Parent Times: The University of Iowa
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FALL 2001-02
Volume 45, Number 1


Field Goals Vs. Academic Goals

The First Concern Was Our Students: President Coleman's Response to Terrorist Attacks

Fingerprints of CLAS: Personalizing Education in the University's Largest College

Changing Relationships of Children and Parents: Letting Them Grow and Letting Them Go

Putting Education to Work

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Heading Off to College: The Big High-Wire Act

Music Under the Stars

Parent Times Briefs

University Calendar

Fingerprints of the College of Liberal Arts Personalizing Education in the University's Largest College.

What’s in a name? In the case of the newly named College of Liberal Arts and Sciences–formerly the College of Liberal Arts–the change highlights the importance of social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences to The University of Iowa.

Linda Maxson, dean of the college, says a college’s name and mission are embodied in the people who live out what those words say.

The college’s mission states, in part:

“The faculty and staff of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provide academic programs that prepare our students to be knowledgeable citizens of the 21st century and empower them to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. The college is dedicated to providing faculty, staff, and students with the environment and infrastructure that help them develop their potential for scholarship, creative work, and service.”

Examples of service performed by the hundreds of faculty and staff members in the college would require books, not one issue of Parent Times. We’ve chosen a few examples of professors in the college who go beyond the requirements of the position in order to fulfill the college’s mission.

Creating a Small-College Atmosphere

“I try to deal with students as I would if I were teaching at a small college,” says Robert Latham, associate professor of English. “I let them know they’re not an anonymous number to me.”

Rod Latham and Will Lytle
Rod Latham, associate professor of English, works with senior Will Lytle (right) on an independent study project for his honors thesis on Victorian literature.

Students appreciate kindness, respect, and chances to interact with professors, he says. He’s found several ways to create that ambiance at Iowa.

“I try to make sure that I teach small classes, as well as large lectures where the students are more spread out,” he says. “Last year I taught an honors seminar and I’ve directed honors students’ senior projects for two years. This is focused, intense work but it’s rewarding to see what is accomplished. It’s not just the honors students, though; I work with students at all levels.”

Outside the classroom, there are more opportunities to meet and listen to students.

“This is a small town. You see students on the street, and you can have coffee or lunch with them. I try not to be a stand-offish professorial type, but rather someone who is approachable. I enjoy my research and service projects, but really what I like about my job is that interaction with students. It’s more than just showing up in the classroom.”

A sign that it works is the number of letters Latham receives asking for recommendations when graduates are applying for jobs or for graduate school admission.

“I don’t think they realize how much time goes into writing those letters,” he says, smiling ruefully.

He adds that it’s rewarding to see the students accepted into graduate programs at excellent universities or in satisfying jobs in their field of study.

Tutoring Students

For some professors, it’s important to think about the generations of college students coming up, as well as those already in school.

About six years ago, Victor Rodgers, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, asked the Multi-Ethnic Engineering Students Association (MESA), which he advises, to get involved with tutoring high school students as a means of giving back to the community. After meeting with several schools, the group chose the Alternative High School in Iowa City, which uses innovative methods to educate students who have not done well in traditional schools.

Marian Coleman, the Iowa City School District equity director, set up a program for MESA students to visit high school students once a week. Later, Vincent Rodgers, Victor’s twin brother and an associate professor of physics and astronomy, asked the Society of Physics Students to get involved.

After watching the college students succeed in tutoring, Victor Rodgers says, the brothers decided there was more they could do.

“Last year, Vincent and I decided we would go ourselves and help tutor,” he says. “We will do it again this year, too.”

Mentoring, Motivating Students

Lisa Troyer, associate professor of sociology, teaches an introductory course. Like many intro courses, Introduction to Sociology has more than 350 students. It takes a good deal of effort to get to know individual students personally in a class that size.

Lisa Troyer, Katie Falkner-Ball and Lisa Hein
Lisa Troyer, associate professor of sociology, counsels students Katie Faulkner-Ball and Lisa Hein.

“But actually, that’s the fun part of my job,” she says. “When you teach a large class like that, it can be alienating for the professor as well as the students. Getting to know them as individuals is energizing. They are so bright, so interesting; they have so much potential.”

At a big state university, sheer numbers of students can create a barrier to getting to know people as individuals, she says. If students want to know their professors, it’s important to go to office hours or approach the professor following a lecture.

“I hate to say this, but students will have to take the initiative at first,” she notes. “I speak at parent orientations, and I tell parents to encourage their students to meet their professors. It’s the first step toward forming a friendship.”

Troyer, who is entering her seventh year of teaching at Iowa, is adviser to Alpha Kappa Delta, an honorary society in sociology, and she also advises honors students. In addition to Introduction to Sociology, she teaches Organizations in Modern Society and two graduate seminars.

Getting a Garden Ready to Plant

Randy Hirokawa, chair of the Department of Communication Studies, teaches Communication in Everyday Life, an introductory course that has 192 students enrolled this fall. But he has a trick that lets him call on students by name.

“The first day of every class, I give students a blank 3 x 5 index card,” he says. “I tell them to write the name or nickname they prefer to be called as well as their address, telephone number, and e-mail address. Then I ask for a nonreturnable photo. I cut out the face, paste it to the card, and that gives me a set for each class. When I want to call on someone, I take a card and say, ‘Bob Jones, are you here today? Oh, there you are, Bob. What do you think about this subject?’

“Just by name alone, I’d have no way to associate names and faces during class. This gives me a permanent record. Three to four years later, when the student writes to ask for a recommendation, I can pull the card and say, ‘Oh, I remember that person,’ and write a better letter than I might otherwise do.”

Hirokawa says he also tends to remember students who come to see him during office hours, and encourages students to do that even if it has nothing to do with class work.

“I tell them, ‘Come to say hello, tell me a joke, or talk about how the Hawkeyes are doing,’ ” he says.

When the relationship becomes one of mentoring, the important thing is to break down perceived differences of status and power, he says. That begins with his name.

“I never use Professor or Doctor as a title, just Randy,” he says. “I tell them they’re free to call me any name but I prefer Randy. That’s everyone from undergraduates to graduate students, deans, and the president of the University.”

Once that’s established, he says, “I make myself as human as possible.”

Web sites for his classes have photos of himself with his wife and children, playing tennis or softball.

“If you’re perceived as an icon, it’s difficult to mentor,” he says. “I must be perceived as a real person at their level, communicating at their level. Examples I use must be from their everyday life. I talk a lot about football. After the terrorist attacks, in every class I used examples that drew upon that experience. It’s crucial—students will absorb much more if you relate what you say to what they’re interested in right now, and for many students that is the effects of September 11. I tell them that for me, it was Vietnam; for them it is September 11.”

Once the mentoring relationship is established, he tells students that his primary objective is to get the most he can out of them. Recognizing different levels of ability, he says that the more capable he believes a student to be, the more he will push.

“I tell them, ‘Never take criticism personally.’ They should think, ‘Randy must think I’m really hot stuff if he’s pushing me this hard.’ I think of it as getting a garden ready to plant, and then planting really hard.”

by Anne Tanner




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