Lindback award certifies Terry as a ‘gem’ of a geology teacher
The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation has granted Temple additional time to identify winners for its annual awards, and four outstanding faculty members were selected as 2005 winners. Dennis Terry will be included in the faculty convocation in April 2006
As a geologist, Dennis Terry knows a little something about diamonds.
As an associate professor in Temple’s geology department, Terry, recently named a 2005 recipient of the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, has come to learn a little about the Conwellian theory of finding diamonds in your own backyard.
For Terry, who joined the geology faculty in 1999 after brief stints at Washington and Lee University, the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh and the University of Nebraska, teaching at Temple, with its urban flavor, offered a different set of challenges than he was accustomed to.
“The students at the schools where I previously taught often had a more privileged background, and teaching required a different approach there,” Terry said. “But once I came to Temple and found out the mission of the University and the background of a lot of Temple students, that many of them have a full-time life outside of the full-time classroom, I was really impressed.
“Teaching at Temple, the type of students who attend here, the pressures and challenges they face, has really made me understand the Acres of Diamonds philosophy,” he said. “I’ve come to realize that the diamonds, or students, are out there. You find them, polish them up, send them on their way — and soon, they start shining on their own.
The Lindback Award caps off a banner year for Terry, who was granted tenure by the University in the early summer.
“It’s a bit overwhelming to receive this award, because as I sit here and think about what I do as a teacher, it’s not so much that I feel I’m doing anything special, it’s just that I enjoy the concept of teaching and the energy you can get in the classroom,” Terry said. “When you have a class of 250 and there’s not a sound in the room and you know that the students are listing to every single word you’re saying, it gets pretty exciting.”
Terry, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University (1987), his master’s from Bowling Green State University (1991) and his doctorate from the University of Nebraska (1998), said his teaching philosophy is pretty straightforward.
“My teaching philosophy is not so much that I get up and lecture to the students, but that I try to talk with them about geology,” he explained. “I remember when I was a student, the worst classes, the ones that you hated the most, were the ones in which the professor just stood up there saying, ‘Blah, blah, blah,’ then turned the page of the crusty old yellow sheet of paper and would continue to drone on.”
Terry reasons that if the professor isn’t excited about the material, why should the students be excited?
“By showing them a little excitement and enthusiasm, it gets them motivated and interested in what I’m talking about,” he said. “And instead of just lecturing to them, I try to have more of a conservation with them, which establishes more of a one-on-one relationship with the students and gets them to realize that this professor is a person too.
“When they see you as a person, it establishes a rapport and, I think, de-mystifies the ivory tower of academia,” Terry continues.
Terry is often so enthusiastic in the classroom that he admits there are times when he returns to his office from teaching and has to take about an hour break because the adrenaline rush he gets from teaching is wearing off and he’s physically crashing.
“When you think about it, I’m pretty lucky because several times a week I get to stand up in front of a lot of people and talk about what I do and what I enjoy,” he said. “I get to say, ‘This is geology, this is why it is so interesting, and this is why it’s so important.’ The students see my enthusiasm, and it builds a wonderful dynamic in the classroom.”
- By Preston M. Moretz