Non-Stop Academic: An interview with Dr. Big Mountain

“Build trust rather than build judgement.” Dr. Marella Big Mountain delivered this line halfway through a lecture during her Honors 250 class. It speaks volumes about the ultimate message she hopes to convey with her final class taught at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus. As with much of what she shares with her students, this saying is likely to echo in their minds long after her imminent departure.

Big Mountain says that she, “grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin where my only goal was to get off the farm and see the world… I never knew that goal would give me the chance to join the cozy classrooms of the ERAU Prescott campus.” In terms of the ever prestigious Honors Program, she has, “been teaching honors for the past three years. During this time, [she] repeatedly taught two of the core Honors courses: Honors 250 “Ethical Peer Leadership” and an Honors 350 seminar on “Self Leadership” which [she] developed based on students’ requests to help them build their confidence in their own leadership strengths.”

Her teaching style could be considered unorthodox, as she invites more student discussion during her lectures than many others. When asked about this habit of hers, she had this to say: “To reach a proficient level of mastery in foreign languages and diverse subjects students have to be willing to jump in and go beyond a cognitive understanding of the subject if they truly hope to make it a proficient reality in their lives. That’s one reason I push for and leave lots of room for student engagement in our classrooms.”

Such is done in the pursuit of one of the Honor Program’s core tenants: cultivating leadership within students. As Big Mountain attests, “I am my students’ biggest fan! I love learning from them and seeing them put into words and plot out the paths of their future careers and life engagements right in front of my eyes.” To that end, she allows them to “take new ideas and willingly wrestle with them verbally with their peers.” She asserts that, “When any of us do this, we start to demonstrate the neuroplasticity that will allow us to move beyond our current self/reality to apply new behaviors, new plans, and new actions leading us to our limitless futures.”

Though she will no longer be teaching on campus, she will not be leaving the world of academia anytime soon. In parting, she says, “I will miss the Embry-Riddle students and faculty! I hope to stay in touch with as many students as I can through future course offerings…I have found these past four years inspirational and encouraging as the energy of our students has given me a strong hope for the future of our nation. You have been patient with me as I worked to find my stride in academia and I will always look back at this experience with gratitude.”