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 this is teaching style is working.
Ippolito implements what he calls the “four C’s” in his classroom: communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. Pneumonic devices are a theme with him. He coaches students to act with LOVE: listen, observe, validate, empathize.
Ippolito credits his Italian heritage – he grew up as the son of immigrant parents in New York – with the values of hard work, empathy, and family. It’s these values he imparts on his students in his business and professional speaking class.
“My family culture was instrumental in making me aware of other people’s circumstances. Being modest, having humility, and being open was key,” he said.
But Ippolito wasn’t always a professor – or “coach” as he likes to say. He started his career in manufacturing. With two associate’s degrees: in civil engineering and mechanical engineering,
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 eventually sold to Sony.
“GE told me ‘you’ve got to go back to school so we can promote you. Go to Syracuse University and talk to them.’”
He 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. 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.
“Then they offered me a Ph. D. and I said ‘hell no, I’ve got to go make money.’”
As it happened, the human resources director for his former employer, Carrier, was in one of his classes, and gave 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. “Why not do what I want to do: teach?” he asked himself. “They said ‘you’re nuts, no one will want to hire you, you’re 50.’”
“Let me worry about that,” he said.
Ippolito started his teaching career at UT Tyler working in the STEM lab, where he would visit high schools, showing students the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
From there, he began at TJC as an adjunct professor in the speech department, eventually transitioning to full-time teaching for the last five years.
His classroom style can be attributed more to “coaching” than to teaching. He uses pneumonic 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, and “If you think you suck, you will.”
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. The first speech students are required to make answers 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.
“When I see the student who would never speak in 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 it’s all worth it when he sees the lightbulb go off in a student’s head.
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.’ At 50, I decided it’s time to give back.”