Geoffrey Pynn: Teaching is the best way to learn

Geoffrey Pynn
Geoffrey Pynn

Growing up in Walnut Creek, Calif., Geoffrey Pynn had fleeting thoughts of becoming a musician, a poet, and even maybe an artificial intelligence researcher. He was admittedly a little flaky in his younger years, never really settling on a specific career path; he was intrigued by seemingly everything.

A philosophy major at Bates College in Maine, Pynn was encouraged by his professors to pursue graduate school. He was able to lead class discussions as a teaching assistant, and it turns out had had a knack for the craft.

“There’s an old saying that teaching is the best way to learn, and I’ve found that to be absolutely true,” Pynn said.

He was no stranger to NIU before coming to work at the university in 2008. His aunt, a first-generation college student, received her undergraduate degree at NIU. And while Pynn was in graduate school at Yale, he studied under NIU alumnus Troy Cross.

Cross spoke highly of the NIU philosophy department, so when Pynn had the opportunity to apply for a position at the university, he was familiar with what the program had to offer.

“A classroom full of students is my favorite place to be,” Pynn said. “I love the atmosphere of shared discovery. There are some really fantastic students at NIU, and they are always pushing me to see things in a new light and challenging my understanding of ideas.”

Former student Sam Babin said Pynn has the unique ability to make class interesting, understandable and fun.

“Dr. Pynn has demonstrated an astonishing ability to translate the most complex philosophical topics to his students in a clear and concise way,” Babin said. “Laced with his sharp sense of humor, Dr. Pynn’s translations not only make challenging material comprehensible, but they also make it fun and enjoyable.”

Philosophy major Tinia Harris said that of all the classes she has taken within the department, none is as meaningful to her as those taught by Pynn.

“His approach is never biased, but instead it’s always clear that he wants his students to take away a real understanding that can be applied well after the finals are done and the course work is completed,” Harris said.

“I take my research and service work very seriously, but I think my work in the classroom has the most genuine significance and lasting value,” Pynn said. “To have its value affirmed by students themselves is humbling and deeply gratifying.”

Pynn lives in Batavia with his wife, Roxanne Willis, and their two children, Ivan and Lydia.

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