Around registration time, when everyone is trying to fit in their core requirement classes, two big questions are passed around: “Who did you have for Philosophy?” and “Who should I take?”
You’ve probably heard her name before when asking around for interesting philosophy teachers. Greta Turnbull, assistant professor of philosophy, has made a mark on our students at Gonzaga in her short, almost two years of teaching here.
Philosophy is a requirement at GU. Students must take Logic and Reasoning, Philosophy of Human Nature and Ethics. Some students are interested in what is to come, some are indifferent and some dread it. Turnbull knows this.
“She turned a class that almost everyone took solely because it was a core requirement, into my favorite class I’ve taken at Gonzaga thus far,” said junior, Sophia Alvord, who had Turnbull as a professor for her Philosophy of Human Nature course.
Turnbull’s excitement for the content and deep love for her students is what makes her a standout professor. She implements intentional structure, deep conversation and offers open arms to students of all majors.
“In college, you’re asking so many of the big questions about who you are and what you are going to become, apart from your parents, and getting to be part of those conversations with students is the hugest privilege I have in my life,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull graduated from Washington State University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and then went on to get her Ph.D. in philosophy at Boston College, where she graduated in 2019. After years of studying the beauty and breadth of philosophy and getting to student teach, Turnbull knew she wanted to continue down that path.
“I just walked in the second day [of student teaching] and was like, oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Turnbull said.
After student teaching for three years, and looking for job openings, GU caught Turnbull’s eye. She attended Boston College, which is a Jesuit university, just like GU. Jesuit education was an important factor for Turnbull to consider when exploring universities.
“It can be tempting when you really love a discipline like philosophy, being like ‘I just want to tell them about all of my favorite things’,” Turnbull said. “But if we are starting from ‘where is the student at?’ and ‘how can I serve the student?’, then that actually gets us to a different place teaching-wise.”
Turnbull is known for forming connections with her students and keeping in touch with her students, even after class completion.
“I always tell my students the first day of class, that my first priority is them,” Turnbull said. “It’s not whatever I do in research. It’s not the things I do on the committees I serve on. My first priority is always them. And that commitment will never change even after they’re done with my classes.”
Mya Gillingham, a junior at GU, said that Turnbull sends checkup emails to her past students. She sent Gillingham, along with her other past students, pictures of her dog, office hour times for chats and positive messages.
Alvord and Gillingham both said that Turnbull’s love for her students showed.
“You could tell that she was really interested in getting to know all of her students for who they were as individuals,” Alvord said.
“She also made sure to address every student as they walked through the door each day to make sure they know they are seen and heard,” Gillingham said.
Philosophy is a predominately white, male discipline. In her early years as a college student in philosophy, Turnbull didn’t get to see a lot of people that looked like her. She didn’t see many women. She said she felt like she didn’t belong.
“The change happened when people helped me see that I belonged in philosophy, that it was a dinner table conversation where everyone’s voice mattered,” Turnbull said. “My voice mattered just as much as Aristotle’s or Plato’s. I want my GU students to know that they belong in philosophy.”
In order to emphasize the strength of all student voices and their place in philosophical conversation, Turnbull implements fun and collectivity into her class structure.
Socratic lecture is the key, always asking questions. Turnbull is constantly asking for student input and thought when discussing a topic. It allows students to feel a part of the conversation.
For each reading, there is a question assigned, and during class, Turnbull and her students pursue the answer together.
“I am consistently impressed by my students,” Turnbull said. “They are seeing things in the texts that I’ve never seen before."
Another key to Turnbull’s class structure is the use of games.
Everyone in the class begins with zero points, and they get to decide how many points they earn during the course. Though there are some mandatory assignments, most of the assignments are not required.
Students log their progress in a special software that tracks their participation. The grade is in the hands of the student. They ultimately get to decide how many points they earn.
“The students are organized into teams. And every other week, at the end of that week, I will look at what team has the highest average score,” Turnbull said. “All of the students’ points pool together, and I give that team an extra ten points.”
On top of this innovative, unique grading system, Turnbull also likes to play Jeopardy to build community and review.
“We played a lot of Jeopardy to study for exams which was a fun way to review and also laugh a lot and create inside jokes with her and our class,” Gillingham said.
Her research focus is social epistemology, the study of the social dimensions of belief and knowledge. This area of focus started only 15 years ago, and Turnbull is excited to be a part of it, to learn about the world and wisdom.
Turnbull isn’t only a professor. She is an avid reader. She is a Nintendo Switch fanatic, specifically "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild." And like many students at GU, she loves reality competition shows.
“I watch 'The Bachelor' and 'Survivor' and spend many hours in the COG discussing those shows with my students,” Turnbull said. “We have a no-spoilers-until-Friday rule for all of my classes.”
Turnbull is a dog mom to her Aussie Doodle named Beowulf, who makes his appearance on campus every once in a while. Together, they go on lots of hikes and long walks. She also loves to travel but has had to put that passion on hold during the pandemic.
She also said that she hates summer… but for good reason.
“I love my students to pieces, and I hate the summer. What am I supposed to do? Who am I going to learn all the latest music from? How am I supposed to make it through the next couple months?"