Two-time professor of the year

MSU’s Conn exceptional in and out of the classroom

Ashton Gerard/MDN Minot State’s Dan Conn, left, helps MSU student Erin Rafferty categorize books for the Locally Exceptional Readers project. The project collected over 2,000 books from the community and is distributing them to children in Ward County.

Helping others chase their dreams and inspiring the next generation of teachers are just a few of the things Dan Conn does at Minot State University.

Conn is not only Assistant Professor of Teacher Education and Master of Education Program Director, he is passionately involved in the Minot community. He serves on the Men’s Winter Refuge Board, the Minot Symphony Board, sponsors a student club on campus and has coached various sports. He also enjoys giving lectures or talks to get the community engaged in dialogue.

“I think it helps us connect Minot State to the community,” Conn said about being involved outside of the classroom. “I see them as one and the same in a lot of ways. We’re an extension of the community and the community is an extension of Minot State.”

Hailing from Colorado, Conn has always been passionate about teaching, and gathers some of that passion from his parents. Growing up, he would spend time on Sundays helping his parents teach Sunday school classes.

“Seeing my dad especially teach, it was cool, he was a good role model,” he said. “And my mom, she was famous for her messes. She would always have arts and crafts and glitter everywhere and I would just remember how excited kids would be about their Sunday school class in particular.”

Throughout his high school years, Conn would help his parents on Sundays which sparked the idea of himself becoming a teacher one day. Four degrees and years later, Dr. Conn is helping others achieve their teaching dreams.

Once upon a time, Conn participated in rodeo and spent some time in Minot as a 19-year-old. He said from his rodeo days he had a positive experience and has always liked North Dakota.

Conn taught and coached football in rural Colorado for 10 years after receiving his bachelor’s degree in History Education from the University of Northern Colorado. He always knew he wanted to live and raise his family in a rural area and as he advanced through his degrees, he realized he wanted to move on to a university.

“Minot seemed kind of ideal,” Conn said. “When we moved here, I had a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader so it seemed like a good community for that age of children and a good place to raise a family.”

He also said the institution size was perfect as well. The small class size at Minot State University really allows him to build a relationship and connect to his students in a way that a lecture hall doesn’t allow for. He began his MSU career in the summer of 2014.

Conn has been awarded “Professor of the Year” at Minot State University twice in his career now, once in 2014-15 and again in 2016-17. “Professor of the Year” is awarded by the Student Government Association annually to honor faculty members from MSU’s three colleges and a faculty or student advisor to recognize their dedication to students.

Conn has been recognized for his dedication to the students of the College of Education and Health Sciences.

“I feel like my colleagues are just as good if not better,” Conn said. “I think it says a lot for our department. I think teacher education and kinesiology is a great department and I’m surrounded by amazing people and students and it’s humbling for sure.”

Conn is currently working with students of MSU’s Student North Dakota United (SNDU) and Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) to distribute books to children ages pre-K through sixth grade in the Minot area. The initiative, called Locally Exceptional Readers, brings an emphasis to meeting the educational needs of students.

“We collected over 2,000 books around the community and we’re going to redistribute those to students in Ward County,” Conn said. “It’s been an annual project that’s kind of taken different shapes but this is our fourth year of something along those lines.”

Being a professor for both undergraduate and graduate students, Conn sees teaching in two different ways.

“In some ways I think your undergraduate degree helps you know how to follow the rules to be a teacher, but your graduate degree helps you to question those rules at times or push the boundaries of those rules or wonder where those rules came from or how could I improve the rules.”

Conn loves when students get to the why behind the what and they really start to think of the application of what they are doing. It’s great to know what you’re doing, but the key to a passionate, engaged teacher is being pushed by the why.

“At that (graduate) level, it’s fun to see teachers kind of come out of their shell and have a sense of efficacy for their students and for themselves,” he said.

Conn also works closely with teachers in practicum or blocks. This is when the teacher is applying what they’ve learned under the guidance of a full-time teacher.

“That’s fun too because you see (teachers) right before they’re going into the classroom full-time and just trying to build their confidence and help them to think developmentally,” Conn said.

At the end of the day, Conn said building relationships with students is a fundamental part of teaching that is lacking in some teachers today. He hopes to instill these values in future teachers to get them ready for different developmental challenges that come with teaching.

In terms of public education, Conn is passionate about students actually learning and applying rather than being able to regurgitate information for a test and lose the valuable takeaways. He says just being smart at taking tests isn’t enough.

“When we think of ‘What is the purpose of public education?’ It’s more than just consuming content for the purpose of taking tests. It’s about building democracy and citizenship,” he said.

On April 24, Conn will be taking part in a discussion with Rob Port, the voice behind ‘The Rob (Re)port’ on WDAY AM970 and writer of SayAnythingBlog.com, that will discuss what should or shouldn’t be a part of higher education today. This is a part of the Campus and Community Dialogues series.

‘Higher Education in the 21st Century’ is a free, open to the public discussion that will be moderated by Christina Paxman. There will be refreshments and plenty of healthy debate at the event. The discussion takes place April 24 in the Northwest Arts Center on campus at 7 p.m.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)

COMMENTS