Faculty Profile: Dr. Viktoria Harms

Professor Viktoria Harms, currently Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Language Studies in the German Department, has an impressive list of accomplishments: in the Fall of 2018 she was awarded a “Certificate of Merit” by the American Association of Teachers of German and the Goethe Institute for “achievement in furthering German teaching in the US;” last year she was promoted to the rank of Lecturer 2 at Pitt; she has overseen a major transformation of the beginning and intermediate language sequences in the Pitt German Department; she has been the driving force behind making the Pitt German Department an official testing center for the Goethe Institut; and in the Fall of 2018 she coordinated a Career Day (“Karrieretag”) that brought over 300 local high school students to the Pitt campus to learn about how German can help them in their future career goals (over 100 Pitt students attended, as well). In light of these accomplishments, it is surprising to think that she came close to never pursuing advanced study in German.

When she began MA study in Münster, Germany, she wanted to study English and history; she needed another minor, so she took German literature, almost as an afterthought. Just after she finished her MA degree and was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, she was offered a last-minute opportunity to become a TA in the Germanics Department at the University of Washington in Seattle for a year. She had only a few days to decide and had never been to the US before, but she took a risk and accepted. That decision turned out to be more life-changing than she had anticipated. She quickly realized not only that being a graduate student in a small department in the United States was completely different than being one of hundreds of students in a large German department in Münster, but more importantly, she learned that she loved teaching. So she stayed and finished her PhD with a dissertation titled: “Der Soldat und die Familie: Die Krise der Männlichkeit bei Goethe und Schiller.” She followed this with teaching stints at universities in South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Alabama, before joining the German Department at Pitt more than three years ago.

At Pitt, she had to hit the ground running, as she started her position here as both as Assistant Chair in the Department and Director of Language Studies when language departments were changing courses in the beginning language sequence from 5- to 3-credit courses. She describes it as a really exhilarating experience (not unlike her first rollercoaster ride ever at Kennywood!) and is grateful for the supportive colleagues at Pitt who helped her adapt.

Her overhaul of the beginning and intermediate language programs entailed not only transforming our introductory courses from a 5-credit (5-day-a-week) to a 3-credit (3-day-a-week) structure, but also involved introducing a new textbooks series (Netzwerk) and calibrating our language courses with the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR), an internationally-recognized standard of language acquisition.  In conjunction with this, she also built a strong relationship with the Goethe Institute so that now all senior German majors at Pitt take the Goethe Institute exam so that they can leave Pitt with an internationally-recognized certification of their language proficiency. Because of Dr. Harms, German language instruction at Pitt is cutting edge.

Dr. Harms’s contributions to our department do not stop with language courses, however.  She recently developed a new course, “Green Germany”, on a topic that seems now more important than ever (and that other language departments are now beginning to imitate). She has found it to be “a truly rewarding experience because of our amazing students.”

Dr. Harms really enjoys living in Pittsburgh - going for walks in the parks, attending events at the City of Asylum, going to the symphony and the opera, trying out new restaurants, and, last not least, dancing tango.  We are so glad that Viktoria’s “afterthought” led her to the USA and ultimately brought her to Pitt, where she has transformed the German Department for the better. (By J. Lyon)