On Thursday, March 29, North Dakota State Provost Beth Ingram awarded Jennifer Momsen, associate professor in the department of biological sciences, the Peltier Award for Teaching Innovation. Students clapped and acknowledged Momsen’s surprise as she shook in shock.
She explained how it is nice to be nominated, but that she never expected to win the award.
Momsen always wanted to do research because she enjoyed asking questions and finding her own answers. Although in her undergraduate program at University of Minnesota, she became a teacher’s assistant, which led her to wanting to start her career in teaching. “I found myself working hard to kind of connect with my students to try and make material relevant for them,” Momsen shared.
Momsen grew up in New York and received her Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University in New Jersey. She started at NDSU in 2010.
The award is for innovation in teaching, which she expressed how she believes that there are many things she does within the classroom that led to her being nominated and receiving the award. “Students build models; they are actively drawing things; we use the white boards; we’ll use the internet to search and find information, so those are some of the things we do in class that could contribute to being considered — innovative instructor,” Momsen shared.
Along with this, Momsen has been a part of building the learning assistants program at NDSU. “That’s certainly an innovation that’s been really helpful — even in our bigger classes, it’s designed to help make it feel smaller so that students are never too far away from kind of a known expert who can help them out,” Momsen explained.
She also explained how she has been doing these innovative techniques for a while, which have led to other faculty members noticing. Many have asked her “What are you doing?” and “How would that work?” for ways of incorporating things like box and arrow models into the classrooms. She believes this could be how she got nominated because it is a faculty nominated award.
While many professors forget how to connect with students, Momsen tries to create an environment where she is responsive to students’ needs. To “try and understand where they’re coming from and modify what we’re doing in class to help them out to be really responsive to what they need,” Momsen said.
Momsen gave advice for professors who are looking to improve their teaching style: “Listening to your students and not just listening to what they’re saying, but how they’re reacting to the material.”
Momsen sees teaching as a way of “empowering students through giving them knowledge, a chance to make connections with students trying to break down that barrier between instructors and students — and just, honestly, have fun.”
In a way to conclude her award receiving day, Momsen shared, “It was definitely unexpected and a surprise. It’s really nice to have people recognize that you’re doing something in the classroom that’s good, that’s making a difference, that’s helping our students learn.”