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Dan T. Stearns '73, professor of landscape contracting, was one of three notable faculty members featured in this spring's edition of Penn State's AgScience Magazine. Here's an excerpt from the article.

"Chances are you remember a teacher who changed your life – one who saw something in you that you didn't see, one who encouraged and pushed you a little farther. The college is fortunate to have teachers like that – mentors who engage students in learning, capture their imaginations, and transform them into thinkers. Meet three faculty members who take different approaches to teaching but share a commitment to equipping students with the tools they need to succeed after college...

...Dan Stearns keeps an open-door policy at this office, and his students make good use of it. "I encourage informal visits from students," says Stearns, who has taught landscape contracting since 1989.

Stearns teaches two design studios for juniors and seniors. "I see myself as a mentor, encouraging students to be creative on their own," he says. "I can teach them current technology, but if I can get them excited about learning – and teach them how to learn – that's the key. I guide them and make sure they're not going too far astray while allowing them to come up with something that will be functional and aesthetic and meet the client's needs. If they can do that, they can attack any project, small or large."

Each year Stearn's students work on a project on campus. In past years they have worked on the front entrance of the Ag Administration Building, the patio and plantings in front of Tyson Building, and the Hintz Alumni Gardens. The current senior class recently presented planting plans to managers of the Arboretum. Through this work students gain project management skills as they schedule their projects and coordinate with suppliers and the campus landscape crew.

According to Stearns, students learn a lot from one another. "Somebody who's already built a brick patio will show a classmate how it's done," he says. "They take great pride in their accomplishments, and I hope in the future they will bring their kids and grandkids back to campus and tell them 'I built that.'"

Sometimes it takes a while for students to catch on to Stearn's approach to teaching. "In the mid-1990s, one of my students came to my office right before graduation. After going through the normal pleasantries he told me that he didn't think he'd gotten his money's worth. I was quite taken aback and I said, 'Are you telling me you don't think you've learned anything?' He said, 'Oh, no, I've learned a lot – but I had to figure it out all by myself.' My response was, 'That's great! You just made my day.' He looked at me and after a moment it dawned on him – he'd just summed up my philosophy of teaching."