Professor Brett Arenz was born in Dundee, Scotland. He earned a BS at Bemidji State University and MS and PhD degrees in plant pathology at the University of Minnesota. In 2014, he was hired as a teaching assistant professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota to expand undergraduate teaching and to support undergraduate and graduate majors through classroom teaching and experiential learning. Arenz is a committed and innovative instructor and an educational leader who embodies society's commitment to educational excellence.
At the University of Minnesota, Arenz has taught six different undergraduate courses and three different graduate courses; he conceived of and developed several of the courses himself. Among his courses are undergraduate classes that build awareness of plant pathology, capturing students' imagination while accurately reflecting our science. His blockbuster class “Plague, Famine, and Beer" explores the impacts of microbes on human health (plague), food security (famine), and well-being (beer). Arenz designed this class to align with the University of Minnesota's liberal education requirements, and his course received the official “historical perspectives" designation. Arenz also designed and teaches the Honors College seminar “Science Fiction and Biology," which uses science fiction film and literature as a basis for exploring biological functions, processes, and structures. The class engages students from the starting point of pop culture but extends that interest into diverse aspects of biology. Arenz has also taught key courses required of undergraduate plant science majors and plant pathology MS and PhD students. These include the undergraduate courses “Insects, Plants, and Microbes" and “Pest and Crop Protection" and the graduate courses “Principles of Plant Pathology" (a capstone course), “Field Plant Pathology" (an experiential course providing real-world disease management training), and “Introduction to Fungal Biology." Arenz is consistently singled out by students and peers as an excellent, creative, and dedicated instructor.
Arenz brings passion and modern pedagogy to each of his classes. Especially noteworthy, he led the adoption of online teaching by faculty of the Department of Plant Pathology, which has revolutionized the teaching portfolio and introduced new groups of students to plant pathology. For example, “Plague, Famine, and Beer" started as a traditional in-person course with 11 students, mostly from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). In 2018, after it was established as an online course, class enrollment was capped at 175 and the class filled to capacity almost immediately. Importantly, participation in the online course has extended far beyond the college. Today, approximately one-third of the students come from CFANS and the remainder come from every corner of the University of Minnesota. Students from the School of Nursing, the College of Engineering, and the College of Liberal Arts are all well represented in this class. In the course, students investigate primary historic source material directly using digital archives. They analyze original letters and papers from figures such as Leeuwenhoek, Lister, and Pasteur to understand the progression and importance of the discipline of microbiology. Many students rate “Plague, Famine, and Beer" as one of the best courses they have taken.
As director of the Plant Disease Clinic, Arenz provides innovative, research-focused, experiential opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. His efforts have had measurable impacts on students' career choices, with undergraduate advisees that engage in the Plant Disease Clinic frequently choosing graduate study in plant pathology. Across the board, student enrollment in Arenz's courses has been robust, and student and peer-instructor evaluations have indicated that he is clearly an outstanding teacher.
Arenz plays key leadership roles that expand the use of modern pedagogical approaches. Since 2012, he has served on the Plant Pathology Department Education Committee, and he has served as committee chair since 2016. This committee is at the forefront of improving the curriculum and evaluating teaching effectiveness. Arenz represents plant pathology on the collegiate Plant Science Major Coordinating Committee, was a founding member of the collegiate E-learning Committee, serves on the collegiate Online Faculty Support Task Force, and chairs the collegiate Curriculum Committee. Since 2015, he has served on the Training and Education Committee for the National Plant Diagnostic Network. As the first faculty to teach a fully online course in the Department of Plant Pathology, Arenz worked through the challenges of online delivery and now serves as a local expert.
Brett Arenz is an unusually talented and committed plant pathology instructor whose impacts have been numerous. In recognition of his talents, he was named a 2018 winner of CFANS Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award—a highly competitive honor. For his innovative teaching in plant pathology, his success in introducing a broad range of students to the discipline, and his commitment to modern pedagogy, Professor Brett Arenz is highly deserving of The American Phytopathological Society Excellence in Teaching Award.