William “Bill” Bockus was born in Pasadena, California, and is a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at Kansas State University (KSU). He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California-Irvine in 1972; a master’s degree in biology (with an emphasis on botany) from California State University-Long Beach in 1974, where Bockus began his teaching career; and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of California-Davis in 1978. Bockus became an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at KSU in 1978, was promoted to associate professor in 1984, and was later promoted to full professor in 1990.
Since 1978, Bockus has developed and taught numerous undergraduate and graduate courses, including the Plant Disease Control course for the Pest Science and Management curriculum, in which he also functioned as advisor; the Ecology and Epidemiology of Plant Pathogens course; the Crop Protection seminar; the graduate seminar Principles of Plant Pathology; as well as the Plant-Pathogenic Fungi course for graduate students. In each course evaluated by students throughout his career, Bockus has achieved very high marks with student evaluations averaging in the upper 10% of all KSU courses.
A key feature for Bockus’s teaching at KSU has been the introductory course in Principles of Plant Pathology, the “flagship” course for the Plant Pathology Department. While there is no undergraduate degree in plant pathology, most students majoring in plant science areas within the College of Agriculture take the course. This means that Bockus routinely faced a class where the vast majority of students were there because they had to be rather than because they wanted to be there. Bockus has been instrumental in incorporating technology into the classroom, from adding computer equipment to the plant pathology teaching laboratories to the use of a course website assembling syllabi, reading assignments, pre-lab lectures, sample exams, calendars, and grades.
Students praise Bockus’s teaching style, his fostering of a positive student-teacher relationship, and his straightforward and organized approach in providing appropriate and correct course content. Bockus has expended a great deal of effort determining the most effective manner for students to learn the fundamental concepts through the use of numerous classroom demonstrations. Incorporation of this style component into Bockus’s lectures brings a newness and enthusiasm to the lecture experience each time Bockus presents the material.
Bockus is also known for his contribution to the online APS Education Center through his contribution of the plant disease lesson Take-All Root Rot. In 1996, Bockus coauthored a laboratory manual for the Principles of Plant Pathology undergraduate course, which is used by multiple sections of lab students every spring semester. He also has worked to develop a graduate recruitment video for the Department of Plant Pathology at KSU.
Bockus has been a leader in the Department of Plant Pathology and College of Agriculture at KSU, where he has taken numerous leadership roles in the development of the philosophy and policies for teaching and curriculum. For example, he oversaw the development of a handbook for plant pathology graduate students, a college-level proposal for common undergraduate degree requirements, college assessment of basic skills in undergraduate education, methods for evaluating teaching in plant pathology, policies for teaching assistants in plant pathology, a recruitment brochure for prospective graduate students, requirements for master’s and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology, and assessment of student learning outcomes for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. In addition, Bockus has been the coordinator for the plant pathology minor, is advisor to the plant pathology graduate student club, is chair of the Graduate Recruitment and Selection Committee for the department, and has been a member and chair of the College Committee on Effective Instruction as well as the College Course and Curriculum Committee.
Bockus is an outstanding teacher who is committed to active student learning; he does not just dispense information. He has a track record of making the subject of practical importance to students through application, a critical aspect of teaching in our discipline. Bockus focuses on helping students retain the information for the long term. For example, Bockus teaches the graduate course Plant-Pathogenic Fungi for the Department of Plant Pathology. This course is required of all graduate students in the program. Students who have taken this course appreciate the basic, integrative, and applied approach that Bockus takes, not just looking down the microscope but also giving experience in PCR and other molecular techniques. Bockus’s dedication to providing relevant, fresh materials for lab study has garnered positive reactions from graduate students and has encouraged some to pursue studies on thesis topics concerning fungal pathogens. In addition, international students commend Bockus for his “gift” of clarity, organization, and selflessness to ensure that each student, regardless of English-speaking ability, understands the material. Due mostly to his success with teaching this course, Bockus received the 2002 KSU College of Agriculture Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award.
As Bockus states it, “Teachers should spark enthusiasm for the subject; they should be as much a ‘spark plug’ as a ‘fuel line’. An outstanding teacher should be ‘cheerleader’ for the students by serving them, admonishing and challenging them to learn, and giving appropriate and positive feedback.”