Do you enjoy teaching undergraduates?
JMU has more than doubled in size since I came here in 1983, and yet we have been able to continue with that original tradition of maintaining personal relationships with our students. I am the department head and teach some of our larger classes, but even then our culture here is that my office door is always open. We keep office hours, we talk to students and we just generally keep in touch with where are students are and how they are learning.
Do you have a favorite course that you teach?
My best experience is teaching two sections of Principles of Economics, where the majority of students are freshmen. In our department, all the introductory classes are taught by Ph.D.s. As the department head I hand out the teaching assignments, and I purposefully choose to teach those classes. It’s the most exciting time. These students are new and they are learning, and they are really excited about learning new things. They are still undecided about their futures and their careers. And for many of them, this is the first time that they have been challenged academically. It is quite wonderful to see the looks on their faces when they really, truly begin to learn something new. Overall, it is such a really positive experience for me.
Is the curriculum challenging?
I’ve had experiences with students who were mad at me because they thought they didn’t get the right grade or they thought I was over-doing it and being overly hard, and then a year or two after graduation you get letters from them saying, “I was wrong and the way you challenged me was really useful because the workplace is tough, and the tools you taught us are really helpful.”
Do you still love teaching?
The best time of the day is when I leave everything that has to do with being the head of the economics department behind and head to my classroom to teach. That’s the most fun part for me. I’ve been here since 1983, and it still energizes me. It’s never felt like a job because of the interaction with young people who are hungry to learn.