Do You Know Your Professors?: Interview with Professor Nick Kontogeorgopoulos

Do you know your professors?

I mean – do you know your professors beyond their names, departments, classes, grading styles, etc.?
One of the most valuable aspects of liberal arts education, in my opinion, is the close connection you could establish with the professors.
Sure, they could seem intimidating with their crazy educational backgrounds and sophisticated word usage skills, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting to know them.
They are always there – willing to help, and get to know you.

In saying so, I’m presenting you with the first edition of the “Do You Know Your Professors?” Series: Interview with Professor Nick Kontogeorgopoulos, the Distinguished Professor of the International Political Economy (IPE) Department.


BeFunky DesignSo, to start off – Professor Konto, did you always want to be a professor since you were young?
Well, I knew I wanted to be a professor since my freshman year in college. Fun fact actually, I was originally going to study engineering at University of Toronto, because I was doing a lot of math and science in high school. But I got a four-year scholarship called the Morehead-Cain from North Carolina Chapel Hill, so I ended up going there from Toronto, Canada – where I was in High School. North Carolina Chapel Hill did not have engineering, so I started down another path – thought I’d do International Relations. I enjoyed it very much since First Year, so yea. I knew pretty early on – which was nice.

Wait, did you say you grew up in Canada?
Yes. I was born in Canada; I grew up in Vancouver until I was 6, then my family moved to Toronto. Oh, but my family is from Greece. My parents were immigrants from Greece, and they met in Canada, where I was born.

Wow; I did not know that! And your college experience – was North Carolina Chapel Hill different from/similar to UPS? How?
It was totally different, because North Carolina Chapel Hill is a huge research school with thousands and thousands of students. Classes are very large, especially in the first couple of years. So, it was a completely different experience. My first knowledge and exposure to liberal arts was when I got hired to come here.

Due to its nature of being a big university, would you say that the relationship dynamic between a student and a professor at North Carolina Chapel Hill was different compared to that of UPS?
Yes. It was more difficult to get to know the professor, but the professor to get to know you – it was definitely more difficult, and you had to be a lot more proactive. It was a lot easier to melt into the crowd and be anonymous, which is good and bad, but you had to really make sure you got good education. It was very up to you. You really had to make the choices to make the most out of it. Here at UPS, it is naturally set up in a way to ensure students get good education.

How would you define good teaching? What is your teaching philosophy?
When I think about good teaching, I think about the teachers that I enjoyed the most, and what those teachers had in common were high level of organization and genuine passion for the material, but also for teaching the material. So – professors who are excited about learning new things to teach, and being in the classroom in front of students. Professors who have good plan, and intensity… I think I responded to those the most – So I try to do that in my own teaching.

So, How long have you been teaching at UPS?
This is my 18th year.

Oh my gosh.
Yea, is it 18th? Yea. It is.

Has the school changed at all since you first came here?
I think this School has changed, and there are certain things that improved since I have came here, in terms of the reach of the school nationally – its profile – has improved since I got here.

You earlier said that you aspire to be a professor who is always excited about learning new things to teach; do you have current research interests?
The current research I’m doing is volunteer tourism, in which tourists travel and volunteer for short periods of time; and I’m interested in what motivates them, and what impact they have on the communities. In general, my research is related to alternative forms of tourism.

And Lastly, what piece of academic, or even life advice would you give to all of your students?
I would tell my students that it is never too early to think about what you want to do down the road. There are lots of options available to students, and it seems like a daunting task, but often students wait too long to think about what they want to do because they are afraid to make decisions. So, many end up very close to graduation without preparations or plans – it might seem early to think about your future, and of course, young people should keep their options open and explore their choices, but at some point, you should buckle down and make some decisions for career. Another – is to not put too much pressure on yourself to have something perfect when you graduate. People shouldn’t feel so pressured to get paralyzed by it.


~Fun Fact About Professor Konto~

Nick in studio

Professor Konto in KUPS Studio

Did you know that, for 10 YEARS, Professor Konto with Professor Jeff Matthews (from the Business department) hosted a KUPS show called “Back and Black” with seventies to nineties hard rock? YES – he is big on music.

His favorite band is Rush – the Canadian band, because he grew up with them in high school. He really enjoys classic rock from the seventies and New wave music from the eighties. He also likes some contemporary stuff from England – like the Artic Monkeys, and Brit pop from the nineties – like Oasis. Oh, and of course, disco as well – from the seventies.


*Thank you Professor Konto!*

Keep Up with the Class, Please

In which Daniel revels in the fruits of his labor.

To my dear reader,

The universe, being old and full of mysteries, is prone to speak obscurely and tell you its secrets in the most confusing manner. The following story, in four parts, is an example of such an occurrence:


At our final meeting of the Spring 2014 semester, my a cappella group Underground Sound was debriefing over the semester – my first as a co-director alongside my friend Lisa Hawkins. With me and Lisa in the front of the classroom and the other members sitting in desks, we had spent the past half hour trading ideas and feedback on the ways that Lisa and I had run the group (in a successful, albeit crazed and panicked, manner). There was a momentary lull in the conversation, and as I stared out of the windows of the classroom into the dark campus outside, I had a sudden thought.

“When I first became a co-director,” I said, “I didn’t anticipate enjoying it all that much. I thought I would just do it to get the job done. Looking back on it now, though…” I struggled to assemble the right words. “Looking back now, I realize that doing this – teaching and coaching and helping you all grow – that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life”.

The good people of Underground Sound, Spring 2014.

The good people of Underground Sound, Spring 2014.


An hour before our performance at the Fall 2014 A Cappella Extravaganza, Underground Sound had gathered in a small classroom beside the door to the concert hall. As we awaited the end of the performance preceding ours, Lisa and I attempted – unsuccessfully – to corral the group into one space. It seemed impossible, however, to ensure the presence of all thirteen of us in one location, and every time one person was accounted for, another seemed to vanish. Sighing, I turned to one of our new members, a small and reserved sophomore named Marisa Christensen who, alongside her quiet nature, had a glorious voice and an unprecedented level of dedication.

“Come on folks,” I muttered partly to her and partly to myself. “Get on top of your lives.” I rolled my eyes at the other members as they scrambled in and out of the room. “Well,” I grimaced at her, repeating something I’d said to her on multiple occasions, “At least YOU’RE keeping up with the class”.

The good people of Underground Sound, Fall 2014.

The good people of Underground Sound, Fall 2014.


In the wake of our final Fall 2014 performance at the school’s holiday celebration Mistletoast, Underground Sound had gathered at the house of my co-director, Lisa Hawkins, for a Secret Santa.  We had gone around the circle and I was the last of the group to receive my gift.  Holding up the white bag stuffed with red tissue, I read aloud the clue on the side: “From someone that’s always keeping up with the class”. I turned to Marisa Christensen – who was sitting on the couch beside me and had also, coincidentally, been the first to open her Secret Santa gift from me. “You?” I cried in delight, and she burst into laughter as I swooped down to hug her. I reached into the red tissue to pull out this:


If you are observant, you may notice something odd about this Christmas ornament: a portion of the apple is missing. Despite what one might think, this was not part of the ornament’s original design. This is a characteristic of the ornament because, after placing the ornament on the arm of the couch, I reached into the bag to pull out my second gift – a box of scrumptious holiday teas – and in my frenzied delight, knocked the ornament to the ground. “Oh my goodness,” I moaned to Marisa, “You got me such a sweet gift and I IMMEDIATELY broke it like an idiot. I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Marisa laughed, waving the apology aside.

“Oh!” Lisa Hawkins exclaimed as she examined the now imperfect gift. “I thought it was intentional designed like that – as if a bite had been taken out of it”.

“You know what?” I said, taking the ornament back and examining it with resignation, “I’m going to take it as a symbol from the universe of the imperfect beauty of teaching. Sound like a plan, Marisa?”

Grinning, she replied “Sounds like a plan.”


On my last day on campus for the Fall 2014 term, I was part way through packing in preparation for winter break, and was admiring Marisa’s gifts to me once. “Best not to take the ornament home with me,” I thought to myself, “Lest I break it once more”. Smiling at the sweetness of the gift, I traced a finger along the words “Number One Teacher” before looking at the attached tag for the first time. It was not until that moment that I saw this:


Well played, universe. Well played.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Teaching English in a French Classroom


Today was one of many new discoveries, doing things that put me out of my comfort zone, but things that felt so fulfilling all at once. Thursdays I am busy solely with my assistant English teaching internship. With my schedule and class numbers all laid out, I headed for building D (the school where I work is huge, but I found my way around really well today), only to find it was just me and five students for la conversation collège. It took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t assisting a prof, but that I would facilitate the conversation alone in English. This turned out to be really fun for me! Slowly I adjusted back into English, surrounded by young people who understood every word I said. All five students had different British accents when they spoke English, one had more of a British London accent, for example and another more of a Yorkshire-like accent. These students have a parent who is French and another who is British, hence why they live in France, but travel to England often to visit family. I just had fun the whole time asking them questions, since the idea is for them to have a chance to use their English. When I told them I was going to Morocco for my fall vacation, one of the boys asked, “vacation?” One of the other kids quickly explained to him it’s the same as, “holiday.” The kids were very helpful answering any questions I had about French vocab and where to find the teacher’s lounge. I look forward to more spontaneous discussions with them.

Next, I worked with the prof, Mme. Lalaude in my own separate classroom, which I was not expecting. I knew, however, that we agreed I would work separately with a small group of her students, while she worked with the other half. The middle school French students looked confused for a moment when I told them to place the chairs in a circle and not to go to their desks. I think I brought with me my American casualness, lack of formality, yet still able to take charge. That must have been quite the interesting surprise for them: who is this American student and why does she do things so differently? I prefer classes Socratic seminar style: everyone is gathered in a circle, there is a sense of equality and less strict formality. I think it really charges the energy of the room and certainly puts me more at ease because I like to sit next to the students, not above them. We went around and made introductions and I had each of them explain their favorite activities, writing on the board to explain certain grammar that was unclear. I laughed with them, enjoyed hearing their travel stories to America or England, and would occasionally switch to French to translate anything unclear I had said in English. It felt like something I was supposed to be doing: I’ve always loved working with young people, especially when it comes to learning foreign languages. They are my French teachers and I am here to facilitate the class period in English. It’s very much a win/win situation. It was really funny seeing the first group reluctant to switch with the second group of kids. I felt like I had done something right.

The last part of my English teaching at the school was to work with high school students. This definitely put me out of my comfort zone the most. I think it’s due to the fact I’m closer in age to the high school students. I don’t have the natural sense of authority with age when I’m with the middle school kids. So I had to really fill the space with purpose and look like I know what I’m doing. I made the same kind of introductions with the high school kids with their desks all in a circle. I facilitated more complex discussions in English like what do you like, or not like about the U.S. when you visited? One girl in the class shared how she found Americans more friendly than the French during her visit. Another student asked me what I liked about France. Since there were two other American-French students in the room, I chose my answer carefully. My experience is not the same as theirs. I have been in France as long as they have, nor do I have French family members. I told them I liked how the French in general are more relaxed, mostly because Brittany where I’ve spent most of my time is calmer. People get a coffee, or share a meal together and they take their time; they’re not constantly rushing. One of the American-French students mentioned how that wasn’t her experience, but she said, “Yeah, Bretagne is kind of dead,” meaning everything is way more chill here than Paris, or other parts of France. Zack, the second American-French student said how much he liked the European community, the food, and how much more relaxed people were as well.

I think the students didn’t mind my presence at all. It was certainly something new for them and I look forward to planning lessons for the middle and high school students. I’m just more used to working with middle school level students; they aren’t as self-conscious about their English and are more curious to ask questions. So for each group, I will have to compartmentalize a bit: what kind of communication in English and in general works for this age group and what doesn’t? It’s going to be a good challenge and learning experience for me. I’m planning on personally journaling about it. Overall, it was a very satisfying day!