Nearly 250 current and former NIU students can thank Michael Kolb for the new directions they found – and pursued – because of his belief in engaged learning.
Kolb’s annual archeological field school trips to Sicily offer opportunities to gain knowledge through first-hand experience while they become critical, lifelong learners who sort fact from idea and evaluate different lines of evidence.
Such immersion into scientific inquiry, one with a “knowledge-building learning community” of faculty and graduate students who give positive reinforcement and supportive critique, is “transformative.”
“This approach provides an excellent way for students to decide if they have the proper interest and motivation to become anthropologists,” Kolb says.
“Certainly my proudest educational outcome has been the 198 field school students who have completed my program. I believe self-discipline, talent and mastery of subject matter are critical learning goals that instill passion, understanding and collaboration.”
Kolb, who earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at Los Angeles, joined the NIU Department of Anthropology in 1995 as an assistant professor. In 2013, he assumed additional duties as university coordinator for general education.
Many of the students he has taught over the years fit that “general education” category – those non-majors in large-enrollment classes who bring little knowledge of archeology.
Others, of course, are anthropology students acquiring a background in archeology or upperclassmen and graduate students concentrating in archeology.
“The most common thread for each of the 5,098 university students I have taught … is inquisitiveness,” Kolb says. “It is this basic sense of curiosity about the world that has to be fostered and developed within the classroom. I strive to show students how science works through personal example, augmenting the neat and tidy textbook view points with real experiences.”
“I listen closely to students as they express their views and arguments, and engage them if their assertions are illogical. Debate is very healthy for students and, again, promotes first-hand experience about the cooperative nature of the learning process.”
Kendall Thu, chair of the Department of Anthropology, has heard from his own students about “the confidence, sense of camaraderie and sheer excitement for learning” that Kolb’s field schools instill.
Among Kolb’s former students are eight who are pursuing Ph.D.s, several others now working for the government or private archeological firms and a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa.
“He is actively engaged as a teacher. Learning is ongoing, and students work hard in this process with Mike,” says anthropology colleague Dan Gebo, an NIU Board of Trustees Professor. “Mike demands solid logical arguments and a good knowledge base concerning the archeological facts to support an interpretation of past culture. He is challenging but respectful in allowing students to make their own mistakes in overanalyzing the archaeological record.”
Aimee Michelle Genova, an NIU alumna now working toward a Ph.D. in ancient history at the University of Chicago, credits Kolb for developing her “sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity for how archeology comes together and what it means to instruct while also learning.”
“Excellence in education requires that an instructor be engaged with student learning through implicit and explicit pedagogical techniques. Effective instruction requires a level of mentorship that inspires students to see the potential in themselves,” Genova says.
“Dr. Kolb embodies all the aforementioned characteristics with his dedication, engagement and balance. I consider it an honor that I am able to maintain my professional relationship with such a committed scholar who cares deeply for his students and his institution.”