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Jessup challenges students to ‘real world’ research


Dr. Ryan Jessup, 2017 Teacher of the Year

Photo by Scott Delony

On the soccer field students know him as Ryan, striker, and one of the “old guys” who are – to students’ surprise – actually good. When he began teaching at ACU, Dr. Ryan Jessup helped start a weekly pick-up soccer game where faculty, staff and students play as equals.
He came to ACU in 2011, from Caltech where he was a research scientist in cognitive neuroscience, and he teaches marketing research, consumer behavior and data mining.
In May, he was named Teacher of the Year, which surprised him. He doesn’t teach in a way to be liked, although, he candidly admits that initially “the temptation was there.” When he began teaching, he concluded, “If I’m teaching to be liked, then I won’t be challenging [the students] like they need to be challenged.”
As it turns out, his students appreciate being challenged, along with his straight-shooting approach. He is the first to tell you that he doesn’t sugarcoat. “I do my best to put myself in their shoes. I look at their 20-year-old selves and think, ‘What would 20-year-old Ryan Jessup need to hear?’ It’s going to be tough out there. You can choose to be lazy, and it’s all going to pass you by. Or you can choose to learn right now.”
Jessup teaches his students to be skeptical of what is presented to them. “I often encourage students to contemplate the potential flaws in the studies we examine,” he says. “I try to rarely teach things as fact, but, rather that these are research findings, or this is a theory about human behavior.”
So his own lectures are even fodder for student research projects. These projects are, by the way, exactly what you will find in the professional world. This “real world” experience is something that students are grateful for.
Other words that echo through student reviews of Jessup’s innovative teaching style are approachable, real, energetic and passionate.
He has a difficult time saying no to certain research projects (maintaining around 10 himself) because “If it’s on decision-making, I’m kind of addicted to it.” It’s no surprise that this passion for research presents in his teaching.
Jessup has worked closely with undergraduate students in research projects, particularly mentoring students with interest in pursuing graduate degrees in marketing or psychology. (Each of them were accepted into graduate programs.) “If they are inspired to come to me, then I’ll give them something to do, and if they don’t do it, that’s fine. If they are motivated, then we carry on from there.”
At home, Jessup spends time with his wife and three kids and coaches his son’s soccer team. He might also be found curled up with a Nobel Prize-winning book in Behavioral Economics (because who doesn’t love some light reading), or in the garden. Even in his hobbies, Jessup likes a challenge. He is currently growing plumerias and gardenias; neither are native to Abilene. “If I want to grow it, then I’m going to grow it. If it’s at all possible, I’m going to try to make it happen.”

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