Iowa State professor shares how she fell in love with teaching

Amy Popillion, teaching professor at Iowa State, found her passion for teaching after going to graduate school. She currently teaches courses such as human sexuality and sociology of sex and gender.

Courtesy of Amy Popillion

Amy Popillion, teaching professor at Iowa State, found her passion for teaching after going to graduate school. She currently teaches courses such as human sexuality and sociology of sex and gender.

Victoria Reyna-Rodriguez

Amy Popillion, professor of teaching in the human development and family studies department at Iowa State, found her passion for teaching in unexpected places.

Originally from a town of only 500 people in Southeast Iowa, Popillion found her passion for higher education when she decided to give graduate school a shot. Popillion said that even toward the tail end of her bachelor’s degree college career, she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, so she tried a bit of everything.

Popillion was a first-generation college student and received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice. After her graduation she worked at a drug treatment center for teens, a homeless shelter and in foster and adoption care. 

Popillion was very passionate about foster and adoption care, so much so that she and her partner were foster and adoptive parents for 14 years. She and her partner now have four children who were adopted through foster care as teenagers, as well as three biological children. Popillion and her partner also have six grandchildren – soon to be seven.

Popillion first worked for Iowa State in 1996 as a work-study student. One day, her task was to fold recruitment brochures about graduate school. While looking at these brochures herself, Popillion couldn’t help but wonder if graduate school would be the right next step for her.

This wasn’t the first time graduate school had piqued her interest, though. During college, she had a professor write feedback on one of her assignments that she should consider going to graduate school. Popillion said she still has that paper today. 

Despite her professor’s encouragement, Popillion was still unsure about pursuing higher education, as she said she didn’t know what it was all about. However, she decided to take a risk.

“I tried it out, fell in love with the world of higher education and I’ve never left,” Popillion said. 

Popillion received her M.S. and Ph.D. in human development and family studies. Human development and family studies at Iowa State consist of many sections: child, adult and family services; early childhood education; early childcare education and programming; family and consumer sciences education and studies; and financial counseling and planning. 

Popillion was drawn to her career path at Iowa State after working as a teaching assistant during graduate school. She said it was that experience that taught her she truly enjoyed teaching and wanted to pursue it as a lifelong endeavor.

“Education dramatically changed my life trajectory and I value the opportunity to be a small part of that for my students,” Popillion said.

Currently, Popillion teaches human sexuality and sociology of sex and gender classes. She says her courses are available to all students from all majors. Popillion believes students can gain important life skills to “enhance their everyday lives”– and fulfill their diversity requirements, which is an extra bonus.

“I hope students challenge themselves to step out of their comfort zones, consider perspectives they are not familiar with and ultimately use their knowledge to make the world a better place,” Popillion said. 

Amy says that not only do her students learn from her, but she gets the privilege of learning from them as well.

“Two things I most enjoy about working on campus is the excitement each fall as new adventures await and observing students discover their passions,” Popillion said. “I love having the opportunity to meet students with diverse backgrounds from around the world.”

Popillion also said that with the end of each semester comes a bittersweet feeling, as she’s always ready for break, but saying goodbye to her current students and classes is hard.