April 1, 2014

College professor making a big mark on liberal arts department

By Barbara Baker

Dr. Kent Ross (center) surrounded by students during the Intro to Literature class.

“You got to love them!” seems to be the message being sent by Northeastern’s Dr. Kent Ross (center) when he’s surrounded by students during the Intro to Literature Focusing on Fantasy and Science Fiction class he is teaching on campus this spring. (Courtesy Photo)

What do you get when you combine a writer of children’s books, a tried and true Texan, a guitarist, two masters degrees, and a Ph.D?   Well, you barely scratch the surface of Dr. Kent Ross, one of the newer members of the liberal arts faculty at Northeastern Junior College. However, you also begin identifying the college’s Star Performer of the Year.

Each year the faculty association at Northeastern selects a fairly new member as its Star Performer. These candidates have been at the college less than five years and are showing outstanding potential to be especially good teachers. This year’s award goes to Dr. Ross who teaches English Composition, Creative Writing, Ethnic Literature, Intro to Literature, Modern Humanities, as well as a few other new classes. Now in his third year at Northeastern, Dr. Ross has become an integral part of the liberal arts department on campus and has also been a significant contributor on several key committees that serve the entire campus.

“Kent has quietly made his mark at NJC,” notes his nominator for the award. “His classes are popular, current and novel.  He has developed innovative and engaging ways to address literature and mythology and students flock to these classes.  His English classes are fun, unique and very current.  He is constantly researching a new idea and then applying it in the classroom.  He is organized and responsive to student needs. “

Enough said? Hardly.

The colleagues in his department and across campus go on to praise him for willingly tackling the development redesign of classes in that area, and doing it with great insight, significant research, and background work, as well as a positive energy.  His nominator concludes by saying that Kent is active: “He’s stepping up for various committees and really getting involved despite a serious teaching load.” It is the new teachers that choose to get involved that usually find the best fit at Northeastern.

Now in his third year at Northeastern, Ross has served on the Arts Committee, the Calendar Committee, the Technology Committee, and most significantly the Developmental Ed transition committee. He will be serving on the  state wide committee to re-write the parameters of English 121 this year and he is piloting the Studio 121 course in which remedial students are accelerated into English 121 with a support lab.

The son of a college professor, Ross has always had a love for teaching. Before coming to Northeastern, he taught five years at the college level and before that he was in a position that allowed him to work with young people and do teaching and speaking. He previously taught in Nebraska and he has lived in Arkansas, Texas, and Calgary, Canada. “I once taught school for two months in Samara, Russia—it’s kind of near where they had the winter Olympics this year,” Ross said. “The train trip over the Russian steppes and forests from Moscow was spectacular,” he adds, noting that while on this teaching assignment he was nursing a broken leg which minimized how much he could explore the scenery on foot.

With a bachelor of science degree in education, two masters degrees, and the completion of his Ph.D. in English Literature and Composition last spring, Ross is definitely committed to gathering, deciphering, and imparting knowledge to others. He started a new class, World Mythology, last spring which has become a big hit. Another class, Intro to Literature Focusing on Fantasy and Science Fiction has also been well-received. He aspires to offer a film course once it has been approved at the state level and is guaranteed transfer (GT) rated. “I really enjoy ideas and knowledge,” Ross tells us. “I get a kick out of imparting that to young people. I hope they can see my enthusiasm for stories and writing.” 

It’s a passion he’s had for a long time. “As a child I used to organize kids into games and carnivals. As a teen I started coaching sports. I served many years as a youth worker running camps and was known as Mr. Games for my fun presentations. So I have always liked working with young people and teaching has been a natural progression.”

Growing up with an educator in the house, Ross has been involved in education all his life and for a variety of age groups. He has even written several children’s books, one of them illustrated by Ted Rand. Rand was considered Seattle’s dean of children’s books having created artwork for more than 75 well-received projects prior to his death in 2005.

Even in his short collegiate teaching career, Dr. Kent Ross has kept up with changes in education aggressively. The challenges, he says, remain one and the same. “I’m disturbed by the fact that so many young people lack the desire to read and so many of them have not read much.” He has personally embraced the technology that young people so depend on and is incorporating it into his teaching formats. “Digital resources and the changes they bring are striking. This year my students are reading all online texts and annotating them in Microsoft Word using the full resources of the Web—so far it seems to be working great. But that is a big change from marking a paper book. This will change even more next year with the iPads at NJC.”

When he’s not in the classroom teaching, Dr. Ross says that he enjoys reading and writing and traveling, having recently spent time in Vancouver and San Diego. He likes to walk and plays sports and just recently tried disc golf and found it quite fun.

Regarding Northeastern, like many of his colleagues, he says it is the friendly, easy-going atmosphere and the attitude of caring for the students that he appreciates the most. He currently finds himself being one of two faculty sponsors for the colleges New Voices student group. New Voices is an annual art and literary magazine composed of work done by students that is published each year on campus in the spring. His hands are full working with the students to collect, critique, and choose the written and art entries for this year’s book. This is the 51st year for New Voices to be produced. Many on campus and in the community look forward to receiving a copy of it each year. For Ross, it is just one more way he can be involved with students and their activities.

Ross says that for him, the bottom line in teaching is to “enjoy the students and remember they are all individuals with special talents and hidden abilities.”