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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

From the Bronx to the Bay: The journey of an SFSU history lecturer

Carlo Corea shares his experience as the first in his family to go to college
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Neal Wong
Carlo Corea teaches in HSS 310 on Oct. 24, 2023. He has been a lecturer faculty at SFSU since 2003. (Neal Wong/Golden Gate Xpress)

In a booming New York accent, “Joy, students joy” is heard at the start of every class taught by Carlo Corea. The use of phones, laptops and other devices is banned in his classes, encouraging students to watch him as he enthusiastically talks about history.

Corea, who holds a doctorate in history, has been teaching the subject at San Francisco State University since 2003 and currently teaches one course this semester: HIST 471, the U.S. Constitution since 1896. Due to possible layoffs, he’s unsure if he will continue to be on campus.

“My job is at risk. My understanding is I may not be here next semester,” Corea said. “I love what I do. This is the best job I’ve ever had in my life — second to being a reference librarian, which I also loved. It’s not a burden, it’s not difficult. I don’t get up in the morning and say ‘I don’t want to go to my job,’ I absolutely love it.”

Corea said he has an affinity with students who are the first in their families to attend college.

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“Those struggling, who don’t come from conventional academic backgrounds, whose parents didn’t go to college, who are the first in their families to go to college, because that’s what I was,” Corea said. “So, coming to San Francisco State — it was a perfect fit.”

Carlo Corea sits in HUM 345 on Oct. 24, 2023. He has been a lecturer faculty at SFSU since 2003. (Neal Wong /Golden Gate Xpress)

Corea was born in 1965 and grew up in New York City, in the Bronx. Neither of Corea’s parents went to college or finished high school. His father was an immigrant from Italy and his mother grew up in difficult circumstances.

“That was a kind of working-class world that I grew up in, so most people that I grew up with were not going in the direction of college,” Corea said. “In fact, they didn’t know much about it at all, and neither did I.”

Corea started working as a gas station attendant when he was 11 years old.

“That was my first job, then I started to do things like construction…I did wallpapering and painting. I’ve worked in a horse farm,” Corea said. “I did all kinds of strange and unusual jobs that I thought were going to be very interesting and sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t.”

He continued working every summer, between school years and saved as much as he could.

Corea struggled in school during his middle and high school years.

“I was inattentive because I was a bit of a troublemaker. I really loved school, but I wasn’t good at school,” Corea said. “Middle school was horrible. There was a lot of drugs. There was a lot of violence. There were gangs.”

He described high school as a transition between going on the working class path and going on a college path. Corea remembers classmates dropping out of high school until most of the students he knew were people who wanted to stay in school and intended to go to college.

Corea knew that he wanted to continue his education.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I did want to go to college. I didn’t know what it was,” Corea said. “I didn’t know how you got there. That was not part of a conversation that people had among the people that I spent time with.”

Community college was the most viable option for him. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he learned a lot.

“I took courses in everything, principally because I had no direction,” Corea said.

Carlo Corea walks upstairs in the Humanities building on Oct. 24, 2023. He has been a lecturer faculty at SFSU since 2003. (Neal Wong /Golden Gate Xpress) 

After two years, he transferred to the State University of New York at Albany, colloquially known as the University at Albany, where he majored in history and political science. In 1988, he received his bachelor’s degree. Then he spent a year earning his credential for teaching in secondary education.

Corea spent all the money that he’d saved from working during school to buy a plane ticket to Europe.

He was trying to replicate the Grand Tour, an educational, multiyear trip that wealthy European young men took in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to complete their education.

“I couldn’t afford a train pass. They had something called Eurail, I couldn’t afford that, I hitchhiked everywhere,” Corea said.

He worked odd jobs in Europe to sustain his trip.

After returning to the U.S., he resumed his education to get his master’s degree at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, also known as Stony Brook University. Then, at the same school, Corea became a doctoral candidate with Matthew Jacobson as his advisor. Jacobson is currently a Sterling professor of American studies and history and a professor of African American studies at Yale University.

“Carlo was one of my first graduate students and one of the most memorable. He was thoughtful, insightful, intellectually generous, whip-smart, and deeply engaged,” Jacobson told Golden Gate Xpress in an email. “He was also very resourceful. I remember that for his project on race, ethnicity, and the juvenile delinquency apparatus, he actually went to court to have some early twentieth-century documents unsealed. And he won.”

On Corea’s teaching skills, Jacobson had nothing but kind compliments.

“Even in Carlo’s earliest teaching assistantships he was already proving himself a gifted teacher — gentle in demeanor but exacting in his intellectual rigor, kind, expressive, funny, and generous with his time and energy,” Jacobson said.

Carlo Corea poses for a photo in his office HUM 345, on Oct. 24, 2023. He has been a lecturer faculty at SFSU since 2003. (Neal Wong/Golden Gate Xpress)

After Corea defended his doctoral dissertation in 2001, he briefly taught at CSU East Bay, then started teaching at SFSU 20 years ago.

When he was an undergraduate student, he didn’t feel supported and didn’t talk to his instructors much. As a person who teaches undergraduates now, he believes it’s important to establish one-on-one relationships with students.

Officially, he has office hours on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but he also sometimes allows students to visit on Thursdays. He strongly encourages students to visit him during office hours and even offers tea and cookies to those who do.

Two of those students are Mayuu Kashimura and Emily Fletcher. They both took a course taught by Corea in the spring 2023 semester and are currently in his class this semester.

“Dr. Corea’s ability to connect several smaller historical events into overarching narratives is very compelling,” Kashimura said. “Even though it’s a history class, he makes the learning material accessible to us by demonstrating how it is connected with current events. His enthusiasm for history is infectious, and you can tell he really cares about his students.”

Fletcher said that Corea’s ability to connect historic events to current events helped her understand U.S. history, one of the topics she struggles with.

“He challenges you to think and doubt anything you may previously have believed. It is perhaps anxiety-inducing but completely keeps you on your toes and leads you to make rational, factual decisions,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher also said Corea is the best male figure she’s looked up to.

“I haven’t been that close with my immediate family and I know that I can confide in him with any questions about school, outside world perspectives and processing what’s going on around the world,” Fletcher said.

While it’s unknown if Corea will continue working at SFSU, he hopes to teach HIST 404, a Cultural History of American Technology and HIST 469, American Childhoods next semester.

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About the Contributor
Neal Wong
Neal Wong, Co-Copy Editor
Neal Wong (he/him) is a third-year journalism student and minoring in education. He was born and raised in San Francisco and attended Washington High School. He has photographed and written for Golden Gate Xpress first as a contributor, then as a photographer, and now as a copy editor. His photos have also been published by the San Francisco Bay ViewSan Francisco Public Press, Mission Local, and Xpress Magazine. Neal has also created and taught four SFSU Experimental College courses. His hobbies include traveling, cooking, and reading the news.

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