Professors of Georgetown
Professors play many different roles at Georgetown: As teachers, researchers and mentors, they can influence the lives of hundreds of students during the course of their career. Six professors sat down with The Hoya to discuss their motivations for teaching and memorable moments in the classroom that changed the way they saw their students, their course and themselves.
Project Lead: Julia Alvey
Project Advisers: Will Cromarty and Amber Gillette
All photos by Julia Alvey/The Hoya.
Eric Koester, professor of entrepreneurship in the McDonough School of Business, on deciding to make his students write a book:
“The real story is I was teaching traditional entrepreneurship classes to undergrads, and I actually sort of got very disillusioned by it because very few of my students were going on to start companies.
So I actually quit teaching because it was very much like, I wanted it to matter. I wanted to make a difference, so Georgetown asked me to stay and teach one more semester because they didn’t have anyone to teach my classes.
And so what happened was I said, ‘Alright fine, I’ll teach one more semester, but I don’t want to do the same thing again. Why don’t I do something different?’
So I thought about what had actually impacted me in my life, and when I was in my twenties I had the chance to write and publish two books. Now, these weren’t bestsellers, I didn’t make any money from them, but the process was huge for me. It changed everything.
And so I thought, about a week before the class was about to start, I didn’t tell anyone, and I said, ‘Alright, I’m going to make everyone write a book.’ And so, literally, that’s what I did.”
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., professor of government in the College, on teaching his class the day after the 2016 presidential election:
“I came to class, it was the day after, and we were in the midst of talking about democracy, so it wasn’t totally foreign to what we were doing, but it was clear from just the mood in the room that there was no way we could just do a normal day of class.
I asked them to do something that I’ve never done in a political science class before, and I asked them to take out their notebooks and just journal for a couple minutes and to really write down what they were feeling at that precise moment and name it as clearly as they could.
I’ll never forget some of the things that were said. One of the first students said just one sentence. She said, ‘I have never been more aware of myself as being a woman than after this election.’ And there was silence for a couple minutes in the room after that.
Another student said, ‘We talk a lot about nation in this class as having this sort of shared identity, and I’m aware now that there’s at least more than one nation in the United States and one that I really didn’t know about before and I need to learn about.’ I thought it was so insightful.
And there was later a student that said, because most of the students as you might imagine were supporters of Hillary Clinton, ‘To be honest I often feel silenced in rooms like this. It happens when I see the stickers people have on their computers. It happens when I see the way they talk about politics.’
He said, ‘But actually my family right now is very happy because they’ve really been suffering. Especially because my dad lost his job, and he’s been looking for work, and here’s the things he’s been doing. And he sees President Trump as an opportunity.’
And it was really amazing to see people kind of sit with that and really mix it in. What it told me is that we really can do these things when we trust each other.”
Mark Giordano, professor of geography in the School of Foreign Service, on sneaking art into the classroom and trusting his students:
“The kind of maybe oddball thing is that I spend a lot of time in art, and I try to sneak it into classes. Not in overt ways, but it reaches a different part of people than the kind of concrete stuff you usually get in a textbook.
Now I spend a lot of time working on it and also trying to help get pieces of art into classrooms. I don’t do it at Georgetown, but I’m working with some other places, other small schools that don’t have access to stuff. I’m working with one particular professor who now tries — I’m working with her to get objects into her classroom.
I had a professor once that said — back when I was a student, an undergrad — he said, ‘You need to remember that professors aren’t smarter than you. They just know more because they’re been studying it longer.’
And I think the same here. You’ll figure out what to do with it, but the idea is to help you engage somehow. I trust you, you’re smart enough to do something positive.”
Ted Nelson, professor of human biology in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, on building a connection with his students:
“I genuinely like biology, and I really like when the students are equally as excited about it, so I try really hard to show my enthusiasm for it because I think that’s what really helps get students excited about the topic.
And I really like the experience of connecting with students in a classroom setting where I can see that they’re engaged and I can see that they’re interested. When it does happen, it’s a really rewarding experience.
In addition to that, just the ability to mentor students in a more one-on-one connection is really exciting for me and something that has probably been one of the most meaningful aspects of this job. Just the fact that students come to me for advice about general career stuff or life stuff is not something I ever expected, and it’s just been a very enjoyable experience.”
Sarah Stiles, professor of sociology in the College, on the joys of teaching sociology:
“I am so thankful that I teach sociology. I have learned so much about people, and I love sharing these discoveries with my students because we get this ‘Oh my gosh. I never thought about it that way,’ and we realize how much everything around us is a social construction. We made up these stories and constrictions and stress-inducing behavior and judgement, and yet we don’t really have to do that.
You need to know yourself in order to be your best self. Yet, because of all that stuff around us, we get these layers of society and expectations from other people, so we have the students do this assessment. It’s called VIA: Values in Action.
The point is we should be playing to our strengths, and that sounds obvious, but then you realize you have so many other obligations that sometimes your strengths, you even forget what they are, so we do this and it gives you your top five strengths, character strengths or character values.
My number one strength is spirituality and sense of purpose. And when I first saw that I thought, ‘What can you do with that? How do you monetize that?’ But then I thought, ‘Oh, Sarah, not everybody has that.’ Then, the second is capacity to love and be loved.
I thought, ‘That’s it! I have a calling, and it is to be with you students, young adults.’ I have a sense of purpose, and the spirituality part, I really do focus on the really big picture. And then the capacity to love and be loved — well, you know when you go into the classroom, what you put out is what you get, and everybody would like to think that they’re noticed and that they’re loved.
And I do love my students. And curiosity in the world and love of learning, my goodness, life is interdisciplinary, and you can’t separate those things. And so, there is so much to learn and understand then why people behave the way they do.”
Diana Glick, professor of chemistry in the College, on teaching students about the deep secrets of chemistry:
“Chemistry is fascinating. Science as a whole is this amazing human discovery and I love teaching the process to students by way of talking about the deep secrets of chemistry.
One of the coolest things about our natural world is that its behavior, its secrets are not intuitive. We can’t figure out how things work, what things are made out of and how to mimic what they do by sitting around thinking about what would be the most elegant way or what is the way that just makes sense for how nature works.
We have to get in there and try stuff and when we get in there and we do experiments and we creatively think about ways to find out or to peel away the layers and understand the deeper underpinnings of what’s going on in the natural world, we find the most startling discoveries.
My favorite course to teach is indeed introductory chemistry. I don’t teach it as a duty, I teach it as a passion. Many people come to university not liking chemistry or feeling hesitant or afraid to explore this subject.
I am grateful for the opportunity to start from the beginning with them, to lay a foundation that can make sense. I look forward to fixing it for students so that they too can appreciate and enjoy the deep secret of how chemistry works.
One has to learn so many things before the beauty and ingenuity and downright craziness of how nature works makes sense. Then once it makes sense, that intuition that develops is a new framework that is powerful and useful.
A student becoming a chemist or a scientist in any field realizes that we have the power to manipulate molecules, create new molecules, modify substances at the molecular level to fine tune or completely change their activity.”