After a career in law enforcement as a felony probation and parole officer, Sean Blackwell has achieved his life-long dream of becoming a teacher. Blackwell is currently in his third year with The College of Idaho as an Anthropology and Sociology Instructor.
Blackwell ended up in Idaho in 1991 after traveling across the country with his father in search of a new home. Although he graduated from Nampa High School, he didn’t know about The College of Idaho, which at the time was called Albertson College of Idaho. His desire to leave Idaho took him to Texas Christian University where he started his undergraduate career studying criminal justice. While he was in Texas, his uncle, Dr. Jim Browning, was a hugely influential figure in Blackwell’s life, took him under his wing and provided him with a chance to grow and mature.
Blackwell refers to the study of criminal justice as a “rendezvous discipline,” a subject that exposed him to a wide variety of subjects and topics relating to criminal justice. His interest flourished after he traveled to London to complete his master’s degree in the sociology of crime control and globalization at the London School of Economics and Political Science. After the completion of his master’s degree, he worked with young children as a psycho-social rehabilitation specialist, team leader, and Medicaid compliance auditor with Community Outreach Counseling in Nampa. In 2014 Blackwell began his career as a felony probation and parole officer where he was able to explore the field he had studied for so long. Eventually, he noticed a job opening at The College of Idaho.
His wife, Melisa Stringer Blackwell, an alumna of the College from 2011, strongly encouraged him to pursue his dream of being a professor. “She’s the reason I got this job,” he said. “She adored her experience here and knew what a great place this was. She had been to Boise State University and transferred over as a non-traditional student, so she was able to reflect and say that C of I was where it’s at.” Blackwell acknowledges that his first semester was tricky, but luckily he was able to receive a great deal of support from Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Dr. Scott Draper. Blackwell admits much of his early development as a professor was due to the mentorship and help he received from Draper and other professors.
Blackwell believes the days of professors just giving information to students has ended and thinks teaching strategies have shifted. His goal isn’t to teach as much as it is to help students learn effectively and question the information given. Showing students the other side of the coin on various topics is a strategy he uses often in his classes.
“I want every student to leave my classes questioning their own beliefs,” he said. “My goal is to get us past this very divisive political culture that we see on Facebook and social media … even if those conversations are difficult to have.”
Speaking to people who have different viewpoints is where Blackwell thinks learning happens. He gets the opportunity to do so through his favorite part of the job: independent studies. He enjoys getting to work with students and watch their skills grow and develop over the course of a semester. He wants to be able to hold up the mirror to students, so they can develop the ability to question the way they think about certain issues.
When Blackwell isn’t teaching, he enjoys playing guitar and spending time with his children. If he finds himself with free time while on campus, he tries to have lunch with students as much as he can. Getting to listen to and learn from students is one of many reasons he loves his job. “I know the doors are open if I need to go back to P&P (probation and parole) but this is the best job on Earth, it’s pretty great. I’ve always wanted to do this; this is my dream come true.”
The College of Idaho has a 128-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.
Story submitted by Noah Barsanti, C of I Marketing and Communications Intern