MADISON, FL – When an instructor loves teaching it shows and there is no doubt that Jay Welch, North Florida Community College history instructor, loves his job. His love of history began early, watching Indiana Jones movies as a child. So when Welch reached college and his father suggested that he major in something he liked, history was the obvious choice. His decision to become a teacher followed about a year later after visiting his college’s career center.
“I decided to look up what you could do with a history degree at the career center and decided to give ‘history teacher’ a try,” said Welch. “And, about 8 years later, I got hired by NFCC to take over the slot for the irreplaceable Florida Historian Joe Akerman.”
Welch stepped into the profession with the essential qualities of all great teachers – a passion for the subject being taught and a personality and teaching style that makes learning fun and interesting for a wide-range of students.
“Jay Welch has really been an influential person in my life,” said Jonathan Bolick, NFCC alumnus and the 2013-2014 NFCC Student of the Year. “I took him for three of my four semesters here [at NFCC] and he really played a large part in my studies.”
Welch travels to and participates in Civil War reenactments throughout the United States and consistently brings his enthusiasm for local, state and world history back to the classroom.
“For me, Civil War reenacting is not only extension work for the college, but also a community service,” said Welch. “Living history events keep the past alive for current and future generations. Reenacting enables people to not just read about the past, but to see it and experience it for themselves.”
Welch takes every opportunity to pique a student’s interest and curiosity into local and state history. Welch and the NFCC History Department played an instrumental part in researching and providing the historical text and photos displayed on the marble memorial wall on display in Hamilton County’s Veteran’s Memorial Park which opened in November 2014. He takes class trips to St. Augustine each fall term to show off the nation’s oldest city to NFCC students and shares opportunities for students to get involved in Civil War reenactments throughout the state. Welch participates each year in the Annual Olustee Battle Reenactment held in February at the Olustee Battlefield State Park, the site of Florida’s Largest Civil War battle.
“St. Augustine is great for not only talking Spanish Florida, but you can also find lots of great windows into different periods of Florida’s history such as Seminole Wars, the Railroad Boom, and beach tourism,” said Welch. “I also invite students to come to the Civil War reenactments to either watch or participate.”
Welch says that knowing our history is essential to understanding today’s world and society.
“Learning about history answers the question of ‘Why are things the way they are now?’,” said Welch. “Many of our students are young people and haven’t seen how events play out over several decades, but by focusing on how people of the past made their decisions it usually becomes much easier to understand that someone 100 or even a 1,000 years ago wasn’t that different than we are now. And, that those decisions, life ways, and events are what created the world of today. A similar rationale drives us to continue to present history to our community at public events, in that the whole community needs to have a sense of who we were to really understand who we are now.”
In the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Harrison Ford’s character Indiana Jones takes a successful leap of faith off a sheer cliff edge in his pursuit for the Holy Grail with his father’s encouraging words “you must believe” echoing in the background. After stepping off the cliff, Indiana Jones’ foot lands on solid ground revealing a strategically placed bridge hidden from view. Like his childhood hero, Welch’s feet fell on very solid ground the day he decided to become a history teacher and others have definitely benefitted from his decision to listen to his father’s advice and choose history as a major and career path.
Welch teaches Florida History, American History, World History and African-American History and Culture courses at North Florida Community College and is Chair of Communications, History, Humanities, Art, and Foreign Language at the college.