Athens, Ga. – Three University of Georgia professors are among the best undergraduate teachers in the nation, according to the Princeton Review and RateMyProfessors.com. John Knox, an associate professor of geography; Audrey Haynes, an associate professor of political science; and Charles Kutal, a chemistry professor and associate dean of the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, are listed among The Best 300 Professors, which was released April 3.
“There are so many great teachers here,” Haynes said of UGA. “But it does make me proud that students know how much I really care about their education.”
The Best 300 Professors, which is the first comprehensive guidebook to America’s top undergraduate professors, is unusual in that it started based on data collected from undergraduate students. It relies heavily on the opinions they give about the professors they learn from daily.
“The students are in the classroom,” Knox said. “They make their opinions known on this site [RateMyProfessors.com], and, to my knowledge, the Princeton Review is the first to use this national rating system.”
The Princeton Review, one of the nation’s best-known education services companies, teamed up with RateMyProfessors.com, the highest-trafficked college professor ratings site in the U.S., to collect both qualitative and quantitative data from surveys and ratings, according to the Princeton Review. Each professor was selected based on data findings.
Knox, Haynes and Kutal started out as three names among 42,000. From there, the Princeton Review culled the list to 1,000. After gaining input from school administrators, students and surveys of professors under consideration, editors cut the list down to their final 300, which represent 122 college and universities.
“We developed this project as a tribute to the extraordinary dedication of America’s undergraduate college professors and the vitally important role they play in our culture, and our democracy,” said Robert Franek, Princeton Review’s senior vice president, publisher and author of The Best 376 Colleges, in a press release about the book. “One cannot page through this book without feeling tremendous respect for the powerful ways these teachers are enriching their students’ lives, their colleges and, ultimately, our future as a society.”
Depending on their majors, UGA students have a certain number of science courses that they have to take to graduate. Two of Knox’s classes-introduction to weather and climate and introduction to physical geography-fall into that general science category. His goal is to reach all of the 400 to 500 students in the five courses he teaches a year, whether they’re geography majors or English majors.
“To the extent possible, I won’t just talk the whole class period,” he said. “We’ll do a demo or an experiment, or sometimes I will have students get up and they will role play the part of the wind or they’ll play the part of a raindrop.”
He also plays music and reads poetry that connects to the weather. “Somewhere in the semester, I’m trying to capture your attention,” he said. He also tries to help students discover who they are, “instead of putting them in a box, to suggest other boxes they might crawl into, rather than limiting options.”
Knox also teaches classes at the junior/senior and graduate levels, conducts research and outreach and advises undergraduate and graduate students. According to his bio in The Best 300 Professors, his students say that “he adores what he’s teaching, especially weather. He’s very comical and really makes an effort to get to know everyone in a big class.”
Knox was the only geography professor in the nation selected for the guidebook.
Introduction to American government, American political parties and mass media and American politics are three of the classes Haynes teaches in the School of Public and International Affairs.
Of those, she said, “introduction to American government is by far the most fun to teach because in that class I am able to test my ability to keep the attention of several hundred people, to engage them and to make it all seem to be a one-on-one learning interaction. Plus I love the fact that we cover so much material across the entire spectrum of American politics.”
The 300 or so freshmen who take her class are usually a bit timid when the semester starts. But after a few weeks in and dozens of prompting questions from Haynes, they voice their thoughts and opinions with regularity, she said. She also enjoys watching her graduate student teaching assistants grow as they help her teach the course.
Haynes never assumes her students know something, according to her bio, and she works from the basics upward. But there is one thing they do know: “I would say that all of my students absolutely know that I want them to succeed,” she said. As one student said on RateMyProfessors.com, “she is always telling us to ask questions and that we control the lecture. If we think it is boring, then we are supposed to ask a good question.”
Chemistry majors and honors students have populated Kutal’s general chemistry course for the past 11 years. At UGA, he has been helping students master the fundamental concepts, experimental techniques and critical-thinking skills needed to understand chemistry for more than 38 years, according to his bio.
As one of his students said, Kutal’s class “may seem impossible at first, but it’s not. You will learn a lot from Dr. Kutal, and he makes class pretty interesting.” Another added that “he knows what he’s talking about and wants that for his students. He is helpful and fair.”
Kutal sees it as part of his job to prepare pre-med, pre-dental and pre-pharmacy students for the rigorous education they have ahead of them. And many of them appreciate him for it.
“Their youthful enthusiasm energizes me and their questions keep me on my toes,” Kutal said. “It is especially gratifying when, some years after finishing my introductory chemistry course, they stop by to share news of their success in winning a scholarship or being admitted to postgraduate study in their chosen profession. While they deserve most of the credit for these achievements, I take pride in helping them along the way.”
For more information and complete lists of the book’s professors, see www.princetonreview.com/best-professors.aspx.