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Sep 21, 2012
by Tom Iacuzio, '06

Passion for teaching lands Steve Voguit in Princeton Review’s ‘The Best 300 Professors’

If Steve Voguit’s mom had gotten her way, the overly shy youngster would have never stepped into a classroom to teach.

Instead, he would have been a dentist.

“My mom wanted me to be a dentist in the worst way,” the assistant professor of history and geography said. “But from about junior high, I just had this idea I was going to be a teacher.”

Forty-two years and thousands of students later, that decision seemed even wiser this year when Voguit was included in the Princeton Review’s latest book, “The Best 300 Professors.”

Selecting professors for the book took into account qualitative and quantitative data from student surveys and ratings collected by both The Princeton Review and From an initial list of 42,000 professors considered, the final group represents less than .02 percent of roughly 1.8 million post-secondary teachers in the United States.

“I was surprised and amazed,” Voguit said when he found out. “It is heartwarming to be so highly regarded by the students.”

But teaching didn’t always come so easily for this year’s Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year — the fourth time Voguit has been awarded the honor.

The son of high school dropouts, Voguit was not only the first member of his family to graduate college, but also the first one to finish high school. But it was his shyness that would be his biggest obstacle to teaching.

“When I say I was shy, that’s a massive understatement. I was painfully shy,” he said.

“I remember sitting with my guidance counselor and he asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to be a teacher. I remember thinking as I’m saying these words, ‘How can you be a teacher. You’re too shy to talk to anyone?’ ”

Voguit’s troubles continued through college and into his first years
as a teacher.

“My first few years of teaching were rough. I always tell the kids that your first year of teaching is your fifth year of college,” he said. “I had eighth graders and my classroom discipline was atrocious. I struggled, but I was determined to keep plugging away.”

After 30 years in the Pennsylvania school system, Voguit began teaching as an adjunct at Flagler College in 2000. Now in his 13th year at Flagler, the assistant professor has become a student favorite.

“What I get from them is that my enthusiasm and passion for what I’m doing shines through. I’m not saying I’m world-class, but I go in there and give it everything,” Voguit said. “I’m not the smartest. I’m not the best teacher, but I give it everything I have.”

But how do you keep students engaged in subjects such as history and geography, subjects many students wouldn’t list as the most exciting?

“Something like American History, I tell the kids it’s like my favorite movie, and I get to go every year and take my new friends with me and because I’ve seen it, I can point out all the really cool scenes,” joked Voguit. “But really, when they’re with someone who cares about them, they know it. They respond to it and a bond develops that’s way beyond who won the election in 1928.”

Flagler College Dean of Academic Affairs Alan Woolfolk said he is well aware of Voguit’s intense connection to his students.

“What strikes me about Steve is his profound modesty and genuine devotion to teaching.  I have always been deeply impressed by the close attention that he brings to each student as an individual,” said Woolfolk. “Flagler is lucky to count him as a faculty member.”

But teaching isn’t Voguit’s only passion. He volunteers with Florida veterans groups and even served as the historian for a documentary about the Korean War.

“My contribution was to research and write the narrative that provided the background for the five men from northeast Florida who fought in Korea to tell their stories,” said Voguit about “Forgotten War, Remembered Heroes,” which is regularly shown on the Jacksonville PBS affiliate. “I also got to be the on-camera historian who told the story of the Korean War.”

And while he jokes that he’s never become as rich as the dentist his mother wanted him to be, Voguit said he still fights with his shyness. But he has tried to make more of an effort to talk with people outside the classroom. He recalled one such effort while in line at a Florida amusement park.

“We were in line at Busch Gardens, and I saw a family with a travel bag that said Reading, Pa., which is our hometown. So I said, ‘Where you from in Reading?’ They were deaf,” Voguit joked. “My wife said, ‘Maybe God doesn’t want you to talk.’ ”

And while the real world might still be a struggle, inside the classroom Voguit is larger than life.

“I think it’s just what I was supposed to do,” Voguit said. “That’s my element.”

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