As an incoming college freshman in the late 1990s, Richard Jones already knew he wanted to someday teach.
“I’d known I wanted to teach since I was 7,” he recalled. “And I expected to teach music. But, then I fell in love with communication.”
All it took, he continued, were a couple of courses he completed shortly after enrolling in the University of North Carolina Greensboro – courses he may not have taken had they not been required under the school’s general education policy.
“I think it’s wonderful what general education courses can do,” Jones said, “and how they contribute to a student’s college experience. Personally, he added, as an undergrad, he also thoroughly enjoyed his experimental ventures into literature (postmodern novels, in particular), as well as Asian history.
“I was really broadened by that (class),” Jones said.
Now an associate professor of communication studies at Eastern Illinois University, Jones plans to share his enthusiasm for general education and attempt to persuade first-time students to take full advantage of related opportunities available to them as they begin their own academic careers.
He will do so as EIU’s 2016 Faculty Laureate, an honor presented to him by the institution's Council on Academic Affairs. The role means that, in addition to his duties as a full-time faculty member, Jones will spend the coming academic year as the university's official spokesperson on the importance of a general/liberal education.
His first formal opportunity will take place at 9:15 a.m. Friday, Aug. 19, in Lantz Arena when he delivers the keynote address at this year's convocation, a welcoming ceremony for incoming students. (See the text of Jones' address here.)
“In addition to advising these incoming students, I want my talk to be both inspiring and motivational,” Jones said. “I’ll try to address information that I wish someone would have told me as a first-generation college student. I want to talk about self-confidence and the ability to persevere in the face of difficulty.
“And, I want to stress the importance of general education to the development of a well-rounded person.”
Jones came to Eastern in 2010, attracted to the university because of its large communication studies program (including a healthy graduate program, as well). In addition to teaching his own classes, he serves as basic course director, supervising the instruction of multiple sections of Introduction to Speech Communication – a freshman-level course required of all EIU students, regardless of major -- each semester.
Nineteen sections of the class are scheduled to be offered this fall. Many of the students in those classes will be the same first-time freshmen Jones plans to address during the convocation.
“It’s usually one of the first classes an incoming student takes,” he said. “Most people don’t like public speaking and they want to get it over with.
“It is a lot of work at the beginning, but as the students get to know each other, begin realizing they are all in the same boat and begin working as a team, it becomes more like conversation than performance,” Jones continued. “And, at the end of the course, they all tend to have more confidence.”
Equally important are the skills students learn in order to establish and strengthen interpersonal relationships – important in nearly all disciplines.
“Some students ask, ‘This course is not helping me get a job. Why do I need to take it?’ They have yet to understand the significance of knowing how to talk to people, even when it’s on a one-on-one basis,” Jones said.
“We do much more than speak and listen in my classes. We help students begin to understand that critical thinking is an entrée to deliberation, which prepares and invigorates them to be engaged citizens who work for the public good,” he continued. “This is a subject that I’m very passionate about because it really does have practical application to students’ personal, academic and professional lives, and provides a foundation onto which other general education courses can build.”