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Behind the scenes with Yvette Gibson, rangeland science instructor

Yvette Gibson stands in front of a wire fence with sheep in the background. Yvette has her hands in the pockets of her denim jeans and wears a green plaid button-up shirt.

After years of working in the business sector, Yvette Gibson earned a natural resources degree online through Oregon State Ecampus and now is an instructor in OSU’s Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences.

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but Yvette Gibson has ignored that expression for years.

She’s simultaneously “loquacious and a complete introvert.” She has a steady job but is not bound by time or place. And she also has the unique ability to give advice on how to thrive as an Oregon State Ecampus student and an Ecampus instructor.

Yvette earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resources online with Oregon State in June 2012. Within a few months, she was teaching Ecampus classes (and some of her former online classmates) as part of OSU’s on-campus master’s program in rangeland science.

Recently Yvette shared her thoughts on the transition from student to teacher and everything in between.

Briefly describe your role as an Ecampus instructor.

“Simply, I am designer, guide and cheerleader. I craft learning experiences for students to engage in so they can build knowledge and develop skills that will be valuable to their career trajectories. I also like to think I inspire a few here and there.”

How did your experience as an Ecampus student enhance your strategies as an Ecampus instructor?

“Two interrelated experiences in my life shaped my strategies as an Ecampus instructor. I spent 10 years working for one of the top product design firms in the world, Smart Design. The entire premise of their award-winning design philosophy is user-centered design.

“With that philosophy ingrained in my psyche, it’s second nature to leverage my experience as an online student to guide and shape my strategies as an online instructor. I know exactly what its like to trudge through readings, be excited and passionate about my coursework, yet wish it were more engaging.”

After earning you bachelor’s online with Ecampus, you went to grad school in order to teach online for Oregon State. Why was that such a clear calling for you?

Rangeland sciences instructor Yvette Gibson with her horse, Oliver, on her ranch in Colorado.

Ecampus instructor Yvette Gibson with her horse, Oliver, on the ranch she’s involved with in Colorado.

“I wanted to do everything but teach when I was growing up, yet everyone said I should be a teacher and mentor. I ignored all of them and went about my business, but in my tenure at Smart Design I was responsible for developing the company’s project management and client services offering. In this capacity I supervised and mentored quite a few folks. Turns out I loved the process and the interactions of teaching and mentoring.

“As I was finishing up my bachelor’s, I wanted to go forward with a career that would allow me to 1) contribute to increasing environmental awareness and social change around environmental issues; 2) run my own small ranch, yet have a steady stream of income; 3) be geographically free and not work 9-5.

“I recognized that OSU has one of the top online education programs in the world and that I could achieve all my career goals through teaching online, so I shaped my master’s program with the sole intent of teaching when I finished.”

What do you like most about teaching online?

“I teach online and on-campus for OSU, and what I love about both is engaging and interacting with students, those one-off conversations that facilitate getting to know students. What are they seeking, what are their interests, their dreams, and how can I support them along their path?

“Believe it or not, I can do this more often with online students because the conversations are one-on-one, not part of larger group conversation. Plus online students are seeking connection, so they are as eager to engage as I am.”

What is most fascinating to you about rangeland science?

“Rangelands are the largest terrestrial biome on Earth. If one wants to make a difference in regards to natural resources, the ecological health of our planet or environmental issues, it likely involves rangelands.

“To boot rangelands are some of the most breathtaking landscapes on Earth. Most people think rangelands are desolate livestock grazing lands. NOT! Rangelands provide us a wealth of ecosystem services in really cool ways.”

“I teach online and on-campus for OSU, and what I love about both is engaging and interacting with students, those one-off conversations that facilitate getting to know students. … Believe it or not, I can do this more often with online students because the conversations are one-on-one.”

Having been on both sides now, what are the benefits of learning online?

“You can learn a lot more online than you can in a classroom, in my opinion. Classroom learning is subject to time constraints, getting sidetracked, passive/non-engagement. With online learning, the agenda is set and it’s up to the student – with support from instructor – to get through it. In a traditional classroom, the agenda is set and it’s up to the instructor to get the students through it.

“In good, engaged and active online learning environments, students make it through the entire plan for the courses – at least they do in my class. Online learning is a very active learning experience.”

What’s the best way for Ecampus students and instructors to build connections with people who, in many cases, they’ll never meet in person?

“Forget that you will never meet them in person. You have met them – just not face-to-face. Talk: In today’s age we mostly talk with everyone via email and text. Online teaching is not a light time commitment. It’s a lot of time, often outside the normal 9-5, and it takes a lot of engagement energy. The kicker is I’m a complete introvert, but like all humans I need some level of interaction with other humans, and online is the perfect medium and level for me.”

What’s the best advice you can give to Ecampus students?

  1. “Engage with your instructor, even if they seem they don’t want to. Ask them questions and share your ideas. You will have a richer learning experience.”
  2. “Work toward balance the best you can. I know what it’s like to be a student, a parent and an employee all at the same time, but find time management methods that you can make work for you.”
  3. “Get out there! Just because you are a distance student, and possibly nontraditional, it doesn’t mean you can’t get internships and research experience. It may take some doing, but search and figure out how to work it into your life, even if it’s just a two-week internship.”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“I am involved with a ranch in southwest Colorado. Nothing beats sunrise and sunset on the ranch and hard physical work in between. My life revolves around teaching, horses, cattle and various other livestock and pocket pets that make up our menagerie. And by ‘our’ I mean my kids.

“My home is at the base of the La Plata Mountains of the San Juan Range. I spend a lot of time hiking and trail riding throughout the San Juan Mountains and Weminuche Wilderness.”