Immersive engagement

Editor’s note: This video profile is part of a series about UGA faculty who were named Josiah Meigs Teaching Professors in 2017.

According to Jeb Byers, effective teaching requires excellent organization and command of the material, enthusiasm and — most importantly — immersive engagement.

“It is insufficient to talk about a subject,” he said. “Students must experience it.”

Whether teaching a 200-person lecture course, mentoring an undergraduate ecology major or advising a doctoral student, Byers puts this philosophy into practice, and students respond. Their experience might be in the form of a field trip, a laboratory experiment or a classroom exercise where they play the role of a pregnant barnacle that must develop strategies for maximizing the survival of larvae — but the result is transformative.

Byers, a marine ecologist, joined the Odum School of Ecology in 2008 after seven years at the University of New Hampshire. Shortly after arriving he became graduate coordinator, a position he held until 2016. In that role, he led a revision of the graduate curriculum and introduced a new graduate seminar course in cross-disciplinary ecology.

Under his watch, Odum School students received 14 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships — 36 percent of those received at UGA, the highest percentage of any unit on campus.

Furthermore, all 12 of his completed doctoral and master’s students — he is currently advising five more — have gone on to land competitive jobs at institutions like Boston University, the University of Washington and NOAA.

Even while serving as graduate coordinator and running a successful research program, Byers has had a major impact on undergraduate education. He teaches courses in ecology and marine biology, including an Honors course, Ecosystems of the World, and a First-Year Odyssey Seminar, Ecology of Invasive Species, that he developed. He is a core faculty member in the NSF-sponsored Population Biology of Infectious Diseases Research Experience for Undergraduates program at UGA, has advised 15 Honors students and mentored more than 60 undergraduates in directed research.

Byers also has shared his teaching methodology with UGA colleagues, co-facilitating a popular Faculty Learning Community, “Nexus Classroom: Where Teaching and Research Coalesce,” through the Center for Teaching and Learning in 2014-2015.

“Full immersion and engagement empowers students,” Byers said. “It also invigorates me and continues to intensify my passion for teaching.”