Photo by Edward Kdonian |CIGAR| Both in and out of the classroom, Michael Urso demonstrates his love for teaching.
Upon entering the classroom, few students know more about their professors than what they may find on ratemyprofessors.com. However, in some cases, who a professor is outside of class is as important as what they teach. The inspiration that comes from life experience can be priceless in helping others to find their passions. University of Rhode Island Adjunct Professor Michael Urso is just the kind of professor that exemplifies this idea.
Having graduated from URI in 2005, Urso earned his bachelor’s degree in English language and literature. From there he attended the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he obtained his masters in American studies.
“I wrote my thesis about surfing in Rhode Island,” Urso said. “It was called ‘Surfing Towards Consciousness.’ It was trying to trace the migration narrative of surfing from pre-colonial Hawaii… up to what they call the revival of surfing in the early 20th century.”
His enjoyment of surfing, however, doesn’t overshadow his passion for teaching. In 2010, he began his career teaching writing at the University’s Talent Development Program. In 2016, he was then brought into the Harrington School’s Writing and Rhetoric Department as an adjunct professor last spring.
Urso also teaches at the Community College of Rhode Island, but that isn’t the only place where he helps to educate. He also teaches one class every semester at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, Rhode Island.
“I had never stepped foot into a prison before I had taught my first day in it,” he said. “That’s its own fascinating experience. In some ways, it’s the most enjoyable teaching I do because each person in that class is genuinely grateful to have the opportunity to get into a class. Sometimes they wait years to get into one.”
Teaching in prison, he said, has its own set of challenges as well. Challenges such as, having to take his belt and shoes off before walking in, as well everything being written by hand on loose leaf paper. Urso said that working in the system can be depressing and that it can also be shocking.
“I think the thing that strikes me the most is the fact that prisons, to most people who don’t have a loved one in prison, or who are not in prison, are mostly invisible,” he said. “Unless you know somebody, or are in prison, you tend not to think about them. The challenge of reconciling the work I’m doing in the prison with the life I’m living on the outside is continually enlightening.”
Students taking a class with Urso may not see this side of him, but they are very likely to see how enthusiastic he is about green living. A resident of Providence, Urso’s most common mode of transportation is his bicycle. This style of life has also lead to a growing interest in gardening.
“I also really enjoy growing food,” Urso said. “It is something I’m deeply interested in and something I do. It is one of my sincerest hobbies.”
Urso mentioned that he would love to combine this love of growing food with teaching opportunities, a future he hopes will lead him to a more secure position.
“I think being an adjunct professor can be frustrating because it is unstable,” he said. “I think I’m looking forward to having some more continuity and to be able to participate in the structure, whether at CCRI or URI or any school I teach at. In five years I hope to be employed as a full-time instructor. [Being an adjunct] gets really old after nine years.”
Despite the insecurity of his current position, Urso expressed no desire to stop teaching.
“Being able to love the work that I do 95 percent of the time that I’m doing it, it feels really good,” Urso said.