Inspiring Teacher: Mark Nawrot, chair and James A. Meier Professor of Psychology
Published February 2019
Mark Nawrot wants to motivate his students to unlock their potential and better understand the world. He encourages students to seek out undergraduate research opportunities to apply classroom knowledge in a real-world setting.
Nawrot’s ability to connect with students has helped him become a well-liked and successful teacher since he arrived at NDSU in 1995. He teaches neuroscience, psychobiology and visual neuroscience courses in the NDSU psychology department. Nawrot earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada, a master’s in psychology at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, and a doctorate in psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
WHAT DO YOU TEACH?
I typically teach Neuroscience, Psychobiology and Visual Neuroscience courses. I recently stepped away from a team-taught freshman Foundations of Science course that was aimed at non-science majors.
WHAT KINDS OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU PROVIDE FOR YOUR STUDENTS?
For self-motivated, hands-on learning, nothing beats participation in undergraduate research or an honor’s thesis working with faculty, doing cutting-edge studies in a department laboratory. This is an excellent opportunity for students to apply what is learned in classes and develop better critical-thinking and organizational skills. I have several students working with me in the laboratory every term. I encourage every motivated student to find a research opportunity that fits his or her interests.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE YOUR PROFESSION?
I was hooked after my first introduction to psychology course. I learned that we can actually study how a gooey mass of cells in our heads allows us to see, hear, feel, think, remember, plan and carry out our complicated lives. I have yet to come across anything as interesting as the brain, and the visual system in particular.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT TEACHING?
Our students. Every student brings a different background, perspective and set of goals to a class. I try to learn about these for each student and touch on it somewhere in the class. For instance, if a student wants to learn about the brain because a friend or relative has a specific disorder, it is an interesting challenge to work it into the class.
WHAT IS YOUR TEACHING PHILOSPHY?
I believe it is important to motivate students and continually illustrate that the material has connections to their lives. The material has to be relevant or it is hard to master, and easy to forget. Moreover, I view the student-instructor relationship as a partnership. Students can easily get facts from the textbook – my goal is to help them to organize the facts, make connections and apply the material to better understand the human condition.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’VE SUCCEEDED WITH A STUDENT OR A CLASS?
When students contact me after the class is completed, often years later, to forward some interesting class-related connection they have come across in their lives. It means that these students are continuing to use what they have learned and that their class time has provided some improved understanding of the world around them.