Michael Allensworth arrived at Illinois in 2010 a first-generation college student from a working-class family.
He left four years and one political science/communication degree later, on a path that would lead him to a career on another Big Ten campus.
And for that, Michigan State’s assistant director for residence education has a favorite UI faculty member to thank — Professor K, as he came to know the Department of Communication’s Leanne Knobloch.
“I took CMN 230: Interpersonal Communication with one of Professor K’s graduate students during my junior year and loved the course. From the lecturers to the readings, essays, projects and presentations, I loved it all. I found the course to be one of the most practical I had up until that time,” he says.
“After I finished the course, one of the graduate students asked me to consider serving as an undergrad teaching intern for the following semester, serving under Professor K. I think the only thing I had ever said ‘yes’ to more quickly is when Chipotle staff ask me if I want guac with my order.
“So began one of the most transformational experiences of my college career.
“Professor K was one of the most intentional and engaging professors I had ever seen. Her genuine care for student learning was evident by the thorough way she prepared each of her lectures and assignments. Having the opportunity to sit through her lectures, meet weekly with Professor K and her grad students, and support students during office hours was great.
“I can remember the first time Professor K asked me what I thought about one of her lectures and my opinion on making some changes for a future class session. Who would have thought such a distinguished faculty member would be interested in my junior-student thoughts? But she was.
“And I think that is what set Professor K apart from other faculty members I had — it was the way she made me feel valued, smart and capable of anything I wanted to do. As a first-generation student from a poor, working class background, her interest and support in me and my work meant the world to me.
“So, now, in my work in higher education, I often remember the diligent way Professor K went about her work, day in and day out, to ensure her students and their learning was always first. While I learned a lot from Professor K, what I most learned was not directly from a textbook or journal reading; rather, it was to be diligent and consistent with what you do, and always remember to focus on the ‘who’ you are doing the work for.
“Thank you, Professor K.”