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Exploring with Fontbonne's Teacher of the Year

The sweltering sun beats down on Dr. Rebecca Foushée as she treks through a small, muddy stream and itching, knee-high grass. She's in a local St. Louis park searching ... but for what she doesn't know. Suddenly, an urgent beeping from her Global Positioning System tells her she's getting very close. She looks down to see a small book resting in a blue plastic bucket hidden beneath a fallen tree. Smiling, she signs the book's log. Mission accomplished - it's on to the next treasure.

Foushée, an assistant professor of psychology at Fontbonne University, is a big fan of "geocaching," an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which participants use a GPS receiver and coordinates posted on the Internet to hide and seek containers called "caches." This year's recipient of Fontbonne's Joan Goostree Stevens Excellence in Teaching Award believes that her personal hunger for exploration shapes her teaching style. "When I geocache, I explore and hunt," she says. "I drive my students to have that same inquisitive nature. I want them to explore psychology and the human mind and search for those ‘caches' that they can really latch onto."

Instilling that inquisitive manner is accomplished in her classroom by making a personal connection with each student and by stepping out of the role of the traditional professor. "I don't feel that my students learn just through lectures. The days of a professor being the sole fount of knowledge are long past," says Foushée, who holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. "Information abounds - on television, the Internet and in books. I see myself as an educational tour guide showing students the paths of self-discovery along their intellectual journey. I try to help them think critically, analyze the world around them, determine where to find information on their own and not just accept blindly what they are taught."

Her classroom sessions are also far from typical. A self-described "hands-on instructor," Foushée brings her subject matter to life by using a combination of discussion, visual aids and outside class activities. She eschews "boring drawings or detailed diagrams" when exploring the brain, which she calls "the most fascinating part of the human body." Instead, her students build 3-dimensional models of the brain, then take parts away or color them to demonstrate the effects of certain factors such as illness or trauma. "I believe that making subjects relevant - especially something as complex as the brain - is what is most important," Foushée explains.

The three-year Fontbonne professor not only finds inspiration in her discipline, but in the variety of students she teaches. "I love to instruct. It is my passion. Most inspiring to me is the excitement of each new day," she says. "Every class and every student is different. I find that I have to be prepared at all times because you never know what question or thought a student will throw at you. That pushes me to be more. In turn, I push my students to be multi-faceted. They are like diamonds. The more facets a diamond has, the more it sparkles."

Recently, three of Foushée's former students, all graduates now, earned a chance to sparkle as they presented their senior research projects on the national stage at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference in Chicago, Ill. "I was so proud of them," she says. "The students were excited to see their names in lights." The conference, which was attended largely by graduate students and faculty, was a testament to the power of a Fontbonne education, according to Foushée.

"Because Fontbonne is a smaller school and offers personal one-on-one attention, our students are prepared for a variety of opportunities - like presenting at a respected national conference - that they might not get at a larger university," she says.

As Foushée laces up her heavy brown hiking boots in preparation for her next quest, hidden somewhere in a forest nearly a hundred miles away, she is confident that her true mission in life - inspiring students to discover their own personal cache - is fulfilled every day at Fontbonne.

Read more great features like this one in Tableaux, the official publication of Fontbonne University.