Lori Ziolkowski, wearing a blue jacket, stands in front of a brick wall

Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award: Lori Ziolkowski

Earth science professor adapts teaching style to students’ needs

Lori Ziolkowski
Associate professor, undergraduate director
School of the Earth Ocean and Environment
Ph.D., earth system science, University of California Irvine, 2009
2021 Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award
Joined UofSC faculty 2013

The professors who gave me the freedom to learn MY way allowed me to excel as a student.

I really strive to connect the content of my classes with the real world. This is especially important in my large nonmajor classes. For example, in an introductory oceanography class this might mean connecting shark populations with COVID-19 vaccine production.

Part of my undergraduate teaching includes mentoring students in research. One summer I took a UofSC undergraduate student to Alaska to collect glacier and permafrost samples. This fieldwork experience inspired the student to do a Ph.D. that involved many field seasons on the Greenland icesheet. Despite them having graduated from their Ph.D., this student regularly asks me for mentoring advice. Knowing that I can still help them now is personally rewarding.

Teaching has taught me so many things. Overall, I would say that teaching helped me become a more patient and understanding person. Over the years, I have learned to make more space for what students need. I also credit my students for helping me become a more effective communicator, which has been extremely helpful for communicating about climate change with a wider audience off campus.

When I first started teaching, I often found that I was physically exhausted after class. While I no longer need a nap after class, there are always new challenges — like teaching through a global pandemic. We all were shifting to understand the new normal, which made both teaching and learning difficult.  

The first few semesters of teaching are hard. If I could do it over again, I would try not to take myself too seriously. Students were more receptive to me when I simply was myself. Teaching is sometimes like hosting a party for reluctant guests.

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