In his 25 years at Geneseo as an education professor, Ernest Balajthy has infiltrated the learning community with his benevolence in more ways than one.
A high school English teacher for seven years, Balajthy describes his path to becoming a professor as accidental. "I had never taken a course in how to teach reading and then I had children who were unable to read very well so I took a course in reading at the local college," said Balajthy. "I just fell in love with studying how children's minds operate when they read, both in terms of word identification and comprehension."
Balajthy chose to grace Geneseo with his presence due to the convivial demeanor of the faculty that interviewed him. "They were smart, very committed to the college, they liked working with students, and they told me that Geneseo students were so bright but I didn't believe a word they said about that because everybody says that," said Balajthy. "I found out later on it was true."
Allotted time for a sabbatical, Balajthy and his family traveled overseas to Kenya for four months in 1995. The school Balajthy taught at mimicked American schools so students were prepared to be sent to college in the United States. "It was located out in a village right across the street; there were huts and shacks and people living very primitively," said Balajthy. "It was a great opportunity."
He explained that he worked with students grappling to read and supervised some student-teachers from Britain and the United States.
"If you do one thing in life, you have to take a safari in east Africa. It is just amazing to be able to drive right up to herd of giraffes or right up to a lion who's chowing down on a poor zebra or wildebeest," Balajthy laughed.
Balajthy also described the enjoyment he received from getting to know the residents in the village he resided in during his time in Kenya. "Their understanding of corn and their ability to carry on entire conversations about corn boggled my mind," said Balajthy. He did note that as different as the Kenyans were from the American culture, many parallels can be drawn between the two cultures in that they were concerned about their children, future and country.
Balajthy didn't stop defying boundaries in Africa, however. In the past five years, Balajthy and his wife have led student groups to Guatemala twice to carry out different kinds of social work.
Besides assisting the world with his munificence one struggling reader at a time, Balajthy enjoys a plethora of hobbies ranging from braving 30-foot rapids while white-water kayaking to advising the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Elementary and Secondary Education Association (ESEA).
Balajthy's culture and experiences have led him to develop a few life lessons of his own. "It's easy for life to get out of balance but balancing between intellectual activities and seeing the importance of them in everyday life, and spiritual development, and taking care of yourself physically, is the constant struggle and challenge in life."
He further added, "Enjoy college while you are here; believe it or not, you're actually going to work harder once you get out. Learn a lot; this is one of the few opportunities you're going to have where you can really focus on learning for the sake of learning; try not to get too caught up with grades."