Transformative experience

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

If a phrase could accurately describe the effect of Markus Crepaz’s teaching, it would be: a transformative experience. Crepaz makes his students active participants in the learning process.

In 2008, Crepaz, professor of political science and department head in the School of Public and International Affairs, co-created the Stellenbosch Study Abroad program in South Africa. It is a program that students credit with changing their lives as well as their passions. Under his leadership, Crepaz helped to set up a partnership with the organization Vision Afrika that allows students to interact with children in an after-school program in a nearby township as part of their required coursework.

This community engagement is the heart of experiential learning as it allows UGA students to catch a glimpse into the challenges South Africa has faced in trying to overcome apartheid. This Politics of Development course brings to life issues such as poverty, income inequality and racial discrimination that otherwise may seem like abstractions in the lecture halls at UGA.

“Making personal connections, establishing meaningful relationships and employing all senses is what experiential learning is all about,” said Crepaz. “Being there with the students at this nexus between their experiences and my teaching makes me an interpreter of their daily observations. It is perhaps my favorite part of teaching. When personal experience triggers a desire for wanting to understand, teaching becomes a collective endeavor that weaves seamlessly between theories, observations and practice.”

Crepaz constantly challenges his students’ world views and presses them to eliminate personal bias by looking at the world with depth and applying what they’ve learned to the outside world, something his students appreciate both abroad and in the classroom.

“I can’t emphasize enough the impact [Crepaz] had not only on my education, but also on my world view and ambition … when I came home from South Africa that summer, I returned with a newfound passion for human rights and development; since then it has been my goal to advocate for those limited by the often inescapable cycle of poverty,” said Sydney Stringer, a 2011 Stellenbosch participant.

Similarly, students have experienced Crepaz’s engaging, passionate teaching style on campus in courses such as his upper division Politics, Film and Literature and graduate research design courses. His challenge for students to see past the obvious is posed within the classroom, often asking questions such as “so what?” and “what’s the puzzle?” earning him the affectionate nickname of “Dr. Crepuzzle.”