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Nancy LaCursia: Sharing her profession

April 16, 2012
Nancy LaCursia

Nancy LaCursia

When students enter Nancy LaCursia’s classroom in NIU’s Nursing and Health Studies Department, they realize they will have a big role in their own learning.

With the help of their classmates and LaCursia, they learn concepts, solve problems and prepare to be health education teachers.

“I use the peer teaching method in my classes,” said the professor who works in the College of Health and Human Sciences. “For example, if students can build a 3-dimensional model of a concept and teach it to their peers, then they have a better chance of learning it than if they just read it in the text.”

This teaching philosophy and the respect and admiration students have for her convinced NIU to award LaCursia with the prestigious Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Student raved to nominating committee members about her style.

“I could feel her passion for the content and her excitement to share the health education profession with us,” Erin DeVita told nominating committee members. “She taught me even the best performance could be tweaked and improved, and once you settle, you limit your ability to grow.”

“Students are not sitting in seats, listening to lectures,” Andrea Hein told committee members. “They are actively engaged in the learning process. Her students are challenged each semester through a variety of formal and informal assessments that are aligned with her instructional goals and objectives.”

Before the goals and objectives start though, LaCursia makes it a point to get to know her students, so she understands what they want from the classes. She meets with each student individually during the semester.

“They’re somebody’s sons and daughters,” she said. “I want to know why they’re here. Everyone has different reasons for taking the class and being enrolled in the program.”

LaCursia did not master her teaching style in one semester; she has been tweaking it during her 36-year teaching career at New Trier High School, Eureka (IL) College and LeRoy (IL) College.

In 2006, she started teaching at NIU. Here, she teaches leads such courses as “Introduction to Health Education” and “Methods for Health Education.” She also teaches graduate students who wish to become certified to teach health.

“Teachers must constantly update the material they present to their students,” she said. “That’s one of the most important things I do as an educator and teach to my students. No one should be given outdated material.”

Following all these unwritten rules and adhering to the self-teaching philosophy would never lead to her receiving an award, LaCursia said. She considered them good professional edicts to follow.

“I couldn’t believe it when I learned I received the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award,” she said. “I must have read the letter seven times wondering if it was for real. It really is an honor.”