Big Orange. Big Ideas. They’re fueling UT Knoxville on its journey to become a Top 25 public research university. Here are two faculty members who are bringing big ideas to life in the classroom, through their research and through community service.
Virginia Kupritz says she frequently asks students to answer the question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
“I ask the question because students must learn to trust themselves, to take risks, to be willing to make mistakes and then to correct those mistakes in a constructive way,” she said. “This comes in handy when they find themselves hanging from a rope sixty-five feet above the earth.”
That was the experience Kupritz—an associate professor of communication studies in the College of Communication and Information—shared with graduate students a few years ago, when they all took part in a “high ropes” confidence course.
“The students practiced their team communication skills during a climb with me up to the top of a tower,” said Kupritz, who focuses on organizational communication. “Hands-on experiences like these are critical to learning, plus it’s an incredible view.”
A former recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Kupritz said her goal is to engage students in active learning, stretching their minds, and helping them to see that learning is empowering.
“I always include experiential learning opportunities in my courses to give them concrete experiences and help them observe, reflect, form abstract concepts, and test those concepts in new situations,” she said.
Kupritz has traveled around the world and interacted with hundreds of people as part of her academic research about workplace privacy.
“The always-on, always-logged-in world we live in and work in has made our lives richer and more interesting,” she says. “But we pay the price for that hyper-connected world when we can’t switch it off and enjoy quiet time alone, even when we want to.”
Privacy is such a broad field, that to study it requires a multidisciplinary approach, according to Kupritz.
“My scholarship attempts to make connections across bodies of knowledge that can help solve the complex problems of today that cannot be solved through a singular disciplinary perspective,” she said. This means linking disciplines such as communication, psychology, architecture, and business administration.
In addition to her travels for research, Kupritz taught and lived in Saudi Arabia for three years, co-founding that country’s first architectural department for women.
“That was definitely a culture shock for me,” she said, “but I loved the experience.”
Closer to home, Kupritz transferred from UT’s College of Business Administration to the College of Communication and Information (CCI) in 2006.
“Virginia has done an excellent job with respect to teaching, research and public service,” said Mike Wirth, dean of the college. “She is an internationally known scholar who also does an excellent job in the classroom. She’s highly thought of by both undergraduate and graduate students.”
That’s the science communication philosophy of Professor Mark Littmann, who is the Julia G. and Alfred G. Hill Chair of Excellence in Science, Technology, and Medical Writing in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media.
Littmann teaches classes in science writing and writes books, articles, and plays about astronomy. He also is the program chairman of the UT Science Forum, which offers free weekly noontime popular science presentations by researchers from UT, ORNL, and the surrounding region.
Littmann’s blending of science and communication began when he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and literature from MIT, a master’s degree in creative writing from Hollins College, and a doctorate in English from Northwestern University.
He became the first director of the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City in 1965.
“I wrote and produced thirty-five planetarium shows during my time at Hansen,” Littmann said. “Some of the shows were so popular that as many as 750 other planetariums in the U.S. and around the world wanted to use them. A few of my shows are still being performed, all these years later.”
From the Hansen Planetarium, Littmann went to the Space Telescope Science Institute and taught astronomy at Loyola College in Baltimore. He came to UT in 1991.
One course that Littmann created and teaches is called Science Writing as Literature, which examines articles and books that are scientifically accurate, yet are as exciting and artistic as the best fictional stories and novels.
“I am so fortunate to have amazing students,” Littmann said. “Whether they major in journalism, science, or some other field, they are fiercely interested in science and dedicated to getting it right. At the same time, they are great storytellers who show how relevant science is to our daily lives.
“We are often seen as a nation falling behind in science and science education,” Littmann said. “That’s a shame because science is exciting, vital, and useful. The more my students and I can help tell the story of science, the happier I am.”
Wirth said Littmann’s passion for science communication “has had a profound impact on science communication education and discourse at UT.
“He does a wonderful job of teaching and mentoring students to help them achieve great things.”
Charles Primm (865-974-5180, firstname.lastname@example.org)