Marquette, MI – 09/29/2019 – This week I wanted to interview a professor at Northern Michigan University. I created an Instagram poll so that friends of mine who attend NMU could give me feedback on who they thought I should interview. About 90% of the voters suggested I interview Jessica Thompson.
Jessica Thompson is a professor at NMU who teaches courses in public relations, new media, and environmental responsibility. She’s also an author, having published a book entitled: Interdisciplinary Research Team Dynamics: A Systems Approach to Understanding Communication and Collaboration in Complex Teams. Her second book, about place based learning in America’s National Parks, is set to be published in 2020. She is also currently writing her third book which will be a text book for Environmental Campaign Design.
The goal of my interview with Jessica was to see what teaching at NMU is like, what students should do to stand out to their professors, and also about her thoughts on communication in environmental settings.
Where are you from originally?
Where did you get your undergrad?
Right here at NMU!
Going from teaching at large universities like Colorado State University compared to smaller ones like NMU, what should students do to stand out to professors? I’ve always been told that you should go up to your teachers after the first day of class and introduce yourself.
For one, that is great advice. When I was teaching at Colorado State, I often had a couple smaller classes of seniors and I taught a couple graduate classes too, and I would sometime have larger classes with 70, 80, sometimes 90 students in it, and it was in a large lecture hall, and I didn’t know any of those students names. If someone came up to me and introduce themselves I would say “It’s great to meet you” and I probably wouldn’t be able to remember their name because I didn’t get to know them like I get to do here. So the beautiful part about teaching at Northern is that our class sizes are just right. I can remember 25 people’s names. And I can instead of grading you against each other, I can grade how you grow.
Out of all the courses that you’ve taught over the years, is there one that sticks out as being your favorite or most memorable? So, if college was just one class and you could get your degree from one class, what would it be from?
That is such a good question because I do love every class that I teach. I’ve been blessed to be able to teach everything that I love. Environmental Communication, because that’s the thing I know the best. But that said, I taught a graduate course at Colorado State called Catalyzing Change, and it was the best because I was working with students to develop projects that had a meaningful impact and they were all related to Environmental Communication and they were about climate change adaptation and engaging communities and action planning and those students helped to facilitate workshops in northern Colorado but also I had a project with the National Parks and we went up to Mt. Rushmore area and did some workshops. We also went to Mexico and did some really neat training and talking with stake holders in southern Mexico. So that class always sticks out in my mind.
I know you’ve had part in creating programs here at NMU, if you could create a class for NMU from scratch what would your dream class to create be?
I actually have an idea I want to create a certificate in sustainable business and one of the dream classes is would be like re imaging capitalism and climate change and it would look at the intersection of environmental science and environmental communication but what that means for us as consumers and humans sharing the planet together. Rethinking how we consume is going to be the biggest lever in change.
Your emphasis is in the environment, is there a reason why you chose that? Right now climate change is a big talked about issue, but when you were in school it probably wasn’t as talked about.
100% I didn’t even know. I graduate from NMU in 2001 and had never heard anything about global warming or climate change, and I was a geography minor! Like, I should’ve known this stuff. But when I got to grad school, I was really lucky and I got a research assistant position with the department head and she said I want to look at the rhetoric around the Kyoto Protocol, and I had no idea what I was even looking for. So I asked my office mate and she gave me the full down load on climate change and ocean acidification and the impact of eating meat and all of these things started to come together for me and I was like how come people aren’t talking about this? How come I don’t know about this? That just sort of got me focused on a path that I could add value to. I just knew in that moment. I know about communication and I appreciate the environment I have an opportunity to put those skills and my passion together that could leverage change and help other people think differently.
If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you want to pursue?
Park Ranger. Like I want to be standing on the side of a big crater, telling people what’s interesting about this and interpreting that for them. And I probably will when I retire. You’ll find me in campsite 57 running the camp host job. I don’t think at this point in my life I would trade anything. I pretty much have the best job for me. I love teaching. I love being in the classroom. I love working with students. I love doing the research. I really enjoy being part of committees that are advocating for change and improving campus. I feel pretty blessed to have found the right career for me.
Any advice for future teachers or professors?
The best advice that I heard one time was “follow your passion, use your skills, and do it with a future in mind.” So if I was talking to future teachers or professors or students who want to go on that path, I would tell them to find the thing that you get most fired up about. The thing you love. The thing you love thinking about. The thing that you’re curious about. The thing you could spend hours and hours deep diving on the internet and learning about. That’s your thing. And then find the skills that you’re naturally good at. Are you a writer? Are you a speaker? Are you good at calculations? Can you design things? What is your natural strength. And then put those things together and that’s your field. Doing that with a future in mind, to me, means how can I do that with the next generation? How can I take the things that I’m passionate about and the things I do well and teach it?
Something you recommend (a recent book, movie, artist, album, etc)
I recently finished this book by Thomas Friedman called Thank you For Being Late. I love this book so much because it made me think about all the things were doing so fast and mindlessly in the course of our lives, that when we really stop and think about what’s important and what the value is, it’s in relationships it in community, it’s in these connections that we make with each other. It looks at the crisis of our planet and the crisis of technology and the crisis of equity and social justice. He says we can solve all these things by slowing down and coming to home and making a difference locally, and if we can do that then all these huge problems become totally manageable. So I really enjoyed that book.
Jessica’s passion for teaching really comes out through every class she’s apart of. I hope this interview could be used as inspiration to future educators, current educators, or anyone that has a passion for anything they’re involved in.
For more information about Jessica, visit her website here.