A journalist, professor, athlete and part-time panther, Thomas Pear, who is an assistant professor of digital media and communication at Hodges University, wears many hats. He also has a keen ability to encourage and inspire students, not only as a professor, but also as a mentor.
Long before he decided to pursue a career in academia, Pear worked in the fast-paced world of journalism. Graduating from Cape Coral High School in 1983, Pear stayed in Southwest Florida to attend Edison State College, which is now Florida SouthWestern State College, and earn his associate degree.
“Having a two-year degree is a great thing because it’s something you can always fall back on,” he said. “I think it’s great we [Hodges] offer two-year degree options to students.”
Envisioning himself in a career surrounded by politics and law, he enrolled at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, to major in international relations. However, as most college students tend to do, he decided politics was not his future and instead switched his major to communication and joined the speech and debate team, saying, “We traveled all over to different competitions – including one at Arizona State University and Ole Miss. It was a great time, and I really enjoyed it.” In addition, Pear won several speaking awards.
Graduating in December 1988 with a Bachelor of Science in communication, he traveled back to his hometown of Cape Coral and walked into the office of the Cape Coral Daily Breeze. Asking if they were in need of a reporter, he landed his first job in journalism.
Gaining valuable experience in the newspaper industry, he strengthened his skills in writing hard news while making sure to meet the necessary deadlines, which are crucial in the field of journalism.
In 1992, after spending several years working as a reporter, Pear’s interest in attending law school resurfaced. Making the move to Virginia, he enrolled at Regent University to attend law school; however, journalism was in his blood. No matter how hard he tried to pursue other interests, the profession kept calling him back, and in 1994, he graduated with a master’s in public affairs journalism.
During the next two years, he worked as a reporter with The Virginian-Pilot before taking a job with a Washington, D.C.-based trade publication. “Working in D.C. was rough. I had a three hour commute each day, and in journalism, you don’t make a lot of money,” he explained.
Deciding it was time to leave the cold weather of the north, he moved back to sunny Southwest Florida in 1995. Rejoining the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, he spent a little more than a year at the publication before a friend from church told him of an open position with NBC-2. Making the transition from print to broadcast, he worked at the assignment desk for NBC-2 and ABC-7. After one year, he moved back to his roots in print and joined the oldest newspaper in Florida, the Plant City Courier, which is based outside of Tampa.
“I was working as a reporter during the day and selling suits at J.C. Penney at night,” he said. “I was just trying to make ends meet.” It was at J.C. Penney that he learned of an opportunity with Faith Farm Ministries. A free drug and alcohol addiction recovery program in Boynton Beach, Florida, Pear served as its community relations director.
After years of moving and working in print, broadcast and public relations, it was time to settle down and try his hand at teaching. Focusing on higher education instruction, he was an adjunct faculty member of journalism at Edison State College, as well as an adjunct at Southwest Florida College. Pear eventually joined Southwest Florida College full time, saying, “I ended up taking 24 hours of post-graduate work in communication and English at Regent University and Gonzaga University so I could teach both subjects.”
Upon learning of an opening at Hodges, Pear applied for the position of communications professor, saying, “Hodges is regionally accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and a regionally accredited institution is where you want to be.”
Meeting with Dr. Elsa Rogers, dean of the School of Liberal Studies, he recalled her excitement when he informed her that he could teach both communications and English. In the summer of 2012, he accepted the position and started in August of that year, and in the last four years, he has helped students strengthen their skills in writing and speaking, as well as become critical thinkers when looking at the world.
“Good writing and speaking is coached, not taught,” he said. Using various techniques, he helps students strengthen the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce such as public speaking and critical thinking. “I want my students to remember me as someone who was in their corner, who encouraged them to stick it out. I also want them to know while failure is an option, quitting is not,” he said.
Approachable in demeanor, Pear connects with his students on a level that lessens the intimidation factor and instead promotes open dialogue and accessibility, saying, “I always try to conduct my office hours in the library. I want to make myself as accessible and transparent to students as possible.”
Assisting Communication Club faculty adviser Professor Andrea Fortin, he works with club members on public speaking and communication exercises, as well as performs community outreach. In summer 2016, he took club members on a tour of the Edison Ford Winter Estates before hosting a barbeque at his home. “It is a great opportunity to reach students on a personal level and just have fun,” he said.
“I work with a great team of people in that club,” he said, “hardworking kids, staff and faculty.”
Having fun is one aspect of Pear’s life he has learned to incorporate as much as possible. This can be seen when he steps into the role of Hugo the panther, Hodges’ mascot. As one of only a few Hodges faculty and staff who can fit into the costume, morphing into Hugo is a great opportunity to make people smile. From on-campus student events including pre-graduation events, Hugo is often seen high-fiving students, giving hugs or striking a pose.
In addition to his spending time as his alter ego, Hugo, Pear coaches the Hodges’ student graduation speaker each year.
He is also an avid runner and swimmer. He has completed a Half Ironman triathlon twice and swam around Key West three times, which is 12.5 miles. In June 2016, Pear, along with other swimmers, swam to raise money for an orphanage in Bolivia.
“I’ve learned you can’t take life too seriously. Maybe it’s because of my faith that I know God is in control, but I’m at a point where I just want to enjoy life and make a difference in the world,” he said.