10 Questions With Frank Stec, Penn State’s Top-Rated Professor
CAS Professor Frank Stec is known for his entertaining and engaging classes. As one student said, “We analyzed The Gettysburg Address followed immediately by Kanye West’s ‘I Am A God’. It was probably the best classroom experience I’ve had during my time at Penn State.” Because of his valiant efforts in the classroom, Stec is now one of the top-rated Penn State professors on Rate My Professor, the web’s most popular teacher-rating service for college students (he is one of only four professors with a 5.0 rating and three or more submissions).
We talked with Stec about what makes his classroom experience unique and keeps his students coming back for more. Here’s 10 questions with the best professor at Penn State:
Onward State: Have you noticed that your classes have become more popular with such a high rating on Rate My Professor?
Frank Stec: Honestly, I was surprised to be contacted. First, it was a shock that my ratings were that high, and second that students were still using this site at all. I have only heard from former students that I see around campus that they told their friends about my class.
OS: Why do you think students react so positively to your class?
FS: Part of the reason they react positively is that they see I am invested in their outcome. Particularly when they enter the basic public speaking class, many have low expectations, but I try to reorient the students from day one. In CAS 100A, I am there to not only help them improve their public speaking skills, but also build their skill set to become better citizens through the practices of critical thinking, organized arguments, and confidence in themselves.
OS: How do you utilize current events and pop culture in your lectures?
FS: Even though the book material remains the same almost every semester, I always try to update my examples. In CAS 283 (communication and technology), I am a lab instructor, and we are constantly trying to stay on top of emerging communication technologies. While scholarly articles have yet to be written about Snapchat, our class can explore how students use the technology, as well as discuss the limitations the platforms have. The same goes for public speaking. Due to the growth of the social app YikYak, I had my class break into small groups and devise a basic outline regarding the worth of the app. Another break from the norm was our exercise analyzing speeches. First up was the classic Gettsyburg Address. Once the students had a handle for the task, we looked at Kanye West’s “I Am A God.” I love dropping that on students, because Kanye provokes strong reactions that we have to fight through to get to the heart of the song.
OS: What do you do differently than professors in other CAS classes?
FS: It’s the beard. Okay, maybe not, but there aren’t too many of us around with them. I am really just lucky that the classes I have taught revolve around topics and perspectives that I share. Though we may hear the word ‘rhetoric’ circulated in a negative sense (“That’s just rhetoric, where is the action?!”), I strive to show my students how rhetoric matters and affects their daily lives.
OS: Has your class always been structured the same way, or have you found that it evolved over time?
FS: It is really no secret to teachers, but we do read the SRTEs and make adjustments to our courses. Over my years here, I have instituted more structured peer critiques, as well as increased the number of impromptu or short speeches, so that students can grow more comfortable in front of the room. Seriously though, fill out those SRTEs if you liked something in the class.
OS: If you couldn’t be a professor, what else would you be doing?
FS: If I wasn’t an instructor, I would probably be out riding my bike somewhere. Though I am not fast enough to get paid for it, riding bikes has always been my release.
OS: From a professor’s standpoint, do you have any advice that you can give students? Are office hours really that important?
FS: I always tell my students to come to office hours if they want help. It is free advice. Comparing those who attend and those who don’t (assuming they start at the same level), it is amazing to see how much help it can be for students who do show up to think through problems and learn how to ask the right questions.
OS: Why do you enjoy working at Penn State? How do you think it compares to other universities like Illinois?
FS: I really enjoy working at Penn State. Compared to Illinois, we at least have elevation so I can ride up and down mountains instead of through corn and soybean fields. But the campus environment is very similar, as are the caliber of students. I really enjoy teaching LEAP, as it is fun to see fresh new faces entering college and to try to set them on the right path in terms of organizing their thoughts and giving them confidence to speak in front of the class.
OS: What was the craziest thing you did when you were in college?
FS: As part of a social justice/anti-racism protest, a group I was involved with shut down an administration building and occupied it for 28 hours. The Progressive Resource-Action Cooperative (PRC) has a long tradition of social justice work on the Illinois campus, with a particular focus of anti-racism work, including the fight to rid the school of the offensive “Chief” Illiniwek mascot.
OS: If you could be a dinosaur, which would you be and why?
FS: I would always have said brontosaurus, as it was a favorite of mine growing up. But as with so many things in childhood, they are eventually crushed when science reveals that the brontosaurus never existed! Littlefoot (in a Land Before Time) wasn’t real! For shame. But, the Apatosaurus is basically the same thing, as is about as lanky as I am.
Photo: Frank Stec