This August, Dr. Caleb Stair, instructional assistant professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department, was recognized with the CALS Innovation in Teaching Award at the 2023 UF/IFAS CALS Teaching Symposium.
Dr. Stair teaches three courses currently: Natural Resource and Agricultural Ethics, Agricultural Macroeconomics, and International Humanitarian Assistance. In addition, Stair also serves as the advisor to the Ag. Econ Club and supervises CALS honors thesis projects for undergraduate students in Food and Resource Economics.
This award is unique in that it is decided upon by student nomination without prior knowledge by the faculty member being nominated.
Shelby Sumner, a senior undergraduate student in the Food and Resource Economics Department, said she chose to nominate Dr. Stair after taking all three of his classes and working with him as a mentor on her honors thesis research project.
His infectious passion for the topic of applied economics, approachable demeanor, and commitment to students’ professional development within the classroom and beyond all motivated Sumner to nominate Dr. Stair for the award.
“Dr. Stair quickly became one of my favorite professors with his energetic teaching style, which turns potentially boring topics into interesting lectures,” said Sumner. “His passion for teaching and helping his students was immediately evident and is proven by the many hours he spends helping myself and other students outside of class time.”
In his International Humanitarian Assistance and Natural Resource and Agricultural Ethics courses, the students will engage with different issues society is facing, such as the ethics of animal agriculture, GMOS, and the decisions behind employing humanitarian aid in different situations.
“I treat both those classes as if we are beyond textbooks; this is about you being able to articulate what you have learned in your time at UF in a persuasive manner,” Stair said.
Dr. Stair said that one of his biggest focuses is on promoting open-ended discussion, where students can freely discuss complex problems, propose their own solutions, and discuss freely while disagreeing cordially, applying what they have learned throughout the rest of their coursework at UF to real-world issues.
“Every semester, I get to meet 120 new people with different perspectives that I haven’t met before,” Stair said. “I love getting to interact with students, and the most boring day in class is the one where I do all the talking.”
In all of his courses, Dr. Stair employs a project-based learning approach to teaching, where each aspect of the class leads up to an overall project, such as a final debate for Ethics and a mock UN event for the Humanitarian Assistance Course.
One of the benefits of his classroom approach for many students is that it will lead to an interest that can then be applied to their honors research project.
“A lot of the honors students I get become interested out of the projects in my previous classes. A student right now who participates in an ethics debate can come up with an idea that leads to an overarching paper,” Stair said. “Overall, my project-based approach gives students desire to dive deeper.”
For Dr. Stair, this award is particularly meaningful to him as it was a recognition that came directly from the students he works with.
“The awards that mean something to me are the ones that other people think I am deserving of,” Stair said. “I like to think that I do things that make my courses more engaging and fun for them, but it is great to see that mirrored in their reflections upon the coursework, and it makes my job more enjoyable to know that they too are having fun!”