Which one will you love?

Dr. Isaac Woo and his favorite student, his son Johnny.

Dr. Isaac Woo and his favorite student, his son Johnny.

If you’re coming to James Madison University as a freshman or transfer student next month, you probably have in mind the name of a former teacher who made a difference in your life. Maybe he inspired you. Maybe she challenged you at a moment when you needed a push. Maybe he disciplined you and in the process helped you understand the value of hard work or cooperation or integrity. Maybe she was just kind to you at a time when life was not.

Are you thinking of a name? I suspect you are.

Now, consider this:  The art and science of teaching, the kind of educational mentorship that inspires, is paramount at JMU. Here on our campus, teaching is not something professors do as a sideline while they conduct research. It is not an afterthought but a calling. Many professors come here because their primary mission as scholars is to impart knowledge and inspiration to a new generation. Many do research, of course, and JMU is very good at that as well, but commitment to teaching each student is their primary goal.

One JMU professor, Dr. Isaac Woo told me how much he loves the interaction and rapport he has with his students, how much he values the experiences he can provide for them—and in turn, how much is gained from the synergy that occurs. Growing up and going to school in his native Korea, Dr. Woo, who teaches communication studies in the College of Arts and Letters, says that he didn’t feel the same kind of engagement with his own teachers. But JMU is “very unique and engaging” in this respect, he has found. In deciding to join the JMU faculty, Woo says, “student and teacher interaction attracted me a lot. When I came here, they looked very close. They worked together.”

If you need more proof of our commitment to teaching, check out Madison magazine’s feature, Professors You Love —which, not surprisingly, is the magazine’s most popular feature for 14 years running. You’ll find the newest installment in the next edition of the magazine. Madison hits mailboxes and newsstands around campus in September and will explore changes in education and how we maintain our humanity in the midst of such change. You will also learn more about Dr. Woo and his Madison Experience.

Scholarship is not a barrier here, but it is the common ground that welcomes every student. It is a mountaintop experience replete with challenges, steep rock walls to ascend and inspiring vistas to savor—but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes with talented guides who are eager to climb alongside you. It’s your job as freshmen to find them. In fact, the most oft-repeated advice from alumni to freshman is this:  Get to know your professors!

And if you do, it’s a pretty sure bet that in four years you’ll look back over your JMU experience and click off a roster of  professors you’ve come to love.

It’s really no surprise at all

In the upcoming issue of Madison magazine, which will hit mailboxes and newsstands next month, the subject of the regular and award-winning feature, “Professors you love,” is an individual who does not necessarily come to mind when thinking “professor.” He’s held a different job at the university — actually several different jobs  — over the past few decades.  The author of the essay, Paula Polglase (’92, ’96M), a public affairs associate in the JMU communications and marketing office, wrote this about her former professor:

“And, he brought the music. I had never had a class that started with music each week. [He] had the smallest, most powerful speakers I’d ever heard and started class each week with jazz, or The Little Mermaid soundtrack or classical selections — he surprised us. In fact, one week when he had to be away we didn’t quite know how to get started — there was no music.”

Jim Hartman (’70), rector of the board of visitors, recently said about this same professor: “He loves to teach. Not a lot of people know that about him, but he really enjoys teaching.”

It’s really no surprise at all for a professor at JMU to love teaching as much as students love their many professors. Neither is the newest Princeton Review‘s ranking of the best American professors. JMU  had the second highest number of “best” professors in a list that included some from venerable institutions like William and Mary, MIT, Harvey Mudd and some Ivies.

Why is it no surprise? Because since 1908 the art and science of teaching — the love of mentoring students — has been a top priority at the university. Even over the past 15 years as JMU’s enrollment swelled, the quality of teaching — and perhaps most importantly — the institutional commitment to excellent teaching has remained as solid and foundational as the Quad’s Bluestone. One affirming statistic is that while enrollment increased 37 percent, the faculty to student ratio decreased to 16:1.

Because teaching is important, students are front and center. Every day JMU professors change their students’ lives by closely mentoring student learners. That’s why it’s not surprising that the Princeton Review list included not one or two, but 11 JMU faculty members. Here they are:

Kenn Barron, psychology
David Bernstein, computer science
David B. Daniel, psychology
Kimberly D.R. DuVall, psychology
Stephen W. Guerrier, history
Larry R. Huffman, education
Raymond “Skip” Hyser, history
David Jaynes, biology
Scott B. Lewis, chemistry
Paul Warne, mathematics
William C. Wood, economics

As for that one professor Paula wrote about, well, I guess you’ll have to wait for Madison magazine to find out who it is.

To read about more the professors students have loved, visit http://www.jmu.edu/professorsyoulove/

Or you can check out the virtual edition of Madison magazine’s 10th anniversary edition of Professors You love here http://www.myvirtualpaper.com/doc/JMU/professorsyoulove/2010040501/#0

Our thanks to Chris Arndt, JMU professor of history, for letting us know about the list.
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