Cleo D’Arcy was educated as a plant virologist, and for the first 15 years of her professorial career, her primary teaching assignment was a graduate level lecture/laboratory plant virology course. She enjoyed this teaching assignment and, 27 years later, continues to teach plant virology (PLPA 404). However, D’Arcy began to think that her interest and talent in teaching could be used to educate broader audiences about topics in which she passionately believed—agricultural literacy, professional ethics, and college teacher preparation. Toward that end, she developed several unique courses and instructional materials that have been used as models at other institutions.
D’Arcy has designed or co-designed three highly successful courses at the University of Illinois. Plants, Pathogens, and People (PLPA 200) was developed in 1993 in order to teach a broad range of undergraduate students about important agricultural issues that impact their daily lives. The course fulfills general education requirements in advanced composition and natural sciences and has been filled (75 students) during preregistration each of the past 12 years. Students learn facts and concepts about plant diseases and related issues in class, and they enhance and apply their learning by reading and writing about issues such as genetic engineering, pesticide use, and biodiversity. Over the years, D’Arcy has developed multiple instructional formats and media for use in PLPA 200. One current focus of her research is evaluation of the effectiveness of these approaches for students with different learning styles.
To supplement this course and to provide an agricultural literacy tool to others, D’Arcy and her colleagues (primarily Darin Eastburn) have developed an extensive public website. The Plant, Pathogens, and People (PPP) website (http://www.ppp.uiuc.edu) is designed to allow college and advanced high school students to independently learn about agriculture and related complex issues through plant pathology examples. Currently, modules on four important diseases are available: crown gall, Dutch elm disease, late blight, and soybean cyst. The National Science Foundation funded an expansion of the PPP site, which was selected “Site of the Month” in the Plant Pathology Internet Guidebook. Students in courses at several universities in the United States and other countries have used the resource materials and virtual activities available on the PPP site.
D’Arcy has always had a strong interest in professionalism and professional ethics. She began teaching graduate students about these topics in a series of informal evening classes in 1982 with Wayne Pedersen. This evolved into the course Professionalism and Ethics in the Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CPSC 590), which currently enrolls 15 to 20 students from across the College of ACES each year. D’Arcy continues to lead this course, working with several other faculty members and numerous guest speakers from campus, businesses, and other organizations. Students learn about and discuss topics such as mentoring, scientific writing and editorial processes, oral and poster presentations, money and people management, getting and keeping a job, and conflict resolution. Each student prepares and leads a discussion related to a class topic. This class has served as the model for professionalism courses at other U.S. institutions, including the University of Arkansas, the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University, and Oklahoma State University.
In 1997, D’Arcy led a team of four faculty members in her college to design and implement Teaching College. Over 160 new faculty, post-docs, and graduate students have learned about learning theory and teaching methods through this innovative 10-week course. D’Arcy has led sections on a variety of topics, including learning styles, discussion leadership, teaching portfolios, and instructional technology. Peer observation and mentoring are important aspects of the class, and she has been instrumental in these activities across her college. The success of this course is evidenced by the development of a community of teachers who regularly share their experiences and knowledge. In 2000, D’Arcy and the co-instructors of Teaching College were honored as recipients of the first annual Team Award from their college.
Since D’Arcy became the Department of Crop Sciences teaching and advising coordinator in 1995, she has been one of two co-instructors in the Undergraduate Crop Sciences Seminar (CPSC 498), the department’s capstone writing and speaking experience for undergraduate majors. D’Arcy presents information on and models effective communication skills, and the students “learn by doing.” Each student’s presentation is evaluated by his or her peers and the instructors, and writes a paper on a topic related to crop sciences. The department submits the best papers to the American Society for Agronomy manuscript competition, and D’Arcy is extremely proud that one or more of her students have been national winners every year that she has cotaught the course.
D’Arcy has written three and edited many of the APS online lessons in plant pathology (published online by APS) for students in introductory plant pathology courses. In addition, she is the co-creator (with Dr. Eastburn) of two videotapes on plant diseases which are distributed by APS PRESS for use in plant pathology courses around the world. Recently, D’Arcy has published several articles on her teaching scholarship in order to share what she has learned with her peers, and she has co-authored (with Gail Schumann) an introductory plant pathology textbook published by APS PRESS in 2006.
Over the years, D’Arcy has gradually evolved from being a plant virology researcher with an interest in teaching, to a teacher who keeps her hand in research. This is how she wants it, because for her it is true that—as one University of Illinois bumper sticker says—“I’d rather be teaching.”