by Claire Miller
Most students who take Associate Professor Philo Hutcheson’s classes in the College of Education find out on the first day that they’re in for quite a ride.
If the lengthy reading assignments listed on the syllabus don’t give it away, then perhaps his decision to execute No. 29 on the “50 Fun Things to Do on the First Day of Class” list – growl constantly and address students as “matey” – is a clearer indication.
Hutcheson, who teaches history of education and history of higher education classes in the college’s Department of Educational Policy Studies, sets the tone for the semester on that first day: He shows them that he has high expectations for his students, but knows how vital it is to keep them engaged while they’re in his class.
“People tend to see history as merely a recounting of places, names and dates, and we don’t do that in my history of education and history of higher education courses,” he said. “There are a few places, names and dates that I want them to remember, and I tell them that’s the Jeopardy part of it – ‘I’ll take the Morrill Land-Grant Act for $400, Alex’ – but history is much more about the course of events and how they affect people.”
Hutcheson has worked in higher education for some time, having graduated from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis., in 1973 and beginning his professional career in his alma mater’s admissions department. He worked in admissions and academic advisement for several years, where he interacted with prospective and current college students regularly and helped them navigate their way from high school to college.
He took those experiences with him into his Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago and earned his doctorate in the history of higher education in 1991 before interviewing for a faculty position at Georgia State University.
“The people were really nice, and I was attracted to the opportunity to develop the higher education program here,” Hutcheson said.
Since joining the COE faculty, Hutcheson has worked with countless graduate and doctoral students – including those in other departments – on their research projects and dissertations.
He developed a 14-page guide to the dissertation process and his doctoral students have gone on to win awards from professional organizations, such as the History of Education Society, for their well-crafted work.
“I’ve often said that it’s the hardest intellectual task that anyone will ever do because for the first time, you’re not writing a 20-page paper that the professor has set a deadline for. You’re writing a historical dissertation, which can easily run 300-400 pages long,” Hutcheson said. “Putting that all together in a flow of arguments from the beginning to the examination of results, keeping it thematic – it’s just very difficult.”
His student have paid him back in kind – Hutcheson is developing his own research project on African-American teachers who were displaced during desegregation in the U.S., a subject that was inspired by one of his students during a class discussion.
Hutcheson also appreciates the way his students challenge him to think about his teaching, and he enjoys having a front-row seat to his students’ discovery of what they’re passionate about.
“In the broad sense, I think the fun of my job is watching them develop as scholars and showing them that an in-depth investigation of a topic and analyzing it in the context of the literature shapes your mind,” he said. “I love the remarkable diversity of the students here, the diverse points of view that they bring to the classroom and the way they force me to rethink a lot of my assumptions.”
The hard work Hutcheson puts forth in his teaching and his relationships with his students paid off this year when the COE named him one of the recipients of the 2011 Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award. This honor is given annually to a faculty member in recognition for and in appreciation of extraordinary dedication to teaching.
“I was struck by the honor of it because I know so many great teachers in this college,” he said. “We’re in a college of education and being a seriously good teacher is important, and I think there’s a constant unspoken challenge that there are so many good teachers here. So I thought, ‘This is far out!’”
Hutcheson hopes that his work impacts his students and inspires them to make a difference in their careers in higher education.
“There’s a life and vitality in working with students and seeing them go through the program,” Hutcheson added. “And out of the blue, four years later I’ll get an e-mail from them telling me what they’re doing. I like to think they’re influencing student and faculty life now.”
For more information about the Department of Educational Policy Studies, visit http://education.gsu.edu/eps/index.htm.