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Never satisfied, always excellent

Gregory’s tireless devotion to student success earns him a major award

Stan Gregory is 32 years into his career as an award-winning educator and a widely respected leader in ecological studies. In a matter of months he will retire from Oregon State University, and the distance students who revere his teaching methods will be left with a notable void in their academic pursuits.

Stan Gregory, Ph.D., fisheries and wildlife professor

Fisheries and wildlife professor Stan Gregory is the West Region winner of UPCEA’s 2013-14 Excellence in Teaching Award.

With his legacy fully intact, Gregory could approach Year 33 like a victory lap, content to fall back on the robust instructional practices he has employed over three decades. Instead, he’s treating it like a professor who still has something to prove.

“To be very honest, I do not feel that I have achieved the level of individualized student interaction and mentoring that I desire,” he said recently. It’s an odd statement considering that all the evidence suggests Stan is an outstanding mentor of students.

But he operates under a code of continuous improvement. The word “perfectionist” comes to mind, but that doesn’t fit his demeanor. “Excellence,” on the other hand, does fit, and that’s why Gregory recently won this year’s Excellence in Teaching Award from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association‘s West Region.

Now he’s in contention for UPCEA’s national teaching award, an honor bestowed upon his departmental colleague, Dan Edge, in 2012.

Gregory’s online fisheries and wildlife courses for Oregon State Ecampus are chock-full of various types of interactivity, innovation and hands-on, experiential learning opportunities. OSU’s online students have come to know him as a teacher who genuinely cares about their academic experience. It’s a reputation he earned by spending a substantial amount of time assisting those who struggle in his classes.

“Stan Gregory is, hands down, the best college professor I know,” said Selina Heppell, the associate department head for academic affairs for OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “So much so, in fact, that I advise students to take his classes even if freshwater ecology and habitat restoration are not in their primary field of study, because everyone who takes Stan’s classes comes away with new knowledge and a passion for conservation science.”

“Stan Gregory is, hands down, the best college professor I know.”

Whether they are foundering or thriving, Gregory is equally devoted to the success of all students. To achieve even better results than he had in the past, this spring he used Skype to form relationships with each individual at the start of the term to discuss the course and their backgrounds. It was his way of simply developing a more personal connection with the students.

True to his ever-improving nature, though, he felt that the initial, high-touch interaction and subsequent class discussions were not entirely sufficient. He decided to expand his approach and now includes another Skype session near the end of the term to circle back with students and answer any questions they may have about final exams.

Taken by themselves, video chats aren’t necessarily the most innovative feature an instructor can employ in an online course. But Gregory’s excellence as an educator stems from utilization of an array of multimedia tools and hands-on exercises to provide distance students with the real-world learning experience that is so vital in a field such as fisheries and wildlife.

“Most of the students in his classes are motivated to do their best to learn the materials in part because Stan is able to put the relevance of the class and the materials in a broader context,” said Dan Edge, the head of the fisheries and wildlife department.

His first task was to answer a difficult question: How do you effectively teach a lab course online? There are obvious, inherent obstacles to delivering such a course, and Gregory’s first idea for the FW 456/556 Limnology class was to develop individual field laboratory exercises. And his methods are a continual success.

“Most of the students in his classes are motivated to do their best to learn the materials in part because Stan is able to put the relevance of the class and the materials in a broader context.”

He incorporates a more individualized approach by having each student provide photos of their field sites and organisms they collected in the field, using their local water resources. They identify the organisms based on the lecture material and text, and Gregory provides feedback about the correct identification.

“Lab courses are some of the most challenging course components to develop for online delivery and sometimes keep instructors and departments from even considering offering courses with labs online,” said Shannon Riggs, Ecampus’ director of course development and training. “… Stan was not daunted. He tried several approaches until he found one that would be sure to help his distance students achieve the same learning outcomes as those he taught on campus.”

Gregory is a highly sought-after expert on matters of river restoration and conservation, and his knowledge and enthusiasm have been shared with large, diverse audiences as a result of serving on numerous boards and commissions throughout the years. When informed that he would be nominated for UPCEA’s Excellence in Teaching Award, Gregory politely declined the opportunity initially, saying he felt unworthy of the honor. There is work left to do, he said.

And while that’s technically true, Stan’s tireless devotion to improving his online courses and mentoring his students made it clear that his body of work already speaks for itself.