It’s not breaking news that Jason Akst is an outstanding teacher and esteemed journalist. In fact, students and colleagues of the NIU professor and 2016 Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction Award winner have been saying it for years.
“Jason Akst has an unyielding passion for teaching,” said Jennifer Irocky, a former student and 2014 NIU grad. “His positive attitude promotes interest among his students.”
Akst is an award-winning journalist and public relations practitioner with more than three decades of professional and academic experience. His passion for inspiring a future generation of writers, coupled with the way he teaches, is a winning combination.
“Because of Jason, I write passionately and refuse to settle for anything else,” Irocky said.
Akst earned a bachelor’s degree in English from West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin. He joined NIU in 2000, and in addition to teaching courses in journalism and public relations, he is a working journalist and freelance writer.
“This is one of the very few jobs that I could both teach and do,” Akst said. “As a journalism instructor, there is space to still be a practitioner. I get to do both and that is just wonderful.”
Besides being a published writer, Akst is the executive secretary for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Public Relations Society of America.
But students find his desire to remain active as a journalism practitioner more relevant than his credentials. Working as a journalist in addition to teaching it “does lend a certain amount of empathy between me and the students,” Akst said. “Like them, I am trying to beat a deadline or get in touch with a source. We are all doing the same thing together.”
Students said Akst’s classes are filled with “interesting insights based on his own professional experience,” and many students point to Akst as the reason they chose to become professional writers.
“I can tell you the things that stuck with me from the hours I spent learning from him did not come directly from a textbook,” said former student Jason Pfrommer. “Jason arms his students with the tools to be successful journalists; he uses his own personal experiences to add a bit of humor to the course.”
In addition, his dedication to his students doesn’t end when the course is complete. He has been called a “cherished mentor who is willing to help whenever asked.”
“He is the epitome of reliable,” Irocky said. “He always comes through for me and continues to for others.”