Syracuse University students taking Nutrition in Health have plenty to keep them occupied as they wait for class to begin. They can sniff the incense, lose themselves in the hard rock blaring from a tape deck or gaze at the patterns beamed onto the walls from flickering strobes and projectors.
They can also keep their eyes on the rear door, through which at any moment may burst a motorcycle, ridden by a jump-suited blonde, otherwise known as Prof. Sarah Short.
Short doesn’t arrive like that every day. But periodic “happenings” in her frenetic multimedia classroom have earned her a nickname—”Psychedelic Sally”—and SRO lectures. “I’ve often thought, ‘Gee, what am I doing horsing around like this?’ ” she says. “I’m sure some people think I’m stark raving insane. But I’ve got that class with me from the first day.”
Short, whose showbiz side does not like it known that she is past 50, has been teaching only 10 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Syracuse in 1945 and did some graduate work, but by then she had married Walter Short, the boy who grew up two doors away in Syracuse. (“We’ve been madly, passionately in love ever since I was 4 and he was 5,” she says.)
After working as an industrial chemist, she retired to become “a typical little suburban soul,” raising three children while Walter made a career in electrical engineering. In 1963, however, she realized “we didn’t have $120,000 to send three children through school,” so she started work on her master’s in biochemistry. She joined the Syracuse faculty in 1966.
At a teachers’ convocation, she was inspired by an amphitheater crammed with audiovisual aids and immediately began to develop her flamboyant style. She has been known to show up in an angel’s costume to dramatize the dangers of diet pills and enliven her lectures with salty routines. Sample: “Cow’s milk is low in iron and vitamin C and its protein and fat consistency are not ideal. It is for calves. Breast milk is for babies. It all depends on what you want to raise.”
Such carrying on does not endear Professor Short to all her faculty colleagues. “Everybody in the nutrition department leaves me alone,” she says. “They’re afraid they’re going to catch whatever it is that makes me do weird things.” Her unorthodox methods, she insists, have worked in helping students understand good nutrition. “I want them to use this information,” she says, “for the rest of their lives.”