Teaching is ‘making the information real’: Outstanding Educator stresses self-reliance and accountability

By Lydia Hansen

Managing Editor

Randy Renken

Randy Renken, RCTC biology instructor of 16 years, believes he has done his job when his students learn self-reliance and accountability for their studies and actions.

“If they can learn that from me, I feel I have done my job,” he said, “regardless of if they excel in biology or not.”

Now he is being rewarded for years of patient teaching by receiving RCTC’s Outstanding Educator award, alongside Veterinary Technician instructor Kim Rowley. This award recognizes faculty for their teaching, expertise and professional growth  and fostering of student learning. As a recipient of this award, Renken’s teaching portfolio will be forwarded to the Minnesota State Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Teaching Review Committee to be considered for an Educator of the Year award.

In response to being selected for the award, Renken said, “I am completely overwhelmed and honored that students would take time out of their very busy schedules to recognize my efforts. For that I say, ‘Thank you, students!’”

Renken came to RCTC from physical therapy training he took to complete his master’s degree at the Mayo School of Health-Related Sciences in Rochester. While conducting clinical rotations, he realized he wanted to help more people at a more rapid pace than physical therapy was allowing him to.

“I had always had the thought of teaching anatomy and physiology in the back of my mind,” Renken said, “so I thought I would try it here.”

As an instructor, Renken said he could relate to students who, for whatever reason, do not pass his classes the first time but excel when retaking them. He experienced that same shift in achievement in his own life, failing initially when he came to RCTC right out of high school. Coming back 10 years later with three children under the age of 5, he said he “focused like a laser beam” on his studies.

What changed he feels was his motivation, effort and drive. This adjustment in his outlook made him self-reliant and ready to do what it took to achieve and succeed in a meaningful career.

For Renken, that career is teaching and preparing students to work in health and medicine.

As an instructor, he is known to be a bit of a tease, which he explained is not only part of his personality but helps students relax and open up in the classroom. For instance, kidding about how a skull used to explain the skeletal system belonged to his grandfather, while initially surprising, let’s students know that Renken doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Not only is he a teaser, but he enjoys it when students tease him back and finds that after a little teasing, his students don’t feel intimidated and start asking real questions.

Renken finds his greatest teaching challenge to be making anatomy and physiology, a normally “dry” subject, relevant to students.

“I try to relate stories of former patients or even of my own misadventures,” he said, “making the information ‘real’ as opposed to just text material in the students’ eyes.”

All awards aside, Renken hopes his past and future students understand that hard work, perseverance, and self-reliance lead to success.

“We all make mistakes, and that’s OK. It’s part of life. What does matter is: did you learn from those mistakes? If you can do that…you WILL go far!”

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