Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Collins
Dr. Jennifer Collins is an assistant professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She teaches Reading and Literature, Oral Language and Emergent Literacy, Advising Interaction and Communication, Teaching Transescents, Teaching Elementary Social Studies Methods, Introduction to Education, Special Topics for Beginning Language Learners, English Conversations and Introduction to College Life.
Collins earned a Bachelor of Arts in Russian language from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa; a Master of Arts in teaching from Queens College, Charlotte, North Carolina; a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction – urban education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina; and a Master of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Prior to working at UW-Platteville, Collins worked as an associate professor in the Cato School of Education at Queens University of Charlotte. Before entering higher education, she enjoyed 10 years of teaching in public school classrooms, the majority of the time supporting students in Title I schools.
What inspired you to pursue teaching?
Honestly, I never really wanted to teach. I graduated with a Russian language degree and wanted to work overseas for the government. But, as life often does, my plans didn’t go to plan and I ended up as a single mom with a young daughter. I wanted to spend summers with her and the neighborhood I lived in had a teacher training program, so I went for it. Best decision I ever made. It was a great lesson in how to be open to the opportunities life puts in your path.
How does your degree in TESOL impact your teaching?
I have already been lucky to be able to use those skills teaching English language courses through the English Language Program on campus. I also think that our future educators need to prepare for supporting all types of diversity in their classrooms – language being just one. Truly valuing students’ cultures by honoring their first language is one of the many lessons I hope to share with my education students.
What education accomplishments are you most proud of?
One of the stories I like to share with the undergrads is that I essentially flunked out of college on my first try. The University of Iowa had too many entertaining extra-curricular activities for me to participate in that had nothing to do with studying. I think at that point, my parents (and I) were wondering if I would ever do anything with my life. But, I needed to fail so that I would be forced to grow up a little. I took a year off, worked really hard to get back in school and ended up getting two master degrees and a Ph.D. I think, for me, it is a good reminder to always look more closely at the students who are not succeeding and try to understand the ‘why’ behind that fact. All hope is not lost on them; some just need some more time in the oven before they are done.
What are you most looking forward to teaching in the fall?
Introduction to College Life. I taught a similar course at my previous university and loved it. It is really fun to work with students who have been waiting to come to college for what seems like years. They come to the gate, raring to go, and then they realize it isn’t all as magical as they thought it would be (What? I have to study and go to class?) Supporting them through that process is a real treat, especially as you watch their growth, not only as a first-year student, but throughout their entire university career.
This summer, you will teach English to a group of young professionals from Mexico (June 20-July 15). What are you most looking forward to?
It is a real honor and privilege to be the ‘face of America’ for our visitors and I truly relish that role. I also enjoy the challenge of finding ways to structure classes so that the instructional language work is concealed within fun and engaging activities…kind of like sneaking the vegetables into the meatloaf! At the end of the day, I always hope to learn as much from the language students as they hopefully learn from me.
Interview conducted by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, UW-Platteville. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email email@example.com.