- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - University of South Florida professor Eric Hodges wasn’t satisfied with simply lecturing his students about public policy, as part of his “Intro to U.S. Government” class.

He wanted them to change public policy, or at least learn that they had to power to try.

Hodges’ small class mulled over several possible ideas before deciding to champion an important environmental concern - to raise public awareness about the need to protect nesting sea turtles from the dangers posed by beach raking.

The students collaborated with biologists from Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory, and learned that by removing seaweed from the beach, workers could hazard turtle eggs and hatchlings even if they didn’t disturb an actual nest.

The students also worked with local power-brokers, hoping to garner support, including former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.

“They were bright young people who had chosen a unique topic, and they were really sincere and interested in the fate of the baby sea turtles,” Patterson said.

Patterson took the group to lunch and explained the regulatory aspects of their project while the group was in the beginning stages of their work.

“We’re in the advocacy stage of the project now,” said Hodges, who served as a Marine infantryman before entering academia. “For me, having been in the military, I realize how fortunate we are to live in a society with an open political system. To get them out to experience this firsthand - it’s almost as if we have a laboratory in our society.”

His students loved the real-world nature of the assignment, and devoted hours of their free time to the cause.

“It’s very innovative, this project,” said Jacqueline Knake, 22, an interdisciplinary social sciences major. “He’s teaching what we can take and use in the practical sense. The public reaction has been fairly supportive of our cause.”

Alexis Bolz, an 18-year-old biology major, said the experience, “will be really useful in my future.”

Dennis Metz, a 45-year-old psychology major, was a paid lobbyist in New Jersey before moving to Florida.

Metz, who led the student team, was effusive with praise for the project and for Hodges.

“Not one of his classes is ever boiler-plate. I didn’t want to miss a single class, and I didn’t,” Metz said. “Even though I knew a lot about the process, I learned so much more. Dr. Hodges - to find someone who wants us to succeed not only in the classroom but in life, it’s really rare. And he wants us all to succeed.”


Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, https://www.heraldtribune.com

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