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AVON PARK, Fla. – Aug. 12, 2016 – Dr. Charlotte Pressler has taught first- and second-year English and philosophy courses at South Florida State College for 14 years. But her academic interests don’t stop with English composition and Plato. She’s also a self-described history buff.
“I’ve had an interest in Florida history since I moved here–it’s rich, interesting, and different,” she said. “A historian at Gainesville was fond of saying that ‘Florida is the exception to American exceptionalism’– it’s a different kind of history.”
Now Dr. Pressler, who also heads up the Honors Program at SFSC, will lead a three-year scholarly endeavor to infuse Florida’s exceptional history into not just standard history classes, but literature, psychology, sociology, and philosophy courses.
Students at SFSC aren’t the only ones who will benefit from Dr. Pressler’s project. She’s designed it from the start to include area high school teachers.
The effort is part of $99,619 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded to SFSC.
Last March, SFSC scored the coveted NEH award, one of a select number earmarked for smaller colleges. SFSC is the first and only Florida college to receive the NEH grant.
The NEH is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.
Titled “A Sense of Home: From Cultural Conflict to Coexistence in Florida’s Heartland,” the project kicks off with a series of scholarly seminars. Experts in the history of the Heartland will visit the SFSC Highlands Campus in Avon Park to engage with college faculty and high school teachers in a scholarly discussion.
“Usually, similar projects revolve around inviting academics who deliver public lectures targeted to students and a public audience,” Dr. Pressler said. “Here, we’re inviting highly-regarded experts in Florida Heartland history to engage with our faculty in a tightly-focused setting designed to build up the scholarship of the teaching faculty.”
Dr. Pressler noted the seminars are not an end in themselves. She explained the objective was to develop “curricular modules”—or mini courses—from the seminars for instructors to fit into existing courses.
A history instructor can use a mini course to teach students about the state of pre-Civil War Florida. While a sociology instructor can use the same module to explore race relations and slavery in 1850s Florida.
“While the students themselves won’t engage with the visiting scholars,” Dr. Pressler said. “They are the end beneficiary of this scholarly endeavor—build the scholarship of the faculty first and the student second.”
After the modules are completed, Dr. Pressler and the other SFSC faculty members will publish the results of their work to share it with the larger academic community.
Dr. Pressler moved to Highlands County in 2002 to teach at SFSC. She grew up in Cleveland and Canton, Ohio.
“I do sometimes reflect that Canton is just 40 miles from George Sebring’s first planned town, Sebring, Ohio,” she said, referring to the founder of the county’s second oldest city. “I live now in his second planned town, Sebring, Fla.”
Dr. Pressler retains a fondness for the region where she grew up. “I still think of the industrial Great Lakes region as my homeland,” she said.
That attachment to locality is another driver behind “A Sense of Home” and its focus on the history of Florida’s Heartland.
“I’ve always wanted to get the students interested in their roots,” Dr. Pressler said. “In doing so, I hope they will bond with the region, stay here and contribute to the Heartland.”