Most students can attest to the simple reality that in large lectures it is easy to come into class and for the next hour or so, sit quietly in anonymity. However, one student fondly remembers geography professor Kurt Kipfmueller’s introduction to the age of the Earth:
Kurt brought in a 100m transect measuring tape. He had a student hold one end and called that the Big Bang, then he ran up and down the giant lecture hall stopping to describe significant eras along the transect. He circled the entire room and comically kept pulling out the tape to get the last few centimeters, representing human existence. He kept the huge classroom awake, amused, and most importantly, engaged in the material.
Kipfmueller recognizes that most of the several hundred students that enroll in GEOG 1403: Biogeography of the Global Garden each semester initially have no interest in sciences beyond fulfilling their CLE lab requirement. Yet he believes that it is imperative for students to acquire a basic understanding of the impacts their personal decisions have on the natural world. With humor and a sharp mind, Kipfmueller finds ways to motivate students, ensure their presence at lectures, and capture student attention by integrating course content with current events and issues.
A colleague points out that due to Kipfmueller’s exceptional teaching, many students elect to continue taking science courses, and let him know that his teaching was instrumental in awakening an interest in the subject matter. According to a former teaching assistant, “His interest in biogeography is boundless to the point of being unavoidably infectious.”
Kurt Kipfmueller joined the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2004. In his short time at the University, Kipfmueller has revitalized the University’s geography department—many graduate students enter the program to work specifically with Kipfmueller. His teaching evaluations are consistently outstanding at all academic levels.
Kipfmueller’s philosophy of teaching is simple:
“Teaching does not just take place in the traditional classroom confines; it transpires in small group meetings in my lab, in the field, or as informal conversations after I’ve completed a lecture. It is very special for me when I witness their emerging passions and ‘eureka’ moments that make teaching in any forum a truly rewarding experience.”