of Folklore and Mythology. His forthcoming book, Heroic Saga and Ballad, examines medieval Icelandic legends and their heritage in modern Scandinavian folklore.
Mitchell discovered his subject at the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with the class of 1974.
"I just lucked into it," he says, crediting one of his early teachers for encouraging his interest in the field. His graduate studies in Scandinavian took him to the University of Minnesota and to Lunds University in Sweden. Mitchell first came to Harvard as an assistant professor in the fall of 1980 and received tenure three years ago.
Mitchell is "definitely one of the greatest professors I've had, if not the greatest," says Abbey Kohn '91, who calls the professor "supportive of students" and "interested in helping people."
Forsgard, like Mitchell, has traveled extensively. In her childhood, Forsgard says, she lived on both coasts and attended five different high schools in four years. The incoming Eliot co-master graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1976 with a degree in botany. She became a graduate student at Harvard in 1979, after taking a succession of area jobs, including a position at a Cambridge consulting firm for which she managed the restaurant 33 Dunster Street.
Forsgard led sections in Science B-15, "Evolutionary Biology," taught by Baird Professor of Science E.O. Wilson, and in Science B-30, "Reproductive Biology," taught by Professor of Biology Robert M. Woollacott.
She says she thinks her teaching experience will help her better relate to students.