The Alumni Association is honoring 21 NC State professors with the 2013 Faculty Awards 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 Gary Lackmann, a professor and director of graduate programs in the Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. Lackmann is one of seven professors being recognized as Alumni Association Outstanding Teachers.
What prompted you to become a professor? If you had asked me during my time as an undergraduate student if I would want to be a professor, I would have said “No! I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t want to!” But then I served as a teaching assistant for an introductory meteorology course while a MS student at the University of Washington. The students gave me tremendous positive feedback, and I enjoyed sharing science with students that were intimidated by the subject. It was extremely rewarding to help these students realize that they could understand science, and also that it could be fun and interesting. But I left school to work, and the idea of being a professor was still really only embryonic at that point. However, my next job was as a field meteorologist for the Navy, and I made two lengthy trips into the arctic as part of a field program. Long hours working on a ship in remote locations gave me time to contemplate. Subsequently I returned to school to earn my PhD, with the goal of teaching atmospheric science at the college level.
What are the keys to being a successful teacher/professor? At advanced levels, it is crucially important to stay current, and work to update and expand knowledge in emerging scientific areas. Bringing in examples and information that aims to make the material relevant to the students is helpful. Maintaining organization, while keeping a consistent but flexible structure clarifies expectations, and enables students to feel confident and comfortable. In order to keep students engaged, I use interactive discussions, hands-on projects, and student presentations to the extent that time permits. A major challenge is helping students to feel comfortable “thinking on their feet” while at the same time developing their critical thinking skills and challenging them to think independently. I strive to make the material and classroom experience exciting, and relevant to things to which they can relate. Lastly, I know that I have room for improvement. Good teachers, in my experience, do not rest on their laurels, but they keep working to get better. I utilize student feedback and performance to gauge where to focus my continued efforts to improve as a teacher, and I also try to learn from observing how others teach.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? Observing the success of students, knowing that teaching and mentoring has helped them in their careers, is highly satisfying. The independence and flexibility of faculty positions is also a wonderful aspect; I can study a wide range of topics, and I can expand my research or teaching into different areas of I, or my students, would like to. Publishing a novel finding, or better yet, when a student publishes a solid paper, is both exciting and rewarding.