For professor Josef Olmert, teaching provides the one thing positions in Israeli government, participation in peace talks with Syria and scholarly writing do not: fulfillment through mentorship.
“That's what I believe is my mission — to help the students, whoever it is,” Olmert, an adjunct professor of Middle Eastern studies, said.
Linguistics professor Stanley Dubinsky said Olmert makes himself available to aid students in whatever way necessary.
“[Y]ou can tell he takes genuine interest in his students and cares about them,” Olmert’s former student, Ava Downing, said in an email interview. “[I]t was nice to know that someone who’s so accomplished has faith in your abilities and pushes you to go above and beyond what you think you’re capable of.”
Out of all the professors she encountered at USC, Downing said Olmert was her most involved mentor. He pushed her to pursue opportunities she said she believes she would never have found on her own, and helped to turn her academic interests into a "tangible career path."
“The real satisfaction, as far as I can see, is to know that you shared your knowledge, your expertise, your experience, with students to the point where it helped them,” Olmert said.
Robert Cox, a professor of political science and director of the Walker Institute for International Studies, said Olmert's "poise" while teaching is a trait many admire in addition to his passion.
“He’s dealing with a topic that generates strong opinions, and about which people have strongly held opinions,” Cox said. “But, his students uniformly find him to be balanced and receptive to different ideas, and [he’s] willing to discuss and encourage them to express them and form their own thoughts and opinion.”
Olmert said his dedication to aiding his students has to do with his contentment with his current position.
“The need to move on in the academic hierarchy sometimes takes us away from what should be our main challenge, which is to help our students, to get back the input from them that we helped them,” Olmert said. “For me, that’s the greatest satisfaction.”
Olmert's past experiences range from directing the Israeli Government Press Office and the Council for Parliamentary Democracy, advising the former prime minister of Israel and the former Israeli defense minister to the membership of the 1991-1992 Israeli delegation for peace talks with Syria.
As far as Olmert’s personality, Cox said he's “warm and concerned," and Dubinsky said he's a “very straight shooter."
“He’s a very upright person; he’s a very straightforward person; he’s a very honest and forthright individual,” Dubinsky said. “You’re not beating around the bush when you interact with him.”
In his free time, Olmert said he enjoys theater, movies, reading and traveling. He has a particular appreciation for folk, Arabic and Russian music, but, above all, he loves soccer. He said he wishes that in whatever people choose to do, they “do it out of joy.”
Dubinksy said there are a few things everyone can learn from him.
“He’s one of these professors who just does anything he can for his students,” Dubinsky said. “He is such a dedicated person when it comes to teaching and when it comes to mentoring students.”
Editor's Note: Olmert was voted “Best Professor” in The Daily Gamecock’s 2019 special issue “Best of Carolina.”