Students crowded into Knox 20, excited to begin class. Some even brought friends along to share in the experience. The opening was a message from textsfromlastnight.com. The week before was an auto-correct goof up that left the lecture hall full of laughter. The 300-plus students were erect with attention, eager for another day of Communication 492: Sexual Communication.
Lance Rintamaki is the mastermind behind the unconventional class, but he is far more than just a sex-com expert. He is an assistant professor and the Director of Undergraduate Education for the communication department at UB. His dedication to providing a relevant, personal educational experience for his students makes him stand out as a professor.
The decision to teach a sexual communications class came from a suggestion from an old advisor, who suggested Rintamaki write a book about it. Rintamaki originally thought it was a joke.
"I started doing searches in the library and there was a ton of stuff," Rintamaki said. "But none of it had ever been compiled. Part of that is because it comes from outside of our fields, even though they are communication variables that are being looked at."
That spring semester, he assembled approximately 20 students who collectively compiled 16,000 articles about sex and communication. These articles came from an array of academic journals. Since then about 1,500 articles have been added.
Rintamaki was able to break these articles down into different categories and develop a thorough sexual communication course.
The class has three sections: one on variables that affect human sexuality and behavior, one on communication about sex, and one that covers prostitutes, strippers, sex in the law, and violent sexuality.
The decision to take sexual communication was a simple one for junior communication major Teresa Sprow.
"While enrolled in interpersonal communication, Lance spoke enthusiastically about the new sexual communication class," Sprow said. "He was excited to bring this new course to UB and wanted com. students to be just as enthused as he was. His excitement for the class is what hooked me."
Gabby Gutenplan, a senior communication and sociology major, enjoyed the openness and participation of the class, even though the lecture included almost 300 students. She also found the information interesting; she was sharing what she learned in class with her friends on a regular basis.
But teaching a sexual communication class is tricky, according to Rintamaki.
"The information has the potential to be very sensitive," Rintamaki said. "I appreciate the fact that the group of students were mature, but would also laugh. They maintained a balance of being light hearted while talking about some really serious stuff. It was one of the best learning environments I've ever been a part of as a teacher."
Rintamaki grew up on a small farm outside of Flint, Mich. In addition to participating in swim team, soccer, tennis, and a traveling national volleyball team, he also helped to pick sweet corn and pumpkins, which were the farm's two major crops.
He always enjoyed learning, and therefore enjoyed school. AP calculus was his least favorite class, but his favorites were physics and AP English. He specifically enjoyed the challenging high levels of critical thinking and collegiate texts of his English class.
Rintamaki strives to be the best professor possible. He has his bachelor's degree in communication, his master's degree in higher education, a Ph.D. in speech communication, and has completed a three-year post doctorate program.
Dr. Tom Feeley, the chair of the communication department, was also the chair of the search committee that hired Rintamaki. It was not only Rintamaki's training and range of expertise that set him apart, but his energy and vitality, according to Feekey.
Rintamaki's dedication to teaching comes from the role models that he had in college. Originally a genetics major, his path changed because of two professors.
"I was taking communication classes because I was told they would be fun and interesting," Rintamaki said. "They were, in fact, both [fun]. I was a Resident Advisor for three years, and I was taking knowledge that I was learning in class and applying it to the job. This application of knowledge was really telling for me. Communications became a clear choice."
But it was more than just using the information.
"They were competent [professors], but they clearly took the time to teach well, and were invested in whether or not we learned in their classroom," Rintamaki said. "You could tell that they enjoyed their jobs – that they enjoyed teaching. From there, I knew I wanted to be a professor. They were key role models in what I would do with my life."
Rintamaki strives to achieve three things in his classrooms: competence, connections with students, community. He uses different techniques to create these things.
According to Nick Vozzo, a junior communications and theatre minor, Rintamaki has achieved these goals and then some. Vozzo has taken his interpersonal communication class, sex com., and is doing an independent study with him this semester.
He was originally a little bit scared of Rintamaki. In the first class of interpersonal communication, he told the students they were making their own syllabus. He wanted to make sure that students were given the opportunity to get exactly what they wanted out of the course, while still doing well.
"It's the way he interacts," Vozzo said. "The way he presents himself and the material. He doesn't care if you can repeat a definition. He wants to be sure you can apply a concept, and use it in real life."
Three semesters later, and Rintamaki no longer intimidates Vozzo. Instead, Vozzo respects and admires Rintamaki. The professor has pushed him to do whatever he wants with his degree and to make the most of his education.
Sprow, Gutenplan, and Vozzo all described the professor as genuine, caring, and extremely intelligent. But for Rintamaki, it's all in a day's work.
"Teaching in a college classroom at its finest can be pure joy, and there are few things that give me that much satisfaction," Rintamaki said.
The attention to the details of the classroom – giving students a name and not a number, encouraging a community, and providing an education that can be applied outside the University – is how Rintamaki has earned the respect of so many students at UB.