Being awarded the Dr. R. H. Citron University Professorship for Teaching Excellence was a full circle moment for Jennifer Strong ’02 ’03, Ph.D., associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications.

Jennifer, Strong, Ph.D. wear a black top ad black and white skirt. She lectures in a Texas A&M classromm to a large group of students.
Jennifer Strong, Ph.D., was honored for her excellence in teaching and outstanding contributions to student learning. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)

My first mentor, Dr. Chris Townsend, was one of the first recipients of the award,” Strong said. “As a student, she inspired me on a daily basis to not only be a better student but also a better human.”

Strong said Townsend helped her to be the best leadership educator she possibly could be.

“To hold the same title as Dr. Chris Townsend means the world,” she said. “To me, it means maybe I am at the level where I am inspiring to my students. I know the maker put me on Earth to make the world a better place through our Aggies.”

Strong said Texas A&M attracts the best and brightest and that, as educators, “we just take that brightness and turn it up a couple of notches.”

“Dr. Strong was recognized with this prestigious award because of her excellence in teaching and outstanding contributions to student learning,” said Kim Dooley, Ph.D., associate dean for faculty affairs and Regents Professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. “She has delivered high-impact learning experiences to nearly 6,400 undergraduate and graduate students in 14 different courses.”

Her path to professorship

As a fourth-generation educator, Strong knew teaching was in her blood, but she also knew that K-12 just wasn’t her path.

“I knew I probably wanted to be a professor, but I didn’t know what I wanted to profess until I took my first leadership class in the fall of 1998 with Dr. Chris Townsend,” she said.

Strong was so inspired that she promptly walked into Townsend’s office during the second week of her freshman year and declared that she “wanted to have her job someday.”

Once Townsend stopped chuckling and realized Strong was dead serious, she told her they’d get to work on that.

“I was lucky enough for her and Dr. Kim Dooley to take me under their wings and show me what it is to be a good educator,” Strong said.

Strong credits “these two amazing women” with shaping her into the educator she is today.

Now retired, her mentor Townsend is still “just a phone call away,” and Dooley is just a few doors down the hall.

Coming full circle

After Strong finished her master’s degree at Texas A&M, it was Townsend who told her she needed to go see more and experience more to become an even better educator.

Strong reluctantly left Texas A&M and headed to Oklahoma. After earning her doctorate at Oklahoma State University, Strong seized an opportunity to guide a new leadership program at the University of Georgia. There, she bonded with the students, who she felt had much in common with Aggies.

Then, one day, Strong got a call from Townsend to tell her that she and her husband, the late Joe Townsend, Ph.D., longtime Texas A&M associate vice president for student development and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences associate dean for student development, were retiring and that it was time for her to come “home.”

Strong returned to her beloved Aggieland to follow in the footsteps of her mentors. She interviewed and was hired to assume the position Chris Townsend once held. She also now serves as faculty director for the Townsend Leadership Fellows Program.

Citron Award and recognitions

The Dr. R. H. Citron professorship was established to acknowledge and reward exceptional teaching within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This endowed professorship recognizes faculty members who demonstrate outstanding classroom instruction skills, thereby contributing to enhancing education within the College. This professorship has a three-year term.

“Most of the award will go into projects that I’m going to do for the College,” Strong said. “I want to interview some of our best and brightest educators and talk about how they impact teaching.”

Strong envisions 30-second videos that show some of the amazing things professors do to make an impact on their students.

“I want new professors or professors who are looking for just some new inspiration to be able to go and watch Dave Reed dressed up like a tree or Shawn Ramsey bringing in a lamb to actually show how to shear or one of the amazing things that professors do,” she explained.

This isn’t Strong’s first award that reflects her dedication to her students and colleagues; she has been recognized locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.

Some of her awards include the Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching — at the College level in 2013 and at the university level in 2021. She also received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Gail W. and David P. Marion ’65 Teaching Award in Memory of Dr. Richard C. Potts ’45; the Texas A&M Center for Teaching Excellence Montague Teaching Scholar Award; the U.S. Department of Agriculture Excellence in Teaching Award; the College’s Dean’s Early Career Teaching Award; and the North American College Teachers of Agriculture Teaching Award of Merit.

Strong said she is just grateful to have such a fulfilling job and felt that the stars had aligned to get her to this point in her career.

“Professors who truly invest their time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into their students make the world a better place,” Strong said. “Not only do I strive to be that, but I also want to help other professors do the same.”

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