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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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From courtrooms to classrooms

Photo by Photo by Madeline Sambrano

Sociology professor Stjepan Meštrovic has served as an expert witness in war crime trials, and uses his unique background to elevate his classroom instruction.

Professors’ expertise in their field comes from all different backgrounds, but sociology professor Stjepan Meštrovic didn’t get his expertise from books or lectures.
Meštrovic served as an expert witness in several war crimes trials, including the trial of Abu Ghraib, where prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were tortured, abused, raped and murdered by the U.S. Army and Central Intelligence Agency. With his background, he came to A&M in 1991 and has dedicated his time to researching and teaching about war crimes and has authored more than 15 books.
“It was an exciting adventure,” Meštrovic said about the Abu Ghraib trial. “I took the chance to talk to the jurors like they were students, since I was explaining how and why what happened, happened. I learned so much, and began to delve into the subject on my own.”
Meštrovic was born in Croatia and moved to the United States of America when he was 8 years old. His passion for learning led him to earn three bachelor degrees from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University.
“I always loved academics. I love reading, writing, thinking,” Meštrovic said. “I knew this was my calling. And those are what drove me to sociology — its analytical, the study of society.”
When Meštrovic arrived at A&M in 1991, he said he immediately felt at home.
“It was an interesting process,” Meštrovic said. “They found me and I found them around the same time. I got to campus and instantly fell in love.” Meštrovic said. “It’s a special place, really. The people here are seen polite, sincere and honest. I truly do love Aggies.”
Meštrovic said he takes great joy in teaching, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“Getting questions from these students is great,” Meštrovic said. “Seeing them grow, engaging me and their peers, it’s wonderful.”
Along with his knowledge and expertise, Jacob Hardy, a first year Ph.D. student in the sociology program and Meštrovic’s teaching assistant, said Meštrovic’s pedagogy is what makes him stand out.
“Working with Dr. Meštrovic is fantastic,” Hardy said. “He really helped my transition into the department. He has this weird way of constantly pushing me to do better without there being a fear of failure if you don’t do well. Every moment with him is a learning moment.”
Hardy said he admires Meštrovic not only for his breadth of knowledge as an educator, but his command of the classroom.
“He doesn’t just teach a textbook, he dives into primary texts,” Hardy said. “He wants you to question and analyze everything. But he has a way of fostering discussion. He gets people to talk. Even the students who aren’t big on talking end up in the discussion, and that makes the classroom better. It makes the students learn more efficiently.”
John Kainer, a fifth year Ph.D. student in the sociology department, echoed Hardy’s sentiments.
“He understands the importance of nuance,” Kainer said. “He can give you an example that clearly illustrates the example, and draw that out of you. There are no little details with him.”
Kainer said Meštrovic’s support for his students goes beyond his in-class education.
“He demands excellence, but he cares about us as individuals,” Kainer said. “He cares about what’s going on in our lives. He balances his demands with praise, and when he praises you, you know you’ve hit something special. To be with him is to be in the presence of a great mind and a caring person.”
Hardy said Meštrovic is the one who guided him to grad school.
“I went to talk to him about grad school, but we didn’t talk about tests or applications. He was encouraging,” Hardy said. “He told me that if something brings you happiness, do it. That’s when I knew I wanted to stay here and work with him. There was no decision. He made me feel purpose.”
Meštrovic’s influence has affected his colleagues as well. Sociology professor Alex McIntosh said he makes his classes both enjoyable and educational.
“His greatest asset is that he not only exposes students to sociological theories, but makes them exciting for both undergraduate and graduate students,” McIntosh said. “His work as well as earlier endeavors is widely admired by his colleagues in our department and beyond.”
Philosophy professor John McDermott, also one of Meštrovic’s colleagues said of all of Meštrovic’s good qualities, his favorite is that he cares for his students.
“He’s at the forefront of sociology,” McDermott said. “He always looks out for his students, and the ones he sent to work with me are some at the best.”

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