TAMPA — University of South Florida professor Eric Hodges wasn't satisfied with simply lecturing his students about public policy, as part of his "Intro to U.S. Government" class.
He wanted them to change public policy, or at least learn that they had the power to try.
Hodges' small class mulled over several possible ideas before deciding to champion an important environmental concern — to raise public awareness about the need to protect nesting sea turtles from the dangers posed by beach raking.
The students collaborated with biologists from Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory and learned that by removing seaweed from the beach, workers could imperil turtle eggs and hatchlings even if they didn't disturb an actual nest.
The students also worked with local power brokers, hoping to garner support, including former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
Hodges, a Marine infantryman before entering academia, said, "For me, having been in the military, I realize how fortunate we are to live in a society with an open political system. To get them out to experience this firsthand — it's almost as if we have a laboratory in our society."
His students loved the real-world nature of the assignment, and devoted hours of their free time to the cause. "It's very innovative, this project," said Jacqueline Knake, 22, an interdisciplinary social sciences major. "He's teaching what we can take and use in the practical sense. The public reaction has been fairly supportive of our cause."
Dennis Metz, a 45-year-old psychology major who led the student team, was a paid lobbyist in New Jersey before moving to Florida.
"Not one of his classes is ever boilerplate. I didn't want to miss a single class, and I didn't," Metz said. "Even though I knew a lot about the process, I learned so much more. Dr. Hodges — to find someone who wants us to succeed not only in the classroom but in life, it's really rare. And he wants us all to succeed."