To understand Lanciani's willingness (or perhaps, he admits, his "foolishness") one must know a bit about his background. During his childhood in Massachusetts, Lanciani frequently accompanied his father on trout fishing expeditions. It was in the streams of the Northeast that he became interested not only in fishing, but in insects, "especially the aquatic ones that trout ate." While a junior at Cornell, he enrolled in an ecology class that would change his life. "Our teacher, Clifford Berg," explains Lanciani, "took the class on field trips to collect stream insects--the same ones I saw as a child--and I got to study them and learn their names. I think that was a large part of why I did my dissertation work in aquatic ecology."
And here's where the writing connection comes in. Berg, who eventually became the chair of Lanciani's dissertation, had once been a high school English teacher. The Cornell professor took writing very seriously, so much so that his students called him the "grammar grouch," a title Lanciani has good-naturedly adopted here at UF. "He demanded to look at all of my correspondence--papers, proposals and anything else that I sent out professionally," says Lanciani of his mentor. "He continually hammered home the idea of writing clearly and concisely."
Berg's advice stuck, and Lanciani carried the writing torch to UF. With help from the experts at the newly endowed William and Grace Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication, his new class, ZOO 4926, a "special topics" course, made its debut last Fall. Although the course is an elective, Lanciani encourages all zoology majors who intend to go on to graduate school to take it, "to prepare them adequately for the writing they'll be expected to do at the graduate and professional levels."
Fortunately, Lanciani is enjoying his new role in the department. "The writing course was so much fun. I looked forward to teaching it every day," he says. Among the projects Lanciani's students worked on were actual graduate school application statements and job cover letters--practical assignments with real-life audiences. "I let them know that I was willing to provide feedback on as many drafts as they cared to write," he explains, and they were required to get feedback from their peers, as well. Several of Lanciani's students--grad school acceptance letters and fellowship offers in hand--have already reaped the benefits of their newly-honed skills.
Unfortunately, as the grammar grouch admits, the ever-burgeoning knowledge base in the biological sciences makes it difficult to justify cutting a course to make room for a required writing class. Still, he feels that making the investment to include more writing instruction into existing curricula would be "money well spent. With good writing skills, our students will be more likely to get good jobs, go to impressive graduate schools, publish articles and win grants and fellowship money. This can only help the reputation of UF in the long run."
Although UF's enrollment is nearing 50,000, enthusiastic Greek instructor Nick Kontaridis is living proof that a Liberal Arts and Sciences education still provides students with a personal, one-on-one experience.
His door is always open: Nick Kontaridis (at left) discusses Greek poets in his Dauer Hall office.
Nick Kontaridis loves to teach, and it shows. Not just in his positive attitude and obvious affection for his subject matter--the language and literature of his native Greece-- but in his students' evaluations of him: perfect fives.
While Greek Studies Co-Director Karelisa Hartigan is impressed with Kontaridis' popularity in the classroom, she is not surprised: "He spends a lot of time one-on-one with his students, both in and out of the classroom. If they want to speak Greek, he'll be right here to speak with them, and they appreciate that."
For his part, Kontaridis claims good training is responsible for his success. "At Florida State, I was privileged to have some distinguished professors in education. Byron Massialas and George Flouris were my mentors, and their idea was that the teacher should teach democratically, not as a dictator. A good instructor must respect the students' opinions, ask them what they like and don't like."
Although he has been teaching Greek language and culture at parochial Greek schools for over 30 years in and around Orlando (where he and his family live), it was only upon retiring from his 21-year management career at Disney that Kontaridis could devote his energy full-time to teaching. "It was always my dream to teach," Kontaridis says, "since I was a kid in primary school."
Born in Lemnos, Greece, the fifth and youngest child of Greek parents, Kontaridis completed the Lyceum of Lemnos, received an accounting degree in Athens and a BS from Pantios University in Athens, and studied law at the University of Salonica before immigrating to Canada in 1965. In 1968 he moved to America, first Utah and then Florida, and he eventually received his MS and Ed Specialist Degrees in multilingual and multicultural education from FSU.
Kontaridis' two oldest children, Maria and Chris, were both active in the Greek Studies Program at UF. "When we began looking for a new instructor," explains Hartigan, "they told us about their dad's ability and enthusiasm in the classroom, and he ended up being the ideal candidate." Kontaridis began his adjunct appointment with the UF Classics Department in 1995, and since then has taught Modern Greek 1 and 2, Intermediate Modern Greek 1 and 2, Greek Literature of the 19th and 20th Centuries and Greek Literature in the Byzantine Era. This fall he is teaching Greek Civilization from the Ancient Years to the Present Time. "He makes them work hard," says Hartigan. "I sat in on some of his classes; he gave written assignments almost every day--they were constantly handing in work."
"We read masterpieces of Greek scholars," Kontaridis says of his course content, "such as Nobel prize winners George Seferis (1973) and Odysseus Elytis (1979). Students must practice reading, writing and speaking together," he emphasizes, "but these three things are not always enough. They also have to learn the culture. We spend very much time talking about the Greek culture so they can better understand the people."
If one can gauge an instructor's teaching style by the look of his/her office then Kontaridis must be as open, accepting and encouraging as Hartigan claims. His Dauer Hall office is filled with chairs to make his many visitors comfortable, his walls are covered with pictures of famous Greek writers, philosophers and beautiful Grecian vistas, and his door is always open. "I really try to understand and help the students," he says, "and I always tell them on the first day, 'It's your class...you make the efforts and spend the time on the assignments. We'll work together, but at the end of the semester what I want is for you to have really learned something, to have won something...your education.'"