by Angela J. Rabatin, Associate Professor, Business Management
“In traveling; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge,” according to Samuel Johnson in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, 1791. Applicable words, perhaps, for faculty who travel-to-teach at off-campus locations.
The neighborhoods and lives through which we pass are as much reserves of potential-discovery as they are repositories of learned-delivery. The most frequent destination, the Largo main campus, is a rewarding one. But, other journeys are worthy of note.
Asked to speak to our experience of teaching off-campus, an interesting history comes to mind. I smile when I think of my Prince George’s Community College teaching-trail. It has traversed the home of a conspirator to assassinate President Lincoln, the quarters of SAM FOX, the community of the inventor of underground and underwater telegraphy, the Nation’s Capital, and, lastly, even hundreds to thousands of miles away (more about that later). (Excluded from the above excursions are the non-teaching, but still student-related, treks.)
So where to begin? Let’s start with…
Surrattsville: In a small classroom posted with hand-lettered rules of grammar on one wall, and behavioral admonitions on another, our PGCC students at Surrattsville High School may have felt as though they had gone too far back in time. The seats seemed to be much smaller than on campus, and there were other undeniable signs of, well, being back in high school. But, the interaction was lively, our hosts were gracious, and the surroundings were out-of-the-ordinary. Nearby is the Surratt House Museum in (now) Clinton, Maryland. It hosts programs recapturing the history of mid-19th century life and focusing on the fascinating web of the Lincoln conspiracy.
At the intersection of the present day Routes 223 and 381 once sat the 287-acre farm of John and Mary Surratt. In the mid-1800’s, the Surratt House served as a tavern and hostelry, a post office, and a polling place during the crucial decade before the Civil War. Mrs. Surratt rented the tavern and farm to an ex-policeman and moved to a townhouse at 541 H Street in Washington City after the death of her husband.
Thus, she did not reside at Surratt House thirteen years later on the night of April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth stopped by on his escape from Washington after shooting President Lincoln. However, a report from her tavern keeper/tenant indicated that Mary requested that he have field glasses and carbines ready for Booth when Booth arrived.
Putting substantial weight on the informant’s report, a Military Commission found Mary Surratt guilty of conspiring with Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. She was the first woman to be executed by the United States government. The following year, in a case that was pending at the time of Mary’s execution, the Supreme Court ruled that a military court had no jurisdiction in civilian cases. It is significant that, with virtually the same witnesses and for essentially the same alleged crime, a civil court of the District of Columbia was unable to convict Mary's son, John.1
Mary Surratt’s parents resided near what is now Andrews Air Force Base, a future site for PGCC students.
Andrews Air Force Base: I shared my thoughts with a group of PGCC students at Andrews as to the impressiveness of the entrance to the base—and how nicely landscaped it was—particularly in fall. Just after the security check at the gate, one was presented with a beautiful autumnal display; I looked forward to it. The students, who resided on base, said they hadn’t noticed it. Perhaps, as Henry Miller said, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Maybe we are least likely to appreciate that closest to home, and bringing it to our attention is a service provided by visitors.
Across base, seemingly a whole town away, is the Training Center. It is a nondescript building, perhaps in need of a little care, with adequate teaching stations, unless you were assigned one of the rooms with portable room dividers. Nonetheless, there was a certain honor in being there.
What the PGCC students/soldiers did know, and the magnificence they did have in mind, is the primary mission at AAFB. It is to transport the president of the United States. The base is also tasked to provide reliable and comfortable worldwide airlift for the vice president, the president's Cabinet, members of Congress, military leaders, and other high ranking dignitaries. That is what the ‘home’ of SAM FOX is all about.
(Originally, SAM FOX, when used as a prefix to an aircraft tail number, formed a radio call sign to identify Air Force aircraft that were transporting high-ranking VIPs, typically on foreign flights. The call sign prefix was constructed from the acronym SAM (Special Air Mission) and the initial F (Foreign), which at the time was represented by the phonetic word "Fox.") SAM FOX has since come to denote an attitude of extraordinary professionalism and dedication to perfection – an ideal that continues to be the primary objective of personnel assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing, the host wing at Andrews AFB.2
And we’re off to….
Hyattsville: Prince George's Community College at University Town Center, formerly Metro Center, opened in August of 2000. Nearly half of all UTC students were born outside the U.S.3
Hyattsville is named after Christopher Hyatt, who settled there in 1860. An early Hyattsville citizen of national repute was Dr. J. Harris Rogers, whose invention of underground and underwater telegraphy was used during World War I.
As reported by his late grandniece, Ellen Rogers, in “Hyattsville -- Our Hometown,” he “had been working on this invention periodically since 1908, but it was not until 1916 ... that he foresaw the importance of perfecting this means of communication. When the United States entered the war against Germany in April 1917, he patriotically offered his discovery to the government.”4
The students and I worked together on the issues that arise when holding classes at a new center, and thus did our own pioneering.
Washington, D.C.: As the seat of the U.S. government, Washington plays a unique role both in national and international life. It is said to hold the distinction of being the only major planned city in the country.5 It was home to mid-day PGCC classes.
The students were government employees, and brought an informed and distinctly public sector perspective to the business courses. They were interested, hurried, dedicated, and determined. I was determined, too, but in a different sort-of-way. Finding a parking space sometimes 'allowed' cruising to see the same Washington, D.C. attractions—over and over again. But, on the way back to campus, I felt a sense of contribution and satisfaction.
Finally, for now, off to...
Islamabad, Pakistan: A student email begins, “Hello Dr. Rabatin, I am in Islamabad, Pakistan this semester.” Big change. Islamabad has the sixth-largest population in the world. Since the early 1980s, the government has pursued market-based economic reform policies. Market-based reforms began to take hold in 1988, and since that time the government has removed barriers to foreign trade and investment, substantially reformed the financial system, eased foreign exchange controls, and privatized dozens of state-owned enterprises.6
The email continued... the student would like to take my online class if it could be completed entirely online. I wrote back, “Welcome to the course...” My previous online travels had taken me to PGCC students located in the Bahamas, and elsewhere, without a hitch. Like the others, they have been good journeys.
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 1