Professors tell wild tales of their youth

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Three certain Dixie State University professors would lose a round of “Never Have I Ever” at the mention of extreme rappelling, panhandling or seeing the Taj Mahal.

Now here’s the fun part: Guess who’s done what.

Communication instructor David Harris, English professor Sue Bennett, and Business Department Chair Munir Mahmud all share something in common: Some students might raise a surprised eyebrow at their past.

The Cliff Jumper

Harris currently teaches communication theory and TV production classes. He earned his Ph.D. in communication from the University of Utah at the end of spring semester.  He also works with the Community Education Channel and hosts the cooking show “Southern Utah Chef.”

However, a YouTube clip Harris shared on Facebook last month depicts a whole new side of him from roughly 1995: Sporting long, curly hair, Harris would hurl himself from red rock cliffs — wearing rappelling gear, of course — but with enough slack in the rope to create an adrenaline rush of a free fall.

He would do this — what he called “commando” or “Aussie” rappelling — with a group of five high school buddies. Some would take running leaps while others would back flip off of the ledges. Harris said he and his friends were thrill seekers who relished excitement. 

“We would try our best not to get killed but still have lots of fun,” he said.

While Harris said he, as a father and a husband, has no desire today to throw himself off of cliffs anymore, he still engages in the passion that compelled his young adult self to skip numerous high school classes: film.

Harris said it was a hobby of his to shoot and edit film projects out of high school and in college. He’d spend hours, using ‘90s technology, stitching together short motion pictures, much like his YouTube rappelling clip. Harris said film has remained a constant obsession throughout his lifetime.

“Video production was something that I found a passion for, and every time I tried to get away from it throughout my life, I never could, and here I am today,” Harris said.

The Activist

Bennett currently teaches introduction and intermediate writing classes. Today she has a family and has settled into her teaching career at DSU.

However, 19-year-old Bennett, living in the 1969, was not at all satisfied with the idea of a nine-to-five job. Instead, she dropped out of college after one semester, and she “escaped” to Colorado to pursue interests in marching for civil rights movements and protesting the Vietnam War.

“I was a rebellious wild child,” Bennett said. “…[I imagined] I was a part of a new generation that would change the world.”

Bennett said the priority of her youth was to create a unique identify for herself and live a thrilling life. Her typical wardrobe consisted of an old raincoat and Converse high tops, which she would sport on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle.

Bennett said one of her most memorable college-aged experiences was when she took a road trip to San Francisco with some friends. During the trip she ran out of money and had to panhandle on the streets in order to collect enough money to buy a plane ticket back home.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I never see a panhandler now and don’t remember that experience.”

Today Bennett still values the same civil rights movements. She also still feeds her sense of adventure. About two years ago, she earned a scuba diving certification, and she enjoys hiking, biking and camping.

She said she has no regrets from her wilder years; instead, she values them for the lessons she learned.

“Maybe I can understand some of my students a little bit better because of the experiences I went through,” she said.

The Magistrate

Mahmud presently teaches economics and finance, and he is also settled nicely into a career overseeing DSU’s business department.

Living in St. George is a vivid contrast from where he grew up: Bangladesh. He was raised in the midst of the strain between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and when he was a child, he was not sheltered from the killing that occurred around him.  

However, as he matured under the influence of a father who valued business education, Mahmud’s passion for economics manifested when he wrote an essay in 8th grade about what he wanted to choose as a career.

“I wanted to be different from my classmates — most people said they’d want to be a doctor or an engineer — so I wrote about wanting to be an economist,” Mahmud said. “Little did I know at that time that the essay, in a way, predicted my future.”

So as he grew up, Mahmud was very academic and focused on his studies, but he also found time to engage in other activities. Among these, a 45-day study tour of India (which he helped organize) left a vivid impression on him. During the tour he enjoyed the rich cultural differences, enjoyed Indian cuisine, experienced the Holi Festival in Jaipur and Agra, and even visited the Taj Mahal.

“We timed our trip in such a way that we [were] able to see the Taj Mahal during full moon,” Mahmud said. “When the sun went down the marble seemed to glow. It was an amazing experience.”

At the age of 22, Mahmud sat for a nationwide competitive exam and became a magistrate of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh and was posted in Dhaka, the capital. However, he realized that in order to make a decent living Bangladesh, he would have to set aside some of his morals and cooperate with a corrupt government system. So, he decided to move to the U.S. in 1988 for higher studies.

He eventually received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and began a career teaching economics. Before coming to Dixie, he taught at California State University at Fullerton and also at Pennsylvania State University. 

“I am very content now,” he said. “Dixie is a place where I am valued for my contributions.”