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Charles Lester inspires students through music, history

Charles Lester, an assistant professor of instruction, has sought to inspire students with his passions for music and history throughout his career. He began teaching at Ohio University in 2017. Originally from Cincinnati, Lester has a special place in his heart for the Athens community, teaching and music. 

Lester attended Northern Kentucky University where he studied history and political science. He discussed his goal of becoming a historian, however, that wasn’t what he originally set out to be. 

“I was trying to be a professional musician,” said Lester. “I was in a band in college and we cut a couple of records and played all over the Midwest and East Coast.”

Lester further discussed how the band split up due to a variety of reasons, so he decided to go to graduate school at the University of Cincinnati and earn his Ph.D. He talked about his passion for history and music, despite both careers not making him much money. 

“I was trading one profession where I wasn’t going to make any money for another profession where I wasn’t going to make any money,” said Lester. “But they’re my two overriding passions in life, so when it came time to pick a dissertation topic, I combined those passions.” 

Lester continued about how he ended up at OU, as he taught in Wisconsin and the East Coast beforehand.

“(A) job description popped up here at OU and they were specifically looking for someone who could teach a variety of disciplines and have an interdisciplinary focus,” said Lester. “I just kind of kicked the tires on it and threw in for it and, turns out, it was a great fit for me and a great fit for the program.” 

Despite growing up in Cincinnati, Lester mentioned how he’d been to every corner of Ohio except Athens. He further discussed his enjoyment of the laid-back, beautiful community and how his involvement, specifically in OU’s honors program, has helped him evolve as a professor and learn new techniques. 

“It took me a little bit to adapt to teaching only honors students,” said Lester. “It’s more about reassuring them because honors students tend to put more pressure on themselves than I ever could as a professor.” 

Lester discussed his favorite parts about being a professor, mentioning a course he taught last year called “Food and Power.” The course was about food and its relationship to politics, and food insecurity. At the end of the semester, students put together a donation drive for families around Thanksgiving. 

“My students collected both physical food item donations and monetary donations, enough to feed 1100 families,” said Lester. “That was something I was incredibly proud of, my students really stepped it up and did a fantastic job.” 

Along with teaching, Lester talked about the other activities he enjoys doing. According to Lester, music has played an incredibly important role in his life. 

“I’ve been playing music for 35 years or something,” said Lester. “And not just playing it but listening to it (and) going to concerts and shows.”

Lester also mentioned how he still plays the drums and some of his favorite music genres include jazz, country and classic rock. 

According to Lester, an important aspect of teaching includes having good conversations with students and creating a welcoming atmosphere in the classroom. Lester specifically refers back to a quote his graduate school mentor, David Stradling, used and how it resonates with him. 

“Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously,” said Lester, quoting his mentor. “That’s always been my approach, particularly in the classroom. I care very much about my students and the classes I’m teaching and my research, but I’m self-aware enough that I can laugh at myself or ridiculous situations so often.”


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