UW Tacoma Senior Lecturer G. Kent Nelson doesn’t care if his students become experts in the subjects he teaches. He’d rather they master a few broad principles for better living. “The most important thing for me, as an instructor, is to emphasize whole-person learning,” he says. “I want to help my students become better human beings. If I do that, they’ll be able to go out into the business world, pursue whatever they choose and be successful.”
UW Tacoma’s 2007 Distinguished Teaching Award recipient honed his skills as an instructor in graduate school at the UW, where he earned his doctoral and master’s degrees in speech communication. Nelson teaches leadership and business communication courses in the management concentration at UW Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business.
Nominators said Nelson, a UW Tacoma faculty member since 1995, is one of the University’s finest instructors. Through his keen attention to detail, dedicated work ethic and stellar teaching skills, he helps students and colleagues grow as scholars and teachers.
“When I started in the business program, a friend told me to take Dr. Nelson for every class I possibly could,” said Sarah Eddy, a 2006 graduate of the Milgard School of Business. “He creates an environment within the classroom that is unique, where students are uplifted and challenged intellectually and personally,” she said.
In the classroom, Nelson prefers to teach big ideas, an approach he believes helps students understand themselves and the world around them and will ultimately make them better businesspeople.
“Given the choice between my students leaving my class with acute understanding of the course’s particular subject matter, or leaving my class as better human beings who are motivated to contribute to the well-being of others and the greater good, I will always choose the latter,” he said.
His class assignments reflect his goal to help his students develop an intrinsic desire to engage in lifelong learning. In his Dynamics of Leadership class, Nelson asks each student to develop a model for his/her own pursuit of “personal mastery,” and a plan to improve current and ongoing leadership. In his Interpersonal Skills course, student assignments generate awareness of personal communication patterns that can lead to improvement in personal relationships as well as business ones.
His approach prepares students for the real world of business, said Eddy, now a credit analyst at Wells Fargo Bank in Tacoma. “Business is much more than what’s written in the textbooks,” she said.
“It’s a dynamic environment where you interact with people. Dr. Nelson is leaving a legacy of heartfelt compassion and empowerment that is benefiting UW Tacoma students and the community.”
Nelson enjoys interactive classroom discussions and has recently started to use new technology in a quest to keep students engaged and excited. In addition to providing students with written feedback on their work, he records oral feedback on a digital audio recorder and e-mails it to his students. It’s a method that allows him to provide tailored, personal feedback with all the nuances associated with a human voice.
“For me, written feedback lacks personal and emotional nuances that are so important,” he says. “I believe this is a way to give really rich and meaningful feedback.”
Another graduate of the business program, Karen Nolan ’99, said Nelson’s personal approach in his classes helped her learn to be a better communicator, a skill she appreciates in her career as a realtor.
“Dr. Nelson knows how to truly, effectively communicate, how to create a special contact with each person,” she said. “He is an absolutely phenomenal instructor.”
Nelson also serves as an instructional coach for other UW Tacoma faculty. He conducts workshops on teaching and learning and observes classes in order to help other faculty members sharpen their teaching skills.
“As a senior lecturer, I believe it’s one of my jobs to promote a rich teaching and learning environment,” he said. “If I can help another teacher improve, that teacher becomes more effective with students. The impact is exponential.”
Nelson credits his success at UW Tacoma to the quality of his graduate education at the UW.
“I believe this award is a compliment to my education at UW Seattle. It is a dream come true to work for this University.”