Eastern Illinois University students in Ann Fritz’s biology classes certainly learn about the world’s plants and animals, but along the way, they also learn to be better global citizens.
Fritz’s emphasis on critical thinking skills in her courses encourages her students to seek out new perspectives on the world.
For her strong support of a well-rounded education for students, Fritz has been named EIU’s 2007 Faculty Laureate, the university's official spokesperson on the importance of a general, liberal arts education. Fritz will speak during EIU’s Aug. 28 Fall Convocation, a welcoming ceremony for new students.
“The goal of a liberal arts education is not only to engender a broad-based foundation of knowledge, but also to exceed this foundation by integrating the ‘tool kit’ of critical thinking, writing, reflection, synthesis and comprehension,” according to Fritz.
“It’s very important to me because I see all of us – students, faculty and citizens – as bringing important perspectives to issues that face us all,” she said, citing as an example the current international controversy over the environment.
Fritz is a strong proponent of bringing an emphasis on writing to all areas of study. For example, in assigning writing projects to students in her “animal diversity” class, she encourages them “to try to make a real-world connection between the course and other aspects of the world, such as politics and the environment, rather than try to approach it from an encyclopedic perspective.”
Fritz promotes broad-based thinking outside of the classroom, as well, through her role as one of the coordinators of EIU’s annual Darwin Day programming, which explores topics surrounding the debate over evolution through scientific, political and social viewpoints.
“We need to be able to wear different hats – hats of philosophers, writers, historians, politicians and foreign studies,” she said. “We need to be able to move within these different ways of handling the world, using different skill sets.”
One of her former students, Shannon D. Inboden, said Fritz “always exemplified the idea that learning is a lifelong journey.”
“She always encourages her students to think critically and understand the larger picture of what they are learning,” Inboden wrote in support Fritz’s nomination. “While Dr. Fritz possesses numerous characteristics of an exemplary educator, she is, above all, approachable and encouraging.”
EIU’s small class sizes are perfect for Fritz’s goals and methodology, she said.
“When you’re in a class of 300 or 500 students, it’s really hard to connect with a professor,” Fritz said. “When my students walk in, I ask how they’re doing, and I know their names.”
That interaction also allows students to feel comfortable interacting informally with their professors, a relationship that lends itself to expanding the issue at hand to other topics.
“There’s an informal dynamic to it,” Fritz said. “I think Eastern’s pretty special in having that as an experience our students can take away with them.”
Fritz serves as chairwoman of the advisory board for the EIU College of Sciences’ Women in Science and Math initiative, which helps raise awareness that EIU is excellent not only at preparing students to be science teachers, but also at preparing them for other science careers as well.
The main goals of WISM are to interest potential students in attending EIU and to mentor students who are already here.
A disproportionate number of females are enrolled in science-related studies, and those involved in the WISM effort believe that EIU’s small class sizes provide an opportunity to change that, Fritz said.
Fritz also touts the importance of EIU’s Study Abroad program. She and her husband, EIU biology Professor Gary Fritz, have taught a Study Abroad class in Bolivia, where they saw firsthand that the students’ experiences were “incredible” and set them apart from others when searching for jobs.
“There are some opportunities for students to enlarge their learning that I didn’t have,” she said.
The Fritzes, along with their teenage son, Nathan, explored another culture this summer with a lengthy trip to China, fulfilling a “lifelong dream,” she said.
She’s excited about how the experience will benefit her students.
“I will certainly bring to my courses an expanded ‘world-view’ after interacting with Chinese friends, colleagues and college students,” Fritz said.