After winning Professor of the Year – chosen by students – and TJC Endowed Chair for 2017 – chosen by his peers – speech professor Al Ippolito isn’t resting on his laurels.
He says these awards are merely reflections that his teaching style is working.
But Ippolito wasn’t always a professor – or “coach” as he likes to say. With two associate’s degrees: in civil engineering and mechanical engineering, he started his career in manufacturing.
He began working for Carrier on the industrial side, and then General Electric in the ‘70s. He was on the team at GE that developed the Talaria, an expensive video projection system for large venues like concerts and theaters. The technology was further developed into HDTV and then sold to Sony.
“Both Carrier Air Conditioning and GE told me ‘you’ve got to go back to school so we can promote you. Go to Syracuse University and talk to them.’”
Ippolito then took classes at Syracuse at night and got his bachelor’s and then his master’s, where he learned to love teaching as a graduate assistant. Ippolito took the offer from Syracuse University for a full scholarship for his master's, however, he had to do it full time. GE then made him a consultant while he was finishing his master’s.
“I got ‘outstanding teaching assistant’ [at Syracuse]. That is when I knew I could teach,” he said.
“When I see the student who would never speak on the first day, and then at the end gets up there and blows everyone away, that means that person is now empowered.”
As it happened, the human resources director for his former employer, Carrier, was in one of his classes, and made Ippolito an offer he “couldn’t refuse.” So, he went back to Carrier.
“I had to decide: either Tyler, Texas, or McMinnville, Tennessee. At the time Tyler seemed more progressive.” Ippolito worked for Carrier for another 10 years before realizing that the company intended to move its plants to Mexico. Carrier closed its Tyler plant in 2013.
He took an early retirement offer from Carrier to pursue his passion for teaching.
Ippolito started his teaching career at UT Tyler as the Assistant Director to the newly created STEM program, where he would visit high schools, showing students the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
From there, he began at TJC, where he’s been for the past 10 years.
His classroom style can be attributed more to “coaching” than to teaching. He uses mnemonic devices like “the four C’s” as well as several “I-isms” he throws in throughout the semester.
“What you resist will persist,” is an I-ism.
Some of them can be a bit more nuanced: “’In order to be an effective communicator, you need compassion, empathy, humility and respect.’ My students recite that before anyone goes up in front of the class to talk.”
Ippolito teaches business and professional communication. In the first speech, students are required to construct speeches to answer the question: “why should I hire you?” The class then decides by the end of the semester whether to hire that student or not in a hypothetical sense.
His business background certainly helped to foster his tough, yet realistic teaching philosophy. He says it’s all worth it when he sees the light bulb go off in a student’s head, and apply theory to real world applications.
“When I see the student who would never speak on the first day, and then at the end gets up there and blows everyone away, that means that person is now empowered,” he said. “By the end of the semester, you don’t even know who these kids are. That much change.”
Ippolito says two-year degrees provide the venue for students to be able to get a job and do a trade. They can also go further and transfer to a four-year school. “It’s a good way to cut your teeth because there’s rigor and expectations,” he said.
And now with two associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s and master’s, he said he still has a lot more knowledge and “coaching” left to impart.
“My students ask me ‘why are you here? You could be out making money.’ I decided it’s time to give back.”
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