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From U.Va. student to U.Va. professor

University faculty began as undergrads

<p>Many professors cite the Lawn as the aspect of the University that has remained most constant from their time as students to the present.&nbsp;</p>

Many professors cite the Lawn as the aspect of the University that has remained most constant from their time as students to the present. 

There is no doubt a degree from the University can open up countless doors to places beyond Grounds. However, for some graduates, the draw of the University is strong enough to keep them here well beyond their four years, as they return to the school as members of the faculty.

Commerce Prof. Gary Ballinger returned to the University as faculty after obtaining an MBA from Wake Forest University and several years experience in the work force. He said being a professor here has expanded his experiences with the University.

“The biggest thing for me has been the chance to do and experience a lot of things about University leadership and provide services to the University that I didn’t do when I was a student here,” Ballinger said.

After realizing his interest in becoming a professor, Ballinger said his first choice was to return to the school where he had completed his undergraduate degree.

“When I was interviewing for jobs back in 2004, U.Va. was looking for a one year professor in the [McIntire] School of Commerce,” Ballinger said. “I applied and I desperately wanted the job. That was the first time that I was really confronted with the opportunity that I could come back here to work. It was the first choice on my list.”

Ballinger cites his ability to give students advice on their futures and talking to them outside of class as one of the most rewarding parts of being a professor.

“The favorite part of my job is really providing advice and talking to students, be it at the West Range Cafe or sitting at my office or running into people out at Bodo’s,” Ballinger said.

Curry Prof. Jennifer Pease said being back at the University, where she once was a student, has been an unexpected and surreal experience.

“If you had asked me as a fourth year if I thought I would end up back at U.Va., I would have said absolutely not,” Pease said. “To be still in the same very small realm in terms of location and continually seeing these places is a little strange sometimes.”

Since her time as a student, Pease has noticed changes in student involvement and dialogue on Grounds.

“I am constantly amazed and impressed by the cool things students do and the amount of leadership they have,” Pease said. “I think that there's much more attention now to really important social issues within and beyond our community and I think that’s really exciting and important.”

Since Pease is a professor in the Curry School, she said she looks forward to seeing what her current students will end up contributing to education after they graduate.

“I really just love interacting with students and seeing them grow and change into professional adults who are well-prepared to go out and teach other people,” Pease said. “The impact our students will have on school locally and across the country is exciting to see.”

Like Pease, Politics Prof. Larry Sabato, director of the Center of Politics, did not initially plan on returning to the University to teach, and instead set his sights on a law degree.

“I was an undergrad from 1970-74 and have been back on the faculty since 1978. I’d planned to go to law school but was lured back — and I’ve never regretted it,” Sabato said in an email statement.

After 38 years at the University, Sabato has been witness to many substantial changes on Grounds. While the architecture has remained consistent, he has seen profound improvement in less tangible aspects of the school.

“The Lawn is the same, of course, but the University today is far richer, more diverse and international than in the early 1970s,” Sabato said. “In terms of the quality of faculty and students, it is leagues better — though we had some wonderful faculty and students four decades ago, too.”

Economics Prof. Maria Westerfield felt so drawn to the University and the greater Charlottesville community that she completed her graduate studies at the University as well, leaving Grounds still hoping to return one day.

“I always hoped to return to Virginia, and was fortunate to move to Richmond in 2007, and to start teaching at U.Va. in 2011,” Westerfield said in an email statement. “I joke to my students that when they return to Charlottesville, they will encounter friends who have never left or who have also returned. I run into quite a few of my undergrad and graduate friends. It's a special place.”

Westerfield also noted the diversity of experience international students bring to her classes.

“I had an exchange student from Australia in my Law and Econ class a few years ago, who was able to bring in her knowledge of the Australian legal system to discuss similarities and differences with the [U.S.] legal system and provided great examples of how we could apply general economic analysis of the law across jurisdictions,” Westerfield said.

Westerfield’s passion and love for the University as a student now translates into her favorite aspects of being a professor here.

“I love interacting with the students here and sharing my passion for economics and the University,” Westerfield said. “I feel a real connection with them, since I have had many of the same experiences they are having — yes, I had Prof. Elzinga too for Econ 201. The students are talented and dedicated, and it really makes teaching here so rewarding.”

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