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Proudest moments and most gratifying experiences

October 2003


St. Ambrose is a teaching institution, and it takes only a moment in any classroom to realize that SAU's professors are here because they love to teach.

Even knowing that there's an element of the teaching process that cannot be explained, where discovery and creativity and original thought come only in the endeavor, we thought we'd let a few professors tell you themselves: of their proudest moments and most gratifying surprises, of the greatest length to which they've gone to engage students, what brought them to teaching in the first place-and what keeps them in the classroom, year after year.

Fr. George McDaniel PhD '66
Professor of history
When I teach, I want to impart to my students that, to be properly understood, history involves the integration of facts and events to make connections over time, how people do what they do because of what they think and believe. I want my students to learn to read and not to accept anything at face value. I have no illusions that within two weeks of the end of a semester most dates and names are forgotten, but if students take with them the ability to express themselves well and think critically, I'm satisfied. To me, the best thing a student can say to me-and I thank God it happens once nearly every semester-is that "I never liked history before but you made me like it."

I'm first a priest, so the students who make me feel I've done my job are those who work to their potential and even beyond, and these aren't always the "A" students. I feel God gave us a great gift in our minds, and when we use it to its fullest extent, we return the gift to God.

Kristin Quinn MFA
Professor of art
I spend a lot of time in my studio painting to keep myself true to the nature of teaching art. You have to have your hand in it to focus on the work. If I can't have studio time, it cheats the students. I'm always honest and to the point when I'm giving direction to students as they're painting or drawing. I try to help them imagine possibilities rather than settle for the first thought or obvious solution. As an artist I know it's hard to get yourself out of a tough spot, but the best thing to do is work the solution out on your own. Whatever their level of talent, I feel my students do gain the self-assurance that they can learn to paint or draw. It's hard getting them to take a risk with a paintbrush, but once they do, a world of creative possibilities open up.

As a teacher it's very rewarding to be a part of that evolution. It's as much a gift to me as it is to them.

Art Serianz PhD
Professor of chemistry
Some people are blessed with knowing what they want to do in life from the minute they're born. And I am so blessed. I always knew I wanted to teach, and to teach chemistry. The basic concepts of chemistry don't change significantly. Yet with each new semester, there's a renewed challenge in teaching the subject, because there are new and different students. I've learned over the years that each is a unique, distinct individual. That's where the renewal comes from. I get pleasure seeing students who know nothing of chemistry when they come in, and as the year goes on they build skills and knowledge. I sense in them a competency in the material that wouldn't be there without my help-and since chemistry impinges on so many areas, it's a competency they'll need later in life, no matter what field they go into.

It's the most encouraging when a student tells me, "You helped me develop my interest in chemistry and taught me what I needed to know." I know I've played a part in sending them forward into the world.

John Byrne PhD
Associate professor of managerial studies
I'm often asked why I left the fast-paced, high-finance world of commercial banking to become a professor. The reason came to me ten years ago when I taught my first course as a part-time professor at St. Ambrose: There is nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to explore learning with students. In banking, I learned through experience and that's something I try to bring into the classroom each day, to present important business concepts in innovative ways. To teach teamwork, I sometimes blindfold students and give them difficult problems to solve together. And to teach them trust, I stand atop a desk, close my eyes and fall backward into my students' arms. Then I encourage them to do the same. In that moment, trust becomes a very tangible concept, the difference between falling safely into the arms of their classmates or splitting their heads open on the floor.

When I receive letters or notes from former students who say I had a profound impact on their lives, it is one of the most gratifying feelings I've ever felt professionally.

Corinne Johnson PhD
Professor of theatre
People always said to me, "You'd be a great teacher." But when you're just out of grad school and focused on your acting career, you're not thinking about that. As I grew older, though, quality of life got to be more important. I grew tired of the lifestyle that performing hands out, and when I realized I wanted something more out of my life, I heeded everyone's advice. One of the greatest things about theatre is that it's constantly posing questions but not necessarily giving easy answers. I see my role as a professor-and as a director-as moving students from a point where they're willing to rely on their teacher to a point where they're self-motivated and self-driven to take their own risks.

As an actress, I always got a curtain call. But as an educator, who needs one? I'd rather be sitting in the dark in the back row of an auditorium, tears streaming down my face because I'm so proud, than standing in a spotlight. There's nothing more rewarding than watching my students succeed.

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