TARPON SPRINGS, FL – “Greece has given so much to the world in terms of history, culture, education,” says Dr. Marvin Bright, the new Provost at the Tarpon Springs (FL) campus of St. Petersburg College (SPC), “that it is a natural fit” for SPC to become the premier institution of higher learning in America in terms of infusing Hellenism into the curriculum.
A native of Maryland, Dr. Bright has been an educator and administrator for over 20 years, having served as a dean and vice president at colleges in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. He knows many diverse communities throughout the country, he told TNH, and has been to countless ethnic street fairs, “but I knew the first time I walked onto [Tarpon Springs’ famous] Sponge Docks, this was something really special.”
He went back, again and again, spending hours visiting the restaurants and talking with the people. “It’s contagious, because you want to know more about the history. It make you inquisitive,” he said, and he continues to learn more and more about Hellenism every day.
“I’ve never been to Greece, but being on the Sponge Docks, that’s what I felt Greece would be like,” he added. Chris Alahouzos, a candidate in Tarpon Springs’ mayoral race next year, whom TNH interviewed last month (“Tarpon May Get 1st Greek-Born Mayor,” Aug. 9) confirmed to TNH what a big fan of Hellenism Bright has become. The provost, in turn, is excited about Alahouzos’ candidacy and the energy he brings to the community.
In many ways, SPC parallels Bright’s own curriculum vita. It began as a community college, offering associate degrees, and has grown into a four-year institution. Bright, too, began by earning an associate degree before earning three subsequent ones: a bachelors, a master’s and a doctorate. “The associate degree is a credential,” he says, that gives students a sense of accomplishment as they strive for higher academic achievement, “but I don’t call SPC a two-year college that offers bachelor’s degrees, I describe it as a four-year college that offers associate degrees.” By putting “the cart before the horse,” as he calls it, Bright sends the message that students can complete their undergraduate studies at SPC – and even obtain a master’s degree directly on campus through partnerships established with graduate institutions – “but they can start with an associate” that will give students a sense of accomplishment and enhance their employment opportunities.
SPC has an early college program as well, through which students from local high schools can take courses toward an associate degree, while still in high school. “You can walk out of high school and enter a four-year college as a first-semester junior,” Bright said.
Bright also praises the work of SPC President Dr. William Law. “He is just a walking educator,” Bright says. “He has over 25 years of experience at various institutions. He is so well-known and well-respected” in academic, Bright adds. “To serve under his leadership benefits me greatly.”
PHILOSOPHY AND PHILOLOGY
Greeks love to learn, Bright observed in having spoken to many of Tarpon’s locals. “They just love education,” and play such a big role in encouraging their children to love it as well. But isn’t that hard to do in Florida, the proverbial “spring break capital of the world?” Not as hard as one might think, Bright responds, pointing out that Florida provides a perfect blend of studying and relaxing. “You can take a book and read it on the beach. You can lay by the pool and study.” In fact, that mindset is prevalent on campus as well: “our library – well, I don’t even call it a library anymore, it is the learning resource center – looks like a Starbucks,” with students reading and learning in a relaxed atmosphere.
BEACON OF HELLENISM
Transforming SPC into the foremost center for Hellenic education in the United States is simply “a natural fit,” Bright says, though he emphasizes that for the experience to be maximized, the education must go well beyond the classroom setting. It’s not just about courses, he says, “it is about the language, the culture. Sending students to Greece not just for the courses, but to live with Greek families – to become truly immersed in the language and the culture. We’re working on that now, that’s our goal,” Bright says, adding that Alahouzos has made important headway in that respect.
Deeming that initiative “a signature program for the Tarpon Springs campus,” Bright hopes to further enhance it by have an exchange program not only of students, but of faculty. “It’s a no-brainer,” he says, fully realizing that SPC’s unique Hellenic base in Tarpon renders that undertaking obvious, even inevitable.
“This college was established by the Greek community,” Bright reminds. “Students typically study Spanish, or German, but I want to begin to infuse the Greek language into the curriculum.”
Bright’s passion for all-things-Hellenic is reflected in his words: “I can’t make it a requirement, though I wish I could,” he qualifies, “but I really want that type of curriculum.”
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