American History has always been a passion for UNM’s Michael Rocca. From an early age, Rocca was intrigued with how our nation grew. Often he found himself mesmerized by the stories he was told by history teachers in elementary or middle school. That passion was encouraged even more with a birthday present at an early age from his godmother, a photo biography of President Abraham Lincoln. A book that still sits on his office bookshelf.

Once reaching high school, Rocca’s interest in American history continued to be nurtured by a particular teacher, one who encouraged him to keep learning, and inspired Rocca to challenge himself throughout his academic career, and not just settle on learning ‘that day’s lesson.’

“I remember having a great Government teacher in high school. He was very charismatic and funny, and told great stories about history. It was really the first class that I remember capturing my imagination in high school.”

When Rocca went to college, his love of history and politics took a back seat to what he believed was his future career as an engineer. But, after three-and-a-half years studying civil engineering, Rocca knew that despite his interest in math and sketching out new designs, his heart wasn’t truly in engineering.

That left Rocca with a hard choice as his graduation grew closer – did he want to stick with engineering, or did his academic path follow his original passion?

“All of the projects I was designing were falling down. I was struggling in my classes, and I came to the realization that maybe I wasn’t studying what I needed to be studying. I went to the Political Science department, because I remember having an interesting political science class.”

After talking with some of the professors in the Political Science department, and with a semester left until graduation, Rocca made his decision.

“I changed my major after one particularly bad grade on a fluid mechanics exam. And I never looked back. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was a really difficult one, but everything great that has happened since goes back to that one decision.”

Rocca credits his parents and his teachers with inspiring him to follow his dream of teaching. He remembers the lessons they taught him not just about history and politics, but about being an inspiration and encouragement to future generations of scholars.

“I want students to feel like they can trust me, that they can learn something from me, I want them to feel like they matter. The most important thing a teacher can do is instill confidence in their students. To say “you can do this, you matter and you can go out and change the world,” even if it’s just in a small way. Sometimes the smallest ways turn out to be the most significant ways.”