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A professor who's at the top of his class

Last month, Eckerd College political science professor William F. Felice was named the 2006 Florida Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Glance at his resume, and you'll see a laundry list of accolades - the words outstanding, excellence and leadership are a common thread.

Neighborhood Times recently sat down with the professor to discuss education and what it felt like to help put Eckerd on the map.

Florida Professor of the Year is a big award for a small school ...

Eckerd College really, really promotes good teaching. The No. 1 area the faculty is evaluated and promoted on is teaching. I see this recognition of me as a recognition of Eckerd.

How did you become involved in international affairs?

I spent a year in Latin America and sort of experienced firsthand during that year poverty and destitution at a level I've never seen.

Do you adhere to any particular educational philosophy?

I know there's a lot of debates around ... grading, negative incentives ... professors are too lenient ... there's grade inflation. And everyone is upset about this.

But they're missing the key issue ... learning and how to create an environment of learning. The key to being a good teacher is really listening and seeing your students.

College students are largely seen as living in a bubble, their own little world. How do you get them out?

A couple ideas. One is interactive learning. It's a combination of some lecturing, but mainly just a Socratic back-and-forth to get students to open up their minds to new ideas.

Second, I really have tried to get students to experience some of these issues directly, so I take them to the (United Nations) in New York City, I take them to the (United Nations) in Geneva. That's breaking them out of their bubble, their Eckerd bubble.

What are some of the barriers for students?

A certain acceptance of the status quo. ... I see that a lot with students, and society as a whole. One big hurdle is getting students to see that there are alternatives, that there really are ways to address those issues.

Can you explain the leap from academic scholarship to practical instruction?

What I try to do in my research is focus on the big issues. I think that one problem with these research agendas often is they focus on the minutiae, the small issues in economic or politics.

What I focus on are issues of poverty and ... I try to outline public policies that can be implemented. And I think students respond to that.

You're in a field that is at the mercy of evolving policy and world events. Is part of your job keeping up all the time?

My field is not one that I can just whip out yellowing lecture notes from years ago and go into the classroom.

If you're teaching these issues and 9/11 happens, or Sudan and Darfur today ... my students will want to know, "How did this happen? Why did this happen? What can we do about it?"

What are the hotter topics in class?

The hot topics in class are the war in Iraq, Darfur; and global warming is a huge issue on campus. Those are the three big ones.

If you could leave your students with one piece of knowledge, what is it?

Compassion. To really be able to empathize. To try to see the world from someone else's eyes. If I can give that, or somehow help my students gain that ability, I think I will have been a good teacher.



B.A. in History from the University of Washington, 1972

M.S. in Political Economy from Goddard College, 1975

Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations from New York University, 1992

Notable awards

2005 - John M. Bevan Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership

2003 - Professor of the Year (selected by Eckerd's student body)

1999 - Robert A. Staub Distinguished Teacher of the Year

1999 - American Political Science Association award for Outstanding Teaching in Political Science