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Fran Jacobson: Professor of History

What intrigues Fran Jacobson about history?

“You might ask what doesn’t intrigue me,” says the Tidewater Community College history professor based on the Virginia Beach Campus. “History is full of great stories, and I’m fascinated by them. I love almost every era of history.”

Jacobson has her favorites. Her specialty is U.S. foreign policy, as her doctorate dissertation is titled Jimmy Carter’s Foreign Policy: The Battle for Power and Principle. But she also has a soft spot for keeping up with the day’s news.

“Part of that started with my father coming home from work,” says Jacobson, a graduate of the former Norfolk Catholic High School. “He would sit down and listen to the news on the radio, and I wanted to sit with my father. I can remember hearing about Harry Truman.”

Her students know she’s not a stickler for memorizing dates, quipping, “I won’t ask you dates if you don’t ask me.” Her disdain for that kind of teaching is what turned her off initially from history in grade school.

“It was taught the wrong way,” she says. “Dates are like phone numbers. You learn them by using them. You can’t get some teachers away from date memorization, however. But, really, history comes with lessons we can learn, and that’s what’s important.”

College history wasn’t Jacobson’s initial profession, though teaching was. Jacobson taught roller figure skating for nearly two decades in Virginia Beach, producing a handful of national champions and more than 100 regional champions. When she tired of that career, she went to college. She was 38.

“I was certain that I’d flunk out – who could keep up with the 20-year-olds?” Jacobson says. “What I didn’t know at the time was that returning women make some of the best students. I love to see them in my classes, because I know I’m getting a serious and dedicated student.”

Jacobson credits much of her success at Old Dominion University – where she earned her bachelor’s in political science, her master’s in European history and her doctorate in international studies – to Darwin Bostick, former professor emeritus at ODU.

“He took me under his wing,” says Jacobson, who became his teaching assistant while working toward her master’s.

Jacobson is encouraged by her students, whom she says often teach her as well. Her in-your-face manner of revealing stereotypes often engages her classes in lively discussion.

“I try to get them to really think about the idiocies of racism,” says Jacobson, who teaches Western Civilization I and II as well as U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S. History and U.S. History in Film. “There’s no good reason why we don’t like certain ethnic groups.”

The film class is a favorite, as she is a movie buff herself.

“I always show ‘Casablanca,’ ” she says. “I like ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ and I like ‘Mississippi Burning.’”

A former chair of the President’s Advisory and Planning Council, Jacobson has a passion for global learning and is hopeful TCC will broaden its study abroad program to be more academic based.

Her office is filled with watercolors she paints in her spare time, and she is a devoted grandmother to her 11-year-old granddaughter, Gabby.