Prof inspires students, faculty as he hones the art of teaching

It’s a tidy office with clean walls adorned with the expected degrees, honors and accolades from peers and institutions. However, one piece sticks out from the rest: a quote from the mouth of Phil Senger.

“Too many university faculty are obsessed with trying to impress people with how smart they are…rather than being obsessed with how smart they can make other people.” This quote epitomizes the attitude of the office inhabitant, WSU professor of animal sciences, Phil Senger.

This understanding has served Senger well in his 31 years of teaching at WSU. This year he will be awarded the Marian E. Smith Faculty Achievement Award, which honors significant achievement in teaching during the academic year.

“I work very hard to deliver material in a way so people can understand the subject matter,” said Senger, “…to take complex issues to a simple understanding.”

This is a subject Senger feels passionate about — so much so that he authored a textbook, “Pathways to Pregnancy and Parturition (giving birth),” which has become standard in the field. It is used by more than 100 universities, reaching thousands of students on an annual basis.

“I reached more students in the first year of the text’s existence than I have in my entire time at WSU!” he said.

After the debut of the text, he set about reconfiguring his class format around it. Senger, who admits to being “a chalk and blackboard man,” designed PowerPoint presentations based on the book.

“My associate Angela Oki (now at the University of Illinois) converted the graphics to PowerPoint for me; there would be no chance of winning this award without her help,” he said.

The result is awe inspiring. The ins and outs of the reproduction process become much more than a dry paragraph of text as students see it graphically depicted on a screen in lecture.

“The exciting thing is the depth of the questions I am being asked now,” Senger said. “The questions went from trivial to conceptual.”

Senger does more than inspire students; he inspires fellow professors as well. “He’s infectious!” said Kristen A. Johnson, professor of animal sciences.

“You go back to your class after visiting his and wonder if it will work for you as well.

“The university can certainly look upon him with pride.”

Among Senger’s inspirations is his former Virginia Tech professor Dick Saacke, to whom Senger dedicated his book. “He insisted that graduate students develop a balanced teaching, research and outreach philosophy,” Senger said. “Higher education has lost its balance. Today, you are only as valuable as your last grant,” he said.

“As a result, high quality education, particularly at the undergraduate level, goes by the wayside.”

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