The ripple effect of one professor’s radical care for his students creates a wave of gratitude

Professor Steve Voguit and Jacob Harding
January 19, 2024
By Anna Boone
Every day that alumnus Jacob Harding (‘07) works with students, he channels the “wisdom, kindness, and compassion,” which retired Professor Steve Voguit shared generously every chance he could.

“He is a seeker of truth, a molder of character, a man who leads his students, demands that we all ask ‘why,’ and draws out the best version in all of us,” Harding, founder and COO of Sunrise Scholars Foundation, said about Voguit.

Voguit, a professor of history and geography at Flagler from 2000 to 2020, was a mentor to Harding as a college student and beyond. They had a common experience of being the first in their families to attend college, similar to a primary population of “high achieving, underrepresented” students that Harding’s Sunrise Scholars Foundation currently seeks to support across the state. 

“While Voguit didn’t create the idea for Sunrise Scholars Foundation, he was the one who helped to draw out my best ideas for serving others,” Harding said. 

Voguit and Harding shown on a slide with the quote, Professor Voguit taught me that one person can radically change the lives of others.

Harding recognized this impact by successfully nominating Voguit for the 2023 Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award, honoring “teachers who have inspired their former students to make a significant contribution to society.” 

With Voguit’s mentorship, encouragement, and a heartfelt letter of recommendation, Harding attended Harvard for graduate school where he studied “equity and improved outcomes for underrepresented populations.” And at a past Alumni Weekend, Voguit even introduced Harding to one of his future mentees- a Flagler student also passionate about college access. 

Seeking to turn his vision for a revolutionary college access resource into a reality, it was Voguit who Harding turned to for guidance. 

“Like so many times before, I sought Professor Voguit’s sage advice,” Harding said.

In nominating him for the Beckman award, Harding said that, more than anything, Voguit taught him that one person can “radically change” the lives of others. This might have come from one of Voguit’s occasional class pauses for a “life lesson from your professor!”

“I could find incidents in history where one person made such a difference that it was almost miraculous,” Voguit said.

Ceremony group photo

Selected as one of eight 2023 Beckman award recipients, Voguit shared the stage with faculty from institutions like Duke and Columbia at the Oct. 13, 2023, Beckman award ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. 

“I was shoulder to shoulder with some pretty remarkable people,” Voguit said.

He attended the ceremony in the good company of friends: Harding and another former student, Flagler College Trustee Viv Helwig. As current founder, owner, and president of Vested Metals International, Helwig began his career in the steel business through a contact supplied by Voguit

Voguit, Harding, and Helwig

“I wanted to support Steve on this special, well-earned occasion in thanks and celebration for everything he helped me achieve during my time at Flagler,” Helwig said. “He made time to mentor, advise, educate and even help his students build connections when seeking employment.”

Voguit’s repertoire for inspiring students stretches beyond his two decades as a humanities professor at Flagler into his 30-year career as a public high school teacher in Pennsylvania. 

“Teaching was a vehicle, and I loved every minute of it,” he said. 

But reflecting on his time spent in education, Voguit said his role at Flagler was the “zenith” of his career. His zeal for this role was noticed in a big way when the Princeton Review asked to include him in their 2012 “The Best 300 Professors” list, determined based off students’ Rate My Professor reviews. 

A quick scan of Voguit’s page on the student-driven review site lifts the curtain on his success at Flagler, with top descriptors like “inspirational,” “caring,” and “accessible outside of class.”

On “especially beautiful days,” Voguit said he would sit at a bench in the Ponce courtyard “and just thank God for the opportunity to do what [he] was doing in the place [he] was doing it.”

For many years while he still lived in Pennsylvania, Voguit and his late wife visited her family in Florida. During this period, he said he was drawn to St. Augustine for a reason he couldn’t initially pinpoint.

“There was something here that I was going to be a part of,” he said. 

After retiring as a public-school teacher in 1999, Voguit and his wife moved into town, and he took a job as a historical blacksmith reenactor for the Colonial Quarter Museum. But it didn’t take Tom Pace, a former Flagler Education Department Chair, too long to meet Voguit and get him interested in teaching at Flagler. 

Their first meeting, which ended up lasting hours, led to one of Voguit’s lifelong Flagler friendships and was the catalyst for the second chapter of his career as a professor. 

“How would you like to teach again?” Pace asked him that day. 

Before he knew it, Voguit was teaching four classes as an adjunct professor. 

“I literally threw myself into it,” Voguit said. 

Five years later, Former President Abare hired him as a full-time faculty member. Voguit joked that while he never had an official job interview for the position, those five years of adjunct instruction were “the interview process.”

If Voguit considers those first few years at Flagler his entrance examine, Harding might see the shared sentiments of gratitude among Voguit’s former students as an exit evaluation passed with flying colors. 

“I think the students realized how much what I was doing at Flagler meant to me,” Voguit said. “They could sense it.”

This was proven through student-awarded accolades across the years like Flagler College Kappa Delta Pi Outstanding Educator Award and Flagler College SGA Faculty Member of the Year Awardee, an honor he received six times. 

He exemplified what it means to be “an educator, a volunteer, and a change agent,” Harding said, he “got to know me on a cellular level,” and he was dedicated to connecting students with opportunities for success. 

“I’ve now had countless interactions with other former Voguit students where these sentiments are so prevalent,” Harding said. 

Harding and a handful of other grateful alumni like Viv Helwig capitalized on this common experience in May of 2023 when they created a scholarship fund in his honor, acknowledging his “commitment to serving students and his dedication as an educator.”

“We sent out a charge to other alumni who had taken Voguit classes and hoped for a handful or two of people to show up and surprise him [with the scholarship] at Alumni Weekend,” Harding said. “The turnout was massive.”

Former students flew in from all over the country just for the hour-long surprise.

“I was looking at their faces and I could remember all of them,” Voguit said, even remembering the maiden names of students who had gotten married.

It was sincere observation, because from his 20-year roster of students, Voguit can recall precise memories and details about the lives of these alumni with ease. 

Despite an impressive resume of accolades, which the Beckman Award will top as the “greatest moment” of his professional life, Voguit’s remarks at the surprise Alumni Weekend gathering were humble. 

As his former students sat in front of him “beaming,” Voguit took the opportunity to remind them of “those intangible life things” like happiness, health, and success- whatever that looks like for them.

“In true Professor Voguit fashion, he didn’t want to share his successes... [he] wanted to share a message of love, gratitude, and to celebrate those of us in attendance– to connect us in some common good that he deemed greater than his honor or recognition,” Harding said.

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