Saturday, April 6, 2013

USF: The Poetry of Inspiration and Application

The University of South Florida invited me --and the three other 2012 U.S. Professors of the Year: Christy Price from Dalton State College in Georgia; Todd Pagano from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York; and USF’s own Autar Kaw --to participate in the university's third annual Student Success Conference. It was the first time that all four U.S. Professors of the Year met outside of the official Washington D.C. U. S Professor of the Year Award event held in Nov. 2012.

It was a whirlwind of a day--and night--on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 when I was reunited with my U.S. Professors of the Year colleagues. The main event, a town hall meeting, saw more than 300 faculty, staff and students in attendance and lasted well over two hours.  Dr. Ralph Wilcox, USF Provost served as moderator.  He began by asking us, the panel, specific and varied questions about teaching, current educational challenges and our visions and hopes for the future of education. Dr. Wilcox then turned the meeting over to the audience for an extended question and answer period. 

Below are various links to some videos and articles which will give a fuller account of a truly inspiring day.

I use the word "inspiring" deliberately.  For what I found at the formal meeting, in the audience, on the campus, during informal talks with high ranking administrators as well as "in-the-trenches" administrators, teachers and students was a community of educators who are deeply committed to creating excellence in and outside of the classroom

This is an organization that is not afraid to have a vision. For example, just walk through the campus and see the huge "Make an Impact" banner reminding us that education is so much more than just about making money. This university not afraid of  the work toward the application of the “Make an Impact”  vision...hence the town hall and myriad specific resources devoted to student success.

And student success seems to be defined as “human success.”

Moreover, the university is not afraid of graciousness--hence the endless rounds of "Autar, you so deserve this!"  These statements, and the culture from which they stem, were heard over and over again from faculty and staff alike as we walked with Autor Kaw around his campus. These folks like each other, support each other and they value kindness, modesty, generosity as well as academic excellence.

As I return to my classes today and this week at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Az I will remember that I am not alone in my efforts to help create an educated, civil, gracious citizenry through the privilege of the higher educational experience. I  will remember that not only do I have like-minded, hard working, committed friends and colleagues  at my own college but 3,000 miles away at USF and other sister institutions there are others who, day-by-day, student-by student, labor--in big ways and small--to make a better world.

And I know there are some out there reading this—or not—who think I am too idealistic or whatnot—and I will ask them this question: What do you do to make our country a better place? I will say to them what I said at the end of my talk at USF…

“What we do matters….I don’t care what anyone says, this is how you change the world.”

(from l. to right: Autar Kaw, Lois Roma-Deeley, Christy Price, Todd Pagano)