Longtime professor uses life experience to better students


Anthony Beninati / Courtesy Photo

Beninati has taught at Valencia College since 1998.

Students barge into their classroom expecting a slacker at the professor’s desk, but soon discover quite the opposite with an instructor in formal attire ready to promote learning.

The instructor sets the expectations of the class without even mumbling a word. It would be an insult to call him a slacker, when he even dresses for success.

Anthony Beninati, 64, is a history instructor at Valencia College, and takes his job to the actual historical locations through his lectures and own experiences with a hint of humor. He hardly ever engages in a lecture without having a picture of him at the site with his own experiences, which somehow end up adding to the topic.

When the topic of the of the Cuban Missile Crisis was brought up, Beninati spoke of his experience during the actual event, while doing his best to add some humor to every historical lecture he presents his students.

“When I was 13, my mother woke me up early Saturday morning in October to get up and go to confession at church, being the good Catholic that she was.  I said, ‘Why, Mom? I just went last week. What sins have I committed?’  She answered, ‘Only God knows that!’  I responded, ‘So why do I have to go?’  Her answer, ‘The world might end tomorrow in a nuclear war!’

“It was the age of the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK was going to stop any Russian ship carrying missiles to Cuba.  An atomic war could have broken out at any minute.  I went to confession and prayed for peace with my little brother.  I saved the world. The Russians backed down and turned their ships around.” said Beninati in a lecture to his students.

Beninati began teaching to support himself while in college, but teaching was not his original intention. Instead he planned to be an international attorney.

He later realized that he enjoyed teaching and students responded well to his lectures. He started his teaching career at a community college in New Jersey in 1975, where he stayed for ten years before taking a position in Valencia.

Two years later Florida State Distributions offered him a job of management in the field of international marketing, for which he has an MBA (Masters’ of Business Administration). Beninati returned to Valencia in 1998 and has remained at Valencia ever since.

As a college instructor, Beninati actually cares about his students. Professors sometimes don’t reach out to students who are falling behind in the class, but Beninati reaches out to them.

“The student I most worry about is the ‘underachiever’ – the student who has the brains, ability, and personality to excel, but, for whatever reason, fails to reach their full potential. Many of our students at the community college fit into that category.  I sit down with them, let them know my feelings by praising their potential but pointing out what they have not done to reach higher standards.  Then I help us build a plan to meet those objectives.  I let them talk it out and set the priorities with my guidance.  It usually makes a difference.” said Beninati about his unique approach to students who are viewed as difficult to others.

Beninati is expecting to retire after two more years of teaching at Valencia. He hopes to operate a farm winery after retirement. As a hobby, Beninati grows grapes and other fruits, which he then turns into juices and wine, an old Sicilian family tradition. He is already experimenting with the wines precise measurements of acidity and pH to acquire a better taste.

Beninati is viewed by many as an outstanding professor in history, not only are his lectures interesting, but they are filled with his own experiences allowing his students to get lost deep in history with him.