Diane Cook, professor of psychological science on the University of North Georgia's Gainesville campus, was one of nine educators honored this spring by Featherbone Communiversity with a Masters in Teaching award. The award honors area teachers, administrators, and professors who have demonstrated expertise, intrapersonal and interpersonal qualities, and have also influenced the lives of their students. Cook, also associate head of the Department of Psychological Science, talks about her career as an educator and the project she and her students have been working on in Nicaragua.
What do you feel makes you a master teacher?
I don't necessarily think of myself as a master teacher. I have been teaching a long time, and I am energized by new teaching methods and scholarly research that I can use not only to teach the material but also to expand my students' thinking.
I want my students to be engaged, have a desire to learn, have an appreciation of the science of psychology, and apply what they have learned. My goal is to foster a learning environment in which that happens, and typically the lines between professor and student become more fluid.
At the same time, excellence in teaching is an important part of the University of North Georgia's mission, and I have learned a lot from my colleagues, who would be considered master teachers as well.
You've been teaching in Gainesville for 19 years. Why have you remained at the same institution for nearly two decades and what have you gained from that?
When I was hired in 1994, I didn't think I would stay at a two-year college for long. However, we grew and expanded to a four-year college, and now a university. While there have been many changes, there have been many opportunities because of these changes. I am fortunate that I love what I do, and I have developed many close relationships with my colleagues through the years. I also believe in the mission of our institution and what we provide for our students and our community.
Talk about the program building water systems in Nicaragua. How do your students benefit from that experience?
For our Nicaragua study abroad program, we are working with the non-profit organization Amigos for Christ. They have several projects in Nicaragua, one of which is building water sanitation systems to provide clean drinking water and modern bathrooms for rural residents. More than 60 percent of Nicaraguans living in these areas do not have clean drinking water.
This program is a service-learning opportunity in which students work alongside Nicaraguans. We know that incorporating service-learning into study abroad programs leads to greater content, affective, and connective learning in the participants. I have noticed that the students who participate in this study abroad program are excited about traveling internationally, and are very passionate about making a difference in someone else's life.
While we are only in Nicaragua for a week, we see evidence of the work of others who have come before us and we see evidence of what we have accomplished while we are there. I am thankful our university supports several meaningful study abroad programs in which our students (and faculty) can develop intellectually and personally while connecting with and serving others.