As students make their way through the basement of Hargreaves Hall turning left, and left again, they arrive at office 19-A, the home of Dr. Todd Hechtman.
The first thing that may strike students is how much Hechtman resembles actor Ty Burrell, who is best known for his role as Phil Dunphy on ABC’s hit comedy “Modern Family.”
“I hope I don’t act like him,” said Hechtman, who did not seem to realize his resemblance to the TV dad who keeps America entertained.
More often than not, people will find Hechtman on his computer, reading the news of the day or preparing for his next class.
“I’ve always been kind of a news junkie. I love it.”
However, this love of reading and always being prepared did not click right off the bat.
Growing up in Chicago as the son of a teacher and advertising salesman, Hechtman had no problem expressing himself.
“I was the class clown, the kid who often goofed off in class. I wasn’t afraid to say what I felt.”
That all changed in high school when Hechtman found his calling, or so he thought. That calling at the time was music.
Hechtman fell in love with jazz and specifically the bass so much so, he decided to transfer to the Chicago Academy for The Arts.
“It really taught me how to study and focus and I thought for a while I would pursue it and become a professional musician.”
After graduating in 1985, Hechtman continued his education at the University of Miami and walked into his first sociology class.
“I think because it fit my schedule I signed up for it and it really changed my life. The material was speaking to me in ways I didn’t expect.”
By his second year at the university, Hechtman would leave his bass behind and put all his energy into sociology.
After a two-year stint in southern Florida, Hechtman transferred closer to home — Northwestern University — where he would go on to graduate with honors.
At Northwestern, Hechtman took a class from Dr. Harold Becker, who became his academic idol.
“[Becker] was so engaged in what everybody was saying and really cared about people, and that was rare and really genuine,” Hechtman said.
Hechtman further developed his sociological mind by observing his peers at Northwestern University,
“It was really interesting. I was a bit of a loner and watching how serious everybody was and the need to be first and the first one to get a seat in class. It was eye opening, but fascinating.”
Hechtman went to graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he went on to discover his love for teaching.
“When I was in [graduate school] I taught a few classes and made up my mind that I wanted to teach rather than be a researcher.”
In 1999, Hechtman left the sunny beaches of California for the always changing weather of Spokane.
“I really left for the job and after a while you get tired of the sunshine. Where I’m from we have seasons and in California it’s always the same and I missed the clouds.”
When Hechtman first arrived in the Spokane area he did not embrace the city right away.
“I got picked up at the airport and came out to Cheney. Cheney had nothing. It felt like a ghost town. It wasn’t a great first impression, but once I saw downtown I fell in love with it.”
Since arriving at Eastern, Hechtman has loved working with students and has learned just as much from them as students have learned from him.
“I generally enjoy people. Students teach me and it’s really rewarding.” Sociology, he feels, is vitally important for all college students to have some exposure to. “We all could benefit from learning how we live in these social groups.”
The one thing that separates Hechtman from some of his colleagues is that people will not find a test given in any of his classes.
“I took tests and did well but you learn so much more by writing.”
Even though Hechtman does not give tests, he can gauge a student’s knowledge of the material.
“I can tell very easily who has read the material and who hasn’t,” Hechtman said.
To Hechtman, writing is the most important skill you can have and nothing gauges your learning better.
“I don’t like the idea of giving a test, running it through a machine and that’s it,” said Hechtman. “I would much rather read over an essay where I can gauge your critical thinking and have you prove to me that you learned something and been able to explain what it all means.”
Lee Kinney, a current student of Dr. Hechtman’s, said, “A lot of teachers make you buy a textbook and you never end up using it. He stays with the text and I would absolutely take another class from him again.”
When asked what Hechtman hopes students take away from him, he is simple and to the point: “That they leave with an open mind about critical thinking and what sociology can do.”