For UB communication professor Andrew Sachs, a good citizen shapes the world

Sachs uses past experience to help students

It took dropping out of college for Andrew Sachs to discover what he wanted to do with his life.

Following a 10-year hiatus, Sachs went back to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After receiving grants to complete his bachelor of arts, he set his sights on a master’s degree in education.

“I was struggling to discover what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do,” Sachs said. “If I applied myself, I did well, if I didn’t apply myself, I didn’t do well.”

Sachs said his American public address professor, Cole Pepper Clark, gave him the direction he needed. He became Sachs’ mentor and helped Sachs make the decision to get a master of arts and consider a teaching career.

“I was lucky. I think it’s important to have someone who pushes you to your field to do what you want to do,” Sachs said. “I fell backwards into mine, but he pushed me.”

Sachs said he was experiencing “a crisis of confidence” but he was eventually able to realize it was OK to be “faulty.” He said it took some strength and determination to discover this, but eventually he did.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have landed after some struggles,” Sachs said.

Sachs, a professor in the communication department, uses his own past struggles to help his students. His humorous, straight-forward and honest approach have made him a favorite among students, some of whom remember him for always sporting a fanny pack when he teaches, owning a jacket from World War II and bucket hat and the ever-present papers flying out of his backpack.

Sachs said his love of young minds motivates him on a daily basis. He said he is most excited about “doing good deeds, being a good citizen of the world, being a good citizen of the school and a good citizen of the classroom.”

He grew up in Birmingham, Alabama after his father began his career as a professor at the University of Alabama. As a child, he acted in the Jewish Community Center and it was there he found his passion for acting.

But growing up in Alabama wasn’t always the easiest.

Sachs and his family witnessed and experienced racism whilst living in a state that was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He said they felt like outsiders.

“It was conflicted; it was a difficult time,” Sachs said. “Some Jews did not align directly with the Civil Rights Movement, so you had to take a stand.”

His mother served on the board of Miles College, a historically black college in Alabama. Sachs’ father, a world-renowned scientific researcher, contributed to the Civil Rights Movement as an American Jew.

Sachs and his family identified strongly with their Jewish heritage mainly because Sachs’ father and grandparents had escaped the Holocaust.

“It was interesting growing up there through the struggle and to now see how different the south has become,” Sachs said.

Sachs’ family settled in Alabama just as Martin Luther King, Jr. made an appearance there in 1963. Sachs remembers his Rabbi was one of the clergymen that King addressed his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to.

“We were trying to help liberate the south because Birmingham was always more progressive than the rest of Alabama,” Sachs said.

Sachs has been teaching for 33 years. He’s held teaching positions in Singapore, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Utah. He began teaching at UB 15 years ago as a full-time adjunct professor.

“I’m constantly delighted and surprised by my students’ ability to succeed regardless of their level,” Sachs said. “That keeps me going.”

Sachs has found ways to combine his passion for acting and teaching in his public speaking and written composition classes.

Sachs continues his passion for acting later into his adulthood and has acted professionally in roughly 30 off-Broadway shows. When he’s not teaching, he works as a director. But Sachs also finds a way to bring his acting skills into the classroom.

“There’s always an element of entertainment when I teach,” Sachs said. “I know my students will always pay attention if I’m up to something.”

Sachs makes his students think off their feet as if they were actors, especially in his public speaking class.

Sachs said he wants his students to be confident while standing in the limelight. He uses satire and interaction in order to keep his students on their feet.

Corrine Cardinale, a sophomore communication and history major, took Sachs’ written composition class this past fall semester, said she appreciates his “sense of humor and spunk.”

She said Sachs was very critical, and would rip her paper to shreds, but he taught her that if she could be a good writer, then she could be able to handle anything.

“He walks around the room and looks you at you directly in the eye, which is weird because everyone feels like he’s looking at them directly in the eyes,” said Ben Balderman, a senior biological sciences major who was in Sachs’ public speaking class this past fall.

Balderman said he can still remember Sachs’ hand gestures that accompanied his booming voice which would quiet down when he would make a point of something.

Balderman said Sach’s class is a whole new experience compared to the classes he takes as a biological sciences major.

“I’m passionately interested in what young people, and all students, are doing and what they hope to do,” Sachs said. “I want to help them navigate the world,”

Hannah Stein is a news staff writer. News desk can be reached at