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Purdue Profiles: Jenna Rickus

Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning and professor of agricultural and biological engineering and biomedical engineering, was destined to be a Boilermaker. After all, her mom and her dad met while attending Purdue. Rickus works with colleges, faculty, and the ancillary academic units to drive toward innovative, transformative teaching and undergraduate student success.
Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning and professor of agricultural and biological engineering and biomedical engineering. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

She has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering and biochemistry from Purdue. She got her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles in neuroengineering, a joint program between neuroscience and engineering.

What inspired you to take on this position?

I have been on faculty for 15 years. My research and teaching experience has led me to believe that the students are the most powerful product of a university. One of the primary purposes of a university is the creation and dissemination of knowledge and there is no more powerful way to disseminate knowledge than through students. If I seed rigorous knowledge, an innovative spirit and a passion for improving the human existence within a student, I can watch that seed grow and expand into something new and unexpected as the student develops their own career over the years. Many people view research and teaching as separate things, but I see undergraduate students as foundational to a successful academic research institution. For this reason, the idea of providing leadership to undergraduate education at Purdue was appealing to me.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Purdue played a big role in my life starting at a young age. I took my first class, French, at Purdue in the second grade. In high school, I was able to take classes on Saturdays and in the summer via the Purdue College Credit Program. During my college years, I gained a foundation in leadership via Mortar Board, Iron Key and mentorship by the associate dean of students, Jane Hamblin, which has served me for the rest of my career. So, now I get to help shape how Purdue impacts the next generation.  What I find most rewarding about my job is watching our students experience and achieve amazing things. When an experience that I provided here at Purdue becomes a gateway to bigger things, that is very rewarding.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

By definition a university is full of passionate and innovative people who are experts (or developing experts) and who are pushing boundaries. So, naturally conflicting opinions on both broad vision and details of execution happen all the time. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but of course navigating conflict of ideas is always a challenge.

What do you hope to accomplish in your role as vice provost for teaching and learning?

As a campus we are always pushing toward 100 percent student success. I wrote my own personal definition of what student success is to keep me focused. But this is always in flux and is a “working” personal definition:   

* A successful Purdue student is healthy in mind, body and spirit while learning both cutting-edge and rigorous foundational knowledge and gaining advanced skills that will support their personal future life goals and global citizenship.  

* Successful students graduate within a time frame and at a cost that is supports their own goals and path.  

* Successful students are modern global scholars and innovators in that they seek and generate knowledge, synthesize and analyze disparate pieces of knowledge, share their own and listen to other perspectives with insight and empathy.   

* Successful students are connected to a wider more diverse range of communities when they leave compared to when they began Purdue.

* Successful students leave Purdue feeling that they advanced their life beyond what they otherwise would have had they not spent time at Purdue.

Source: Purdue Newsroom