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Figuring Out Your Professors

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You know that your professors will be the ones giving lectures and doling out homework, and they might even be your academic advisor too. But you never know what extraordinary life experiences they bring with them to the classroom.

Usually, professors possess an incredible amount of knowledge regarding their specific subject area, but they also have a lot of experience in the “real world.” For example, you can walk into a political science classroom at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and meet Professor Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State!

Can you imagine how amazing it would be to discuss your future college plans with a famous professor? Plenty of students do! These well-known men and women have served or are currently serving as university professors.

• Maya Angelou: Reynolds Professor/Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University; Pulitzer Prize–nominated poet and author

• Jimmy Carter: University Distinguished Professor at Emory University; former President of the United States of America and Nobel Peace Prize winner

• Stephen Hawking: Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University; groundbreaking scientist and author of the bestseller A Brief History of Time

• James Lipton: Dean Emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School; host of the TV show Inside the Actors Studio

• Toni Morrison: Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, at Princeton University; Nobel Prize–winning author

• Samuel F. Pickering, Jr.: English professor at the University of Connecticut; his teaching inspired the film Dead Poets Society.

Professors try to maintain a balance between theory and practice. Many universities boast the academic accomplishments of their faculty, yet also emphasize the real-world experience they have. Just take a look at these three current professors to see how they keep that balance:

Stephanie Jackson

Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida
Stephanie Jackson is an assistant professor of communication, media, and politics in Lynn’s College of International Communication. Professor Jackson teaches courses on communication and media, organizational communication, presentational communication, group communication, and media literacy. She also teaches in the Dialogues of Learning. Jackson is the advisor for the Lynn University speaking and networking club, LynnMasters, and is an academic advisor in both Communication, Media, and Politics and Advertising and Public Relations.

In addition to her job at Lynn University, Professor Jackson volunteers with Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, an international nonprofit youth leadership program geared towards high school sophomores. She has served at the local, regional, and international levels as a chairperson, speaker, and key volunteer.

Jeffrey C. Brown

Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana
Jeffrey C. Brown is an adjunct assistant professor of music, and he currently presides as the Jazz Studies Coordinator and Percussion Instructor. Brown is also a founding member of the Faculty Jazz Trio. The trio is made up of three Valparaiso faculty members and is one of the oldest collegiate jazz ensembles in the world. Professor Brown is also a founding producer of the Valparaiso University Jazz Festival. The Jazz Fest has become one of the largest non-competitive jazz festivals in the United States.

Besides his duties at Valparaiso University, Professor Brown travels to K-12 schools across the Midwest as a part of his “Brown’s Music Bus,” an educational and entertaining music program. Through Brown’s Music Bus, students and faculty are exposed to a variety of music from the 1940s through the new millennium, featuring jazz, rock, and everything in between.

Carole Simpson

Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts
Carole Simpson is the Leader-in-Residence of Emerson’s School of Communication. She teaches courses in broadcast journalism and public affairs reporting, drawing on her 24 years as a TV news anchor and senior correspondent. She retired from ABC News in 2006 with three Emmy awards under her belt. Now, Simpson shares her experience in the field with her students, who still accompany her to press conferences and other special events from time to time.

In addition to teaching full time, Professor Simpson can be heard on National Public Radio and seen on Larry King Live, acting as a political commentator and analyst. She is also on the Board of Trustees for both Save the Children and the National Commission to Build a Healthier America. And, on top of everything else, she is working on her autobiography! She spent four decades in journalism and was a groundbreaking figure for African American women in the field, so she should have plenty to say!

So now you understand the academic knowledge and real-world experience that make professors great at what they do. You are sure to encounter incredible teachers just like these in your college experience too, and they will be an invaluable resource to you—you just need to be willing to learn.

Pop Quiz! Professor Vocab

Academic Advisor—Typically, a professor in your major will also serve as your academic advisor. They will meet with you about once a semester to make sure you are picking the right classes and can answer your questions at any time. If you are undecided on a major, they will also assist you in the process of selecting one.

Office Hours—Professors are usually required to hold office hours. This is a particular block of time when the professor guarantees they will be in their office (for example, 2:00–3:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays). It’s a great time to stop by if you have questions about homework, didn’t do so well on that last paper and want some advice, or are nervous about an upcoming test.

Master’s and Ph.D. Degrees—Professors generally hold an advanced degree in their area of expertise. A master’s degree requires an additional one to two years of experience beyond the bachelor’s level. A Ph.D. usually takes three to seven years beyond the bachelor’s.

Terminal Degree—This is a term that you’ll probably hear a lot as you’re touring campuses and sitting in on admission sessions. For example, when a university says, “90% of our faculty have their terminal degree,” this means that 90% hold the highest degree that they can possibly obtain in their field.

Teaching/Graduate Assistant—Sometimes, a true “professor” will not be teaching your class. (This is often the case at larger universities.) Instead, they will have a graduate student teach you. This student is supervised by a professor and is usually working on an advanced degree in the area that they are teaching. A great question to ask on a tour is “What percentage of your classes is taught by teaching or graduate assistants?”

Research Opportunities—A professor’s job mainly focuses on teaching and/or researching their specific subject area. If you are interested in research opportunities in college, it is important to ask your professors about research projects they may be conducting. Also, make sure to ask if undergraduate students are able to participate.

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