Communication Connection

Friends of COM Newsletter

Faculty Profiles

What Makes An Unforgettable Teacher?

Friday, February 21, 2014

By Taffy Souphab

Imagine the two best teachers you’ve ever had. Reflect on how they made you feel, they way expressed their ideas, and how they were able to help you learn the material. It doesn’t matter how they teach. There are professors who teach their material through lecturing, Power Points, group projects, papers, etc. But when you look back at your favorite teachers, the materials they used to teach is not the first thought as to why these people stand out to you. Usually, it is because they hold some sort of connective power. Their ability to form relationships with their students, student’s relationships to each other, and everyone to the subject are unique aspects attributed to the instructor. When you really think about the things that made your teacher special it is their attitudes towards their students, their subject, and their continual aspirations to learn more about both.

This is how many students would describe the personality of Dr. Bruce McKinney. Drew Smith, a COM senior, reflects this perspective, saying “Dr. McKinney encompasses the ability to captivate students by being unique in the way he connects with his students and they way he teaches.” Interestingly enough, this was an unanticipated career path. “[You know,] being a professor was the last thing I’ve ever expected to do,” McKinney said.

Born right outside the bright lights of New York City, McKinney spent most of his childhood bouncing from school to school around the U.S. “I was always the new kid. I learned how to make friends with everyone,” he says. This experience undoubtedly helped shape him into the person he is today.

For his undergrad, McKinney attended the University of New Hampshire and majored in Psychology. After graduation, he knew he didn’t want to pursue psychology as a career path, so he accepted a job in restaurant management in hopes to find a career that would make him happy. Eventually fed up with management and deciding this wasn’t for him, McKinney tried his hand at graduate school at Penn State University. Communication Studies was an area that had always interested him, so he took a chance and said, “why not try it?” From there on, his interest of the Communication Studies field blossomed and led him to study numerous topics, such as conflict management, corporate communication, negotiation, and other variations of communication.  

During the time period when he was studying for his doctorate, an opportunity was offered from a friend at James Madison University. Something must have called him to the position, because his first taste of teaching was, “a great experience.” After a couple years of working at JMU as a lecturer, he recognized that sharing his knowledge with students brought him joy. He thought, “Hey, I could do this the rest of my life!”

Some people know exactly what they are destined for. Maybe your favorite teachers knew right away that they were meant to teach, maybe they didn’t. Regardless of how they got there, they have made an impact that only you will ever know. Dr. McKinney is an individual that encompasses the ability to forge a unique relationship with his students. He fosters an environment where getting to know your classmates is comfortable and connects everyone to the studied subject. His positive attitude towards students, the department, and his desire of continual learning makes him truly an unforgettable teacher.