Faculty bring real-world experience to class

Jamie Shearer

Professors discuss rewards of coming back to classroom

Professor Paul Haridakis introduces his students to the graduate course Mass Media Effects on their first day of class Sept. 1st. Sean M. Mathis | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Charles Graves, associate professor in architecture, didn’t think his career would be in higher education.

“I taught as a (graduate assistant) when I was in graduate school,” he said. “And after I taught my last course, I swore I’d never ever teach.”

Teaching was conflicting with Graves’ other priorities, such as working on his thesis and his own schoolwork. So after he graduated in 1979, he went on to work in architecture in New York City and didn’t think anything of it.

But after the opportunity to teach presented itself, he grabbed it. And now, more than 20 years later, he’s not looking back.

The unexpected opportunity

Some Kent State faculty members didn’t plan on a career in higher education.

Paul Haridakis, associate professor in communications, came to Kent State to get a Ph.D. in the School of Communication Studies, but didn’t think he would stay.

“I never planned on staying in academia then,” he said. “I really just thought about getting a Ph.D. to give myself more options later.”

But Haridakis left his job as a corporate lawyer to teach when a round of retirements opened up teaching positions.

“I do mostly media research and that’s what they were looking for, so I just ended up staying,” he said.

And Yank Heisler, dean of the School of Business Administration, was ready for retirement and on his way to Florida after working more than 30 years at KeyBank in Cleveland. But in 2007, President Lester Lefton approached him to bring his business perspective to cabinet officers, which eventually led to his current position as dean.

“Since late October till now, I’ve had a great experience working here, and being very much full-time, using some of my business principles from being in the banking arena and yet at the same time trying to appreciate the cultural differences that exist between (an) academic environment and a business environment,” he said.

But the next time Heisler retires, he’s not coming back.

“If I do retire again, I’ll retire,” he said.

Bringing the real world to the classroom

John Crawford, interim dean for the College of the Arts, thinks that “real world” experience is necessary to teach, and uses his years of professional dancing to teach his students.

“I think that somebody really needs to be a strong performer themselves in order to teach someone else,” he said. “You need to have those skills yourself and understand them in order to bring out the talents of your students.”

And William Perrine, a fashion instructor, uses his experiences from the business side of fashion to let his students know what could happen.

“I can tell them what the book says, and then I can tell them what’s really going to happen,” he said. “They’re not always the same.”

Haridakis said having real world experience is especially important for applied majors.

“For anybody to teach something that they’re not really adept at is a disservice to students,” he said.

What they gave up

Perrine liked that his jobs in the fashion industry – being a sales representative for bridal wear and working on corporate visual for Sears – took him all over the country.

“You went from having a good job with expense accounts and travel, and all that stuff to being a poor graduate student for eight years,” he said. “So you kind of have to reel in your lifestyle a little bit because you just can’t live like that as a graduate student.”

For other professors, such as Haridakis and Graves, the biggest sacrifice was taking a pay cut.

“The major sacrifice is simply financial,” Haridakis said. “You don’t make as much money as a college professor as you do in a lot of other professions, certainly not law.”

And Heisler, who was temporarily retired for about six weeks, gave up his time.

“The real sacrifice is time,” he said. “But that’s OK. I’m feeling like this is a good use of my time.”

But these professors focus on what higher education has to offer, instead of what they gave up from their professional jobs.

“I think of it more as all the pluses I’ve gotten,” Graves said. “I find I have more time to do things that I want to do outside of the teaching – my research. I find that I’m in more control of my life.”

And other professors have found that teaching is a rewarding experience.

“For me, the teaching was so rewarding,” Crawford said. “Dance especially is something that is handed down from person-to-person in a very personal way.”

The students, of course, play a role in a professor’s teaching experience.

“Seeing where people go, getting e-mails from people a year or two after they graduate, finding out all the crazy jobs they got,” Perrine said. “It’s like having an extra hundred daughters every semester.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Jamie Shearer at [email protected].