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ImageClassroom Theatrics
Crispin Thurlow
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
“I come from a long line of teachers and preachers,” laughs Crispin Thurlow, eloquently explaining his career as befits a professor of communications. “I think they’re both vocations in the truest sense, a calling. Both rely on an interesting combination of theatrics and conviction.”

Conviction he has down pat—he’s a firm believer that “communication is one of the most important things,” focusing his work on intercultural communication and global tourism. He also knows a thing or two about theatrics—he trained as an actor in London for two years. Fortunately for the teaching community, “I didn’t like acting that much.”

Theater training has made him unself-conscious enough to “run around a lecture theater [or] walk like a giraffe” to make a point. “We live in an age where there’s lots of talk about podcasting and virtual learning, but none of that has the impact of teaching in person. The challenge is to entertain with energy and magic.”

While students agree he is entertaining, Thurlow has succeeded in the more important endeavor to impart knowledge. “I appreciate his willingness to work with students to help them achieve their personal educational goals by making himself available,” says undergraduate Alice Lyden. “His lectures are amazingly thought-provoking, and he delivers them with a distinct sense of respect for his students.”

Encouraging a sense of community is crucial to Thurlow, who looks to teacher and activist bell hooks’ philosophy for inspiration: “It’s an act of trust when we come together,” he says about the classroom and the lives it connects. “I’m also learning from students and I’m learning from colleagues, who are my other community.”

One of the practical ways Thurlow attempts to get to know individuals in his introductory class of about 450 students is to write letters to the top 20 at the end of every course congratulating them. “What I’m particularly touched by are the letters I get back,” he says. “Having that moment of connection is very special, when we’ve managed to transcend the scale of the education that we’re doing here.

Thurlow balances his teaching with research—currently he is exploring class in the context of tourism with the help of a University research grant—but admits the split can be a difficult one at times. “I’m evaluated primarily on the basis of my research,” he says, but, “I work extra hard to get the teaching right.”—Niki Stojnic