Professor Spotlight: John Belk

Some professors win their students’ hearts through jokes and YouTube videos. Professor John Belk connects with his students by leaving cookie crumbs wherever he goes. 

Assistant Professor of English and Director of the writing program John Belk offers his students a unique cookie in exchange for their final paper. Belk believes in rewarding students for all their hard work in the shape of a delicious treat.

“Students put a lot of work and a lot of effort into the words they choose and the essays they craft for me,” said Belk. “So I want to reward that in a small way, even if it’s just providing a single madeleine [cookie] for them.”

Belk’s path to SUU is like a trail of cookie crumbs scattered across the country.

Originally from Louisiana, Belk moved to Texas A&M where he studied English and History. Upon arriving at TAMU, Belk had one dream–to become the next American Poet. 

He quickly learned that unfortunately, it wasn’t a viable career path for him. Around the same time, Belk started working at the university writing center.

“I stumbled into it,” said Belk. “I took the writing center job because I needed the money and I was a pretty good writer. But then I realized there is this whole other world to it and I fell in love. I probably had settled on being a professor by the end of my freshman year.”

Belk left a trail of crumbs in Texas as he made his way to Pennsylvania State University to earn an M.F.A. in English Creative Writing then a Ph.D. in English Rhetoric and Composition.

Upon completing his formal education, Belk had to find where he would lead cookie crumbs next.

“I interviewed here and I fell in love with it,” said Belk. “I had never heard of SUU, but once I came and interviewed, it was like I knew. It clicked for me. It was exactly the type of environment I wanted to be in.”

A trail of crumbs followed him from Pennsylvania as he made his way across the country once again.

Since arriving at SUU in 2015, Belk has made a lasting impact on his students.

Recent SUU graduate Alexis Taylor said, “He is compassionate about education and teaches his students for where they are and builds them up. He genuinely cares about their struggles and success. If I could be half the educator he is, the world would be a much better place.”

To Belk, college is more than simply turning in papers and receiving a grade, it is about helping students grow as people and leaving each person he meets with crumbs.

“We are right at that moment in a person’s development for most of our students where they are learning how to be intellectual adult humans,” said Belk. “It is fun to be a part of that journey.”

And why does Belk give out unusual cookies such as rose water cardamom madeleine or oatmeal chocolate cookies with dried cherries? It all goes back to Pavlov, a psychologist who was famously known for this classic conditioning using dogs.

“Everybody is going to get a grade for their essay,” said Belk. “I find giving them a pavlovian behavior reward consciously and subconsciously helps students realize the power of their own language.”

When Belk isn’t handing out scrumptious desserts, he loves the fact that every day he gets to interact with people and leave each person he meets with a few cookie crumbs.

“It is a pleasure every day to get to sit down with people I know and new people,” said Belk. “And get to know them, who they are, what makes them tick and what motivates them to be the kinds of human beings they are.”

Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtesy of John Belk