Motivated to help
Murphy Award winner Jennifer Dobbs-Oates relishes her role of working with students who desire to improve people’s lives
The passion is pure.
You can see it in Jennifer Dobbs-Oates’ ear-to-ear grin and hear it in her spirited voice.
Dobbs-Oates, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) and director of the Office of Experiential Education, truly enjoys her dual positions as teacher and administrator. Most of all, however, she values the role she plays in preparing students to do meaningful work that improves people’s lives.
“The biggest thing about HDFS students is that they want to help people and, overwhelmingly, that’s what I see in the students I teach,” says Dobbs-Oates, a 2022 recipient of Purdue’s Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. “That has been a tremendously cool part of my career here because what a really motivating thing to be part of – working with students who have that desire and getting to help support them in achieving that goal.”
The Murphy Award is the University’s highest undergraduate teaching honor and is accompanied by induction into Purdue’s Teaching Academy, which provides leadership for the improvement of undergraduate, graduate and outreach teaching.
Dobbs-Oates teaches HDFS undergraduates at various steps along their academic journey, from freshman orientation to one of the primary skill-development courses to leading the capstone internship program.
“One of the best things, which brings me a lot of joy, is seeing students develop over time,” she says. “I think it’s a real privilege to get to teach the same students more than once and to see their change and growth.”
Meaningful learning experiences are key
Dobbs-Oates’ teaching is distinguished by a consistent focus on meaningful learning experiences and intentional student reflection. She serves on the board of directors of the National Society for Experiential Education and received the organization’s Rising Leader Award in 2019.
“Learning sticks so much better when you do it experientially,” Dobbs-Oates says. “It has an authentic element, along with a reflective element, so that students are thinking about the experience they’re having and considering what it means going forward.”
Dobbs-Oates has forged partnerships with community agencies where students complete service-learning projects or internships. These agencies consistently express their appreciation for the impact her students make. For Dobbs-Oates, seeing students discover and follow their passion is particularly gratifying.
“Internships are so powerful because they are both academic and professional,” she says. “They’re both being a student and taking that step into a career at the same time. And I get to see firsthand this transitional period, watching students develop the skills they have learned, as well as their confidence.”
Growing up in Avon, Indiana, Dobbs-Oates was pretty much destined to become an educator – following her mom and aunt into the profession – but not necessarily at the university level.
The biggest thing about HDFS students is that they want to help people … That has been a tremendously cool part of my career here because what a really motivating thing to be part of – working with students who have that desire and getting to help support them in achieving that goal.Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, clinical associate professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and director of the Office of Experiential Education
“I definitely was surrounded by education,” she says. “But it was more of the K-12 variety, so, as a young person, I didn’t see higher ed as a career field.” Both of Dobbs-Oates’ parents attended Purdue, but that did not mean she was automatically going to follow in their footsteps to West Lafayette. “I wanted to blaze my own trail,” she says. “But I still put Purdue on my list of places to apply to and visit. And it won out. I was offered the Beering Scholarship, and I was able to come to Purdue without any kind of financial pressure, and I got to meet amazing people and have great experiences.”
Dobbs-Oates earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2000 and went on to earn her master’s and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts. While completing her doctoral work – and an internship at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis – Dobbs-Oates decided she wanted to teach at the college level. She joined the Purdue faculty in 2006 and later became the founding faculty facilitator of the Active Learning Community of Practice, which provides resources for instructors interested in learning more about implementing active learning in their classrooms.
“My work gives me a lot of satisfaction because I think I impact people in different ways, and in positive ways, trying to make every student’s education better and making Purdue a better place,” Dobbs-Oates says.
Receiving the Murphy Award has special significance for this diehard Boilermaker, whose husband, Matt, is also a Purdue graduate who works for Purdue Marketing and Communications. Their first date was at a men’s basketball game, where Jennifer says, “Matt stopped watching the game to watch me because I was yelling and screaming for Purdue.”
“I can’t imagine an award that would be more meaningful than this one,” says Dobbs-Oates, who recently was promoted to clinical professor of human development and family studies, effective August 2022. “I love teaching and I love Purdue. I have looked at the list of Murphy Award winners, and I found at least five recipients who taught me when I was an undergraduate. And they are the most memorable professors I had.
“It really hits you how much teachers do have an opportunity to shape people. To join that list of amazing Purdue educators through the years, I’m really touched and honored.”
Learning sticks so much better when you do it experientially. It has an authentic element, along with a reflective element, so that students are thinking about the experience they’re having and considering what it means going forward.Jennifer Dobbs-Oates Clinical associate professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and director of the Office of Experiential Education