Every college student has a favorite teacher. One who gave them a new perspective, made a more profound connection or brought an unexpected sense of joy and fun to their class. At Ohio University, there are too many favorites to count.
One of these campus celebrities is TA Jennifer Woolley Barone, who teaches various classes in communications while working toward her doctorate. Students have expressed their love for her classes due to the fun, energetic classroom environment she creates.
With a quick conversation over a cup of Court Street Coffee, one could easily see the spark in her eyes to share her passion and love for teaching. Just upon meeting, this well-spoken, professional educator evokes a sense of compassion and excitement that could light up any lecture hall.
When Woolley Barone isn't studying, teaching or doing research, she loves to read. Her favorite book she recommends is "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," by Milan Kundera. She called it "a dark heavy book, but a wonderful contemporary classic."
As a kid, her dream was to be the U.S. president, her favorite spot on campus is Court Street Coffee and if she could have any superpower, it would be invisibility, to pull pranks, but also to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Woolley Barone is from around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and started her journey at Messiah University, graduating with a major in communications and minors in psychology and gender studies.
She knew graduate school was next on her list, and luckily, she chose OU to plant new roots.
"There were faculty members here that could help me in what I wanted to do, but it was a really non-competitive environment," said Woolley Barone. "It was very collaborative with other grad students. I felt welcomed, and I felt like I would be supported."
Woolley Barone didn't always know she would end up in communications but fell in love with the major after an unexpected turn of events with a humanities scholarship and an inspiring mentor.
"I decided to declare a humanities major and go for this scholarship, and then I'll go from there, and then I ended up getting it," she said. "So, I was stuck in this comm major and I wasn't necessarily super interested in it, but I had always acknowledged incredible soft skills in communication that would help me wherever I ended up, and then I fell in love."
Woolley Barone knew this was her calling when taking her first communication theory course in her undergraduate, and her undergraduate advisor became a good friend. Her advisor could see Woolley Barone being pulled in a certain direction and pushed her to pursue it.
"She was like, 'You're really good at this. You really like it, and I can tell you're excited,"' she said. "She asked if I would TA that class my junior year and through that TA experience, I was able to teach and actually lecture for her class, so that was the determining factor of, 'I want to do this.'"
Creating deep connections and relationships are some of the most important things to Woolley Barone and a main part of her teaching philosophy. Woolley Barone cites her relationships when asked what she considers to be one of her greatest accomplishments.
"Honestly, the depths of my relationships and friendships," she said. "I'm really moving away from tangible things that I like to the qualities in my relationships."
Additionally, she uses these aspirations to create a warm, welcoming environment in class.
"I go for a relational approach," said Woolley Barone. "I try to know my students; their names, aspects about them, who they are as a person. I think that it's more important, ultimately, than the content that I will inevitably disseminate to them."
Woolley Barone describes her teaching philosophy as holistic, focusing on each student.
"If I can create an environment in which students feel cared for as a person, beyond just students, and they feel that I actually care about what I'm teaching, then it creates an environment in which students are excited to learn," she said. "It's not just an assessment, it's a celebration of learning!"
Right now, Woolley Barone is working on her dissertation, a research paper that will help her achieve her doctorate in philosophy and communications. The goal is to get her doctorate and have a job as a tenure-track professor by the end of the year. Her current research looks at the repeal of Roe v. Wade and what that looks like for reproductive rights organizations.
"After Roe v. Wade was repealed, how are reproductive rights organizations advocating to instantiate abortion access?" Woolley Barone said. "It's so interesting when you look at mainstream failings and major organizations."
Finally, to advise students studying communications or any undergrad who hasn't found their calling, Woolley Barone encourages one to reach out to their professors.
"Get to know your professors," she said. "I am always 15 minutes early to talk to people. When you start building those relationships, they'll have insights you've never thought of and they might have connections. Other than that, work. Find something that's relevant and start getting experience or internships, because it really sometimes takes finding something that you can do and practice to figure out what you love."