Army Vet Loves Teaching in Saint Leo's Psychology Programs
Get a glimpse into the world of Dr. Harry Rotter, a psychology instructor for Saint Leo University and 22-year veteran of the Army Reserves.
His name is just one letter off from Harry Potter, but he can still make magic happen, just in a classroom rather than in a fictional world.
Dr. Harry Rotter, 68, has taught at Saint Leo University since 2005. Born and bred in Brooklyn, N.Y., he now calls Madison, Fla. in north Florida home.
The father of four and grandfather to seven has been married to his wife, Elizabeth, for 49 years. They have a parakeet, a Siamese cat and an Airedale Terrier named Finley Bowden in honor of longtime Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden.
He currently serves as an adjunct instructor, certified peer observer and is a member of the Saint Leo Senate.
Rotter first attained a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Valdosta State University. He then went on to earn a master's in education in behavior studies with a concentration in educational administration there and a doctoral degree in educational psychology from Georgia State University. Plus, he attained a graduate certificate in brewing science and operations from Auburn University where he also got to intern at the Georgia Beer Company.
With all of this education, he says he can definitely relate to the college students he teaches.
"I can respect and appreciate what my students go through during their educational journeys," he says.
Rotter served in the U.S. Army Reserves for over 22 years. He worked as a chief warrant officer 4 and had three deployments – one during Desert Storm in the early 1990s, another a few years later in Bosnia and a third to Baghdad, Iraq in 2004.
"In Baghdad, I got to work for commanding general Ricardo Sanchez and general George Casey," he recalls. "I worked at Camp Victory, which was Saddam Hussein's old palace."
In that role, he handled more administrative work like writing letters to families about the deaths of their loved ones. The last unit he was part of was a special operations joint forces command out of Norfolk, Va.
"Sometimes, we heard gunfire and thought it was enemy fire, but fortunately, I was never in too much danger while living there. At one point, we were staying in these huge tents with sandbags in front of them. Then they put us up in trailers."
For four decades, Rotter worked in several roles within public education in Georgia and Florida. He taught children in various grades, including those with emotional and physical disabilities. He also served as an educational therapist and oversaw programs for students of all abilities. He worked for Southwest Technical College in Thomasville, Ga. where he managed a dual-enrollment program and spent time in Leon County Schools where he taught at Heritage Trails Community School.
His daughter, who worked in higher education at the time, wound up referring him to Dr. Charles Oden, a Saint Leo business professor.
"He called me up and asked if I'd consider teaching for Saint Leo," he says.
He started out teaching courses in the education program. In recent years, he has taught more psychology courses both online and at three of Saint Leo's Education Centers – the Madison Education Center, the Lake City Education Center and the Tallahassee Education Center. He currently teaches online psychology courses in the master's program and undergraduate psychology courses at these north Florida locations.
"There are so many research institutions out there," he says. "I've always said Saint Leo University is a learning and teaching institution. We put a lot of emphasis on teaching and connecting with our students rather than having professors do lots of research on their own."
With over 30 Education Centers around the U.S., students can take courses from Saint Leo University right in their hometown. Rotter has had the opportunity to teach at several of these locations in Florida.
"The classes are extremely small and students have the opportunity for one-on-one, personal instruction from their professors. Plus, most of our centers have computers, printers, Wi-Fi and even some other resources they can use whenever they need them."
He explains the biggest differences between teaching students in online degree programs compared to in a traditional classroom.
"I really enjoy both styles of teaching. In a face-to-face situation, you can obviously look them in the eye and have that personal connection. With online degree programs, I'm not always sure where a student is coming from or what they might be struggling with. But at the same time, we do have weekly discussion posts and I get to structure my thoughts a little better when communicating with the students."
He always tries to have students engage in critical thinking.
"Learning critical thinking skills is so important. It's a different world out there than it used to be, so I'm trying to prepare the students for it by asking them the 'why' questions about their work and what they do on their assignments."
He believes technology is imperative to effective teaching and that it will only become more important as time goes on.
"You have to be in touch with the latest technology out there to communicate well with your students," he says. "Also, you can't just lecture these days. I'm always using multimedia like PowerPoint presentations, videos, photos and links to different websites. When you see students on their phone, you have to find other ways to get them engaged in the class."
He adds that group work is a big part of getting students to understand certain material more quickly.
"Getting students into groups can make all the difference in the world. It allows them to have good discussions and apply the concepts they learn to these real discussions."
According to Rotter, even after all these years in a classroom, he still looks back on his own teaching work.
"After every class period, I do a self-evaluation. There are classes where I feel like I hit a home run in them afterward and then classes where I feel like I struck out. In some cases, I will think about how I can come back for the next class and do better."
In his spare time, Rotter tries to run four miles each day and loves to travel. He also serves as commander of American Legion Madison Post 68.