Instructional Excellence and Contagious Enthusiasm: Fuhrman Named Meigs Professor
Dr. Nicholas Fuhrman was named a 2020 Meigs Professor, the highest instructional honor bestowed by the University of Georgia. Photo by UGA CAES.
Dr. Nicholas Fuhrman has taught more than 1,000 students over almost 12 years at the University of Georgia, but his impact has reached far beyond the classroom. His contagious enthusiasm, support of students, and infectious love for teaching are hallmarks of his personality and mission each day in the classroom.
If you’ve ever met Dr. Fuhrman or had the pleasure of taking one of his courses, it will come as no surprise that his years of service to his students have resulted in UGA naming him a 2020 Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor – the highest honor for instruction that UGA bestows on its faculty.
This award, presented each year to five UGA faculty members, recognizes excellence in instruction at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Nominated at the departmental level and further supported by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fuhrman secured his ranking as one of those five.
“Gosh, I simply feel humbled. I don't like a lot of attention on myself for my work as a teacher and would rather my students be in the spotlight,” Fuhrman says. “I say it all the time, but teaching is my very, very favorite thing in the world to do over any hobby I have.”
Since Fuhrman came to UGA as an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication in 2008, his “contagious enthusiasm” has stretched from classroom instruction to community outreach and even inspired educators worldwide.
Investing in Graduate Students
As the instructor of one First Year Odyssey Seminar, two undergraduate, and two graduate courses each academic year, Fuhrman influences the lives of each of his students by giving them positive feedback on their work and explaining even the most challenging of concepts to students in applicable fashions. This is especially impactful when it comes to his instruction of online courses for non-traditional students pursuing their Master of Agricultural and Environmental Education degree.
Dr. Megan McClure, now of Texas A&M University, fondly recalls her time as a master’s student.
“I did not want to enjoy [his] class, especially a distance education class, and I made up my mind that I would not. That decision did not last long,” McClure says. “Dr. Fuhrman was engaging in a way that I had never experienced before: he presented concepts in a variety of ways to ensure understanding, told wonderfully terrible jokes and animal related puns, created assignments that showed the real-world application of content, incorporated the use of animals, and showed, without a doubt, that he cared about every student in the class.”
Though some of his students are at a distance, all of his graduate courses are taught on campus and simultaneously at a distance using video technology. This brings local and distance students together to learn about advanced concepts with his high-energy teaching methods. He also guides numerous students in their research pursuits by serving as their major professor or on their graduate committee.
“What is so cool about working with graduate students on their research is that I get to help them develop a question they are interested in and passionate about and show them how to collect, analyze, and interpret data to answer that question with confidence,” Fuhrman says. “Plus, sometimes research may seem like a scary task, so it's fun to change their mindset and show them that research can absolutely involve really interesting topics, like, for example, ‘what difference does teaching with an animal who is given a name make over using an animal that is not named?’ That's just darn right interesting!”
Fuhrman considers it a joy to have deep conversations with graduate students as he guides them in research, but he also equips his students with the ability to take “technical, often jargon-rich information” and interpret it. Fuhrman considers students successful if they can explain their research projects to an eighth grader – not just someone in academia.
“While Dr. Fuhrman is an expert in his field, he is also extremely skilled at engaging his students in challenging curriculum. He is able to teach even the most advanced statistics in a way that is easy to understand and enjoyable to learn,” said Lillian G. Meighan, one of Fuhrman’s former graduate advisees.
Fuhrman has served as major professor for 44 graduate students, three of which have gone on to obtain Ph.D.’s in educational fields.
While he has served numerous students on the graduate level, Fuhrman’s impact on the undergraduate community of UGA cannot be ignored.
In his First Year Odyssey Seminar, Intro to Environmental Education, Fuhrman teaches his first-year students “soft skills” as he asks them to plan an “Owl Prowl” event for community members. He also makes them feel at home on a large campus by getting to know each student and providing valuable feedback on any of their assignments.
“Dr. Fuhrman actually loves grading his students’ assignments. A student’s returned assignment may be covered in ink, but often the feedback is motivational, positive, and extremely encouraging,” says Dr. Leslie Edgar, ALEC Department Head.
However, the course which placed Fuhrman on the UGA campus and Athens map is “Teaching with Animals,” first developed in 2013. Fuhrman describes the setup of this fall course as a class that allows students to improve public speaking abilities while safely handling animals. Through this, they not only present information but teach it to others. The course culminates with student groups presenting lessons to individuals with special needs at Extra Special People, Inc. (ESP).
“To watch the faces of my students light up when they take a turtle out in front of a room of ESP participants and see their excitement for the animal's visit is priceless,” Fuhrman says. “Students develop a sense of empathy for others, gain skills in patience and simple caring that they might not have known they had in them. Several students have left the course wanting to work more with individuals with special needs.”
This course not only changes the lives of UGA students but influences the ESP participants for the better, according to ESP executive director, Laura Whitaker.
“Individuals are able to learn more about themselves, and the world around them, through the gift of nature. We have seen increased engagement, socialization and empathy [in] the individuals we serve thanks to Dr. Fuhrman and his work,” Whitaker says.
Though “Teaching with Animals” has touched the lives of more than 150 UGA students and ESP participants, perhaps the person most influenced by the course is Dr. Fuhrman himself.
“Designing and teaching our ‘Teaching with Animals’ course in collaboration with Extra Special People is the best thing I have ever done as a professor,” he says.
Beyond the Arch
Fuhrman is a large supporter of ESP outside the confines of the course. Whitaker describes him as “a standout advocate for ESP throughout the community,” and Fuhrman’s desire to serve others does not end there.
In the UGA community, Fuhrman was recognized as a Lilly Teaching Fellow and now mentors other Lilly Fellows across campus to guide them in becoming better instructors. He also inspires other faculty members within the ALEC Department.
“Dr. Fuhrman visits faculty classrooms on a monthly basis to provide mentoring support and assist faculty in developing creative, formative evaluations to inform enhancements to their teaching,” Edgar says.
Off campus, Fuhrman shares his trademark contagious enthusiasm with millions of television viewers each month through his “Ranger Nick” segment on Georgia Farm Bureau’s “Farm Monitor” that airs on Georgia Public Broadcasting and on the RFD-TV network each month. With more than 70 segments filmed over six years, Fuhrman has highlighted a wide range Georgia agricultural and environmental topics, some involving current and former students!
Fuhrman is the recipient of 13 other teaching awards and is even heavily involved in the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture, where he serves on the executive board. However, his most universally recognizable effort may be his TED Talk titled “The One Thing All Great Teachers Do.” This presentation was delivered in 2018 at TEDxUGA and now has more than 186,000 views on YouTube.
As Nick inspires educators across campus and the globe, it’s an honor to have him as faculty in the ALEC Department. His passion for teaching is evident and the reason he received the Meigs Professorship is best summed up in his own words.
“I … love showing students that it's always okay to be enthusiastic about what you do and that it's contagious to those around you. The Meigs Professor title is so humbling because it shows others that this guy is doing something different and his peers called him out on it,” Fuhrman says. “I'll be that professor shuffling into class when I'm 90 years old one day and can't imagine my life without students. I am flattered to be recognized for doing my life's passion!”
By Allison Fortner
Fuhrman brings young alligators to his classes each fall just days before the UGA vs. University of Florida football game. He shows his students how to properly handle 'gators by borrowing these little guys from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Fuhrman gives environmental education students the opportunity to experience a campfire in class (minus the smoke and ashes) before many of them go on to facilitate reflection and singing around fires as camp counselors.
Students in Fuhrman's "Teaching with Animals" class connect with participants at Extra Special People, Inc., by teaching them how to properly touch a turtle.