The Alumni Association will honor 21 NC State professors on May 3 for their outstanding work in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. We talked (via email) with some of the recipients about their work and the keys to being a successful professor.
Today we’re visiting with Grady Miller, a professor of crop science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Miller is one of three professors being recognized with Outstanding Extension and Outreach Awards.
What is the key to being a successful teacher? I think the key to being a successful teacher with today’s students is to relate the material to issues they are currently facing. Of course this is not easy to do with every class. I am lucky that the two classes that I currently teach (Advanced Turf Management at the undergraduate level and Applied Experimental Design and Analysis for Plant Sciences at the graduate level) can be focused on dealing with real-world issues. Almost all of my undergraduate students have gained some work experience; many are working their way through school. So they often are familiar with turf management issues but may not have the experience to know how to deal with them. Each student develops several management plans over the semester, each building from the previous one. These exercises force them to assimilate information from their previous classes combined with their own work experience. I incorporate a number of timely problem-solving sessions that provide insight into how they may want to address certain issues. It is very “real world” and most can easily relate.
In my graduate class, I find students are eager to learn how to set up new field studies and analyze their data. Previously, they associated statistics classes with a math process, not as a part of the scientific process. So in my class, I spend time going over field research projects from inception to publication of the research, trying to figure out pitfalls and solutions as we go. It becomes a very personal way for students to learn the scientific method, including data analysis. I have found that when students are connected with the process they are so much more interested in learning.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? The greatest part of being a professor is the variety in the job. With my extension program, I get to interact with a lot of people working out in the industry, helping them with problems. I also get to teach students, the future of our industry. And I have my research program that encourages interaction with other faculty and industry researchers. I guess one could say I have really embraced the land-grant university mission.