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After dropping out of college, prof makes education his life

At one point in his life, OSU political science assistant professor Harwood McClerking was a college drop out.

Wearing a long-sleeve OSU T-shirt with a Michigan baseball hat, jeans and tennis shoes, McClerking’s clothes are not reminiscent of an average professor.

The Grenada, Miss., native laughed as he recalled his years of financial upheaval as an undergraduate attending Mississippi State University, which ultimately led him to his decision to leave college and pursue a full-time career.

“I basically kept running out of money trying to go to school and make a living, and got tired of scraping by,” he said.

But it wasn’t long before he was reunited with his collegiate roots.

After serving as a police officer for seven years, McClerking returned to school with the hopes of moving up the ranks as a police officer.

“I wanted to continue being a policeman, but I wanted to get a better police job,” he said. “I calculated that I’d be more attractive to a larger city with a bachelor’s degree.”

McClerking said initially, he was not enthused about returning to college as a 31-year-old student, but it was his age that would be a contributing factor in his success.

“When I came back to school I was much more mature, I was much more serious,” he said.

Despite his previous intention to just use his new-found degree to get a better job within the police force, McClerking said his professor encouraged him to further his education.

The University of Michigan, where McClerking went back to school, is a long way from Mississippi, and McClerking said one of the most distinct differences he noticed was the racial relations.

“It was 900 miles away to Ann Arbor, Mich., and it was a huge difference. It was one of the most liberal places I had ever seen,” he said. “Our town was racially separated. … I grew up in an area where people were very open about not liking black people.”

McClerking said it was these racial experiences that ultimately led him to teach at OSU. These experiences have given him a perspective that some students said they appreciate.

“I would suggest other students take McClerking’s class because it (could be) a rude awakening for students from a sheltered background,” said Jordan Singh, a third-year in history.

McClerking described his town as a poor neighborhood with a combination of middle class, working class and poverty-stricken African American families. He said his mother used these two parallels of living to encourage him to better himself.

“The way my mom said it was, I could either look at the good neighbors and go to school, or not, and be like the drunks that I passed everyday coming home from school,” he said.

His mother had little to worry about because he excelled academically in school.

“I wasn’t good at a lot of things, but I was good at school,” he said.

He smiled as he described his “claim to fame” in the ninth grade, when his high school gave him a free pass to its library and took his advice on what books they ordered for the school.

“I loved that they were asking a 14-year-old advice on books,” he said.

McClerking said even as a police officer, he always had a niche for teaching.

“I’ve always liked teaching people stuff. Its very important to me to know what I am talking about,” he said.

This desire to always seek more knowledge has a significant role in his teaching style.

“I structure my classes with so much discussion because I like students to ask me hard questions,” he said. “Every time students ask me hard questions, the more data, point of views and evidence can be brought.”

Simone Crawley, a fourth-year in political science, said she enjoyed the discussion because it allowed people to speak freely.

“I think he made students feel comfortable, no matter others’ opinions,” she said.

McClerking said it makes him feel good when students take something from his class.

“I want my students to remember me as having a positive impact on their lives,” he said. “That makes me feel really good.”

Carolyn McClerking, Harwood’s wife and OSU Medical Center nurse practitioner, said her husband is caring.

“He has a really deep caring for his fellow man, specifically his students,” she said.

Harwood said his life experiences made him more understanding of his students, and he urged students to stay in school by any means necessary.

“I say don’t be deferred if your college experience doesn’t follow a particular script,” he said. “Do what you have to do to get educated.” 

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