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Ann and Rob Simpson: A picture of joyous dedication

Written or last revised on Oct. 1, 2007
Ann and Rob Simpson

It's possible to know a little something about Ann and Rob Simpson before meeting the couple.

The door of Ann's office at Lord Fairfax Community College's (LFCC) Middletown Campus features biology-related comic strips clipped over the years from newspapers. The door of Rob's adjacent office is more simply decorated, with a drawing of a morel mushroom taking center stage.

The décor reveals something of the open and fun-loving personalities of the Simpsons, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Rob, an associate professor of natural resources management who has been with LFCC since 1974, and Ann, an instructor in biology/anatomy and physiology at the College for approximately 15 years, are both community college graduates. Ann's associate degree even came from LFCC! The couple also own a business called Simpson's Nature Photography, co-teach nature photography classes at LFCC and organize nature photography and natural history tours around the world.

Farcountry Press also published three nature photography books by the couple in 2007: "Born Wild in the Smokies," "Born Wild in Shenandoah" and "Shenandoah National Park: Simply Beautiful."

In the summer of 2007, camera-making company Canon selected the husband-and-wife team to travel to national parks in the western United States to teach photography workshops using Canon products. In turn, the Simpsons chose to take current and former students with them as assistants on the trip.

The entire summer was a learning experience for a current LFCC student, Charles "Chuck" Turner III, of Bentonville in Warren County. Turner, who is studying natural resources management and photography with the couple, said having the opportunity to see photography and photographic subjects through their eyes was "something else."

The Simpsons worked particularly well with young people during the workshops. Being teachers, their technique was wonderful, Turner said. The Simpsons often incorporated their hands-on teaching style into the workshops and presentations they handled six days a week during the summer-long trip.

Everyone who attended the workshops did so with a camera in hand. During presentations, the Simpsons always tried to involve the audience in the event, Ann said. Often, Rob added, they would ask questions like: "How does this animal make you feel?" or "What do you think this flower looks like?" He happily recalled the answer provided by one child after looking at a redbud flower: "a pink moose."

Their methods were successful. Both said they have received hundreds of e-mails from people they encountered over the summer. "We made a lot of friends," Rob said.

When Ann and Rob Simpson talk about their work as professors, smiles come easily to their faces. Joy emanates from them as they discuss the ultimate result of lives dedicated to teaching. "We enjoy the reward of seeing [students] do something with their lives," Rob said. "We've seen just amazing things happen."

Carla Dove, who returned to LFCC as a graduation speaker in May 2000, is a case in point. Dove, a first-generation college student, came to LFCC in the early 1980s after a year-long stint at Blue Ridge Community College. She graduated from LFCC in 1983 with an associate's degree in applied science and natural resources management. From there, she went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Montana and master's and doctoral degrees from George Mason University. Her specialty is ornithology-the study of birds-and she is a research scientist/program manager for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. She describes her work there as being "kind of like CSI for birds." She uses the museum's collection to help identify birds that have struck aircraft, and the information she provides helps civilian and military aviation authorities avoid future strikes.

Without Rob, Dove may not have become the woman she is today. He basically introduced her to her life's work. His classes would involve trips into the field several times a week and lectures and labs that would last several hours. It was "a great, hands-on, individualized way to learn," she said. Under Rob's tutelage, she became very excited about studying birds, "and I never looked back."

Dove said she considers Rob the first of the three primary mentors she's had during her career. But he's more than that- he's also a friend, a professional and a colleague. He's a man who still impresses her too. Taking a walk in the woods with him is a rare thing, she said. "He is a born naturalist . . . he knows it all. He's incredible."

"He loves what he's doing, and it just gets transferred to the people around him," Dove said of Rob. The same could be said for Ann Simpson, according to Jennifer Davis, a former student who accompanied the Simpsons on their summer trip.

"Ann Simpson is more than a professor-she is also a personal mentor. She has not only taught me about biology and photography, but about how to succeed in life. She is a wonderful source of motivation and encouragement," Davis writes in an e-mail from Australia, where she is performing research on short-term removal methods of the cane toad at James Cook University in Queensland as part of her studies to earn a master's degree in tropical ecology.

Davis enrolled at LFCC after graduating from Penn State University with degrees in psychology and sociology that left her dissatisfied with her career opportunities. She enjoyed the small classes at LFCC and the time professors gave to students. "It was very important to me that there was a lot of contact with the instructors, instead of just sitting in a gigantic lecture hall listening to a presentation. I always felt like it was important to everyone that we as students succeeded," she writes.

Davis, who graduated from LFCC in 2005 with an associate's degree in natural resources management and a certificate in outdoor and nature photography, knows what she will remember about Rob and Ann 10 years from now. For Rob, it will be "his inspiring and sometimes outrageous stories. This man has a fantastic story for every occasion." As for Ann, it will be "her contagious laughter and commitment to teaching."

The Simpsons both teach their courses with "Dale's Cone of Experience" in mind. The method states, in part, that "people usually remember about 90 percent of what they say as they do a thing." They often use group techniques and projects that require students to teach the class themselves. They also ask students to take a Web-based assessment to determine their learning style. Once that is known, the students can handle projects using the methods that work best for them.

Their teaching style has already left a lasting mark on current student Chuck Turner. Both Ann and Rob have been amazing resources, who are always willing to answer any question he, or anyone else, may pose to them. He also said he appreciates the expectations the Simpsons have of their students "They want you to do it on your own. They're not going to hand it to you." Turner anticipates graduating from LFCC with an associate's degree in spring 2008. He is thinking about going to Virginia Tech and one day hopes to earn a master's degree in ornithology.

Ann and Rob love knowing that their students have become successful. Ann, who often teaches students entering the medical field, always tries to attend the College's pinning ceremonies for nursing students. After the event, many of the new nurses will come to her and give her a hug, she said. Ann truly enjoys it when such students return to her after taking their national nursing exam, filled with appreciation for the rigor of her courses, and offer a heartfelt "thank you!"

The couple feels privileged to work at LFCC. They have always felt supported by the College's administration, and if they need something for students, "we ask for it and we get it," Ann said. "Lord Fairfax [Community College] is just a special place to work . . . . It's like a family here," she said.

For Ann, the family connection goes a little further. Ann grew up in Middletown. Her late father, Archie Manuel, was one of the town's mayors, while her late mother, Rachel Manuel, was on the committee to name the College.

Obviously, the family connection also extends to her husband, Rob, who spoke about what keeps them going and inspired in the midst of their very busy lives. "I like what I do. Personally, I can't see me doing anything else but teaching, and Ann's the same way."


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