Up to the Challenge
Nicole Monnier, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
Nicole Monnier originally thought she was going to teach English literature after graduating from college. She adored Jane Austen novels and always wanted to teach, so English lit seemed like a natural choice. However, in an AP English class during her senior year in high school, she read Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground and thought it was a brilliant novel, even though she didn’t completely understand it. She decided then she would have to learn Russian, which she began in earnest her first year at Mount Holyoke College in 1987. This was the era of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policies of perestroika (political and economic reformation), and glasnost (openness)—heady times for a student studying Russian.
“It was the combination of the excitement about the language and encountering a body of literature that was so different from anything I had read before” Monnier says. “And the Soviet Union was on the front page of The New York Times every day. It turned me away irrevocably from being an English major.” A trip to the Soviet Union during her junior year in college, the same year the Berlin Wall came down, only solidified her decision to go to graduate school and pursue an academic career.
Monnier is now a teaching professor of Russian and is marking her 19th year at Mizzou.
“One of the nice things about teaching Russian is a lot of our students are self-selecting,” she says. “They don’t wander into Russian because they have to meet a language requirement; they tend to be very motivated because it’s a very difficult language to learn. We often get students who are studying linguistics, or ROTC students because Russian is still a critical language.”
Monnier will continue teaching in the honors humanities sequence and the Russian program as she assumes her new duties as associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. Associate Dean Ted Tarkow will help Monnier transition into her new role before returning full time to the faculty in the Department of Ancient and Mediterranean Studies in December.
A Big Switch
Before assuming her new duties in the dean’s office, Monnier served as director of undergraduate studies (Russian) for 14 years, and more recently, associate chair of German and Russian Studies, so she is in familiar territory, albeit now on a much larger scale.
“The hands-on advising of students is something I have done for years, from negotiating gen ed requirements to crafting a program of study in the major, as well as the ‘Oh my God, what am I going to be when I grow up’ advising. I love teaching, and I love advising,” she says. “The leap I’m taking is that I can use what I have done in a small program in an individualized way, that personal experience from advising, mentorship and teaching, and combine it with the bigger-picture policy-making experience I’ve gained from my college and university service, to guide me in this new role.”
Monnier says she wants to keep one foot in the classroom because students have changed in the 18 years she has been here, pedagogy continues to evolve, and the way instructors think about the academic experience has likewise changed.
“If you’re not doing experiential learning, if you’re not getting students into internships and study abroad and service learning, you are behind,’ she says. “Dean Okker wants us to prepare career-ready students, which is not necessarily changing what we are doing but making clearer connections between the things we do in the classroom and these other kinds of learning opportunities. We don’t know what jobs will be out there in the future, but we do know there will be a consistent need for graduates who can talk, think, write, synthesize, and analyze in an informed, critical fashion.“
J. Chris Pires, Associate Dean for Research
Professor of Biological Sciences Chris Pires like to tell people that he works on the “dog of the plant world.”
“Everybody knows that a Chihuahua, Labrador retriever, a Great Dane, and so on, are all dogs that evolved from a wolf-like ancestor. Fewer people know that broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage are also all the same species that, like dogs, comes in this incredible diversity of shapes, sizes, tastes, and colors,” he says. “My lab studies the genetic relationships among these plants in order to understand how these differences evolved over time.”
Pires says the plant species he and his collaborators study are the broccoli family or Brassica oleracea; Brassica rapa, the Asian equivalent that includes bok choy, kimchee, and turnips; and a hybridized third species, Brassica napus, which includes canola and rutabaga. Pires says his focus is on genomics of novel traits—studying plant DNA to understand why plants look or taste the way they do.
“What’s great about Mizzou is that we have a large and really collaborative group of scientists who study plants from very diverse disciplinary perspectives. If I have any question about plants, I’m within a stone’s throw from somebody who is a world expert,” he says.
Pires says the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center is another reason he was attracted to Mizzou (he started in 2005). He says he likes that the Bond LSC, where his lab is housed, encourages teamwork and interdisciplinary research. He also wanted to work at a public university that is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) since he earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, both AAU institutions.
But, he adds, the main reason he loves being at Mizzou is because it affords him the opportunity to share his passion for research with students.
“I love research, but I also love sharing my passion for doing science with students,” says Pires, who is the recipient of many awards for mentoring. “As a Research 1 University, we have the resources and people to provide world-class research experiences to students.”
He acknowledges that it’s one thing to provide that experience in a lab with a half dozen students and quite another to a lecture hall full of students. Still, he believes that every undergraduate at Mizzou should have that opportunity to help them find their passion and achieve their dreams.
“The challenge is how do you create an opportunity for anybody who wants to do that?” he asks.
He says one of his goals as associate dean of research is to encourage and support efforts that take research into the classroom.
Half and Half
For now, Pires will be stepping away from the classroom as he explores his new role as the college’s associate dean for research. Pires says he will continue to spend half of his time in the lab conducting research and mentoring students, and the other half encouraging and stimulating research and creative activities across the entire College of Arts and Science.
“Our college is diverse, with scholarly outputs from publications to performances. What I am really excited about is the opportunity to work with the incredible and diverse faculty that make up the College of Arts and Science and to help provide the resources and support they need to continue doing excellent research and creative endeavors,” he says. “I’m confident we can do this given our strengths throughout natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities. Especially as we evolve hubs of interdisciplinary collaboration that are necessary to solve grand challenges,” he says.