Science Professor Shannon Kispert bridges gap between performance and education


Earning a teaching certificate requires practical skills, like organization and time management. But at the Webster University Biological Sciences Department, a good teacher must be able to hook an audience and make them want to learn more.

Award-winning educator Shannon Kispert inspires Webster science students through interactive learning. At the same time, she balances a career as a fitness dance instructor and life as a mother. She incorporates the same educational philosophy in the studio as she does in the classroom: teaching is a performance.

Shannon Kispert, Webster biomedical science professor and dance instructor at Life Time fitness. Photo contributed from Webster News press release, “Kispert Receives 2023 Wilma Roswell Messing Jr. Faculty Award.” Photo by Shannon Kispert.

Kispert initially believed she would go to dental school after graduating from the University of Tulsa. However, she fell in love with teaching while earning her doctorate in pathology at Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Medicine when she had the opportunity to teach a section of an undergraduate course as a graduate assistant.

“If you go to a science graduate program at an R1 institution, it’s very common that you would stay in a lab, or your future goals would be to stay and do bench side research. So the fact that I wanted to teach was kind of a little bit unusual . . . I still do bench research, but I’m a chatty person, and I like to connect a little bit, and bench research can be a little bit lonely sometimes,” Kispert said.

Kispert has earned multiple accolades in her field, including winning the 2023 Wilma and Rosewell Messing Jr. Faculty Award, Gail Jenkins Teaching and Mentoring Award and being appointed Webster University Teaching and Innovation Fellow. She demonstrated a passion for teaching when she began studying at SLU, according to her Certificate in University Teaching Skills and PhD program mentor, professor Jane McHowat.

“My first impression [of Kispert] was ‘I would never forget this if I had been taught this way,’” McHowat said. 

While Kispert was studying biomedical science, she performed on her college dance team and taught fitness classes at the university gym. She calls dance her mental health escape and said she has danced her whole life. Around ten years ago, Kispert met her now-best friend, Grace Barlow, a former teacher herself who took one of Kispert’s dance classes and instantly knew she wanted to befriend her. 

Barlow and Kispert now work at Life Time fitness, where Kispert teaches ballet on Sundays and cardio on Mondays. Kispert brings the same energy to her dance classes as she does to her university classes, insisting that students respond better to enthusiastic, engaging teaching than regular lecturing. 

“Shannon in a dance class is extremely entertaining and enjoyable to be a part of. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing her teach to students, and she’s equally as entertaining and engaging, if not more,” Barlow said. 

Barlow added that Life Time fitness instructors are even called “performers” instead of teachers because they keep their audience entertained.

“I think part of teaching both [science and dance] is like a performance,” Kispert said. “I truly think that people don’t learn something unless they’re engaged or excited about it. So, if I show up [to class], and I’m sleeping and yawning [and say] ‘Okay, where’s the humerus?’ Nobody’s going to know. That’s a snooze fest . . . And [it’s] the same thing with teaching dance. If you show up, and you’re tired and turn on the mute, nobody else is gonna get excited and get their heart rate elevated. So I think I lead with engagement and passion with both, just excitement.”

Along with bringing energy to the classroom, Kispert believes in building a foundation of trust with her students. Her motivation to connect with students comes from her own experience of feeling lost during her undergraduate studies. She expects students to correct her on her mistakes, because even though teaching is a performance, she says, admitting her mistakes makes her more human. 

Copper Petermeier, Kispert’s senior thesis advisee, appreciates Kispert’s genuine and creative teaching approach, especially her use of social media as an educational tool. Kispert frequently posts mini quizzes, infographics and videos on her Instagram, @keepingitdr.k, to give students a unique opportunity to review class material while using social media.

“She really just says, ‘I don’t care how you guys do; this is just for fun and just for education,’ and that’s what it should be. She’s not grading anyone. She’s not making tally marks. She does this of her own volition so that others can learn, which is extremely nice,” Petermeier said.

Petermeier was even inspired to start posting his own “MCAT question of the day” because he sees the power in Kispert’s use of social media as a productive platform. Other students share this same appreciation for Kispert’s teaching, according to Biological Sciences Department chair Stephanie C. Shroeder. 

Shroeder said professors in their department learn from one another, and students are notably fond of Kispert’s teaching and even encourage Shroeder to adopt some of Kispert’s teaching strategies. 

Mary Preuss, associate professor at Webster, agrees that Kispert has “the skill of inspiring teaching.” She said Kispert weaves narratives around scientific topics that keep her students hooked and wanting to learn more, all with a smile.

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Molly Foust (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief for The Journal. She was previously the News & Lifestyle editor in 2022. She is a junior Journalism major at Webster University, but in fall 2023, she will be transferring to the University of Hartford to major in Digital Media and Journalism with an emphasis in Media Studies. She has been writing for The Journal since her freshman year, and she graduated from Seckman High School in 2021. She is also a Writing Coach at the Reeg Academic Resource Center. She loves animals and has two cats named Cisco and Hellboy (and a rat named George), which fuel her passion for environmental journalism. She enjoys studying biology, psychology and feminist literature, and her favorite things to do are listen to music (especially Amy Winehouse), and spend time with her friends at The Journal!