Assistant professor focuses on skills that build community: Q&A with Jennifer Reinke

Reinke standing in front of a green space.
Jennifer Reinke

Jennifer Reinke is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University. Learn more about why she came to CSU and her teaching philosophy.

1. What brought you to this Department at CSU?

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is student-centered and prioritizes high impact teaching practices in both their online and on-campus courses. Coming from a polytechnic university where language like “applied,” “hands on,” and “real world” were embedded into every syllabus, I was looking to be in a department that values excellent teaching and is committed to the growth and development of its students. HDFS excels in all of these areas.

2. What’s your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy is centered around three components: 1) building community in the classroom, 2) providing opportunities for real-world application, and 3) guiding the professional development of future family scientists. Though all components are critical to who I am as a teacher, I believe the foundation of excellence in teaching is the ability to build community and make meaningful connections. The most effective family practitioners support and encourage their clients’ abilities to build meaningful connections and strengthen their relationships with their children, partners, parents, and other family members and friends. I model this professional value by aiming to build a classroom community of togetherness where students have many opportunities to contribute to a team and feel like they are a part of something, that their presence or absence makes a difference. I want students to leave my classes wholeheartedly believing that every student’s voice is important, every student’s perspective is valid, and every student matters.

3. What are your research interests, and how did you get into that topic?

My primary research interests include autism and families, and best practices in teaching and learning in family science. When I was an undergraduate in college, I took a learning and behavior psychology course and was really interested in the ideas of shaping behavior through reinforcement and modeling. I also needed a job at that time and took my professor’s suggestion of applying to work at a group home with young adults with autism. I had a very cursory idea of what autism was, and I almost didn’t go back after experiencing a resident having a seizure and another resident engaging in self-injurious behavior on my first day. However, I did go back and stayed there for over two years. I was also becoming more interested in family studies and began to blend my interests in working with families impacted by autism. This then became my research focus in my doctoral studies and my clinical focus as a marriage and family therapist. My second research interest is around teaching and learning in higher education, specifically in the field of family science.

As a new instructor, I often found that I was implementing classroom activities that I thought were meaningful, but I had no data to support my anecdotal experiences. It seemed like X assignment was effective, but was it really? I now empirically examine best practices in teaching, and have pursued a body of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). I believe I have become a better teacher by doing research on my own classroom practices and sharing the results with other professionals in the field.

4. What’s your favorite thing about campus?

One of my favorite things about CSU is the energy of the campus. I love walking around campus and seeing it alive with the hustle and bustle of walkers, cyclists, and skateboarders, and hearing the sounds of music, conversations, and laughter. Seeing so many students and staff proudly wear their Rams gear gives me such a sense of happiness to be doing the work I am doing, in the place I am working, and with the people I am working alongside.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.