Teaching Spotlight: Steve Giles


Steve Giles is the Director of Graduate Studies and an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication. He joined the faculty of the College in 1999 part-time, before becoming an full-time assistant professor in 2002. His research focuses on adolescent substance use prevention, problem behavior program implementation, and social and media influence on body image among college students.


Why did you decide to become a professor?

I think from an early age I knew I wanted to teach. As a sophomore in college I was majoring in secondary education with the hopes of teaching high school English and Communication when I realized that I loved what my Communication professors did for a living. They invested so much in me and quite dramatically changed my life. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to go on to graduate school and be a professor. But it was only in graduate school that I realized I enjoyed scholarship and research. Now I truly cannot imagine doing anything other than what I’m doing.

 Why did you choose to come to Wake Forest? 

My first job out of graduate school was with a small research company in Clemmons/Greensboro. I accepted the position because I thought it would give me good training at writing grant proposals (which it did!). I also wanted to keep my foot in the door of academe so I was teaching one course per semester at Wake Forest as an adjunct. After my daughter was born in 2000 I felt the need to move away from depending on soft money and pursue a full-time career in academe. I started to apply for positions at various Universities but was unaware that Wake was in the middle of a job search until I received a voice mail from IS informing me that my Wake Forest email account was full. I didn’t even know I had a WF email account! So for over 2 years emails were piling up. I went into the account and had 600 messages and one of the most recent messages was from a faculty member in Communication telling me that she was getting married and moving and that she thought I would be a good candidate for her position. I applied just in the nick of time because they had recently completed the interviewing process and were ready to make an offer. Since I was local (read: cheap) and they knew me they entertained my application. The rest is history. If I had received the message from IS one week later I’m afraid I wouldn’t be here. So I certainly profited from divine intervention.

 How important is teaching and the classroom experience here at Wake?

The teacher-scholar model is for real. It doesn’t mean we (faculty) always get it right. Like students, we struggle sometimes to meet a variety of demands on our time. But as a value the teacher-scholar model is palpable. The University invests enormous resources into teacher training, initiatives to and programs that foster professor-student relationships, and incentives that promote high quality teaching. I cannot imagine any professor coming to Wake Forest who does not share that value. I equally cannot imagine any professor earning tenure here who does not maintain certain standards for pedagogy. And that is NOT the case at many other Universities.

 What are some attributes that you think make a great teacher?

I’m certainly still learning what makes a great teacher. I used to think that teaching was all about me. I would spend considerable time worrying about the content of the course, the methods I would use to teach the course, and strategies that could foster better engagement in the classroom. I’m slowly starting to recognize the importance of approaching the class from the students’ perspectives (yes, I’m a slow learner). This means I am becoming more comfortable in first ascertaining what knowledge and experiences students bring to my classes so I can better tailor materials and methods to what they already know. I also am reading a great deal about how all of us learn and trying to think creatively about teaching in ways that appeal to students’ senses, as well as building knowledge frameworks that can be readily accessed by students outside of the class environment (e.g., application and experiential learning).  Of course, this view of learning is also limited in that it views teaching as classroom-based. The truth is great teachers may play many roles, including mentor, collaborator, parent, friend, counselor, leader, coach, and mediator.

 What was the last lesson you learned from your students?

That I’m getting old! I accompanied a group of students to a rural village in Nicaragua where we spent a week living in pretty rough conditions. My sleeping accommodations were with the male students and some organization staff in a tiny brick hut with dirt floors, mice, scorpions, and who knows what else. I slept with a bug net jacket that fully enclosed my face. It was unbelievably hot in the hut because the windows were nailed shut. Evidently I snored at night and the students would jostle me, take pictures of me, and otherwise harass me to get me to stop. I earned two nicknames on this trip: “pops” and “bug man.” I guess I’ll know when I’ve aged into the next phase of my career—they will start calling me “grand pops.”

 What aspect of your job do you enjoy most?

 As much as I enjoy classroom interaction, I am highly energized by my experiences in leading study abroad and service trips. These opportunities have helped me develop life-long relationships with students. Life is also such a great classroom for studying communication theory, research, and concepts, so I especially enjoy working alongside students to find applications.