October 31, 2011

Addicted to Academics

Professor Ron Bernier

Ron Bernier has a bachelor’s degree in art history, three masters’ degrees, and a PhD in art history. But he’s still ready to learn. He’s been taking classes at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to broaden his knowledge of theory and practice in higher education for the past year. “Obviously, I find it hard to sort of get out of the educational environment,” says Bernier, chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Naturally, his life’s passion was uncovered in a lecture hall. During his freshman year at Vassar, Bernier—who, as an avid reader was then toying with the idea of majoring in English—heard several different faculty members lecture on art in all forms from Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to modern practices. He was hooked.

He earned his master’s degree in art history and his PhD from the University of Essex in England, where he also got his first shot at teaching. He would take his students to museums and galleries in London almost weekly—something he realized had a measurable impact on the way his students were learning.

“It suddenly struck me that that’s where the dynamic really changes—students who may be sort of less interested or less attentive in a classroom when you’re showing slides, come alive when you’re standing in front of works of art,” he said.

Bernier found the fact that he would be able to practice this approach to learning as well as the opportunity to teach art history in a nontraditional environment to be two very attractive things about joining the faculty at Wentworth.

“It works especially well for our students because they love to do things. They’re not the students to stand up in front of and lecture at for three hours a week. They want to be engaged in doing something.”

Even in his free time, he enjoys going to museums to make sure he never loses his sense of what’s going on in the art world. When he’s not at Wentworth, at the museum, or catching a symphony, he’s probably reading, a safe assumption because he said he reads between 50 and 100 books a year. He likes reading “campus novels,” or stories about the craziness that goes on in academic environments among faculty, staff, and students.

“My first semester here, I taught three sections of the same course, and they were like night and day—dramatically different because of the mix of the students. And I love that—I love the fact that it’s different every single semester.”  

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