By Evan Bourtis, Staff Writer
Students who have had Dr. Wesley Renfro as a professor know that he is willing to share interesting stories about his life experiences.
“It’s good to be funny and tell a story now and then, because it gets people to pay attention a little more and I like that,” said Renfro.
Renfro, who teaches political science at Fisher, has taught courses that range from topics of U.S. presidential elections to international relations since 2010. He is also the director of the college’s Core Curriculum program and has made many appearances on local media programs to discuss politics and international issues.
Renfro has always loved teaching, which is why he hasn’t had a job that doesn’t involve teaching since he left graduate school.
“I always joke that I’m in the 35th grade or something,” said Renfro. “I started school when I was five and I never left. I’ve never had a semester since then that I wasn’t somehow involved with a school, either as a student or an employee.”
Renfro said that his favorite part about teaching is working with students.
“I like students. I think it’s rewarding to watch them progress, especially when they come in as first year students and then they exit,” said Renfro. “And now, I’ve been doing this long enough that it’s rewarding to see them get jobs and get promoted and get married.”
However, his least favorite part about teaching is the grading.
“Grading is the worst. It’s a bad measure, I think, of student learning,” he said. “And it’s repetitive. And I don’t think grades are a good predictor of success, intellectually or personally.”
Sometimes before class, Renfro will share brief personal stories about himself to get students engaged in learning and to help them know their professor better. These stories range from Renfro’s experiences of growing up in a small town, to stories about college, to talking about his current hobbies.
One story that Renfro often tells students is about the time his friend’s goat was struck by lightning in his hometown. Renfro grew up in a rural part of Ohio near the city of Tiffin. Renfro recalled that, in his town with a population of about 800, school was canceled during the County Fair, since so many students showed their farm animals.
In the summer of his junior year of high school, Renfro’s friend Amber Good raised a pet goat. One day, during a storm, Good’s goat got struck by a bolt of lightning that killed the goat.
“It was surreal because she didn’t know what to do, her parents were at work, so my friend and I had to go and help with this situation,” Renfro recalled. “And It’s just like, when was the last time that you heard of anyone who had a goat who was struck by lighting.” Renfro also found out that, several years later, a herd of goats had accidentally gotten loose in a Walmart in Tiffin, Ohio.
Growing up in rural Ohio, Renfro liked to read, which provoked his interest in history and foreign countries.
“I was sort of a nerdy kid and I liked to read and I liked to pay attention to the news,” mentioned Renfro.
One of Renfro’s favorite books growing up was The Good Earth by Pearl S. Bucks, a novel that takes place in a Chinese village that he has since read many times. One of Renfro’s earliest favorite novels was the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula Le Guin, which he read in 3rd grade.
Although Renfro prefers big cities, he decided to stay local for college and attend Heidelberg university in Tiffin, where he studied history and philosophy. Renfro described Heidelberg as a small school with a large fraternity culture. Throughout most of college, he lived in a frat house. He describes himself as someone who liked to go to parties and study a lot. In college, one of the things that made Renfro interested in political science was his involvement in Model United Nations (Model UN) and Model Arab League.
One college memory Renfro likes to share is about the time several of his housemates were arrested while he was working on a Model UN brief.
“In the spring of my senior year, my housemates and fraternity brothers were going to have this big party, and I kept saying, no we’ve had too many of them,” explained Renfro.
Instead of attending the party, Renfro worked on a project for Model UN in his professor’s office, which was only a couple hundred feet from the house that he lived in. After he finished the project and walked back to his house, Renfro was in for a big surprize.
“It was two o’clock in the morning and I was like, I’m sure their party is over, my homework is done,” Renfro recalled. “So I exited the building and I saw eight police cars, which was, like, every police car that the whole darn town had, lined up, lights up and just hoards of people.”
During the party, one of Renfro’s friends got into a fist fight with another student in the middle of the street and an officer had seen the situation, which prompted the officer to investigate the house party.
That night, 52 students got arrested, including many of Renfro’s housemates. “This is a school of only 900 students, and that was actually a pretty substantial population of the student body, got arrested in my living room,” said Renfro.
After college, Renfro went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied public and international affairs and soon transferred to University of Connecticut to study political science. After graduate school, Renfro turned down two public policy jobs to teach. He started teaching in Pittsburg and later taught in Massachusetts before he came to Fisher.
One course that Renfro has taught in the past at Fisher was a Research Based Writing Course inspired by the book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. This course encourages students to think about how American foreign policy could have been used to intervene and stop genocides throughout history. This included the more recent events like the Rwandan Genocide in the 1990s as well more historical tragedies like the Holocaust.
“I read that book and thought, this is just such a well told story and it’s an important topic and it’s one that folks don’t think about,” said Renfro. “And would prefer not to think about, because it’s really depressing. And it just seemed like I was willing to take that on.”
In addition to teaching and reading, Renfro also likes to run long distances. He has run 11 full marathons, first of which was the Hartford Marathon in 2007. Renfro is also interested in trapeze.
“It’s a really fun thing to do,” said Renfro. “You just kind of climb in there and you learn how to do tricks and it’s a great workout at the same time.”
Renfro has also made a number of appearances on local media to discuss political issues, including WXXI and News 8. On February 8th, he will help lead a panel that will discuss immigration issues for the show Need to Know on WXXI.