Mike Solich, social studies ProTeach student, dies at 22

Mike Solich, a star student in UF’s ProTeach program, died July 6, 2006 in a drowning accident in the Estero River. He was 22.

A native of St. James City, Solich was expected to graduate in August, and had already accepted a position as a social studies teacher at Ida S. Baker High School in Cape Coral.

His professors describe Solich as a passionate idealist who saw the classroom as an anchoring point from which he could change the world for the better.

“You don’t meet a lot of young people who look you in the eye and say, with conviction, ‘I want to be a social studies teacher,’” said Professor Elizabeth Yeager, Solich’s academic advisor. “Mike really got it – he loved history, and he knew that young people need to understand the workings of society if they’re going to function as citizens.”

Solich had just completed an internship teaching 8th-graders at P.K Yonge Developmental School.

“Eighth grade history is not always the most interesting subject – just think back to your own experience in middle school and you probably understand what I mean,” said Michele Phillips, Solich’s internship adviser. “In Mike’s class, history wasn’t just about memorizing a bunch of dates. He was excited about the subject, and his excitement caught on with the students.”

Phillips recalls a lesson in which Solich asked students to write their own classroom constitution, detailing rights and responsibilities of students. Among other things, students granted themselves the liberty to chew gum in class, but banned iPods as disruptive. An unexpected result, perhaps, but not to Solich.

“He knew his students were capable of making mature decisions,” Phillips said. “He believed in them, and he believed he could make the world a better place by teaching students about their history.”

In Norman Hall, Mike was well known even to those outside his circle of fellow students and teachers – largely because of his friendly, outgoing demeanor.

“Mike never met a person that he wouldn’t engage in a conversation,” said Associate Professor Colleen Swain, associate director of the School of Teaching and Learning. “Many students don’t learn the names of the secretaries and assistants in various offices. Mike did. He valued everyone.”