Dean Stauffer, professor of wildlife conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, accepted the Excellence in Wildlife Education Award from The Wildlife Society at its annual national meeting in Albuquerque in September.
The award is given to faculty who exhibit exemplary teaching and contribute to the improvement of wildlife education for undergraduate and graduate students.
“While recognizing the individual learning styles and challenges of each student, Dr. Stauffer maintains high expectations and rigor in his courses. Ultimately, Dr. Stauffer’s genuine interest in student success and an atmosphere of rigor and high expectations serve to motivate students,” wrote Joel Snodgrass, head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, in Stauffer’s nomination letter.
“Although Dr. Stauffer takes the time to get to know individual students, his commitment to student success incorporates a clear recognition of the skills and knowledge needed for student achievement beyond Virginia Tech,” Snodgrass continued.
Stauffer, who has been with Virginia Tech for 34 years, has developed four undergraduate and two graduate courses, mentored 19 master’s and nine doctoral students, and served on 74 master’s and 33 doctoral advisory committees. From 2010 to 2015, he served as the college’s associate dean of academic programs.
“I like all the aspects of my job, but I think teaching is really where I can have the most impact,” Stauffer said. “I’ve taught approximately 2,500 students over the years, and I hope that I’ve been able to influence how they look at natural resources and to help prepare them as the next generation of natural resources managers.”
Stauffer began his career with the hopes of becoming a regional research biologist in Idaho, but a chance encounter with an undergraduate student during his master’s program at Iowa State University sparked a love of teaching that changed his path forever.
“I was filling in as a teaching assistant for another graduate student who was out of town,” he recalled. “The class I was covering was on identifying reptiles and amphibians, and there was one young man who was really struggling with the differences between frogs and toads. I worked with him several times, and I’ll never forget the look on his face when it finally clicked.”
After that experience, Stauffer went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Idaho with the goal of teaching college students. He explains that his teaching methods have evolved over the years, but his goal has remained the same.
“When I first started at Virginia Tech, I wanted to cover as much information as possible in my classes. Over the years, I’ve cut back on the amount of information and begun to focus more on developing context and understanding concepts. Rather than covering material, I’ve gotten to where I seek to help students uncover material for themselves,” he said.
The key to being a successful educator, Stauffer believes, is building a rapport with students.
“I tell my students, ‘if my office door is open, stop by.’ I love having one-on-one time to work with my students, and there is nothing more rewarding than helping a student master something they’ve struggled with,” he said.
In addition to his teaching within the college, Stauffer has also taught 37 weeklong workshops on wildlife habitat evaluation, population management, and population estimation through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kenya Wildlife Service, and the Department of Wildlife Management at the University of Chihuahua in Mexico.
“The people in those classes were truly engaged and wanted to learn,” he explained. “They had experience, so they were really able to see the application of these concepts very quickly. Plus, by rubbing shoulders with practicing professionals during these sessions, I got to find out what was current in the field and bring that real-life application back to the classroom to share with my students.”
“I was delighted that I received this award,” he added. “It’s an honor to have validation from my peers for the work I’ve been doing my whole career. It’s nice to be recognized and know that my efforts have been worthwhile.”
Stauffer received the university’s 2017 William E. Wine Award for excellence in teaching, the college’s 2016 Outstanding Advisor award, and the college’s first Certificate of Teaching Excellence, awarded in 1994.