“When it seemed that nothing I was writing was correct, and I would never complete my thesis, John Baldwin was there to offer direction,” said Diane Meister ’87, M.S. ’05. “I had no intention of teaching or pursuing further degrees, yet he still challenged me to view my research as beneficial to others and gave serious consideration to my work. Indeed, his final question to me at my thesis defense was ‘As a self-proclaimed feminist, what are you going to do to help the cause?’”
Meister knew she wanted to earn a master’s degree for her own satisfaction, not to directly further career aspirations. Her interest was the way women and girls were portrayed in the media, and she knew her thesis would use qualitative rather than quantitative research. That knowledge led her to Baldwin’s seminar in qualitative research.
“Dr. Baldwin presented the many methods of research, and then he let our class members choose their own direction. From video games to feminist issues to educational pedagogy, he offered insight on our topics and methods of research,” Meister said. She added that her first paper in Baldwin’s class was thoroughly read with comments and notes, one margin contained suggestions for improving writing skills and the other margin for his questions or thoughts on the issues to challenge her own assumptions.
Baldwin says he motivates and challenges his undergraduate students by using synthesis style papers, where different theories are joined to explain some communication activity. All essays have a portion which shows their knowledge of class concepts. “But most classes have a lot of leeway,” Baldwin said. “Students can choose their own assignments or readings, allowing them some say over their own educational outcomes.”
Baldwin’s graduate students are often asked to provide some of the class lessons, and seminars require students to analyze why and how things occur (theory) or the evidence that is known or not known (research). “As my graduate classes progress, I am more likely to challenge definitions and frameworks,” he said. “Grad students will come to class sharing different sets of knowledge and then debate the definitions and their strengths and weaknesses. All of my classes rely on class participation, in-class exercises and on some level of theory and research.”
Meister, who is now an academic advisor in Curriculum and Instruction at Illinois State University, uses many of the skills she learned from Baldwin in her dealings with upperclassmen who will become teachers. She maintains the same interest and enthusiasm in offering direction to her advisees that Baldwin showed her. Meister asks her advisees to participate in charting their own education, yet is there to help them follow through.
Baldwin received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Abilene Christian University and his Ph.D. from Arizona State University. He substitute taught in high school, but chose higher education because he felt that “students in college would be a much more willing audience since they, or at least their parents, had to pay to be here and made a conscious choice to attend.”
While Baldwin had hoped to teach in a large urban area, he has found that Bloomington-Normal has proven to be a great place to raise his family for the last 13 years. Baldwin says he likes the people he works with in the School of Communication, and he has found “many Illinois State students work their way through school and, therefore, seem to appreciate it more.”
Baldwin teaches and researches in the areas of intercultural and intergroup communication, qualitative research methods and communication theory. He is the co-author or editor of three books, and his honors include Outstanding Faculty Member from the Office of Intercultural Programs & Services, the University Teacher Initiative Award and Panhellenic Association Outstanding Teacher, among many others. He was the founding advisor for the award winning Theta Eta chapter of Lambda Pi E for eight years and served as a faculty mentor for University Housing Services.
Baldwin has served as thesis chair for 23 students and on the committee of 27 students as well as served as a comprehensive exam chair for 15 students and on the committee for eight students. He worked with two undergraduate students on theses, and assisted more than 30 graduate students who presented papers at conferences or did independent studies with him. Baldwin has also delivered over 100 out-of-class programs to many student and professional oganizations on topics such as diversity and culture.
“Dr. Baldwin is an enthusiastic instructor who engages his students in lively discussions, accepting ideas and comments, but challenging students to substantiate their observations,” Meister said. “As a member of my thesis committee, Dr. Baldwin was always accessible to me. He truly was interested in me, my research and my views.”