Purdue professor shares passion for learning

Q&A: Elizabeth Karcher

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Elizabeth Karcher is known for her love for teaching.

As an animal sciences professor at Purdue University, she has taught nearly 2,000 students. Her classes range from introduction to animal agriculture to mammary physiology.

Karcher has received teaching awards at the college, university and national level, including the Purdue University Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award.

She enjoys traveling with students and has developed study-abroad programs in the Netherlands, Vietnam and Italy.

In addition to teaching, she is an undergraduate adviser and graduate student mentor and works as the undergraduate program coordinator for the department.

Karcher is married and has five children: Johanna, Adelyn, Emma, Alexander and Gabriel.

She discussed her love for teaching with AgriNews.

Q: What do you love about teaching?

A: The most exciting thing about teaching is the interaction I get to have with students. Being able to engage with them in the classroom. I get to travel with them across the country and across the world. I appreciate being able to do that, and the relationships it builds.

Especially with our animal science students, I think it’s important early on to help them find their passion. That’s one of the things I like doing.

Q: How long have you been teaching?

A: I’ve been teaching for 15 years at Michigan State and Purdue.

Q: Do you have a background in ag?

A: I do not have a background in agriculture. I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. I grew up loving animals. We had horses and companion animals. But I did not truly engage in agriculture until I went to Penn State for animal bioscience.

I started working in a dairy nutrition lab and learning about agriculture. I wanted to be a small animal vet, but I learned what else I could do and ended up going to grad school.

Q: What is something students have taught you?

A: You can be as structured as you want in the classroom, but they’re going to learn in other ways, as well, that you may not even think about. A lot of women students notice when I bring my kids to work events. Students watch those things. It encourages them to see work/life satisfaction.

I like to call it work/life satisfaction rather than balance. There are days when Purdue gets a lot more than I’d like, and then there are times when my family needs more. it’s about finding that balance where you’re content with the decisions you’re making. It’s never a perfect balance.

Q: Is teaching an art or a science?

A: I think teaching is both an art and science. An effective teacher is learning about the different types of learning strategies. What does science say is most effective for learners? I’m continually looking at evidence-based things to hopefully help achieve a good outcome with my students.

But the art is your teaching philosophy. How do you bring that science to the classroom? What is important to me, as an instructor? Every teacher has a different way of approaching things. I like my students to be hands on, learning things, doing things with me.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: My teaching philosophy is focused on student-centered learning. I view them as a partner in the teaching, learning process. I’m not just delivering material. They’re working with me to understand the material.

We do a lot of active learning, like case studies or labs. Also, trying to create relevancy. Accounting for the “so what” factor, why should they care about this?

Q: To aspiring teachers: what advice do you have?

A: Think about where your passions are. What gets you excited? You’re going to have days at your job that are more challenging.

You want to pick a career that’s going to have more days that are really exciting for you. You want to get up and go to work.

Q: What personality traits do teachers need to be successful?

A: I think successful teachers are empathetic. But I also think they are really good at communicating course expectations and helping students meet those expectations. Self-reflection is also important. Did something new you tried in class work?

Being prepared is important. If the teacher doesn’t seem prepared and the student doesn’t know what the teacher wants from them — that affects students.