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Teachable Moments
Returning to his roots: St. Lawrence men’s hockey coach inspired to join classroom ranks.

From left, the teaching team of Cummings Professor of Mathematics Patti Frazer Lock, Charles W. Appleton II Head Men’s Hockey Coach Joe Marsh and John Pezdek ’03, assistant director of alumni and parent programs, continue to teach their FYP course, Having an Impact: Leadership, Teamwork and Motivation.

A generation ago, men’s hockey head coach Joe Marsh stood at the front of a classroom. The subject was not hockey, but math. It was 1976 and Marsh was teaching, and coaching, at the New Hampton School in New Hampshire. After a detour to the Choate School, Marsh found himself at St. Lawrence and at the doorstep of his future career as a collegiate head men's hockey coach. His teaching took on a less traditional form.

"We teach all the time; it's just a very unconventional classroom," Marsh said. "Appleton Arena is a classroom. (The coaches) have always wanted to be considered part of the educational process."

For 22 years, Marsh was resigned to his role as hockey coach, teaching the intricacies of the college game to his players. But he wanted something else.

"There's some great stuff out there that has nothing to do with what we do here," Marsh said. "It can enhance it; it can augment it. If you had a rough week at practice, you may find some things that have great rewards separate from (hockey)."

Heeding his own advice, Marsh sought an old but familiar position: the front of the classroom.

"I wanted something different, something fresh," Marsh said. "At my age, I've seen enough Xs and Os to last me a lifetime." He approached former St. Lawrence University First-Year Program (FYP) director Steve Horwitz about helping teach an FYP course.

"I didn't think there was any way I would end up doing it," Marsh said. "He said, 'Well, we have this one (course) where we might have room.'

"I was like, 'Whoa.' I started thinking that if the door opens you have to think about (going through) it sooner rather than later."

But Marsh needed help, because FYP courses are team-taught. He found Peg Kelsey Cornwell ’79, who was offering a community-based learning FYP course. With Cornwell in place, Marsh became the only ECAC hockey coach who was also teaching a required undergraduate course.

"She helped me out so much," he said. "She was only here for one more year, though."

Cornwell's husband, Grant ‘79, became president of Wooster College. Marsh needed someone else to teach with. He approached mathematics professor Patti Fraser Lock.

"I knew him. I had spoken to him, but we weren't close friends," Lock said. "I happened to see him at a social event. He said he was looking for a teaching partner."

The Course
Lock accepted, taking a share of the reins of the course, titled Having an Impact: Leadership, Teamwork and Motivation. She helped Marsh and their third team member, John Pezdek ’03, who was assistant golf coach when he joined the trio but is now assistant director of alumni and parent programs, learn subtler approaches to teaching in the classroom, delivering material and various ways to help make the course enjoyable for both the professors and students.

"The first question we got the first year we did it was, 'So are we going to beat Clarkson this year?'" Lock said. "The students quickly learned it's about the course; it's about talking about the readings; it's about seeing what we can learn. All three of us have a lot to say on the topic."

Marsh added a community-based learning requirement to the course. Each student must volunteer with an organization in the community. Students have volunteered at the Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club, organic farms and Meals on Wheels, among other organizations.

"That was really Joe's push," Lock said. "The students, even though they might gripe, all say it's one of the best things about the course. Many of them keep doing it after they're done."

Each professor is also responsible for academic advising for a portion of the class. In Marsh's case, that's 17 students. The trio decided to split the class evenly, and all the grading is done the same way.
"This is a course on leadership and motivation, which makes it plausible for me to do it," Marsh said. "I don't have a Ph.D., but I've coached for a lot of years."

Lock said Marsh doesn't skimp on his portion of students, nor does he allow hockey to interfere with his classroom responsibilities. "He says he's gotten very good at grading on the bus," she noted. "Mostly, he just cares so much about the students and helping them have a successful experience here and build character and understand the importance of integrity. He wants to get it right."

For Marsh, getting back in the classroom was a challenge, but Lock and many other faculty helped him overcome a 22-year teaching gap.

"The teachers have helped me really develop," Marsh said. "These people are just fabulous. It's allowed me to develop contacts and friendships with the faculty, which has, in turn, helped me advise my (players). I get better feedback from them and they know how we run things here."

Back on the ice, Marsh makes sure his players all know why they're really at St. Lawrence. "They're college hockey players, but the operative word should be 'college' and not 'hockey,'" he said. "I want this to be an experience that transcends hockey. There has to be that moment — if you want to call it an intellectual awakening or whatever it is — but somewhere along the way we tell our guys, 'The sooner you get it, the better.' By getting it, I mean as soon as they start becoming more responsible for everything they do, that really improves everything.

"There's a lot going on in their lives and it's pretty important that they get it,” Marsh continues. “Nobody is going to hand it to them. Your education is something you're responsible for, not something you're entitled to.  That's the intellectual awakening we want them to have."

Adapted with permission from an article by Daniel J. Cassavaugh in the February 21, 2010, Watertown Daily Times, copyright 2010 by the Watertown Daily Times.

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