Nathan Harbacek ’07
Like many recent Princeton alumni, Nathan Harbacek ’07 traces his academic passions back to a freshman seminar. For Harbacek, the inspiration to study the intersection of science and public policy came directly from a seminar called “The Elements of Life,” taught by the late Professor Edward Stiefel, a renowned chemist who spearheaded the cleanup of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
“There were two elements to the course: biochemistry and how you can apply an understanding of science to solve the problems of humankind,” explains Harbacek, who describes the class as the ideal introduction to higher education. “We sat around a table in the most beautiful building on campus,” he says, and then Stiefel often would take them into New York City to visit museums and go out to dinner.
“He was a brilliant professor and a grandfatherly figure,” Harbacek says of Stiefel, who passed away in September 2006. “Half the students in the class ended up majoring in chemistry.” Harbacek was one of those chemistry majors. He also graduated with a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a certificate in bioengineering.
Since then, Harbacek has moved on to a career in investment banking. After graduation, he spent time working as a consultant on the West Coast, in Canada and in Turkey. Now he lives in New York City with his wife, Desiree Fowler Harbacek '06, and works in the Financial Institions Investment Banking Group at Goldman, Sachs & Co.
The Chicago native can’t say enough about the power of freshman seminars. “They’re really what makes Princeton unique,” says Harbacek. “The professors don’t teach the seminars because they have to; it’s because they’re very passionate about the material.”
Harbacek encourages incoming freshmen to take a seminar in something completely unfamiliar. The beauty of seminars is that they have no prerequisites and are open to everyone. “You’ll learn a lot from the professors,” says Harbacek, “but you’ll learn even more about yourself.”
An accomplished bassoonist, Harbacek also served as co-chair of the Princeton University Orchestra. He says that 30 to 40 percent of the musicians in the orchestra were choosing between music conservatories like Juilliard or Curtis and a liberal arts university such as Princeton. By choosing Princeton, says Harbacek, “They’ve greatly broadened their experience. They’ll leave Princeton well-rounded, but still with a great musical experience.” The orchestra frequently tours abroad. Harbacek went to Portugal his sophomore year, and to Vienna and Budapest his senior year.
"I still stay involved in music in New York City and, with my wife, am an avid fan and participant in the New York classical music scene." He founded Best Buddies at Princeton, a program in which students volunteer with disabled adults in the community, and remains active with the organization in New York City.