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By doing something you enjoy, you will have the chance to be the best

Updated: Feb 1, 2019


Igor Himelferb

Revered in Lincoln as one of the most respected as well as ferociously humorous professors, Igor Himelfarb narrated a glimpse of his educational and professional journey during his interview with us.


In 1998, 20-year-old Igor pursued his undergraduate degree from a community college, Santa Monica College, in California. After five years of struggling to adapt and speak English, Igor took every possible ESL course offered to overcome this hurdle. He aspired to become a mathematician or a computer programmer, but he knew he found his love when he took his first psychology class. He got his bachelor’s in psychology in 2006, followed by a master’s in education, psychology and counseling with distinction in less than a year from Cal State University, Long Beach. He further went on to get his second master’s in statistics and applied probability in 2011 and his Ph.D. in educational measurement and statistics and research methodology in 2012 from UC Santa Barbara.


Prior to teaching at Lincoln University, Igor worked in many different capacities. He was a professor at Cal State University, Long Beach while pursuing his master’s degree but went on to accept the position of Advanced Design Analyst at Gallop. His work there included studying the reach of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America in the republics of the countries formerly in the Soviet Union. He also did some interesting work related to American elections and polling and published several media reports along with Frank Newport. In 2013, after 13 years in Los Angeles, he started a new position at Educational Testing Service (ETS) in San Francisco, bringing him closer to finally joining Lincoln University.


What do you enjoy about teaching?

I enjoy teaching because I love people, I love conversation, I like sharing my knowledge with students, I like learning from my students. Here at Lincoln, I have students with very rich backgrounds coming from many different countries. It is very fulfilling to see so many different faces from every part of the world, to communicate, to share ideas, to create an effective learning environment.


What are some things you wish more people understood about your style of teaching? The students or faculty.

Well we all have different styles, and Lincoln University is a school where the value of academic freedom is understood and well respected. Faculty have no problem implementing different styles and expressing their ideas. I wouldn’t say that there is a need for understanding; we respect each other’s teaching styles. I myself value academic freedom and believe the educational environment benefits from many different styles.


Do you have any conversations at Lincoln that you’ll remember? Like one of the most memorable conversations you had with a student or faculty?

Well we have many conversations on a daily basis and that’s the beauty of the profession. Hopefully as a faculty member you make an impact and all conversations should be memorable.


If you could start everything all over again what would you have done differently?

I would exercise more and eat less sugar. (Laughs)


You have always spoken about how the knowledge of statistics and measurement would be helpful for grad students. Would you like to elaborate?

Yes, of course. We all like to set up our goals and objectives but then we don’t know how to measure these goals and objectives. I will give you an example. On January 1st many of us make New Year’s resolutions. One of them might be “I should exercise more, and I should lose weight”, right? So, if your level of exercise was zero on January 1st and throughout the year you go to the gym once, you exercised more and fulfilled your resolution. In reality, however, it was defective. For weight, you could lose one pound, right? But is this what you were hoping for? PROBABLY NOT. So, measurement is very important when we formulate our goals and objectives. This aspect of measurement helps us understand to what extent we were successful in achieving our goals and objectives, or vice versa. There are many issues related to measurement, like how we measure things, how we compare things, how we operationally define concepts for the purpose of measurements. All those are important questions which are both a challenge and an advancement in social science. Measurement and statistical science is what makes social science, Science.


Do you have any career advice for the students that are going to embark on their careers?

You are all very different. And you have different abilities, different aspirations, you have different backgrounds, you have different knowledge, you progress through the program at different paces. It is difficult to give generic advice to students. I like to consider each of you individually. There are many factors that would influence this type of advice.

Was the diversity at LU an opportunity or a challenge for you?

Both. Well it’s both, but I can say more of a challenge than an opportunity. It’s just a fact.


You have always spoken about how the knowledge of statistics and measurement would be helpful for grad students. Would you like to elaborate?

Yes, of course. We all like to set up our goals and objectives but then we don’t know how to measure these goals and objectives. I will give you an example. On January 1st many of us make New Year’s resolutions. One of them might be “I should exercise more, and I should lose weight”, right? So, if your level of exercise was zero on January 1st and throughout the year you go to the gym once, you exercised more and fulfilled your resolution. In reality, however, it was defective. For weight, you could lose one pound, right? But is this what you were hoping for? PROBABLY NOT. So, measurement is very important when we formulate our goals and objectives. This aspect of measurement helps us understand to what extent we were successful in achieving our goals and objectives, or vice versa. There are many issues related to measurement, like how we measure things, how we compare things, how we operationally define concepts for the purpose of measurements. All those are important questions which are both a challenge and an advancement in social science. Measurement and statistical science is what makes social science, Science.


Do you have any career advice for the students that are going to embark on their careers?

You are all very different. And you have different abilities, different aspirations, you have different backgrounds, you have different knowledge, you progress through the program at different paces. It is difficult to give generic advice to students. I like to consider each of you individually. There are many factors that would influence this type of advice.


Should be in-born, or we can sharpen our skills and achieve that?

It’s a combination of both. It’s always nature and nurture.


Most of us get confused because we have experience in something but are looking for a job related to our masters, which is not necessarily relevant to our undergraduate studies. It’s very hard for us to synchronize our past with our present and future.

That’s true. You as an international student coming to the US will face several challenges. One of them is a new culture, new country, for a lot of you it’s a new language, and yet you still need to study, you need to make a bridge between your former study and what you are pursuing now. And yet, this is the choice you made, so this is something you need to deal with. But eventually, when those of you who are able to overcome this challenge do so, not only will you be successful, you will a also be very strong. Think of an egg, the more you boil it, the harder it becomes.

And who would you miss the most in Lincoln?

I don’t know. Several. There are several people who I made very good connections with. I was able to make friends among the faculty members at Lincoln University. I respect and cherish the time I spent with everyone. LU will always have a special place in my heart.


You spoke about taking lots of ESL courses. So what do you think about the situation here? A lot of students are afraid to take the risk to learn more English, so they stick with people who speak their own language, and they don’t get a chance to improve.

In some ways it’s a mistake because you are successful in this country directly related to your ability to speak the language. So the more proficient you are in the English language, the more chances of success you will have.


Are there any shortcuts you tried and felt were successful?

SHORTCUTS NEVER WORK.


Some easier way, maybe?

(Shakes his head), with big No!


Since you are aware of evolving business trends, what areas would you advise students to pursue?

Igor: I would advise students to capitalize on their talents instead of trying to fix their weaknesses. Don’t settle for a job just for the pay check, aspire to do something that you really enjoy. By DOING something you enjoy, you will have the chance to be the best. However, if you spend your life fixing your weaknesses, you will only be mediocre. To be the best you need talent.


Any suggestions to make life at LU more fun and creative?

Igor: Lincoln University is an urban campus, which has its advantages and disadvantages. First of all, the area that Lincoln University is located in is very beautiful. Oakland, San Francisco and the Bay Area in general is the best area to live in the world, so I think the location of the university could generously compensate for the lack of a proper campus. And, Student Services directed by Ana Maria Gower puts a lot of time and effort into organizing activities to make sure that the life of our students is enriched by participation in extracurricular activities, such as museum and recreational trips, bay cruises, ski trips and so on. There are opportunities for student participation throughout the day on campus, as well as off campus. There are plenty of opportunities for students to enjoy themselves while they are getting their degree.

I have one last question. We know that you got another job next semester onward and we know that you will love that job. After 5 years or 10 years, when we look for Igor on Google what can we expect? What kind of taglines or titles can we expect?

Obituary (all laugh). Life is full of surprises. Let’s take it day by day.


Is there a question you think we should have asked but didn’t?

You grilled me like there is no tomorrow.


Were there any questions you were prepared to answer but we didn’t ask you?

No. You guys are doing a good job and I am glad to hear that you are involved and that you are thinking and asking questions to make student’s lives better, and to make the university a better place so that students can have a wonderful experience during their learning towards their degree. You are in the prime of your life. You are all young, healthy and beautiful and you are all smart. Just don’t settle for mediocre, aim high.


Thank you so much. Will you come next May for our graduation? We are inviting you in advance so that you can mark your calendar.

I may (smiles).


Bon Voyage

A message from

Alex Anokhin


“I’m fairly certain that Dr. Himelfarb would not approve of any sort of farewell ceremonies in his honor, so I try to keep this message brief. Igor is an outstanding professional with a rare gift of being able to share his knowledge with students in a unique, engaging, and somewhat eccentric way. I have learned a lot from him over the years.

Certainly, Igor leaving is a painful loss for our school and for me personally, yet I know that the friendship we have created will last for a lifetime. So good luck, Dr. Himelfarb! Don’t forget to come visit!”


A message from

Ahmed Hussam

Ahmed: “Professor, what is the difference between Nominal Data and Ordinal Data?”


Mr. Ahmed Hussam

Igor: "If you classify gender as ordinal data you are a chauvinist and if you classify ethnicity as ordinal data you are racist.”


This is a glimpse of the real-life teaching technique that Professor Igor practices to teach one of the most gruesome statistical terms. He explains complicated statistical terms in humorous and profound ways. I feel honored that I had the opportunity to learn from him by taking four of his classes at Lincoln University.


My journey with Igor started for me in a foundation course in statistics, with the common statistical term “Normal Distribution”. I vividly remember how Igor asked the class if they understood the term after explaining it, and in return he got a room full of hollow nods implying that we didn’t comprehend a thing. Igor, like a fighter, did not get disappointed or lose hope. He tried several times explaining it in different contexts, then finally resorted to showing us a video about it, hoping that a visual aid would help. It didn’t. He gave it one last try, by bringing in a toy that represented Normal Distribution, and that was how he was finally able to instill the term in all our minds.


Within seven months at Lincoln University, by taking his Statistics and Consumer Research classes, Igor helped me advance from the basics, like calculating the mean, to where I am right now, predicting performance using machine learning techniques. I have nothing but the utmost gratitude and admiration for Professor Igor, and I wish him all the happiness while he steps on the next ladder of success.



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