SALEM — Dr. Forrest R. Rodgers teaches about one of the most controversial topics in America by challenging his Salem State University (SSU) students to underpin their arguments on crime and race with solid factual foundations.
The Lynn resident’s insistence on academic discipline coupled with a technology-centered teaching style earned Rodgers, 35, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences’ Ken Peak Innovation in Teaching Award.
Rodgers travels to Baltimore next week to receive the national award for his recognizing his teaching methods.
“It means a lot to me to have this award. The students keep me motivated and the award is a reflection of them,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers teaches “People of color, crime, and justice” at SSU in addition to “Introduction to criminal justice” and “Theories of crime and justice.”
Most of his students are pursuing undergraduate degrees and they quickly learn to come to class prepared for vigorous give-and-take with their professor.
Students prepare for Rodgers’ classes by viewing video lectures and poring over research before sitting down for 75 minutes to discuss what they have learned and argue ideas with Rodgers.
He challenges students to talk about race, ethnicity, economics and crime without separating one of these four topics from the others. Assumptions about criminal behavior, including what he calls “the fallacy of free will,” must be supported in student arguments by facts and research.
“He keeps you thinking,” said SSU senior and Lynn resident Jonathan Reynoso.
Class papers don’t come back to their author with a one- or two-word criticism or note of encouragement. Rodgers prepares quick videos offering comprehensive critiques of his students’ themes and that cutting-edge teaching method helped him win the Ken Peak Award.
“I pull up their paper and show them areas for clarification. They can hear and see exactly what they need to do. Students need to be able to take what they do and build on it,” he said.
Rodgers’ experiences and observations as a boy growing up in a poverty-ridden town outside Little Rock, Ark., prompted him to make the study of race, ethnicity, economics and crime his life’s pursuit.
“I have a passion for equality. I learned early on about the differences in the way people are treated,” Rodgers said.
The son of a custodian and an automobile mechanic who didn’t finish middle school, he was the first person in his family to earn a graduate degree and he enrolled in a master’s degree program before the ink on his Arkansas State University bachelor’s degree was dry.
Advanced studies took him to Ohio and Oklahoma. He taught at the University of Wisconsin before joining SSU’s faculty in 2014.
Rodgers said his decision to move from Salem to Lynn a year ago “was very decisive.” He wanted to immerse himself in the city’s different cultures and he likes the “walkability” available to him as a downtown resident.
Rodgers said he has been mentored and helped throughout his academic career and said he is thrilled to provide those opportunities to his students.
“My favorite thing is graduation and seeing students who have had more dire circumstances than myself succeed,” he said.