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Awards & Teaching Philosophy

My Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is simple: make it accessible, and make it relevant.

Having achieved these two critical components, I do not have to make my classes interesting or entertaining or funny--that naturally takes care of itself. I am extremely lucky in that the material I teach is basic, yet highly sought after. In terms of approach, this strategy is simple: make the topics and information accessible via all means possible, and make them relevant and meaningful to people’s real lives. My job is actually quite easy because students have a natural tendency to want to learn about the world that is affecting their lives. Once I provide the structure to help them make sense of an unfathomable amount of information—thus, making it accessible—the students connect to it in their own personal lives—making it relevant.

My specific contributions to the department and the university have been to expand course offerings to Virginia Tech students and the sizes of these classes, thereby making them more available to our rapidly growing student body. As such, increasing the class offerings and class audiences epitomizes my goal to make geographic/global studies education more accessible to all.

However, the accessibility does not end there. I have created on-line web pages, web blogs, and accompanying textbooks, all which strive to make course information readily available in a wide variety of formats, inside and outside university parameters. We live in a very interactive and visual age; thus, I use a variety of media in presenting course material, capturing the interest of my students and ultimately allowing me to reach those who may learn in different ways. I combine international music videos, live web interaction on specific topics, and a graphics-rich presentation with synchronized slide shows depicting physical and cultural images from around the world to enhance the learning process.

In addition, I have had great success using international films as an educational tool. Every semester I host “Geography Night at the Movies,” an event open to the entire university. During these films, which have an average attendance of 300-500, students witness other parts of the world through a familiar and engrossing medium. And for two to three hours each week, they can immerse themselves in a different culture, hear the language, experience the landscape, and gain some small insight into the world outside US borders.

However, as I have evolved in this university position, I realize that it is also myself that I am making accessible and relevant to the VT community. I have mentored, counseled, assisted, advised, guided, and generally helped any and all students/faculty who have shown up on my doorstep. I have given professional and sometimes even fatherly advice to hundreds of grads and undergrads, spoken at countless functions of both a formal and informal nature, helped out on research projects, promoted and participated in study abroad offerings, and donated my time and talent to virtually every cause that has been presented to me. Much of what I do cannot be quantified in tables or charts or numerical distributions, but by making myself accessible and 'real' to the students, I am enriching their experiences and lives…perhaps best labeled as their “spirits”…in incalculable ways. I know that may sound sappy, but it is true.

I teach the basics. I speak in the vernacular. I make the material and myself accessible.

My other major objective in my instructor experience here at Virginia Tech has also been to make my work relevant. As pointed out by many students who have taken any/all of my courses, the material is what every person should know about the world, or about wine. My courses have the flexibility to integrate information from a wide variety of disciplines. As such, the first and strongest element of making things relevant to students is incorporating information from their fields of study and interests into the class structure.

I have found students get very excited about the world when they understand what is being taught and see that they have a vested interest in it. I encourage them to associate geographic concepts with real world examples, and I constantly reinforce both with current events analysis. I use the daily news to help tie the seemingly non-related events of the world to students’ personal lives--making interconnections that are mystifying to the uninformed and yet obvious to the enlightened. I have tirelessly incorporated new technologies, such as the web, blogs, and now even Podcasting, to achieve this task of staying current, fresh and relevant in my work.

I aim to help students experience the world more holistically, beyond the constrictions of textbooks and inert facts, guiding and supporting them towards becoming better global citizens. My goal is to get students through the doorway of understanding—how far into the room they go is up to them. In an increasingly interconnected world, becoming internationally informed is an asset our students and citizens cannot be without. I have also tirelessly promoted study abroad opportunities to students (and even fellow faculty.) As such, I have personally been a part of five different programs which have taken more than 120 students to over a dozen countries. I also work diligently to enlighten undergrads and grads in how to apply their geographic knowledge to better understand the “real” world outside the boundaries of the university.

If it's not real or relevant to people personally, then it won't be retained. I have to make it real.

And thus....
I strive to make class material connected to reality, to make the students’ experiences meaningful in the context of their future lives, and basically to be as “down to earth” as possible so that I can successfully communicate with students and fellow faculty alike.

It becomes much harder for people not to care about a place when they know something about it; much harder to dismiss the rest of humanity when they understand that people all over the world are just like them; much harder for them to ignore the problems of our world when they realize that they can make a difference. I have every intention of making the world a better place…one student at a time.

In all things I do at Virginia Tech: accessibility and relevance. I believe I have achieved these goals in the work that I have done reformatting my classes, creating new courses, incorporating new educational technologies, advising students and faculty, giving talks and teaching classes, promoting study abroad experiences, advising student groups, and creating a positive “spirit” and camaraderie in students and faculty across the university.

That is my philosophy. That is my mission.