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Chris Jones: The classroom collaborator

April 16, 2013
Chris Jones

Chris Jones

Christopher Jones wants his political science students to interrupt him with thoughtful questions and comments. He wants them to steer classroom discussion. He wants them to feel comfortable.

He also wants to give them some gain without the pain.

“My students have been especially receptive to the use of published case studies based on controversial foreign and security policy decisions,” Jones said, “because they can put themselves in the shoes of policymakers without sharing their ulcers.”

Jones, who came to NIU in 1996 and has served as associate vice provost for University Honors since 2011, spends several hours preparing for each hour in the classroom, constantly working to improve the lessons while making sure that he integrates the latest international developments and scholarship.

He also insists on an open-minded classroom atmosphere based on conversation rather than lecture, all in the name of developing students’ communication skills, capacity to think critically, self-confidence and interest.

“I go out of my way not to express my personal views in class, but instead to create a collegial, respectfully and intellectually focused environment where students want to share their thoughts. I also consciously build pauses into my lectures by asking students about their readings, inviting them to analyze political cartoons or getting them to respond to major issues in the news related to my presentation,” he said.

“I attempt to weave students’ remarks with my own points to create a true dialogue and a collaborative learning experience.”

NIU Honors ProgramColleagues have noticed.

Matt Streb, chair of the Department of Political Science, said Jones has “a knack” of getting students to open their mouths.

“Most professors are satisfied if they can get a handful of students to speak. Not Chris. He expects every student to contribute something, whether that is asking a penetrating question or contributing to class discussion,” Streb said. “Perhaps even more amazing, they do.”

Students want Jones as their professor, said Samie Chaudhry, a 2007 alum and recipient of the Lincoln Laureate Award that year. His high expectations turn graduates into better job candidates and prepare them for competitive promotions, he added.

“He has a very effective teaching method that inspires intense and enduring student interest in foreign affairs. Professor Jones’ approach to teaching encourages students to consider a range of ideas and alternative possibilities and outcomes,” Chaudhry said.

Several of Jones’s students have gone on to serve in the U.S. government to deal with important matters pertaining to national security, foreign policy, and legislative affairs.

Those students remember him fondly, and he maintains close ties with his alums: “My greatest joy and reward is hearing from former students and learning how they are making their mark in the world.”

“Chris and I have traveled to Washington, D.C. numerous times together,” Streb said. “We regularly stop to meet with one of his former students who work for the CIA, the Defense Department or on Capitol Hill.”

Jones, who earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University, has mentored 54 master’s students, 29 Ph.D. students and two other Lincoln Laureates.

His numerous accolades at NIU include honorary membership in the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, the University Honors Great Professor Award, the Outstanding International Educator Award and, in his first year of eligibility, an Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2002.

He’s most proud of his “wonderful” students, however. “A student’s college years should be transformative,” Jones said, “and I make small attempts through my teaching and advising to increase the likelihood that I can contribute to such an experience.”

Jones is leaving soon for Le Moyne College, which named him dean of the Division of Arts and Sciences.