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Math, Science and Engineering (STEM) - From student to faculty: McHugh-Kurtz knows ECC from all angles

Images of student interacting in classroom settings at Elgin Community College.
Tags: Faculty Profile
Published 03/08/2019
Virginia 'Ginger' McHugh-Kurtz

Virginia 'Ginger' McHugh-Kurtz

Virginia (Ginger) McHugh-Kurtz’s first experience at Elgin Community College was as a student. When she decided to work at the college, her first experience took a familiar turn.

“I remember being interviewed in a classroom where I had taken classes,” said McHugh-Kurtz, an adjunct biology instructor. “Now, I am teaching in those classrooms.”

McHugh-Kurtz attended ECC in 1998 as a Trustee Academic Scholar and graduated two years later. She recalled attending the Campus Jam new student event and being overwhelmed by the size of the college at that time.

“Of course that was nothing compared to the size of the campus now,” she said.

McHugh-Kurtz joined the ECC faculty in 2008. Up until this year, she was the co-director of the college’s Faculty Research Community, a group that encourages faculty members to engage in research within their classrooms by piloting innovations, courses or project portfolios, and using that data to guide professional growth. She is currently on a year-long sabbatical studying ways to increase STEM presence on ECC’s campus. As part of her sabbatical, she will host ECC's first STEM Expo, Pathway to STEM, on March 13, 2019.

We caught up with McHugh-Kurtz to learn more about her life and her work at ECC. Here is what she had to say.

In your words, what do you do at ECC?

I teach biology, and my hope is that I convey my love of science to others.

What is your greatest accomplishment since you’ve been here?

Giving biology students the opportunity to complete undergraduate research projects in our own campus prairie, located along Spartan Drive, west of the college. Students are more engaged with the hands-on coursework, and I see that many students are really invested in their research projects. These projects also give students the chance to present their research at the Illinois STEM Skyway Competition and provide them an advantage when transferring to a four-year institution where undergraduate research projects are more common.

What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?

I would create more full-time faculty positions. We have so many talented adjunct faculty that travel to multiple campuses to make a living. Just think of the impact faculty members would have if they only had to focus their time, energy and ideas at one institution.

Where was the best place you’ve traveled to?

The Peruvian Amazon is amazing! I actually went to Peru for the first time through a trip organized by ECC.

What’s one fact we should know about you?

I spent six weeks in my car and drove 12,000 miles touring the western U.S. when I was 21. I drove to Alaska then down the Pacific coast. It was amazing!

What’s something about your job that others should know?

Teaching is a job that never ends. I am constantly thinking about how I can improve my classroom—sometimes on the drive to work that day. Also, there is always grading.

What would be your “theme song?”

“Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads and “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead.

What was your favorite class in school?

Biology, of course!

What quote best describes your philosophy?

“A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.” - Barack Obama

Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because … “

I love working where I started my college career. I don’t want to sound cliché by saying “I’ve come full circle,” but I enjoy being colleagues with some of my previous professors.

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