Photo of Aaron Smith

by Sara Curnow Wilson

When Aaron Smith, an African American Studies assistant professor of instruction, noticed that the students in his Representing Race class needed some inspiration, he decided to mix things up. He performed his own, Temple-inspired version of Big Sean’s song “One Man Can Change the World.”

The lesson landed. “The student response was amazingly positive,” Smith says.

First, he asked his students if they had heard of Big Sean. “Every hand in the room was raised. This was the first time the entire semester that 100 percent of my students had the right answer immediately.”

His Temple remix, or “T-mix,” also got a response outside of the classroom. Videos students uploaded from the class went viral. One post on Facebook has received over 13 million views.

Smith, who also currently teaches Sports and Leisure and Black Politics in America, realized how much attention the videos were getting almost immediately. “My phone would not stop ringing during my second class of the day and messages like ‘I heard you broke twitter’ were being sent to me from places like New York and D.C. only hours after the video was made.”

Smith might have an advantage when it comes to engaging Temple students because he was one. In fact, Smith has four degrees from Temple: a BA in Asian Studies, an MLA, and an MA and PhD in African American Studies.

“As a four-time graduate from the College of Liberal Arts here at Temple I was given a firm understanding of the tradition of academic excellence the college promotes and also the importance of seizing academic opportunities for teachable moments,” he says.

Smith also credits his success in the classroom to the chair of the African American Studies department, Molefi Kete Asante. “Dr. Asante teaches us to be fearless, with a victorious consciousness and a willingness to improvise in order to connect effectively with our students.”

Students interested in experiencing Smith’s methods for themselves in the spring have the option of courses on Tupac Shakur, black social political thought, and the presidency of Barack Obama. 

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