Dr. Malcolm Frierson is a serious historian, dedicated teacher, and the 2016-17 North Lake College President’s Scholar. But he also embodies a philosophy carried over from his days as a comedian: “I think,” he says, “that learning should be fun.”
Frierson is known among North Lake students for his engaging, humorous lectures. That approach is no mistake. He is passionate, he says, about tackling “serious themes through entertaining means.”
From the stage to the classroom
His field of study, fittingly, is stand-up comedy, particularly African-American comedians who used their material to tackle social and political issues. His first academic book, which is currently being reviewed for publication, discusses the comedians of the Civil Rights movement, and their approaches to injustice. The same subject will be at the heart of his President’s Scholar presentation, at 2:30 p.m. on November 9, 2016, in room G401.
Before becoming a historian and professor, Malcolm Frierson was a comic himself, working the stand-up scene in Houston. He was inspired by “comedians who combined humor with awareness of current events and social justice,” citing Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock as examples. Frierson doesn’t do performances anymore, except, he says, every single day, when he takes the stage in front of his students.
Fun presentations, serious lessons
One theme of his work, he says, is presenting “serious meaningful discussions in a creative entertaining way,” so that his audience “is not aware that learning is taking place.” That includes his humorous classroom lectures. But it also includes other important parts of teaching at NLC. After all, Frierson says, “Finding ways to impact student success beyond the classroom is an equally important part of my day.”
Again, he finds a creative approach. He’ll meet students after class to “kick the soccer ball around, or throw the football around.” There’s a stash of sports gear in his office, ready to go. During these impromptu games, students open up to Frierson about their academic goals, or career plans, or why they might be struggling in class. A quick soccer game can become an advising session.
The power of passion
Malcolm Frierson didn’t originally plan to be a historian, or a teacher. He was a biology major in college, planning for medical school, but history classes caught his attention. “Learning about history and African descendants was personal,” he says. “I developed an interest in that above my major area.” Eventually he attended graduate school, “not because I saw a career in it, but strictly on my personal interest.”
Frierson’s other main interest is in teaching. Guest-teaching a fourth-grade class after he first graduated college, he discovered “a passion for working with young men,” helping them realize they can improve themselves. Now he also works as a mentor in NLC’s Academically Influencing Minority Males program, which provides special coursework and counseling to minority men.
“The challenge,” Frierson explains, is “motivating and inspiring these young men to dream and plan big, along with then finding resources to assist them with realizing their goals. That’s a big part of the reason I chose a career in higher education.”
At North Lake College, he found an ideal setting for that career. “I enjoy being in a department,” Frierson says, “where I continue to learn as I develop as a scholar.” He joined NLC in 2014, finishing his Ph.D. the following year.
North Lake is, Frierson says, “easily the best work environment I’ve experienced.” Does that benefit students? “Yeah, absolutely. So many people at North Lake share a passion for what they do and a common dedication to meeting our students where they are, and preparing them for where they want to be.” And that’s no joke.