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Kraus Coordinates Student Success (And Wins An Award)

Dr. Helen Kraus, Undergraduate Programs Director

In the language of her specialty, Helen Kraus (’89, ’92 M.S., ’95 Ph.D.) might be regarded as something of a hybrid.

She’s not only an associate professor of horticulture, but also the department’s undergraduate coordinator — a dual role she describes as “the perfect job.”

“The combination of teaching and administration can make things happen for students — that’s the best thing I could ever do,” says Kraus, 53, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at NC State and joined the faculty in 2000.

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Kraus is one of six NC State professors recognized as Alumni Association Distinguished Undergraduate Professors for 2019. The annual awards, sponsored by the Alumni Association, recognize faculty who excel in the classroom, laboratory and in the field. This year, a total of 22 faculty members are being honored in five categories.

In her administrative role, Kraus holds workshops to let high school teachers know what NC State has to offer their best and brightest. She visits middle schools to meet with kids who show a bent for science, technology, engineering and math. She meets with applicants, talks with parents, and leads family tours of campus.

Kraus sees it as part of her mission: to create opportunities for talented students who may be at a disadvantage when they apply to the state’s flagship university.

“For some, they’re the first generation in the family to consider college. Some come from rural parts of North Carolina, and they don’t have access to the [Advanced Placement] coursework that we do in the cities, so being accepted is hard,” Kraus says. “I want to help in some way with that.”

Most of her students hail from more urban settings, which brings challenges of its own.

“They don’t come from the hands-on experience that I came from,” says Kraus, who helped out at her parents’ Clarksville, Va., nursery as she grew up and during college.

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“Although we’ve always taught a lot of hands-on, it’s not second nature to today’s students — even how to push a wheelbarrow,” she says. “They can’t drive a tractor or run a piece of equipment, so there are just a lot of small things that you learn when you grow up in a rural community that these students haven’t learned.”

Fortunately, most can’t wait to roll up their sleeves. Kraus says it’s her job to provide experiences that will help aspiring scientists build the intuition they need to succeed.

“You can’t just throw a student into that,” she says. “They need to have someone guide their thinking through that process.”

Kraus credits two of her NC State professors with sowing seeds that have blossomed in her hybrid role. Bryce Lane, her undergraduate adviser and predecessor as department coordinator, left a lasting impression by showing students his “compassion and giving nature,” while her graduate adviser, Stuart Warren ’86 Ph.D., taught her to think like a scientist.

“I try to teach like him, but have the compassion that Bryce Lane did,” Kraus says. “Every little thing I do feeds into the bigger goal of trying to give every student the opportunity that I’ve had.”

—By Carole Tanzer Miller, story originally published by NC State Alumni Association, Sowing Seeds of Success.