Profile: MU history professor Robert Collins

Robert Collins makes students want to learn more.

Collins strolls into class with his notebooks in hand and sets up the podium to lay his work on.  There isn’t a PowerPoint presentation, instead, Collins draws an outline on the chalkboard.  Next, he returns to the podium and the chattering in the room starts to diminish.  Class begins with a familiar, ‘good morning, how are you all doing today?’  He then asks for any questions about prior material and starts his lecture, walking around the room to engage students.

His style of lecturing harkens back to a different time, as he doesn’t use any modern technologies.

“He is definitely old fashioned,” Kendra Johnson, a sophomore, said.

Collins doesn’t need a microphone. All he needs is his knowledge and voice.   He walks slowly in front of the class and along the sides of the room, only returning to the podium for a quote or an important fact.

“He has his lectures memorized,” said Mike Marden a teacher assistant for Collins.

Collins has years of experience, which helps him give lectures with ease.

“He likes telling personal stories about the time that he teaches,” Johnson said.

Marden, who has worked for Collins for over two years, has really enjoyed the professional working relationship they share.

“I would love to be Dr. Collins,” Marden said.

Collins has high expectations for his students and TAs.  He believes they should be prepared and be successful.

Collins grew up in New Jersey and moved around a lot, as his dad was in the Air Force.  This experience helped him learn to adapt wherever he went.  A working class environment surrounded Collins, but he knew he didn’t want to be a factory worker.

When he got older he tried to find his way into the white-collar world. He discovered teaching and then found his life’s work was history.

“I liked it because of the teachers I had,” Collins said. “I wanted to think like them.”

His first teaching job was at a high school.  He moved on to teach at North Carolina State University.  Collins became tenured there at the end of the 70s, but he didn’t like staying in the same place, so he accepted an offer from MU.

Collins has taught at MU since 1980.  He takes pride in each lecture he teaches.

“Most teachers go on and on, but he is more lively,” Johnson said.

Through each lecture he develops memories.  What stands out to him are the lectures he thought went well.

“I just hope there’s not a large gap in-between them,” Collins jokingly said.

Collins is known for his sense of humor.

“One-on-one he is very humorous,” Marden said.

Collins loves a good joke.  Even though he probably won’t admit it, he loves to tell a good joke too.  This can be seen in his classes.

“He is really outgoing and animated,” Johnson said, “like jumping on the stage.”

Collins also gets excited when he gets to incorporate economics into his classes as he has a personal interest in economics.  It also ties into the book he is writing about the American auto industry in the 70s.  It will describe the clash of economics, culture and the environment.

“In a fascinating way they all come together,” Collins said.

It has been his intellectual and life interest to do a study about it.

Collins also has an interesting life outside of the university.  He likes fast sports cars and motorcycles, both of which he owns.  A special car to him is a 2004 corvette.  During spring break, Collins went to Nevada to road race.  He started racing about 15 years ago.  He said he wished he had started sooner because it is something he really enjoys.

Back in the classroom, Collins has earned a lot of respect and recognition.  He has plenty of awards to illustrate his success in teaching.  In 1987, he was presented with the Maxine Christopher Shutz Award.  He won the Purple Chalk Award in 1981 and 1994.  Then he received the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence Award in 1998.

“He is one of, if not the best among our instructors,” Rus Zguta, the history department chair said.

Zguta has been a colleague of Collins since he came to MU in 1980.  He described how Collins is always delightful and thoughtful.  Collins is one who brings discussions forward when they have meetings.

“His reputation is recognized by the students and his awards,” Zguta said.

Collins is the example for what a professor should be.  His style and character keep students interested and wanting to learn.  He is a teacher many will never forget.