Faculty Feature: Jeffrey Runyon, English Department
By Anna Sophia Wolner, Associate of Arts student
I rarely encounter individuals as fervently passionate about education as Jeffrey Runyon, the Associate Professor of English and Literature at Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville campus.
Throughout my education, I have fluctuated between confidence and dismay at my skills in English class. However, my perspective shifted after taking my first class with Professor Runyon; he guided me to my own understanding of the material and provided me with the tools to improve—both as a writer and as a student. As I took more of his classes, I discovered I truly enjoyed and benefited from his teaching style, I wanted to learn more about him as person and a teacher.
Recently, I sat down and chatted with Professor Runyon—a perk of a small school: your teachers are often accessible and willing to help you out—and we talked the elements he believes are essential to education and to being an educator.
Jeffrey Runyon has been involved academia for many years—with a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Philosophy, an M.A. in English Language and Literature, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetics (formal versification). His qualifications are evident through his knowledgeability, but it’s his enthusiasm for his subject that exhibits his combined 20 years of experience as a student and a teacher.
At the age of 27, he was hired at Colorado Mountain College. For 8 years, Runyon has committed his time to teaching English—composition, literature, poetry, creative writing, and more–at CMC’s Leadville campus. When asked what his favorite class to teach was and why, he, in a characteristically thoughtful manner, replied: “I’m avoiding ranking these days, so I’ll avoid the question a little. I’m trying hard not to have favorites of any sort anymore. What I’ll say is this: all my classes include helping students with pushing their ideas to fuller conclusions, and that’s very interesting and rewarding to me. Also, I have always felt that my subject matter supports and encourages liberating the mind.” As a student of his, I happen to agree.
Outside of the academic environment, Jeffrey Runyon enjoys a multitude of activities—from motorcycling, traveling, hiking, fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities, to reading, writing, playing video games, and, occasionally enjoying a good cigar. Sometimes he simply loafs—enjoying his backyard in Buena Vista. His wide range of interests contributes to his personality in the classroom—where he carries the same persona and does not apply a façade when relating to students.
As a student himself, he enjoyed a wide variety of subjects. However, some stood out more than others:
“I liked art history, philosophy, and literature classes the most, I suppose, because they felt more aligned with the universe to me—gray area, you know? Poetry classes, of course, because they seem more important to me than any other class I could possibly take. There’s something very necessary about poetry.”
We talked about teaching, I was curious, having only my student perspective, what his philosophy was on being an educator. He replied:
“I believe in making difficult things accessible, not making difficult things more difficult by creating a heavy-handed structure. I like to keep it simple, engaging, enjoyable, and I like to put the burden of challenge, responsibility, and maturity on the student at all times. I’m here to guide and to help. I believe that breaking down boundaries between teacher and student creates a more positive learning environment. I believe that when a student feels respected and is enjoying class, then they’re more likely to learn.”
“What advice do you have for a student looking to make the most of their college experience?” I asked. His reply was succinct yet thoughtful: “Engage. Figure out why you’re here. Find a reason to do well in every subject, don’t play favorites. Be open-minded. Get serious and organized. Nurture your intellectual curiosity. Realize early on that college is about way more than getting a job. Think macro. Think about the universe. Read poetry.”
I have grown to understand the kind of educational experience I need in order to thrive—small classes, opportunity to delve deeply into subjects, and teachers who are as passionate about their subject as Jeffrey Runyon. The encouragement, understanding, and guidance imbued within his style of teaching urges students to consider the world around them in a broader sense—to think and to question–using the subject matter as a catalyst for expanding and illuminating our minds.
This is higher education in its purest sense—a place where great knowledge is ignited within us—and teachers like Runyon both guide and participate in the learning process.