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EIU Faculty Laureate Thanks 'Grandma Robinson' for Opening His Eyes

Aug-10-2010

Eastern Illinois University students fortunate enough to have Cameron Craig as a teacher should thank “Grandma Robinson” for the pleasure.

“She’s the one who opened my eyes to the fact that there’s much more to my life than music,” the geographer/climatologist/musician/historian/etc., said. “She’s also the one who taught me that there’s no such word as 'can’t.'”

And now Craig’s on a mission to pass that same message on to others.

As EIU’s 2010-11 Faculty Laureate -- an honor presented to him by the Council on Academic Affairs -- he will reach out to an even larger audience than usual during this coming academic year. As the university’s official spokesperson on the importance of a general/liberal education, he will deliver the keynote address at the 2010 Convocation, a welcoming ceremony for incoming students.

The event is set to begin at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 20.

As he speaks to Eastern’s newest students, Craig will likely be recalling his own undergraduate years when things didn’t go exactly as planned. He spent the first three years at Indiana State as a music major. But something, he said, “just didn’t feel right.”

He ultimately received a bachelor’s degree in history, followed four years later with a master’s degree in geography. Craig is currently a geographer/climatologist in EIU’s Department of Geology/Geography. In addition, oversees students in the broadcast meteorology minor and collaborates with WEIU-TV's “News Watch” as a meteorological consultant.

He is also founder and director of the EIU WeatherCenter that provides meteorological and climatological data to the public, researchers and students.

In 2006, Craig founded Tempestas et Caelum Productions, providing a creative outlet for students in broadcast meteorology, geography, geology, history and other fields in producing, filming and directing documentary films. Most recently, he and three EIU students headed to Grand Isle, La., and Mobile Bay area, Ala., to document the impact the Gulf oil spill has had on humanity. The project focuses on the personal stories of residents impacted by the oil spill that occurred on April 20.

Second Faculty Laureate Honored Posthumously

Keith Spear, an instructor in Eastern Illinois University’s English department, also was named a 2010-11 Faculty Laureate in recognition of his tremendous success in teaching his department’s general education curriculum.

Sadly, Mr. Spear died on April 28. He had taught at the university since 1995.

The May 2010 issue of Agora, the English department’s newsletter, features a letter written by Mr. Spear to his department and shared in print by permission.

The following is the essay which Mr. Spear – who was also an accomplished gardener – wrote as part of the Faculty Laureate nomination process.

Education in the Forest: A Leafy Vision of Liberal Arts
"The mixed hardwood forest of the southeastern United States is a place of stunning diversity -- home to more species of trees than the entire continent of Europe. The richness and diversity of the forest offers itself as a natural model for general education on a university campus such as Eastern's.

"Here we find, like oaks and hickories, published scholars and intellectual giants that compare to the canopy of a climax woodland community. Here we find also, growing in a second tier beneath the towering giants, important understory species like dogwood and redbud that compare to skilled instructors. A bit further down we find a layer of life that compares to the university's population of upperclassmen and graduate students: important and beautiful flowering shrubs like hydrangea and hazelnut that provide so much cover and nutrition for the wildlife of the woods. Nearest the forest floor, we find a range of absolutely essential perennials and annuals that compare to undergraduates in their vitality and astonishing variety.

"To see the rich life of a liberal arts college as a healthy forest is to acknowledge the critical importance of every member that makes up the community, for while a clear hierarchy is suggested above ground, below, if we look with our imaginations, we see a living fabric of intertwined and mutually dependent rootlets -- a world-wide web of life drawing sustenance from the Ground.

"We are all aware of intellectual models of education that help us understand our mission and perfect our pedagogy -- mine involves writing as a socially constructive act of problem solving set in an intellectual, physical, and even spiritual environment that emphasizes students' self discovery process -- but to embrace a more poetic model of our university as a mixed hardwood forest seems itself an act of balancing analytic and creative perspectives that serves us well as educators.

"And so, like orchids beneath oaks, our students blossom."

 

Craig won’t say he wants all students to choose science as a career. He does, however, want to increase students’ awareness and understanding, allowing all to recognize how science affects their everyday lives.

“When students come in to my Weather and Climate class (a general education class designed for all majors), I ask them, ‘Who likes science?’ And a handful out of 100 will raise their hands,” Craig said. “Then I ask, ‘Who doesn’t like science?’ The majority put their hands up.

“I tell them, ‘My job here is to get you to love science.”

The trick, he continued, is to “relate the material to the students’ level. You have to make it relate to them.” Nearing 40, Craig is a young, energetic faculty member who says he “finds ways as I go along” to get his message across.

“I like spontaneous communication,” he said, noting that he begins his lectures with basic outlines. “But then I use whatever is out there at the time to find a way to make that information understood.”

A recycling bin full of newspapers, for example, can become a quick classroom tool to explain density. Or a table top will become Craig’s dance floor as he leads his (sometimes dubious) students in an impromptu memory exercise that will help them remember test-worthy material.

“I tell the class to stand up, that we’re going to dance. And I can see them – especially the guys -- looking at each other and saying, ‘Hey, man… I don’t dance.

“At first, they think I’m crazy,” Craig continued. “But I say, ‘Yes, I’m a dork. But follow along with me and I think you’ll learn this stuff.’”

It’s always fun come test time, Craig said, chuckling, because he’ll see students sitting at their desks, subtly and quietly performing the dance’s hand moves in order to recall the material needed to answer written questions.

"I try to make learning fun and exciting. And yes, I may sometimes get overly enthusiastic,” Craig said. “But even though some might find my ways to be a bit unorthodox, they are effective.”

More on Cameron Craig can be found on his EIU website (http://www.ux1.eiu.edu/~cdcraig).