Building relationships is a big part of teaching for Nicole Juranek.
Juranek, professor of speech and communications at Iowa Western Community College, was named Outstanding Faculty Member by the Iowa Association of Community Colleges during its conference recently at Iowa Western. She has taught at Iowa Western for 12 years.
“I build a lot of community in my classroom so my students get to know each other really well — well beyond just knowing everybody’s name, they know each other’s stories,” she said.
Juranek has referred to the position as her “dream job.”
“Writing speeches and listening to speeches is really what brings me so much joy,” she said. “Iowa Western is made up of so many fascinating students, so it’s truly wonderful to be with (people from) all walks of life.”
Juranek developed an interest in writing and speaking at an early age.
“My older sister (Robin) was a wonderful athlete, but I was kind of bored going to everything she did,” she said. “My mom gave me a notebook and, during a game, you would find me in the stands writing or drawing. I would cheer for her when she was doing something good, and then I would quickly go back to what I was doing.”
When Juranek was growing up on a farm near Dunlap, her family received several newspapers, she said.
“Everybody was reading in my house,” she said. “My parents were always reading.”
Juranek earned a bachelor’s degree in English education at the University of Northern Iowa, where she competed on the speech team and also traveled and did some public speaking.
“I never thought I would be a teacher,” she said. “I initially wanted to go into broadcast journalism,” but she realized that it would probably mean working a schedule that wasn’t very family friendly.
“I had such great teachers growing up – all the way from elementary to high school to college,” she said. “I saw a lot of my teachers really loved what they were doing.”
Juranek taught high school English for five years, most recently in Omaha, and overcame the reluctance students sometimes have to study the subject.
“For me, it was always about getting to know the students,” she said.
Juranek earned a master’s degree in communications education at UNI before starting at Iowa Western. During the 2017-18 schoolyear, her family participated in Iowa Western’s Adopt-an-Athlete program by acting as a local family for a women’s basketball player from Zimbabwe.
“The athletes live on campus and have a family in the community,” she said. “She went to church with us every week and helped us run errands. That was the most rewarding thing I’ve done at Iowa Western was to take her into our lives.
“We go to all the girls’ games,” Juranek said. “When you’re from so far away, your parents can’t drop by and see you.”
The family has adopted a women’s basketball player from Australia for the coming schoolyear, she said. They have corresponded electronically and sent each other photos.
Juranek keeps busy off campus, too. She is active in her church and teaches yoga at the Pottawattamie County Jail. She has an ongoing mission to provide books to correctional facilities and recently donated her 6,500th book.
“Before, I had volunteered at the Omaha correctional center and always have felt drawn to do work behind bars,” she said. “Wherever we’re going, we’re usually loaded down with books. People bring them to me at work, and when I come home from work there’s books on my porch.”
If she ever needs more, Juranek posts something on Facebook and often gets a lot of books donated in a short time.
She and her husband, Andrew, have two sons – Oliver, 11; and Owen, 8.