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Friday, April 12, 2024

Professor named one of America’s 300 best by Princeton Review

When asked why Animal Science I (ANS 1) is his favorite class to teach, animal science professor Thomas Famula simply replies:

“It’s the energy level!”

The UC Davis professor of 31 years was recently named one of America’s 300 best professors by The Princeton Review. Famula was chosen for this honor based upon his stellar reviews on the website ratemyprofessors.com.

“My first response was: Is this a hoax? I got the e-mail and then I understood when I found out that apparently I was the highest-ranked professor from UC Davis,” Famula said.

After teaching ANS 1 for 20 years – the class for which he received the title – Famula said that he believes he has such high reviews because his students see him as “enthusiastic.”

“That’s the word that comes up most often when I give out the end-of-course evaluations. Enthusiastic,” Famula said.

Famula also attributed the results to the class size and its popularity at UC Davis. An average of 400 students enroll in ANS 1.

“There are a few quintessential ‘Aggie’ classes that you generally take in your time at UC Davis, and ANS I is one of them. It counts for multiple GE credits, there are no prerequisites, and it’s required for the major. And it’s particularly popular because UC Davis has a renowned veterinary program,” Famula said.

Additionally, the professor said that the level of hands-on interactions with animals differentiates the course, and he enjoys the way in which students have evolved throughout his 20 years of teaching Animal Science I.

“Each weekend, students go out and play with animals. They learn how to milk cows and clean the horses’ hooves. But now that students have all of this technology, they bring cameras and phones and take pictures of each other. It’s amazing to see this new added element of excitement. It’s not like teaching organic chemistry,” Famula said.

Famula said that his favorite thing about teaching Animal Science I is the freshness of the students that take the course.

“Most of the people in the class are first-quarter, first-year students. They’ve never written a college essay or taken a college exam. It’s fun to see them come in, nervous, but absolutely certain that each one of them is going to be a vet. I know that of the 400 of them, only a couple will move on to the veterinary program, but that’s okay,” Famula said.

First-year animal science major Lauren Taylor said that she enjoyed taking the course Fall Quarter.

“I loved the class. I think it would have been fun even if I wasn’t an animal science major. He’s so funny, and just has a great way of teaching,” Taylor said.

Similarly, first-year undeclared major Emily Brereton said that Famula was an extremely effective educator.

“[ANS 1] was my favorite class that quarter. Famula presented everything in a very organized manner, and presented the material [in] an organized fashion. He also opened my eyes to some of the more controversial things that go on with animal production. Because of him, I am considering animal science as a major,” Brereton said.

According to Famula, the qualities most essential to being an educator are a thorough knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject matter.

“Teaching the course is like teaching two courses at once. I’m teaching the students, as well as the teaching assistants, many of whom are in grad school or fresh out of undergrad. And I tell them that they need to both know what they are talking about, but then teach in a way that is motivating. Many of the students that are here are from big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. They didn’t grow up on a farm around pigs. I don’t even like pigs. But I’m going to teach the students about them because they are important,” Famula.

One of Famula’s most memorable teaching moments occurred when his niece sat in on one of his lectures, and informed him after class that the student in front of her had been watching an episode of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” on their laptop during class.

“She came up to me after the class and laughed after telling me. She said ‘I thought you were supposed to be such an exciting teacher!’ On the next exam, I put a few questions from the most recent episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta!” Famula said.

Though the longtime Aggie professor says he loves his job, he also says that he plans on retiring in a few years.

“It’s been a great gig. But I want to leave here before someone has to wheel me out. I’ve been doing this for a long time. But I want to be young enough to do other things after this. I don’t want to die at my desk,” Famula said.

Ultimately, Famula said that while he appreciates being named one of America’s 300 best professors, his pupils are the ones that make the experience enjoyable.

“It’s not me. It’s the students,” he said.

KELSEY SMOOT can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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