Jennifer Mooney, Ph.D.
Senior Instructor & Assistant Director of the Professional & Technical Writing Program in the Department of English
Excellence in Teaching Award by 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. According to Mooney, her approach to teaching attempts to communicate her own interest and enthusiasm: “Sadly, when I was a younger teacher, I was all about being a stickler for the rules and showing students that I was in control of the classroom. I didn’t always make myself approachable, nor was I particularly happy. I was not fun, and teaching had stopped being fun. Thankfully, though, I’ve gotten OLD! Nowadays, my general approach to teaching involves trying to impart to students my own interest in and enthusiasm for the subject I'm teaching, whether it's designing documents, grant writing, or workplace writing techniques. If I'm relaxed and obviously into the subject, then they seem to be more relaxed and more willing to be into the subject as well. My priorities are that they learn what they can about the subject and that they want to do well. If that involves moving due dates, so be it. If it involves dropping one homework assignment so they can spend more time working on another, so be it. Life’s too short – and our time with them is too short – to be fixated on the rules and being in control. Teaching is as enjoyable as you make it, and I’m determined to enjoy it as much as possible.”
Kelly Pender, one of Mooney’s colleagues, commented on Mooney’s continuous improvement in the classroom: “She is the definition of continuous quality improvement, and I really don't know anyone at Virginia Tech who cares more about their students than she does. Dr. Mooney has a reputation for going to just about any lengths to see her students succeed. And they love her for it. We are truly lucky to have Dr. Mooney in the English department, where she has improved the quality of our curricula and impacted countless students.”
Nick Allen, one of Mooney’s former students, earned an M.A. in Literature, Medicine, and Culture from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently works as a Program Manager at NC Agricultural & Technical University's Transportation Institute. Allen explained how Mooney’s teaching impacts her students: "Dr. Mooney's instruction goes beyond mere classroom metrics and confronts students with real-world skills and scenarios. Her classroom style pairs a light-hearted and safe atmosphere with frank feedback that proves to be an effective incubator for growth. Her comportment with her students is equally effective: their treatment as professionals and adults gives them both a healthy sense of responsibility for their own advancement and the tools to maximize that growth."
When asked to recall her most memorable and meaningful moment as a teacher, Mooney said, “In 20+ years of teaching, you can have a BUNCH of meaningful experiences. Mainly, mine deal with students who go on to work in careers for which my courses have helped hone their natural talents as writers, editors, and designers. There’s the student who did an advanced doc design independent study with me; she now works as a designer and digital media manager. The student who presented her infoposter on sustainable design at a university alumni event; she now works as a technical writer and editor. The students who went on to careers as program managers, content developers, science writers, and social media specialists. Every student who puts their skills to work makes me happy. And if they remember me and think my courses had anything to do with their success, that’s just the cherry on top.”
Kendall Daniels is another former student who is now a Communications Specialist at UNC Health while pursuing a Master of Arts in Science Writing at Johns Hopkins University. Daniels described how Mooney played a significant role in her professional development: “Dr. Mooney not only gave me permission to pursue science writing in all of her classes, but she also gave me the chance to do a field study in science writing at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, which led to my landing a job there for the following three years. In a way, I was able to mold my major and produce scientific content that I could later use for job interviews and my writing portfolio. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her unbridled enthusiasm, passion for writing, and care for her students. I occasionally met with her for tea or a quick meal to talk about how my other classes were going and what my career goals were. I never knew that it was possible to have such a close bond with a professor, but Dr. Mooney is a shining example of a professor who genuinely cares about her students' present and future.”
Mooney provided the following advice for new college teachers: “If the course you're teaching allows you the ability to create your own content, find something you love and teach it. Your enthusiasm for the reading, the assignment, the video, the discussion – whatever it is – will help sustain you and inspire your students. Even if you can’t make many changes (or any changes), enthusiasm isn’t hard to muster if you see yourself as the conduit between your students and their learning something cool or useful. There's always something radical you can do to make the material uniquely yours.”