Tom Valasek's Career Speaks for Itself
By Paul Glicklin
The Communications & Languages Department at RVCC has seen many great professors come and go, but one man with a world of experience and a wealth of knowledge has stayed here for 36 years and counting. His name is Thomas Valasek.
Professor Valasek, the Communications & Languages Department chair, knew he wanted to be a teacher since high school. He has been interested in the field of communications all his life, fascinated by movies and various forms of popular communication.
In 1968, he received a bachelor’s degree in English from St. Vincent’s College in Pennsylvania and went on to earn a master’s degree in English from Ohio University in 1969, the same year he began teaching at RVCC, then known as Somerset County College. But the ambitious educator didn’t stop there. He attended N.Y.U. and in 1973, earned a master’s degree in Cinema Studies.
Professor Valasek’s history at RVCC is extensive. He began working here as an English teacher, then moved into the Speech and Communications Department when it was developed. He has taught almost all of the classes in the Communications Department, and is highly recommended by many of the other professors.
“I’m very impressed with his work,” says Communications adjunct Richard Truet, “and every student I’ve spoken with who has taken one of his classes truly enjoyed the experience.”
But Valasek wasn’t content with just teaching classes; he wrote or co-wrote two textbooks that are used here at the college.
“I looked at most of the other books that are available in the field,” Valasek said, “and I didn’t think that any of them were really appropriate or even useful for the program we have here.”
So with the help of the late Bud McKinley, he co-authored “The Confident Speaker’s Handbook,” which is used in RVCC’s speech classes. Various chapters cover topics like developing listening and critiquing skills, dealing with fear and anxiety, introductions and conclusions, and the use of visual aids. Valasek has also written “Frameworks: An Introduction to Film Studies,” a textbook that is used in the Art of the Film class.
The good professor has also created an educational DVD, “The Movie Lover’s Guide to Film Language: Classic Scenes From Timeless Films.” In this DVD, he presents scenes from classic movies such as “M” and points out the various production techniques stressed in each one. The viewer may watch the clip alone, then repeat it with Professor Valasek’s voice providing commentary on which techniques are used.
Valasek’s approach to teaching is clear-cut and confident. “I don’t like to lecture,” he says. “The most enjoyable part is working with students and seeing development through discussion during give-and-take sessions in the classroom.”
His educational philosophy is to approach all his classes with three beliefs. First, he wants to engage the students in such a way so that they’ll be interested in continuing to learn about the subject. Second, he believes that helping students communicate and think clearly is a vital part of any study course. And third, he believes students can learn from each other as well as the teacher given the proper interaction. (Professor Valasek’s educational philosophy can be found on the RVCC Web site.)
Valasek’s teaching experience extends far beyond the walls of this college. He received a Fulbright Fellowship and taught at Charles University in Prague, the Czech Republic, from 1992 to 1993. Most of his students were studying visual media of one kind or another: some in journalism, some in film, and some in other forms of media. Tom counts this experience as one of the most enjoyable of his career.
What does he recommend for those hoping to enter the field of communications?
“People who are interested in communications careers should be thinking about internships,” he advised. “Try to find an opportunity to do something, even if it is for free, in a communications field to get experience, meet people and find out what they like to do.”
Valasek’s teaching experiences “have affected the way I look at the world,” he reflected. “Whenever I read the paper or watch a movie, I am always thinking about what the message is and how it is being presented.”
Valasek is finishing his department chair responsibilities this year and will return to full-time teaching afterward. “I plan to finish teaching, and then retire,” he said. He has also requested a hiatus so that he may revise his film textbook and put out a new DVD, “Presentation Skills for the Classroom,” which will provide strategies for teachers who need brushing up on their presentation technique.