Bringing the world to Iowa youth

Bringing the world to Iowa youth

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Family committed to legacy of teaching, global education

Nissa Greenquist wanted to be a nurse or pursue some other career where she could give back to the community.

But become a teacher? The daughter of two educators, both University of Iowa alumni, says she wanted to avoid going into the profession just because her parents were teachers.

“I wanted to be my own person and not automatically follow in their footsteps,” Nissa says, who recently joined her dad, Steve, on the UI campus to attend the Global Education Summer Institute for Teachers.

Steve and Nissa Greenquist
Steve and Nissa Greenquist. Photo by Bill Adams.

Yet, after an experience teaching at a summer camp in Brussels in 2006, Nissa's desire to teach had been ignited.

Now Nissa can’t envision any other profession she could possibly love more, a career that allows her to travel and touch students’ lives.

Steve says family undoubtedly influenced him to pursue a career in education, though he kind of fell into it because of his environment at the time.

"It was 1967, the Vietnam War was still going on, and all of my relatives, my siblings and cousins, were all in teacher programs in Illinois," Steve says. "And I had no idea what I wanted to do."

Everyone he talked to at the time said he should be an artist. Steve was attending Illinois State University, which at the time was called Illinois State Teachers College.

Steve later went on to obtain a Master of Arts in sculpture and his wife, Andrea, received a Master of Arts in painting, both from the UI in 1977. Nissa received a Bachelor of Arts in English with grade 5 through 12 reading and language arts teaching certifications in 2008.

Steve, 63, has 42 years of teaching under his belt at both the college and high schools levels. He's currently an art teacher at Ankeny High School, where he’s worked for the past 15 years. Nissa, 26, just completed her fourth year of teaching English and writing literacy classes at Grinnell High School.

Gaining a global perspective

The Greenquists’ interest in global education, and the UI institute in particular, makes sense—they love to travel and broaden their worldviews in the process. Steve originally took the entire family to Italy while on sabbatical when Nissa was 1 year old. Later, they returned to Italy when she was in high school, backpacking across Italy and France and volunteering for a restoration project.

Nissa has also traveled or taught in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, and Switzerland. This July, she'll add Hong Kong to the list when she travels there for an English immersion camp.

Steve and his wife have traveled to Hungary, China, and Turkey in the past few years, visiting schools and speaking with other educators in those countries.

Steve and Nissa Greenquist are two of 35 teachers from across the state from all four congressional districts who participated in this year's University of Iowa Global Education Summer Institute for Teachers. The institute is a professional development opportunity for middle, junior, and high school teachers to learn how to infuse a global perspective into their classrooms. Fifteen of this year's teachers are UI alumni.

The institute, sponsored by UI International Programs and The Stanley Foundation, fully funds the classes, instructors, and room and board for all of the educators, who each received two graduate credits. The cost is $14,000, and Greg Hamot, a professor of teaching and learning in the UI College of Education and director of the UI Center for Human Rights in International Programs, directs the institute.

Even though Steve and Nissa have both traveled extensively, they also both know there's always more to learn.

"I still find it challenging to share other cultural perspectives with some of my students who have never left the state of Iowa," Nissa says. "My dad found out about the institute from his principal. We thought it would be a good fit for both of us."

The knowledge the institute provides to teachers is critical, both agree, because the Iowa Core Curriculum requires that Iowa school districts incorporate global education into all areas and levels of educational programs.

“I tell my students, ‘You’re living in a world culture. You will no longer be able to live in an isolated culture of U.S.A.,’” Steve says. “We’re in coalition with much of the rest of the world. I wanted to see if there were ways I could formally address some of these ideas in my classrooms, especially ideas from other teachers.”

Nissa believes a global perspective deserves greater emphasis in U.S. classrooms.

"While second languages are elective here, English is a required second language everywhere else. Students often lack that global experience and understanding that we are all connected,” Nissa says. "We tend to ignore this because it gets placed last since the focus in the schools is on other deficits."

‘I’ll die in the classroom’

Despite the scrutiny that educators are currently under, Steve says he believes teaching is one of the most rewarding professions around.

"Teaching isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle," Steve says. "You have bad days or you have a bad period, but you can never have a bad kid in teaching—at least I don't.”

Steve and Nissa say that they gain as much from students as they give.

“It's really caring about what you're passing on. You're trying to renew an excitement or pass on an excitement,” Steve says. “And the kids feed us, too. You get fed more than just the paycheck. When you get a postcard or see a former student in the grocery store, it's rewarding. I don't know how many other vocations are like that."

Both educators closely follow the debates about education reform swirling around at the state and national levels. But the Greenquists remain unfazed, instead focusing on how they can channel their creativity and commitment into touching students' lives.

“It’s absolutely all about the kids,” Steve says, his eyes misting over. “Honestly, I don’t even know what my salary is. I just know that I make enough to be comfortably middle class. For me, teaching is something I will always do. I tell everybody, including my daughter, that I'm going to die in the classroom because I have no intention of ever retiring."


Lois J. Gray, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0077
Greg Hamot, UI College of Education and UI Center for Human Rights, 319-335-5382


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