It has been three weeks since the start of semester, and it’s about the time students are finally getting settled into new courses and getting to know their professors. From small intimate classes to large lecture halls, professors are doing their best to sell students vital information about the real world.
But MSU instructors said succeeding is not as simple as getting up in front of class.
At times, it can be difficult to grab the attention of students in entry-level courses. A recent study from a portion of Harvard University Press’ “How College Works” found professors who have a strong influence on students in entry-level courses, whether good or bad, will influence students to choose their major rather than select it from their personal goals for a specific degree field. examines why students pick certain majors, and most of it comes down to professors.
“Faculty determine students’ taste for academic fields by acting as gatekeepers, either by welcoming them into an area of knowledge, encouraging and inspiring them to explore it, or by raising the costs of entry so high so as to effectively prohibit continuing in it,” the study reported.
The better the professor in the eyes of students, the greater chance someone will stay in that course — something that several MSU students noted was a determining factor in keeping or changing their major.
According to the study, pay also was less influential in a student’s major choice than classroom learning experiences.
Three MSU instructors in different fields also agreed that grabbing the attention of students early in courses is critical to positive learning experiences, but noted there are challenges to being at the front of the room.
Getting the process started
During assistant professor Kate Lein’s entry-level nursing course, she said students often don’t know what’s going on in nursing, so she tries to give examples from the real world and reasons to connect with nursing to help people — not to earn a large paycheck.
Nursing senior Katie Viazanko said she remembers taking Lein’s course and how the class changed her motives into something more then her premeditated goals coming into the program.
“She’s very giving and very patient and has taught me to be a more well-rounded person,” Viazanko said. “I was already in the (College of Nursing), but she guided me into becoming more hands-on and patient centered. It’s not about the pay, it’s something I want to do.”
But before the teaching can begin, behind-the-scenes work helps select just who will be leading courses.
When new professors begin the employment process, they are required to go through a series of interviews by the administration and faculty from the desired college, Lein said.
When Lein originally started working 26 years ago, she said she instantly knew the university would be a great fit.
“I knew this was a really good program of nursing, so that’s why we kind of settled in this area,” Lein said. “I knew that I wanted to teach nursing, it was something I was quite passionate about.”
Before MSU, Lein worked as a nurse for 13 years. Lien said the university was intrigued by the record of experience she had behind her, allowing her to provide real-world examples.
Breaking the Ice
Students constantly are surrounded by new faces and learning new names. Often, students think they are the only ones in class who are trying to steal attention in lectures, but the effort to impress goes both ways.
Some professors said they constantly are finding ways to capture the attention of thousands of students and teaching in ways to make class enjoyable, yet still interesting. Karl Gude, graphics editor-in-residence in the School of Journalism, said instructors have to have fun while teaching to keep students’ attention.
“I feel like if students are engaged, their learning and their minds are open. If you’re boring …those people, they’re going to be on Facebook and all sorts of things,” Gude said. “My goal is to make the class more interesting than Facebook.”
Media and information junior Jonathon Austin said Gude captured his attention the first day of class, eventually leading to his commitment to his new major.
“I transferred to MSU last year, and Gude was my first and only MSU communication professor,” Austin said. “I took his course as an elective while I was still weighing my options. He made the course so interesting that I committed to my major.”
Professional writing and English senior Jennifer Lareau-Gee said while taking an Introduction to Fiction course last year, creative writing assistant professor Rae Paris forced her to see new ways to improve her writing, whether she wanted to or not.
Paris said she starts off the course asking students to write a statement about the aesthetics behind their writing. She challenges students to think deeply in writing to find themselves and find their creative writing styles.
“Having (Paris) as a teacher made me a better writer because she made me think of writing in ways I’ve never thought about before, and within myself I never really wanted to think about,” Lareau-Gee said.
On the other end of the spectrum, students might choose their future profession because of a boring professor. Packaging senior Taylor Vandecar said he started his career path in engineering as a freshman but switched after an introductory course.
“I came into college thinking I wanted to be an engineer,” Vandecar said. “My Intro to Engineering class literally put me to sleep everyday and my professor was not approachable. I quickly switched out to packaging.”
It doesn’t always have to be a giant leap on the professors’ end to capture students’ attention. Lyman Briggs freshman Audrey Khoury said she never finds herself looking at the clock in her entry-level chemistry course with her instructor Samantha Cass.
“Chemistry is a very hard class for most people, but with (Cass) as a professor, she makes it very interesting,” Khoury said.