Sociable sociologist inspires

Professor brings laid-back manner to Columbia College’s evening program.
Friday, July 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:31 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Several evenings a week — as he has for the past 29 years — Jim Metscher stands at the front of his classroom at Columbia College, wearing his signature vest and rolled-up jeans, while he leads his students in discussions about sociology.

Having been with the school’s evening program since it began in 1975, Metscher seeks to make connections with his students’ interests in an effort to let their natural curiosity direct the activities of the class, a method he calls “engaging education.”

“I like to see the lights come on,” Metscher said. “And almost always it happens not when I have said something so much as when I’ve gotten them to start saying something ... To see people as a part of that awakening, that’s great.”

After doctoral work at MU, Metscher began with the evening program, teaching classes in anthropology, social psychology and sociology.

In the beginning, most of his students were older Vietnam veterans whose tuition was paid for by the GI Bill. Over the years, he has seen a younger crowd enter the evening classroom and seen the number of women enrolled grow dramatically.

As a result, he says, men in the classroom have changed and become more “politically correct” by watching the specific language they use. Metscher said he was ready for this change because women are more likely to get involved in class discussion and bring a special perception to classroom topics.

“The only challenge is keeping up with the material in your discipline,” Metscher said. “The people coming through are going to let you know what their differences are and if you stay in contact with them via that dialogue you can tailor your information to who they are.”

Because the evening program is designed for nontraditional students, Metscher uses his technique of engagement to reach out to various students of all backgrounds, vocational experiences and stages of life.

“That diversity, I think, mixes well in the classroom,” he said. “They get a chance to be proud of where they are from and who they are and learn at the same time.”

Tim Fancher, who owns A Se Kenpo Karate in Columbia, said that as a nontraditional evening student, he knows of many students like himself who were nervous about going back to school. Metscher, he said, helps draw out their natural abilities.

“He has such an understanding of the way things work that it makes people relax and feel comfortable around him, both interpersonally and instructor-student,” said Fancher, who is studying sociology. “I think that lends itself to a learning atmosphere.”

Metscher, 61, lives in Columbia with his wife, Liz, who teaches English at Columbia College, and his 15-year-old son, Will.

While growing up on a farm in Oklahoma, he was taught that all people are equal. Through his teaching experience, he has come to think that some people do certain things better than others but that each person can excel at something. He says this outlook has allowed him to give every student the respect and dignity of being equal.

This past year, students showed their appreciation for Metscher’s teaching by naming him and colleague Jack Barnhouse the first recipients of the Students’ Choice Evening Campus Faculty Awards, to honor faculty members who have influenced lives.

Patti Skinner, director of the evening campus, said Metscher truly has a love for the college and its students and exemplifies what the college seeks in an instructor.

As a friend and co-worker, Barnhouse describes Metscher as sincere and open-minded as well as a walking compendium of information. “He likes to define things for himself rather than working within traditional paradigms of reality.”

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