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K-State Today

August 31, 2011



The proof is in the teaching and research: K-State faculty strive for excellence in everything they do

By Communications and Marketing

It's been a teaching- and research-filled week for James Shanteau, university distinguished professor of psychology. He spent the weekend preparing a research publication and devoted Monday night to readying lectures for his undergraduate forensic psychology class. At the end of the week, he left for an academic conference in Paris. But for Shanteau, it's a typical week as an educator and researcher, and that's why he enjoys the profession.

"To me, the job is doing both teaching and research,” Shanteau said. "It's not one or the other."

A long list of K-State faculty members share schedules similar to Shanteau -- schedules filled with teaching, research, scholarship and administrative responsibilities -- and they succeed at what they do. They say it is because they view teaching and research as complementary, not contradictory.

A recent study by University of Virginia researchers, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, further illustrates the positive connections between teaching and research. The study states that graduate students who teach and conduct research are better researchers and have better research skills than those students who focus solely on laboratory work.

But faculty members at Kansas State University have known for years the importance of teaching and research -- and their success at both will be enhanced as K-State becomes a top 50 public research university by 2025.

Shanteau was involved in a self-study in the 1990s when Kansas was in the process of becoming eligible for participating in the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR program. For the study, investigators spoke with three groups of faculty members: those who were successful at obtaining federal funding relative to their peers; those who had some, but not a lot of success at attracting federal funding; and those who had little or no success at attracting federal funding.

Shanteau said the faculty members who were successful came from different disciplines -- biology, engineering, agriculture and music, among others -- but had a common bond: they were devoted researchers as well as teachers and scholars.

"It was very clear that these people were not succeeding at research by sacrificing their teaching," Shanteau said. "They put a lot of time and effort into teaching. They spent time with their students and preparing classes. They didn't view themselves only as researchers, but really as academics."

Shanteau and other K-State investigators involved in the study concluded that successful faculty members strive for excellence in everything they do.

K-State faculty continue to achieve excellence in their teaching, research and scholarship. Faculty members developed 1,379 project proposals for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which led to more than $124 million being rewarded in federal grants. Similarly, K-State has had more national professor of the year awards from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, than any other public research university in America.

In his 41 years at K-State, Shanteau has received the Commerce Bank Graduate Faculty Award and served as interim associate vice provost for research. He also served as program director for the Decision, Risk and Management Science Program at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Some of K-State's other outstanding teachers, researchers and scholars -- among many -- include:

* Christopher Sorensen, Cortelyou-Rust university distinguished professor in physics and a 2007 CASE/Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year, has taught courses ranging from physics for undergraduate nonscience majors to optics and electromagnetic theory courses for graduate students.

"I think teaching and research feed into each other," Sorensen said. "Enthusiasm for one of them stomps over into the other and that's important. I'm just excited about being a scientist. I just think it is the coolest thing I could possibly be."

Sorensen's own research focuses on particulate systems, including particles in aerosols, scattering light and nanoparticle solutions. He has authored more than 250 papers and was recently issued a patent for his creation of a multipurpose gel from aerosols. As a full-time researcher and teacher, he reaps rewards from both.

"When you are in the classroom, and you know you have the students -- it just doesn't get really much better than that. You can get rewarded daily with teaching," Sorensen said. "Research rewards are few and far between. Usually it's one problem after the other and it can go a long time before you finally get positive feedback. But when you get that feedback, it feels great."

* Elizabeth Dodd, university distinguished professor of English, directs the creative writing program in the department of English, and teaches nonfiction writing, creative writing and poetry writing. Dodd's own interdisciplinary scholarship focuses on the relationship between humans and the natural world. She is the author of two poetry books, two creative nonfiction books and a literary criticism book.

"There is a real connection between the teaching that I do with the K-State students here on campus and the kind of work that I do in my life as a writer," Dodd said. "They both come out of the same place, the same upwelling of interest."

Dodd has been recognized for excellence as an educator and has received the SAGE Teaching Award from English graduate students; the William L. Stamey Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the College of Arts and Sciences; and the Commerce Bank Graduate Faculty Award. She says that teaching from her own strengths as a scholar has helped her bring joy and passion to the classroom.

"A class is successful when both faculty members and students have a strong sense of shared purpose and are enlivened by the intensity of their time together," Dodd said. "Every year, students across this campus write on their teacher evaluations, 'I was dreading this class and I thought the subject would be boring.' Then there is a 'but' that follows, and the 'but' usually has to do with how the teacher has established an expectation for commitment. And that comes right out of setting an example. An example is based in passion for the subject."