2012 Faculty Awards: Q&A with Jennifer Campbell

May 4, 2012
By Bill Krueger

The Alumni Association honored 21 NC State professors Thursday 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 Jennifer L. Campbell, a professor of biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Campbell is one of seven professors being recognized with Outstanding Teacher Awards.

faculty-campbellWhat is the key to being a successful teacher? Well, much of what I would have said is already written in Jan Spears’ article unfortunately. I’ll try to be original!  I agree with her 100% that flexibility and relevance are essential to successful teaching.  You must be unafraid to change course as appropriate and keep your message, materials, and the work you require of them current if you want students to remain engaged and invested in the course.  I also believe that the more of the course your students “own,” so to speak, the better quality their work will be and the more they will retain from it.  To that end, it is important to encourage collaboration – in a sense turning the classroom into a group focused on some common goal.

It’s important to be kind and compassionate while challenging students to think more deeply, work harder, and keep a clear focus of their goals — both immediate and long term. In my class I try to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable speaking out about difficult issues. I do this so that students can both better understand and clarify their own thoughts on a particular subject while at the same time acknowledging the often opposing views of others. I also make it clear that it is okay not to have a “right” answer, and in fact for many of the issues we tackle, no right answer exists. Once freed of fear of saying the wrong thing, we can all work together to learn.

What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? I have been teaching long enough now that I have seen several students go on to graduate school or enter the work force. While that in and of itself gives me satisfaction, honestly what makes me feel the greatest sense of accomplishment is when they contact me via email or find me on Facebook to check in and let me know how things are going, or simply send me a link to a news article connected to the course materials I taught them that “they thought I should show to the students.” To me that means that the seeds of information I planted however many years ago are still there, still having an impact, still making them think.

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