MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (October 15, 2019) — Trudi Peterson freely admits that she hates speaking in public.
But she teaches public speaking, among other courses in Monmouth College's communication studies curriculum, and she does it so well that she was named this year's recipient of the College's Hatch Award for Distinguished Teaching. More in line with Peterson's tastes in her field is the College's "Interpersonal Communication" course. That form of shared dialogue with students, either in the classroom or one-on-one in her office, is where the veteran professor really shines. "I don't like to lecture," said Peterson, who joined Monmouth's faculty in 1998 and is also the coordinator of the College's women's studies program. "I like discussion-based classes. I like my students engaged. So I teach old-school. I don't use PowerPoints. I believe that once you put that PowerPoint up, you lose the students, and they're just trying to write down what you have on the slides." Peterson is fully capable of holding a class's attention for 50 minutes with her knowledge and personality, but she prefers to have a good back-and-forth with her students. "I go in with notes and an idea, but I don't know where it's going to go or what tangent we're going to go off on," she said. "I can always bring it back, but I have no plan going in for where the discussion will take us." One element of "Interpersonal Communication" that Peterson appreciates is its real-life component. "The students often come in with a roommate conflict," she said. "Being away at college is different from the communication dynamic they had during all the years they had with their family. So how do students learn to function with communication in this new environment? A lot if it is trial and error. I can give them communication theories and strategies to use and make the course more relatable that way." Peterson's nominator for the Hatch Award wrote: "You HAVE to take a class from Trudi Peterson." Peterson said hearing that makes her smile, then relayed another compliment that has stuck with her over the years, when she heard back from a student who had taken an internship at a large company. In her new setting, the student found the communication structure was different from what she'd previously experienced. "She told me, 'Trudi, you really don't teach (BS),'" said Peterson. "That was the greatest compliment I've gotten." There have been other compliments along her journey in communication studies, including from faculty at her undergraduate institution, Central Michigan University, who told her she had a talent for writing and communicating. "I was originally a psychology major, but I changed to communication after taking some classes in it," she said. "My professors told me I was good at it, which I didn't know." Two of those faculty mentors are the parents of Robert Hinck who, 25 years later, joined Peterson in Monmouth's communication studies department. "I used to babysit for him," she said. "His parents were really instrumental in encouraging me to go to graduate school." Peterson stayed at Central Michigan for her master's, then earned her doctoral degree at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. It was there where she became comfortable in front of a classroom and began to develop the style that has served her so well at Monmouth. "In graduate school, I was so speech-anxious," she said. "I hate public speaking, but I teach it. I had to work really hard at it." What comes more easily to Peterson is the relationships she forms with her students, be it a mentoring one or a deeper friendship. "I try to be for the students what I needed when I was a student," she said. "I really like the opportunity to get to know students personally. I spend a lot of time in my office with students, and I can see a more granular behavior in them, because I put in the time. Over the course of four years, I really enjoy seeing them grow into people that I want to be friends with."