Blog Community, Faculty

Practicing the Art of Adaptability


By The Northwestern Pilot – Kelly Larson on Friday, October 13, 2023

portrait of Melissa Baartman Mork

If you have ever been in a room where Dr. Melissa Mork is speaking, you will remember her. She is a 20-year teaching veteran, published author and contributor, award-winning faculty member, sought after speaker and presenter, and now a podcaster and viral TikTok-er. Dr. Mork is esteemed by her colleagues and respected by her students but remains approachable and engaging. While she may not look like a stereotypical university professor, Dr. Mork shares at least one characteristic with them—a passion for teaching. She carries prestigious honors including a “Professor of the Year” nomination by Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, but also student-rated awards like “Top 3 Professor” at Northwestern and is a two-time winner of Northwestern’s Excellence in Teaching award. Words most often used to describe her are inspirational, hilarious, caring, and respected.

It is not just Dr. Mork’s qualifications, but her evolving teaching philosophy that prompted the Pilot staff to feature her as this year’s Faculty Spotlight. Of her style she said, “Students do the work and reading outside the classroom then they come into the classroom and then we talk about it, we discuss, we process, we do case studies rather than just straight lecture. [This style] is so much more dynamic and engaging for the student.”

This modern perspective not only benefits the students but also challenges her as the professor. She mused, “I found that the engagement with the students, their curiosity, the questions they asked, their lived experiences, their examples that they offer, has always been… so informative and have challenged me to dig deeper.” In fact, Dr. Mork credits a painfully honest student during her first year of teaching who challenged her on the effectiveness of traditional lecture-based methods. She has since moved from what some call “sage from the stage” to “guide on the side.”

Lest you get the impression that Dr. Mork’s focus is solely on the academics, consider what she said about the greater importance of education at Northwestern: “It isn’t necessarily about the professor’s teaching style. It’s about how they show up in the classroom and how they interact with the students. Professors can lecture until they’re blue in the face, but the students know that that professor has their back, that professor knows their name, that professor cares… teaching style is kind of secondary. Tertiary even.”

Dr. Mork continued to captivate while sharing about her venture into podcasting. She was offered, and turned down, an opportunity from HBO to host a podcast on mental health. However, the Holy Spirit confirmed that the time was right when the opportunity came from Northwestern Media.

Not caring about recognition or mass influence like some, her satisfaction comes in knowing that even one person will know how to find hope and the resources they need by listening to her “Mental Health with Dr. Melissa Mork” podcast. One listener commented, “I don’t think I’ve heard a podcast like this before! It’s mesmerizing! And it helped me make sense of some things I’ve been going through.”

In addition to podcasting, the ability to use new platforms to influence a younger generation can be seen in her viral TikTok videos and growing audience. After one look at her profile, you will see Dr. Mork making great strides in bringing mental health and faith discussions into the mainstream. She also shared passionately about the therapy that her pottery-making brings and the parallels between pottery and life—how the imperfections that emerge at each stage are beautiful and endearing.

Hearing her speak about new ministry opportunities prompted the question, “Why continue to teach with all of these exciting endeavors?” Fears were put to rest when she responded, “I have to teach… Who would I be if I didn’t teach? That is exactly what I was designed to do. I didn’t know when I applied for this position, but it is what I was designed to do. I wake up every morning during the school year and the first thought I have is, ‘Thank you, God, that I get to teach today.’ Why would I give that up?”

Excerpt from the Northwestern Pilot.

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