Teaching philosophy, responsiveness to students brings awards for WSU professor

Responding to evolutions in technology and the needs of students, all while sustaining her track record of excellent teaching, has led to multiple awards for Kathleen Rodgers.

Formal posed portrait of Kathleen Rodgers
Kathleen Rodgers

“Around seven years ago, I noticed changes in the student body and their needs,” said Rodgers, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “I teach courses that have a lot of emotional content: family stress, coping, poverty, family interaction. I wanted to challenge my students to stretch their critical thinking, but also talk about how they can care for themselves and others.”

Those adaptations are part of why Rodgers, who has been at WSU for 25 years, earned the Western Regional Award for Excellence in University Teaching from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Agricultural Sciences program. The program is sponsored by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. She receives the award next week at a conference.

The USDA’s western region awards cover colleges and universities in 13 states and six Pacific Island territories.

“Kathleen is an exemplary teacher who knows how to connect with students and make sure they receive information that will help them throughout their lives,” said Deborah Handy, interim chair of Human Development.

One course Rodgers teaches, Family Interactions (HD204), attracts students from a broad range of majors and colleges on the WSU Pullman campus. It’s a large class, often with 70 to 100 students, that includes discussions on family dynamics and experiences, interpersonal communication, and other topics that can be emotionally challenging. Rodgers encourages dialogue and learning to recognize different perspectives on any given topic.

“I believe that teaching isn’t just about the content in a course, but personal development that students take forward into their lives,” she said. “I want to help students communicate better with family members or in any other interpersonal relationship.”

Many enter her class not knowing what to expect. Rodgers wants them to come out with skills that will stick with them for decades down the line. She uses technology and careful word choices to help encourage productive dialogue.

“I want to build a rapport that challenges students’ views of the world while supporting them to discover their own place in society,” Rodgers said.

One technology she uses is a program called Perusall, which allows students to read an article online and discuss sections with each other through comments. Part of students’ grades are their participation in the Perusall discussions of the assigned readings. The program uses artificial intelligence to grade student’s comments and engagement with the content.

“Perusall ensures that a critical mass of students have engaged with the material,” Rodgers said. “Then we can talk about some of the comments or topics that resonated with that particular class. They’re already prepped and primed and we can have a richer dialogue.”

In some classes, the technology helps reduce students’ costs, as most materials are publicly available journal articles.

In her advanced Family Stress and Coping course (HD301), students read about and discuss topics like stress in military families’ lives, substance use disorder in families, and mental illness. That course is often taken by students going into social work, counseling, and similar careers where they will work with families and children living through those experiences.

“These are real-world situations that students will encounter, either professionally or personally,” Rodgers said. The USDA award isn’t the first award Rodgers has received even this year. She was awarded the 2023 R.M. Wade Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning from WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. In 2021, she received the Faculty of the Year award from the WSU Honors College.