Lights, camera, Jasper: C of I political expert a campus favorite
November 2012 - The first time Jasper LiCalzi taught a college class during graduate school, a light bulb went off in his head.
“I thought ‘This is alright,’ ” LiCalzi said. “It sure beats working for a living.”
After earning his PhD from Temple University in his native Philadelphia, LiCalzi came west to The College of Idaho. He’s been teaching political economy in Caldwell ever since, this fall beginning his 20th year at the College.
“I still remember the hiring ad,” LiCalzi said. “It was like it had been written just for me. I wanted to go to a small college that focused on teaching, and that’s what we do here. We’re not pumping out a bunch of books and research articles that nobody reads. It’s about teaching our students, and that’s what I like most about working here.”
LiCalzi has become a beloved figure on campus, both for his thoughtful approach to teaching and for his gregarious personality. With his shock of white hair and boisterous East Coast accent, he’s easy to spot – or hear coming – as he heckles students, staff and his fellow faculty members at every opportunity.
“I keep things light,” LiCalzi said. “I try to find the humor in things. But the students know when it comes to doing the readings and doing the class work, there’s no goofing around with that.”
Through the years, LiCalzi has endeared himself to students by participating in many campus activities. He is a longtime staple of “noonball,” a lunchtime pickup basketball game between C of I students, faculty and staff. Along with his partner-in-crime, history professor Steve Maughan, LiCalzi started the annual Senior Banquet (and roast) during commencement weekend and the tradition of “bedtime stories,” raucous readings of children’s books such as Curious George and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax for students in the residence halls. This fall, he even participated in a “Dancing with the Caldwell Stars” ballroom competition on campus. All the while, LiCalzi somehow has managed to avoid getting pied in the face during annual Pi Day festivities, “stuffing the ballot boxes” to make sure his faculty counterparts in Boone Hall wear the whipped cream on March 14.
Political economy professor Kerry Hunter – who helped hire LiCalzi and has worked alongside him for two decades – says LiCalzi has a knack for forming genuine, lasting bonds with students and alumni.
“I think it says a lot that his students all call him Jasper,” Hunter said. “He maintains a personal relationship with them that goes beyond the strictly professional relationship many teachers have with their students.”
C of I senior Ashley Brewer, a political economy major, has appreciated LiCalzi’s willingness to listen and help her through tough situations, both inside and outside of the classroom.
“He has grown to be my favorite teacher at The College of Idaho,” Brewer said. “I see him at campus events, I see him in the gym, and his office door is always open. The thing I have appreciated most about Jasper is his willingness to discuss his class, other classes and even personal issues without ever making me feel like I’m wasting his time. Dr. LiCalzi has made my political economy major worthwhile, and my time at the C of I even more unforgettable.”
Many students come back and visit LiCalzi in his Strahorn Hall office years after they graduate. Those visits, LiCalzi said, are some of the most rewarding experiences of his job.
“I love it when alumni come back,” LiCalzi said. “It’s gratifying to hear them say how important the College was to them and how well-prepared they felt for their careers or law school. I think they enjoy how little this place changes. They can visit and I’ll be in the same office, Hunter and Maughan will be yelling at each other, we’ll be out in the gym playing noonball…They like seeing no matter how much their world has changed, the College is still the same.”
The autumn months are an especially busy time for LiCalzi, who serves as a political expert for KIVI Channel 6 News and Fox 9 News in the Treasure Valley. He spends many of his nights doing interviews or live, in-studio analysis, and he’s also a popular source for the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press-Tribune and other media outlets seeking comment on political and economic issues. On Oct. 24, LiCalzi will host a “Politics in the Pub” alumni event at Beside Bardenay in Downtown Boise.
“Jasper has a real enthusiasm for the topic,” Hunter said. “He’s become a true expert on Idaho politics. When I have questions, I take them to Jasper, and he’s become a go-to source for the media as well.”
With the presidential election quickly approaching, LiCalzi will be a regular on local TV in the weeks ahead. And while he prefers talking about local elections – things that “affect our everyday life” – he’s happy to go on the airwaves if it helps the College.
“TV is fun, I enjoy going on and talking about the elections,” said LiCalzi, who also does a summer radio show called Business, Baseball and Politics with Mike Safford before Boise Hawks games. “But more than anything, it helps get the College’s name out. It’s good exposure for the school, and that’s why I do it.”