Agriculture professor James Baier has a knack for turning difficult classroom material into a hands-on educational experience for his students. He was the first member of his family to pursue higher education, receiving his master’s in irrigation and his Ph.D. in agricultural and biosystems engineering.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO TEACH?
Not exactly. I started out with a love for research. When I began my Ph.D. studies, I focused on how different treatments could accelerate methane production in landfills. Energy companies wanted to harness the gas to
generate electricity. It was extremely messy work; we had to basically create a landfill on-campus to study.
WHAT LESSONS FROM YOUR PROFESSORS HELP YOU IN THE CLASSROOM?
One of the professors who convinced me to go to grad school was Richard Warner. His teaching style was
unconventional. He didn’t just walk up to the board, write some facts down and lecture. He wanted his students to
take what they knew and apply it to situations – to see if we could attack real-world problems. I try to take that
same tack with my upper-division students.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CLASSROOM MOMENT?
Time. Most of my classes have labs associated with them, and I teach those labs. Each one takes a couple
of hours and all that teaching adds up. That said, I enjoy the labs because that’s where I can see students take what they’ve learned and apply it. We’re working on a graduate program right now – and it will definitely help to have grad students’ assistance with teaching lab.