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Black Excellence: Instructional Designer James Todd

Family Photo - Black Excellence: Instructional Designer James Todd - College of Natural Resources News NC State University

As an instructional designer for the Department of Forest Biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources, James Todd is instrumental in the robust delivery of online courses. His work provides faculty with online learning techniques and strategies that play a significant role in teaching during the pandemic. James holds a B.A. in Communication and Media Studies and an M.S. in Communications and has worked for several corporations before coming to NC State, including Apple, Comcast and CNBC.

We recently spoke to Todd about his experiences as a Black professional in higher education. The following Q&A is a part of a Black History Month series highlighting the outstanding contributions Black faculty, staff and students have made to the College of Natural Resources.

Tell us about some of your earliest memories of being outside.

For me, being outside consisted of playing sports and hanging out with my friends and family. That was a way for me to kind of get away from thinking for a little bit. Being older now and not really playing sports as much, I enjoy taking walks with my wife and my newborn son.  To see everything this world has to offer from the perspective of nature is enjoyable, and it is heightened when you can see it with those you hold close.

What has it been like as a Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC) to study within your field and pursue your career?

It has been different. It has been the most challenging experience of my professional career thus far. To come into this department and a field I didn’t know too much about was pretty daunting. In addition, I did not specifically go to school to be an instructional designer. The support I have received from faculty and peers has made this a gratifying experience.

What challenges have you faced in pursuing your degree(s) and/or career?

I think the challenges for me really stem from not having a degree in the current field I am working in. I originally went to school to be a video editor. So for me to get into this career, it was important for me to get experience. I’m thankful the department took a chance on me, allowing me to continue to learn while also providing the department with the assistance I currently provide.

Do you have any specific memories of experiences in your career that stick with you?

It would probably be the first course I created in Forest Biomaterials. I didn’t have a method really down yet, and I was still learning the department’s ins and outs. But the support of my peers and the faculty really helped a great deal. That instilled the confidence in me to say, “Hey, I can do this, and I can do this well.”

Tell us about someone who supported and encouraged you to pursue your work.

My advisor Dr. Joel Pawlak has been a strong advocate of mine. He encourages me to branch out and find different avenues for my work. I have always appreciated that, and it has evermore made me feel comfortable with the work I do here.

Why are you passionate about your work?

To contribute to the material our students use to further their education is very satisfying.  Whether it’s creating the videos the students are watching or creating the exams and quizzes students are taking during the course, it’s very rewarding. It continues to push me to create better material for future courses.

What advice would you give to young BIPOC professionals entering your field?

Continue to learn. Continue to ask questions. Seek out mentors or individuals you feel you can learn from. Getting knowledge from others in your field is such a huge benefit and definitely something to take advantage of if you have the opportunity to do so.