Jeff Thompson: Class Act

Jeffery Thompson stands before a large crowd once again, delivering the words he has prepared.  All eyes are on him, but with eighteen years of teaching under his belt, Thompson remains unfazed. As he finishes speaking, the audience rewards him with a roar of applause for his performance. The curtains close, and Thompson can add another playbill bearing his name to his budding collection.

Whether he’s in the classroom or on the stage, Thompson enjoys the thrill of engaging an audience. An associate professor and the director of the BYU Romney Institute of Public Management, he merges his acting and teaching skills to create the best learning atmosphere for his students.

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“Public service is what we breathe around here in the MPA program,” Thompson says. “We are preparing students to serve the public, so we talk about public service all the time and the importance of connecting with the community. I’ve tried getting involved in my community several ways, but I’ve found that performing is how I can give back by using some talents I’ve been blessed with—and it helps in the classroom, too.”

Thompson performed in a few plays in high school and loved acting, but he says showbiz didn’t seem serious enough when he got further along in school and work.

“I thought it was just a silly thing to spend my time on,” Thompson says. “For years I wanted to do it again, but I was raising my kids and I have a job. Finally, about six years ago, I thought, ‘I’m not getting any younger. If I’m going to do this, I should just do it and try it out.’”

Thompson’s first attempt to return to the stage was an audition for a small theater group in Pleasant Grove, Utah. He was terrified to audition, but he walked out with the lead role in And Then There Were None. Since then, he has performed in twelve different shows in various theaters. Some of his favorites include Into the Woods, She Loves Me, and The Boy Next Door.

“I think it’s really changed me as a teacher,” Thompson says. “A lot of the skills that I’ve had to develop on the stage, such as timing and delivery, maintaining presence, keeping an audience engaged, and even standing and moving a certain way, are also the skills of a good teacher.”

Along with his stage skills, Thompson uses role-playing, improv exercises, and music to teach management concepts in the classroom. His approach has seen success in helping students learn.

“When I first looked at the syllabus for his class, I saw that he had a strict no-laptop policy, and I was frustrated by that because I like taking notes on my computer,” says Breck Wightman, a first-year MPA student from Rexburg, Idaho. “It only took a week before I realized I don’t need a laptop in his class because he does a great job utilizing activities and group discussions. Everyone is more involved than in your typical lecture class. I was confident going into finals and talking about principles with other people, and I didn’t have to refer to notes as much because the information stuck.”

Thompson doesn’t just stand out among his students; Catherine Cooper, the Romney Institute associate director, says Thompson’s organizational behavior section is a “beloved class.”

“He’s a great professor, and I think his acting skills help,” Cooper says. “He uses his eyebrows and every part of his face to engage students. When he’s on, he’s on. It’s almost like he’s performing, and people are just leaning into it and learning. He loves what he does.”

Thompson will next take the stage in April for the upcoming production of Betty Blue Eyes at Hale Center Theater Orem.

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Jeffery Thompson performs as Ladislav Sipos in She Loves Me at Hale Centre Theatre in 2014