Meet Bucknell’s favorite professor, according to

Elizabeth Armstrong is the top-rated professor at Bucknell

As Bucknell students get ready to pick their classes for next semester, we all turn to the trusty website RateMyProfessor to give us insight on which classes to take. The Tab had the opportunity to speak with Bucknell’s top-rated professor, Elizabeth Armstrong of the East Asian Studies department, to learn about her collegiate experience and why she’s the most-loved at Bucknell:

What was your college experience like? 

I went to a small liberal arts college in the center of Maine. It’s called Colby College. I loved my college. It was small, everyone knew everyone else. Of course, we were in an isolated area in the same way that we are essentially isolated here in Lewisburg. And so, we all relied on each other. There was good community there. I was an East Asian Studies major. I spent my junior year abroad in Japan. The interesting thing is that I was an abroad student with the very same program that Bucknell participates in, except forty years ago. It’s nice to come full circle, now being on the administrative, encouraging people to do the same thing that I did those many years ago.

Did you have a favorite college professor? Who and why?

I have to say it was my American poetry teacher who really engaged me in terms of who I was as a human being. What happened in that classroom went way beyond reading and writing poetry. It was diving deep into who each person in the class was, and he did it with exquisite sensitivity, fierceness and engagement. He never stood behind that curtain of professorial discretion. He engaged with us, as if we were peers.

What inspires you out to get of bed every morning and into the classroom? Why?

The reason I get out of bed every morning is that if I walk into my classroom, I know that my students will nourish me and feed me. The exchange for me is so invigorating. I actually go into a funk at the end of the semester. I get kind of blue when I don’t have interactions with my students, and so it’s being able to walk in to class with everybody leaning forward and ready to go, that’s great. We’re all on the same page. It’s the classroom interaction that does it for me.

Tell me a little bit about how you run class (is it more discussion based, lecture based, etc). What do you do to keep students engaged?

In the recitation class, it’s a ‘no English zone,’ and everybody gets that from day one. But, I never ask them to try to generate anything in Japanese we haven’t already practiced. In my class, 40% of your grade is class participation and performance. If my students don’t show up, then there goes their grade. And, I bring ‘toys.’ Meaning, I bring a lot of visuals. I don’t like to use PowerPoint in our recitations because there’s no warmth to it at all. Most of what we use for visual props, because I don’t do translation, are pictures. I want them to make the connection between those two things, so everything is done with as much authentic material as possible.

Because we do move at a very quick pace, and you can’t ask a human brain to concentrate really hard for more than 15 minutes, what we will do is to very intensive work for about 15 minutes and then take a break, between 30 and 60 seconds off.

During the break, we don’t just sit there. Every time I’ll do something different; they don’t know what it’s going to be. We might jump up and do Japanese calisthenics, or in the case of the ‘magic box’, as I call it, a student will bring out either a puzzle or riddle to solve. The reason it’s called the magic box is because it makes them forget how exhausted they are. It’s basically a distraction. It’s just a way of having them take a break mentally without making it look like they’re taking a break.

The ‘magic box’

How’s it feel to be Bucknell’s most-loved professor? Does this change how you’ll approach the classroom?

There are so many talented and dedicated professors here, so I don’t put a lot of stock in these ratings. I’m incredibly flattered.

If you weren’t a professor, what would you be doing?

First of all, I have to say, I’ve reinvented myself any number of times. When I got out of college, I worked in women’s clothing manufacturing in Japan. Then I worked for a large chemical conglomerate. I’ve worked as an interpreter. I’ve sung in bars. I’ve scooped ice cream. I’ve been somebody’s assistant. I’m a dog walker. Anything you can possibly think of, I’ve probably done it.

In the next couple of years, I would really like to sit down and do a long translation. I’ve translated one book, and I’m beginning the translation of the next one. Translation is this moment when you can stand as the bridge between two worlds. Hoping, very much, that you can bring what is unintelligible in one world to people who might then be able to access it, and my talents may lie in bringing Japanese literature into English. That would be wonderful.

If I didn’t get to do that, I’d want to be a baker. Can you think of anything better than to open your shop doors at 7:00am and have people come in to the smell of yeast and freshly baked bread?

If you had one piece of advice for Bucknell students, what would you say?

There is a podcast called “Hidden Brain,” which is a social psychology podcast that I love. They had a life coach speak in one of their episodes. He helps people who are ‘stuck’, such as people who don’t know what they want to do in life.

People who are between the ages of 18 and 22, in this day and age, often feel enormous pressure to get a good education, get a job and do something with their life. That’s actually being stuck rather than being unstuck.

He said we’re all very good navigators, but if you don’t know what your destination is, then you are set afloat without oars. What he recommends is to be a way finder. If you’re a way finder, what you do is say ‘okay I’m not exactly sure where it is that I want to go, but I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, and if that’s not working, then I’ll make a direction adjustment.’

Without having that one destination, it gives you the opportunity to explore. My one thing I would hope for the Bucknell community at large would be that we can become better way finders. We should ask not ‘Where am I going?’ but ‘How am I going to proceed and what am I going to find?’

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