You picked ‘em: Kent State’s top teachers

Jan Leach talks with her students during her Newswriting class on Jan. 24. “It’s just fun to see the way they grasp a concept or the way they apply things,” Leach said. “It’s just energizing to me.” Photo by Nancy Urchak.

Maura Zurick

Professors are responsible for making your tuition money worthwhile. They challenge and frustrate you. They are usually buried with grading, prepping for classes and instilling knowledge into your overworked brain. They want you to succeed. However, a select few professors have the ability to leave an impression on students, and their legacies make Kent State unforgettable. We polled 438 students in person, on and through email, Twitter and Facebook to showcase the top five Kent State professors. Here’s the attention they deserve.

Name: Jan Leach

Department: JMC

First year at KSU: 2003

Currently teaching: Ethics and Issues in Mass Communication, Newswriting

Style of teaching: She has a highly enthusiastic attitude paired with a “tough love” approach, and she helps the class function as a whole with discussions in a relaxed environment. Students receive an immense amount of feedback on writing.

Why she loves teaching: “I heard this somewhere: ‘I teach not only subject that I really love to students that I love teaching,’” Leach said. “I love the idea of student learning and the give and take. I also love that a class is a class at the beginning of the semester but a culture at the end. There’s a moment where the class culture is defined, and there’s learning going on. I am so lucky, too, because I teach subjects that I really like.”

Student opinion:“She’s very friendly in a way where I didn’t feel intimidated,” said Evan Graening, senior public relations major. “She’s not an easy teacher. You need to know your stuff, but what she brings to the table is honesty, and she helps you improve.”

Name: Jon Secaur

Department: Physics

First year at KSU: 1980

Currently teaching: Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe, Physics in Entertainment and the Arts and the introductory seminar for physics majors.

Style of teaching: He usually teaches lecture classes of about 200 students but somehow manages to remember everyone’s name. When he introduces a new topic or physicist, like Galileo or Newton, he talks about them as he would a good friend.

Why he loves teaching: “I really enjoy the planning, the idea of being a designer and an inventor who invents things for students to do,” Secaur said. “I really like teaching metaphors such as a teacher is a coach. As a coach, I help students. There’s a sacred covenant between students and professors that should be about working with the students to help them. The other metaphor I like is a teacher is a litter bug. Teachers don’t teach anything, the learning is constructed in the learner. It’s up to us to enrich the students’ environment.”

Student opinion: “He’s not just a good professor — he’s amazing,” said Jamie Lynn Johnson, senior psychology major. “He knows and cares a lot about the subject of his courses, and he can teach the science involved at a level that all of his students can understand. He’s also always available to answer questions and will go out of his way to help students who are struggling. He wants everyone to get the material and learn it, and things like his out-of-class review sessions really do help.”

Name: Julie Mazzei

Department:Political Science

First year at KSU:2004

Currently teaching: World Politics, Political Violence and ‘Low Intensity Conflict’: Between War and Peace, College Teaching in Political Science

Style of teaching: She is known for her fast-paced and high energy lectures on human rights and politics all over the globe. In most cases, such intense discussions would be difficult but during Mazzei’s classes, she makes her class engaging by using a lot of examples that are relatable and understandable. She is excited about what she teaches, and it’s contagious.

Why she loves teaching: “I’m very disheartened when students look bored, so when students are excited about the topic that’s the best part,” Mazzei said. “I think one of the most important things when you teach political science is you have to explain that theory has practical implications. That’s why I think the illustrations that I use in class are so important.”

Student opinion: “She challenges her students to broaden their knowledge on the subject, and it is very easy to develop an interest in her classes,” said Brianna Dempe, a junior political science major. “She really opens your eyes to important issues going on in the world.”

Name: Matthew Shank

Department: English

First year at KSU: 1983

Currently teaching: College Writing II (Honors) and Literature for Young Adults

Style of teaching: He is known for his laid-back but fascinating discussions, which students really enjoy. He’s fun and friendly, which makes it easier for students to enjoy themselves and succeed. He picks a variety of books to read in his classes like “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins and “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

Why he loves teaching: “A long time ago, I realized that I was never going to get rich doing this, so I decided that I was going to have fun doing it and try and make it fun for them,” Shank said. “I don’t know who said it, but somebody said, ‘If you find something to do that you love that you’ll never work another day in your life,’ and that’s how I feel.”

Student opinion: “I think he’s a good professor because he knows how to make his class fun while engaging his students,” said Lindsey Teitelbaum, a senior human development and family studies major. “He really shows that he cares about his students and wants them to succeed.”

Name: Rich Stanislaw

Department: Political Science

First year at KSU: 2004

Currently teaching: American Politics, Political Thought, American Political Theory

Style of teaching: He is known for his antagonistic but fun style of discussion-based teaching – and as the “modern-day Socrates” to his students. His classes keep students engaged by being almost entirely discussion-based and full of opinions and “What if?” questions where there isn’t always a right answer.

Why he loves teaching: “The students are a riot,” Stanislaw said. “It’s fun. The students are interesting and energetic, and getting to know them in the context of big ideas and politics makes me feel fortunate that I teach things that matter in people’s lives. Not everyone thinks that politics and philosophy matter, but it is enjoyable to teach to students, especially those who are interested.”

Student opinion: “I would take another class with Stanislaw again, for sure,” Jon Bishop, a junior accounting and finance major said. “I would recommend taking a class with him to other students who want to think and work hard in class. If they don’t want to be involved in class discussions or read outside of class, then it’s not the class for them, but if they are looking for a class with great discussion, then political thought with Stanislaw is definitely for them.”

Contact Maura Zurick at [email protected].