November 2020: Dean Stauffer
Professor and associate head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment
2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech
The award, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.
Among the goals of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning are advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. Stauffer keeps student strengths and relationships at the forefront of his approach to teaching and learning. “I seek to recognize students as unique individuals, each with their own story and special abilities and challenges,” Stauffer reported. “Doing so allows me to better connect with students, which leads to more effective teaching. When students know you care about their success and believe in them, I find that they are more willing to put forth extra effort to learn.”
Stauffer strives to balance rigorous standards with the naturally supportive quality he brings to the classroom. Lauren Varboncouer, academic advisor to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, highlighted his expertise, adaptability in teaching, and commitment to high quality instruction. “Dean is a dedicated and involved teacher who works to put students first while sharing a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Varboncouer said. “He engages with and impacts all the students with whom he interacts in a variety of learning environments. Whether he’s in the classroom, the field, or talking with students during office hours, Dean is instrumental in both challenging and supporting our students as they strive to meet their goals.”
Stauffer brings a wealth of field experience into his teaching, creating a learning environment for students that is not merely engaging, but also applicable to their future and ongoing careers. Joe Girgente, a recent student of Stauffer’s, spoke of his practical and approachable sensibility. “Dean’s lectures aim to entertain and educate, and he hits the mark on both using real-life experience and personal stories to provide fascinating examples to his students,” Girgente said. “His open-door policy and jovial approachability make him extremely easy to talk to, which allows for more beneficial class discussions.”
Among the most meaningful experiences in teaching for Stauffer is getting to work closely with his students and seeing them improve. “My most satisfying experiences come from one-on-one interactions with students,” Stauffer said. “In particular, when I am able to work with struggling students and help them master the material and improve their understanding, it is especially rewarding.” He also named visits and life or career updates from students as his most memorable experiences. Emily Gardner is one of the many students who showed appreciation for the lasting impact of Stauffer’s relationship-building style. “Dr. Stauffer bridges the gap between professor and student to become not just a teacher, but a mentor, colleague, and friend,” Gardner said.
Stauffer’s advice to new faculty embodies the center’s mission of learner-centered instructional excellence. “Teaching matters!” he advised. “And seek to recognize your students for the unique individuals they areーit will allow you to develop your rapport with them.”