Why I teach

Donna Lybecker

Associate professor
International Relations

What inspired you to be a university professor?
I teach because I am a product of great teachers, including my parents.
I teach because deep down I know that excitement about and commitment for education can change the future.
I teach because I want to continue to learn.
I teach because I know it is possible to make a difference, to inspire and empower the lives of not only those who were raised with opportunities, but also those who were raise in less than perfect situations.

Why teach in a university setting?
I teach at a university level because, for me, it's the most effective and most enjoyable way to change the world.
. because it allows for conversations about complex issues.
. because, a bit like Don Quixote, I believe in striving to see the world as it should be, rather than as it is-and who better than college students to take one down that path.

Bottom line, I teach at the university level because we need to change this world, and this is the way I'm choosing to do it.

If you weren't a university professor what do you think you would be doing?
If I were not a university professor I guess I would want to be one of those commentators on the Travel channel. Seeing the world and talking to diverse people has got to be amazing.

What has teaching taught you about yourself?
I have learned (and I believe most teachers would agree with this) that teaching is more than what I do, it is somehow a part of me, which although I like to believe is helpful, I am sure at times it is also somewhat annoying.

I have also learned that I am very lucky. I have had the ability to find or make opportunities to meet interesting people and do what I enjoy.

What is the most difficult aspect of teaching?
Teaching is exhausting, and never ending, and overwhelming. But to me the most difficult aspect is realizing that not everyone will succeed.

What inspired you to enter higher education?
I think I entered higher education, in part because of my mentors in life, but also because I learning is exciting-the world is always changing and there are endless numbers of things, and people, to try to understand. Higher education has allowed me the opportunity to look into many things, and focus on those I find most fascinating.

Is there an identifying moment where you knew you had a pronounced positive impact upon a student?
There are lots of little things that show change and development in students: improved writing and speaking skills, and ability to move beyond emotion and logically argue an issue, etc. However, a pronounced positive impact. The first time I knew I really made a difference was when a father came up to thank me for pushing his daughter. When a parent sees a change in their child, it is often more pronounced than learning how to organize a paper.

What career/life messages do you try to impart upon your students?
Teaching political science and international relations, there are always real-life lessons that our politicians conveniently highlight for us. That said, my students will tell you there are a number of mantras I repeat. Some of these are meant in jest, but all have serious elements:

  • Never compare anything to Nazis. This always turns out badly.
  • You can cheat and steal but NEVER lie to congress (again, this always turns out badly)
  • The fastest way out of poverty is to educate girls (particularly within the international realm). Really. Thus, ladies have a responsibility to society to take advantage of the educational opportunities.
  • Do not let others define you or your possibilities.

What do you want students to take from their ISU educational experience?
I want students to gain an understanding of the diverse world around us, and to appreciate differences. But most of all, I want students to know they are capable of great things (luckily they are the ones that get to define what makes "great things") and that they have a responsibility to live up to their potential.