Master of engagement

Frank White, known for teaching prowess, making a difference on campus, in the region and across nation

Frank White

UND Assistant Professor of Sociology Frank White teaches “Drugs and Society” to a packed classroom each semester. The class size has grown through topic interest and Frank’s signature teaching style. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Parents ask him to sign overrides for their kids, and students bring parents, siblings and friends to class just to listen to his lectures.

The names of UND hockey greats and former students, many of whom moved on to the NHL, roll easily off his tongue: Brock Boeser, Brock Nelson, Zane McIntyre, Zach Parise, Chay Genoway, Matt Greene, Mike Commodore, Robbie Bina, the Panzer brothers. He knows them all – and keeps in touch with many of them, and hundreds of other students.

And just last week he was quoted in USA Today College about drug use in young adults.

Frank White says he’s just doing his job.

For more than 30 years, the assistant professor of sociology has taught Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, Drugs and Society, Sociology of Sport and other classes. He has been a visiting professor at the American College of Norway and serves on their advisory council.

“Frank’s passion for UND and educating students is second to none,” said Steve Brekke of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, who works with White on philanthropy projects. “Frank brings UND passion, commitment and hard work to whatever he does. When he comes to alumni events and visits with former students, he remembers them and wants to find out what they’re doing now.”

A master teacher

White is a master of keeping students engaged in large lecture classes, some with 250 or more. He is an expert on drug abuse and speaks at events across the state, recruits students, and raises money for scholarships.

White earned a teaching degree from Mayville State University, then earned his master’s degree in sociology. He taught at Lake Region Community College for five years, then moved to UND.

“I walked into that classroom at UND and found that was where I was supposed to be,” White said.

“I love the lectures, the big classrooms,” he said. “It’s fun to teach. I try to keep it engaging. I use technology, but I don’t want students to be passive learners. I want to engage them in discussion.”

He believes in interaction with students.

“Online classes are a good option, but students who earn their entire degree online lose something. Students lose the nuance of interaction and body language. They need to learn social skills, leadership skills, and connect with other students. You can’t do that online.”

White is known for using humor to teach, but his classes are not easy.

“I want people to learn. I teach from my research and personal experiences, not the book,” he said. He estimates he spends about three hours preparing for each hour-long lecture. “It’s a performance. I make adjustments, visualize each word in the lecture, add humor. I don’t want to be stale. If I don’t get a little nervous before class, I’ve lost my edge.”

He doesn’t shy away from controversy, and his lectures cover current events – racism, transgender issues, drug use. “I don’t sidestep the issues,” he said. “I do my homework, stay sensitive about the issues, and students appreciate it. I’ve never had a complaint when I cover something controversial.”

Giving back, Frank’s way

White also speaks at high schools, athletic and school banquets, graduation ceremonies, and about drug education and prevention. Along the way, he recruits for UND.

Frank White, Mike Commodore

Frank White, assistant professor of sociology, and Mike Commodore of the Caroline Hurricanes hold the Stanley Cup in White’s classroom, 2006. Photo submitted by Frank White.

“I’ve become identified with UND, and am glad to sell UND,” he said. “It’s part of giving back.”

Giving back is important to White, who organized a charity golf tournament to raise money for scholarships.

Now in its sixth year, the Frank White Charity Golf Tournament, held in his hometown of Walhalla, N.D., features UND hockey legends and other former athletes. It began when he and a friend wanted to establish scholarships at UND and Mayville State to commemorate a favorite high school teacher. That first year, a dozen former hockey players, including Chay Genoway and Matt Greene, plus former UND hockey coach Dave Hakstol (now with the Philadelphia Flyers) took part. It’s grown ever since.

Today, there are two endowed scholarships at UND, two at Mayville State and one at Lake Region Community College. There is also an annual scholarship at the American College of Norway, where White taught as a visiting professor.

White – who doesn’t golf – is thrilled with the tournament’s success.

The Stanley Cup

The highlight of his career so far is having the Stanley Cup in his classroom in 2006.

“One day Mike Commodore called and asked if he could sit in on my Sociology of Sport class. I had no idea he was bringing the Stanley Cup to Grand Forks after the Carolina Hurricanes won. I was so surprised. It was like a rock concert, and Mike was the rock star. The students had a thousand questions, Mike said nice things. I was so surprised that a former student would think of me and bring the cup to my class.”

“UND has given me everything – a career, the opportunity to teach in Europe, friends,” White said. “And the pleasure has all been mine.”