March 23, 2017

CARTERVILLE — Most college instructors are not rock stars, but if Lewis Russell was, he’d probably play for the band AC/DC.

Russell, the instructor for electronics at John A. Logan College, has been teaching the principles of AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current) as part of his curriculum for more than 30 years. His shining example in the classroom has earned him the College’s 2017 Term (part-time) Faculty of the Year Award.

Russell is a 1965 graduate of Frankfort Community High School in West Frankfort. He joined the Air Force right after graduation and served in Vietnam from 1969-1970. It was early on in his military service that he took an aptitude test that placed him high in understanding electronics. “Which surprised me,” Russell said. A science he has both learned and taught ever since.

Russell has 35 years of teaching experience at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He has taught part-time at John A. Logan College for the past 10 years.

“I know retirement will come someday, but right now I think I have a few years left in me,” Russell said.

With what appears to be a complex formula drawn on a marker board behind him, a student apologizes for taking up the instructor’s time. It’s at this point that Russell is quick to transmit his philosophy on teaching.

“Students are first,” Russell says. “I’m here for you to take up my time.”

Later, Russell expounds: “Teaching is all about helping students succeed. We (teachers) do that by understanding what the student needs. Students are first and that’s my philosophy on teaching.”

Russell explained that one of the biggest changes he has seen in students taking electronics courses is difficulty understanding mathematics. “We use a lot of formulas and many students come into the class weak on math,” Russell said.

But Russell teaches through that and, sometimes, offers encouragement just as a great coach would.

“I had a student, a non-traditional student, who was really struggling,” Russell said. “You could see the student was frustrated. And you can’t solve anything when you are frustrated. I want that student, like all my students, to succeed. I told him, ‘go take a break. Take a walk. Go outside. Go call someone.’ When the student came back to the classroom, he was calmed down and ready to learn. A teacher has to be able to see these things and help students when they need it most.”

Russell noted that there is “great evolution” in electronics today. For instance, he explained, “think about what you can do with cell phones today that you couldn’t do even 10 years ago.” Keeping pace with technology, he said, is also an important component of teaching electronics.

“As you can see, I’m still a little old-fashioned,” Russell said. “I still use the board for my lessons. But because we use so many formulas, I find it to still be the most effective way to teach.”

At age 69, Russell knows that retirement is inevitable, but, he said, “I enjoy seeing students learn. When they get it, when they grasp what is being taught, I say, yep, that’s what it is all about.”