Melinda Shoemaker, associate professor of behavioral science at Broward College North Campus in Coconut Creek, calls her exams cocktail parties — cocktail parties that are, of course, BYOB: bring your own brain. Shoemaker wants her students to feel her passion, to be excited about learning and about getting information they can apply to their lives. That is what drives her, and that is what has five times landed her on mtvU’s RateMyProfessors.com annual top professors list.
Shoemaker, who lives in Boca Raton where she has a private practice as a psychotherapist and psychologist, took the top spot on RateMyProfessors.com’s recently released “Highest Rated Junior and Community College Professors” list for the 2014-2015 academic year.
She ranked No. 1 on that list for 2013-2014 as well, No. 2 for 2012-2013 and No. 8 for 2011-2012. For the 2010-2011 academic year, she ranked No. 4 on the “Highest Rated University Professors” list, which includes all college and university professors.
RateMyProfessors.com, built for college students by college students, is the highest trafficked website for researching and rating more than 1.4 million professors at colleges and universities throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. To determine the rankings, the website equally weights ratings of clarity and helpfulness for professors with 30 or more ratings within the past three years, putting more weight on more recent ratings.
Shoemaker, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a specialization in psychopharmacology and higher education, has been named a top professor by “The Huffington Post” and “Her Campus” as well and was included in the Princeton Review’s 2012 book “The Best 300 Professors: From the #1 Professor Rating Site, RateMyProfessors.com.” She has also been recognized by Broward College North Campus, where she started teaching in 1997. She was named its 2010-2011 “Professor of the Year” and its 2003-2004 “Adjunct Professor of the Year.”
In addition to teaching courses on subjects including general psychology, abnormal psychology, the sociology of human sexuality and marriage and families, Shoemaker mentors students as the co-adviser of the psychology club, which she started on campus a few years ago.
Below she reflects on the teaching profession and what it means to her.
What do you think students enjoy most about your teaching?
Probably the different style. I’m passionate. I’m enthusiastic. I get students involved in the classroom. I do supplement with technology. I have them pull things up on their phones and their iPads about what’s going in the community and what’s going on in the world at large and how that applies to human behavior, so I really think that that’s key to learning. My style is what I call cooperative teaching, cooperative learning. I teach them. They teach me. We teach each other. I learn from them, they learn from me, and we learn from each other, and that really makes the classroom very dynamic, and that way we apply the material, but we can apply it to life. It’s not just, “Hey, let’s apply it and get a grade. Let’s apply it and see how it works for you.”
What is the most meaningful feedback that a student has given you?
I get cards from my students. I get emails. I have students that come back after five and six years that sit down and talk to me. I had a student actually last week who said, “Dr. Shoemaker, you helped me so much in the abnormal psychology class. I was struggling, and you pointed me in the right direction, and here I am today.” That to me is a great achievement as a professor, but just as a person, to hear that students really got such a great deal of information from the courses and were able to use it. How many classes do we take that you go through the hoops, you get the grade, and that’s it? I want them to remember something, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be from the book or our lectures. It has to be something that is significant and relevant to them. That to me is the true essence of learning is application [to] life. That is the true essence, because if you’re not applying it in some way, shape or form, then what’s the purpose? Then they ask, “What’s the purpose?”
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
The students, that is it. I love hearing the questions that they have. I love it when they draw their own conclusions and come up with their “aha” moments and say, “I get it.” That to me is the most exciting part of it is, “Wow, Dr. Shoemaker. Hey, this is really cool. I understand, and I can apply this now to a family member or something I’m thinking about.”
What is your advice for other teachers, maybe those just starting out or feeling uninspired?
To be passionate about what they’re doing. If they’re not passionate, whether you’re an education teacher, a history teacher, a psychology teacher, students will sense that, but more importantly, what are you doing? You don’t feel passionate about what you do? I mean, and that’s how I teach, and that’s actually how I do therapy as well. I mean, you need to feel passionate about what you’re doing and excited about it. Now, granted, we all have down days. Fine. But don’t get up every morning and feel like crap about the job that you do. Feel great about what you do. Enjoy what you do. Bring that into the classroom.