New distinguished professor aims to improve CAHNRS student learning experience

Research spending at universities aids discovery of new knowledge about a specific topic. A new appointment, funded by a donation to WSU, will develop teaching resources for faculty to improve learning for students.

Portrait photo of Holly Henning outdoors
Holly Henning

“We’re looking to develop the science of teaching and learning in our college,” said Rich Zack, associate dean of Academic Programs in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Zack recently announced Holly Henning, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, as the inaugural Alexander and Elizabeth Swantz Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning.

“My ultimate goal is to improve students’ experiences,” Henning said. “I work hard in my courses to build ‘soft skills,’ like writing, critical thinking, the ability to work with others. Those skills build on themselves and will benefit all students no matter their career path.”

Henning will use the funding from the endowment that accompanies the distinguished professor role to establish a Faculty Fellows program within CAHNRS. She wants to help teachers at WSU by building up their leadership skills and allowing them to learn from each other.

“There are so many great trainings and conferences on teaching, but nobody has time to attend all of them,” Henning said. “I want the Fellows in this new program to share their experiences with each other, then with colleagues in their departments. Having a formal program will help distribute that valuable teaching information around to more people in CAHNRS.”

She envisions sending Fellows to conferences, or bringing in speakers to talk to them, to enhance their teaching skills.

Henning, who teaches both introductory and advanced courses, said providing students with a stable educational structure that grows as they move along their academic career is a key goal.

Writing or critical thinking skills are like muscles: they need to be exercised to build up, she said. As students near graduation, those muscles are developed and used in ways that will help them start on their careers.

“If students improve on or learn a new skill in one course, we want them to take that and build on it in future courses,” Henning said. “It doesn’t help students if they have a disjointed experience. I envision our Faculty Fellows being able to work together to talk about these things, but also take what they learn from each other back to their departments and improve their curriculums.”

Henning was chosen by a committee led by Zack after reviewing several applications with a variety of proposals.

“We wanted the generous donation from the Swantz family to help as many students as possible,” Zack said. “There are many ways to develop teaching skills. Holly’s plan will help not only the individual Fellows, but make instruction in our college better all around. That’s the kind of broad impact we’re looking for. We’re excited to see the work Holly and the Fellows will do.”

The Swantz Distinguished Professorship will rotate on a four-year basis, allowing different faculty to use the funding in diverse ways.

Any CAHNRS faculty interested in learning more about the Fellows program should contact Henning directly.