Dr. Gubbels to Students: 'The Better We Know You, The Better We Can Teach You'

Dr. Jennifer Gubbels, associate professor of biology, spoke on "The Professor's Office," at Opening Convocation on Tuesday, Aug. 29. 

Dr. Jennifer Gubbels, associate professor of biology and the 2016-17 Augustana Student Association (ASA) Faculty Recognition Award recipient, addressed the Augustana University Class of 2021 during Opening Convocation on Tuesday, Aug. 29. A transcript of her remarks follow: 

The Professor's Office 
— Remarks by Dr. Jennifer Gubbels

Good morning, Vikings! And good morning especially to our newest Vikings. I would like to extend to you the warmest of welcomes on behalf of the Augustana faculty. We have been anxiously awaiting your arrival. While you have been packing and shopping for your new living quarters, we have been fine tuning our syllabi and thinking about the best ways to teach you, mentor you, and make you feel welcome in this new place.

As you are beginning your new year at Augustana, you have maybe thought about a few places here that will have special meaning for you.

Your dorm room, of course, is where many memories with friends are made — you are sure to have some wonderful times and interesting conversations there. The chapel, where you can spend some quiet moments to gather yourself before an important exam, or where you will join the community for worship. I really love to eat and am usually looking forward to my next meal before I’m even done with the one I’m working on, so for me The Huddle or the dining hall would be very important places. And of course the classrooms — where you will be filled with new ideas and learn about a whole variety of different topics. But today I’d like to enter into your mind another place on this campus where great things can happen: Your professor’s office. 

Now this may have a negative connotation to you, since in elementary school or high school the principal's office was somewhere you most likely didn’t want to be. (Ask me about a time I ended up there and it had to do with Dairy Queen ice cream, but I swear, it wasn’t my fault.) But, let me dispel this negative connotation once and for all and convince you that your professor’s office is indeed where many important and wonderful things happen. First, these offices are really fun to explore. Each is a world onto its own. All of our offices are a bit different, and show some of what is important to us. I have pictures of my kids and their drawings hanging up, my favorite being my daughter’s first 4-year-old attempt to draw our family. In the drawing I have a very large head and four legs, and my husband is pictured like a bird perching on my arm. Dr. Peg Preston’s office in the history department is filled with books, and I could sit there and read just the titles for a half hour and not be bored — so many wonderful books about Irish history, nuns and even witchcraft. When you walk into Dr. Craig Spencer’s office you can almost hear Guatemalan music playing! He has many mementos of his J-term study abroad trips, and he may even convince you to buy some of the jewelry he has for sale to help the local Guatemalan community that he visits. Dr. O’Hara in the religion, philosophy and classics department has a cozy armchair for you to sit in, and when you stop in, if you like, he will make you a cup of tea. The biology department in general has a plethora of different candy choices in our offices, ranging from Reese’s Pieces to peanut M&Ms to suckers.

Why do we have candy and tea and other enticing things in our offices? I’ll admit, it’s for us — I often steal Dr. Egland’s peanut M&Ms when he’s not looking (sorry, Paul), but in reality, it’s to entice you to come in! Come in and see us! Believe me, you don’t want us to come visit you in your dorm rooms, so you’ve got to come to us. We invite you in to see us, to get to know us, because that is why we are here — to teach and guide people on their journey towards discovering their own happiness. 

You see, the better we know you, the better we can teach you. When we know what your passions are as well as what motivates you, we can help you find your path.

The professor’s office is in many ways a sacred space. Secrets are told, friendships develop, tears are shed, laughs are had, life choices are made and re-made. You may think the good stuff happens in the classroom, and yes, sometimes it does, but the stuff of life can happen in the professor’s office. And first-year students often realize this later than they should. For some reason, first-year students are sometimes nervous to come and see us, believe it or not! 

I promise we do not sit in our offices dressed like this (in black robes and hats). We are usually dressed like normal people, except for Dr. Miller in English, who always wears something purple. Believe me, we would much rather stop whatever we are doing (because it’s usually something fairly boring, like planning for another academic meeting) and talk to you. We love to hear your stories. We want to know what new idea you had in class. We are ready to hear why you are having a hard time studying, or help you discover why the first exam or paper didn’t go as well as you hoped. We are ready to help you find what makes you happy. And I’m not talking about happiness as an experience that briefly gives you some enjoyment, like going to a concert or watching the homecoming parade, although we surely encourage those activities. I’m talking about a deeper happiness, and you will be hearing about it as your vocation in your FYS course this year. This happiness, Hellen Keller writes, “is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Helping you find your worthy purpose is our vocation, because watching you grow, learn, and mature over four years is a true joy. So, for the next four years, we’ll be there, in our offices, ready to listen, and happy to see you. I’ll see you in my office!