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Singing parodies of Broadway show tunes hardly seems like a way to hammer home a week’s lesson in law school. But that unique approach to teaching is one reason why the Roger Williams University Law School Student Bar Association (SBA) picked Professor John C. Kunich recently as “professor of the year.” Kunich, one of 27 full-time faculty members, won his honor by a landslide, taking majority votes from both the evening and daytime graduating student classes. “The law can be very interesting and apply to a lot of different situations and life experiences, and doesn’t always have to be the traditional legal, 310-year-old books that you study,” said Kimberly Moore, recent past president of the SBA. “John Kunich was very approachable and comes off with the goal of sharing and helping students learn.” Kunich believes he modified the Socratic method of his law school classes by letting his students do all the talking. And at the end of each week’s lesson he treats them to a humorous Broadway parody song that highlights the main point of discussion for the class week. When asked about which songs he uses, Kunich wanted to keep his collection under wraps, so as not to spoil their appearance in the fall semester. “They learn more themselves rather than listening to someone else pontificate,” said Kunich of his teaching strategies. “I try to make the classes fun and interesting with humor, lighten the atmosphere, and sing songs because it helps to focus students’ minds on the material.” The road to becoming a law school professor has been a long and winding one. Kunich started at Roger Williams in August of 1999, but before that, he earned a Master of Arts degree in entomology, the study of insects, from the University of Illinois at Chicago. After being stung by bees for the final time, he joined the Air Force in 1979 and went to officer training school. Kunich learned that the Air Force funded a legal education program in exchange for six years of service as a Judge Advocate General, and in 1985 he received his law degree from Harvard University and went on to teach within the Air Force legal system at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. Kunich taught nonjudicial punishment and was the editor of the Air Force Law Review before he was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he received a Masters of Law degree in environmental law from George Washington University, and defended the Air Force in general and constitutional litigation. As a Staff Judge Advocate in Colorado, Kunich was the head of the legal office and his responsibilities included operating all the satellites for mission defense. Questions concerning the legality of shooting down meteorites and destroying asteroids and other rocks from outer space were among the main studies that Kunich was involved with. GOOD-BYE AIR FORCE After operating satellites for mission defense as Staff Judge Advocate, Kunich retired from his 20 years in the Air Force. In 1999, he began teaching environmental law and trial advocacy at Roger Williams University. In his years of teaching law school, Kunich has noted distinct ways that law school has changed since his attendance in the mid-’80s, ways such as the class size. “A smaller class gives an advantage. There is no place to hide in a smaller class and therefore there are frequent opportunities to participate. Students know to be involved and prepared,” he said. “There are a lot more opportunities to have interaction with fellow students and faculty and a real chance to form relationships at a smaller school like Roger Williams.” Kunich’s teaching methods are what stand out to his students, making them more apt to embrace the idealism of law and enhance their trial skills during class. “I take volunteers and call on people and keep my students talking because I believe that students learn from reading material and interpreting material with other students,” said Kunich. “You can’t learn if you’re asleep so I try to make it a little more interesting and fun and nonthreatening because I want them to learn.” Students agree that they “loved his class because it was a different type of class,” according to Anne Corriveau, a recent law school graduate and advocate of Kunich’s teaching strategies. “In general, other classes and professors can be intimidating and try to hammer home the point of discussion,” said Corriveau. “John talked to his students on the same level and he took the time to help you get better. He spoke with you on a level of mutual respect.” At 47, Kunich is combining his two lives as a military man and environmentalist with his appreciation for teaching and the arts by publishing songs and working on a musical play dealing with Marva Collins, a Chicago educator famous for her work with inner-city kids. Through all this, Kunich holds a strong admiration for the law and hopes his students gain a greater appreciation for the legal system in his class. SIGN ME UP For future Roger Williams students, both Moore and Corriveau offer this advice: Take Kunich’s class. “It makes the journey through law school that much more enjoyable when you have a professor that you can relate to and is so approachable,” said Corriveau. Kunich believes teaching keeps you young and involved and provides a great energy boost. As he enters the next semester as a teacher, Kunich can proudly look at the certificate on his wall that reads “Professor of the Year” and know he has successfully combined the best of all his worlds. “Law is an honorable profession and requires integrity, dedication, and hard work, but can also be fun,” he said. “I enjoy teaching and it’s the greatest career you could have. Most importantly because it allows you to have an impact on the future with the rising generations of people.” He is married to Marcia Vigil, and the couple in 1989 adopted their first daughter, Christie, from China. They are currently in the process of adopting another daughter from China.

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