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Photo of Nick McCarthy
David Jacobson

What Nick McCarthy ’02 learned as a student at Saint Thomas Academy lets him now teach the same to many more Cadets, both in his social studies classroom and on the football field.

“I understand what the Saint Thomas Academy experience is like,” said the teacher of World History, AP World History, and the My Family History elective. “I understand the military aspect of the school and what the boys go through, where they experience the most stress and what they enjoy most. I know a lot of the families, the kids’ older brothers, or their uncles I went to school with.”

McCarthy entered the Academy as a 7th-grader and by his senior year started at center for the football team that made it to state. “I love the school,” he said. “It gave me a shot in the arm as far as learning how to work hard and learning study skills and time management. I loved the all-male culture. My closest friends are still the guys from STA.”

McCarthy also thrived academically and in learning life lessons. “Some of my teachers were big-time influences,” he said. “Wendy Fox was a big influence, and when I came back, I got to work with her before she retired. Dave Ziebarth was a real influence. Dave Bassett, the science teacher…his freshman-year honors biology class was the hardest, most humbling class I’ve ever taken.”

After graduating, McCarthy double majored in history and Spanish at Marquette University and earned a master’s in education through Notre Dame University’s Alliance for Catholic Education. That program, designed to support under-resourced Catholic schools, prepared McCarthy for his two years of teaching and coaching at Donaldsonville, LA’s Ascension Catholic High School. He returned to Minnesota for one year at Totino-Grace High School before returning to the Academy as a Spanish teacher, assistant football coach, and head wrestling coach.

In the 2020-2021 school year, McCarthy switched to his current role as a history teacher. “History is my passion,” he said. “When I taught Spanish, my favorite part was the history and culture.”

McCarthy’s favorite eras and topics include Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Rather than focusing on dates, kings, and battles, he prefers to educate about the daily lives of common people. “It’s more interesting to know what the other 99 percent of the people were doing,” he said.

“One of my biggest goals is for students to gain an appreciation of other cultures, other ways of life. I hope that my excitement and enthusiasm for the topic rubs off a little, and they understand the inter-relatedness of cultures throughout the world.”

Each Friday, McCarthy spends five to 10 minutes on current events, often using a one-minute BBC World News clip to spark conversation. “Class discussions emerge from there,” he said, “and we try to relate things happening in news to the historical things we’ve covered.”

That practice reinforces McCarthy’s general approach to the classroom. “I like to ask questions,” he said. “I try not to be the ‘sage on the stage,’ dumping information into people’s heads. I like to do activities that let the students take a more active part in learning. I try to find video that lets them listen to someone else’s voice.

“I like the relationships I build with the boys. I know a lot of them through sports, and I find our classes to be really fun, and I try to bring some humor to class. It’s always fulfilling to see them graduate as the men they’ve become.”

McCarthy also gains great fulfillment from travel, such as leading student trips to Guatemala and Spain from the various schools where he has taught and visiting dozens of other countries in Europe and Latin America. “I love seeing the history in the places I travel,” he said, “and there have been a number of times that students have traveled on their own and come back to tell me how excited they were to see things we’d talked about in the classroom. I love to hear that excitement in their voices.”