The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) have pioneered a novel program to prepare graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for the professoriate.
Through a collaboration between The Graduate School at UMBC, CCBC and PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a National Science Foundation program, UMBC offers PROF-it (PROFessors-in-training) seminars on teaching and learning, and CCBC offers teaching experiences in its classrooms.
Each fall, seminars include topics such as understanding different learning styles, developing a syllabus, and incorporating dynamic teaching tools in the classroom. Students teach at CCBC during the spring semester.
The program fills the void often felt by those entering academia as an assistant professor. While training for graduate studies and postdoctoral assignments includes extensive research skills, teaching experiences may be lacking, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. It is not uncommon for STEM graduates to find themselves ill-equipped for teaching their first class, causing them to resort to trial and error (often for many years).
PROF-it began in 2006 to give graduate students opportunities to develop teaching skills and gain teaching experience. Many of the participants are teaching assistants and have reported improvement in their TA duties. Nearly all of them are interested in becoming future instructors or professors.
Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who actively participate in the PROF-it seminars are eligible to apply for the UMBC-CCBC Teaching Fellows program.
Through this unique partnership, Teaching Fellows are able to teach courses at CCBC while being mentored by a CCBC faculty member. The mentors walk alongside the Fellows as they teach their first classes, providing essential feedback on teaching and class management.
Dr. Al Starr, dean of CCBC Essex campus, initiated the partnership. With its focus on teaching excellence, CCBC wanted to invest in future professors who, through this experience, might become interested in teaching at CCBC.
Moreover, due to increased student admission at CCBC, the school needed adjunct instructors to open more classes. The Teaching Fellows are considered adjunct instructors and are compensated accordingly.
This guided training allows students to consider teaching as a career without a long-term commitment. In many cases, a student’s desire to become a professor is confirmed during the process.
The highlight of the program is, of course, the hands-on interactions with students. Sharod Jenkins, a master’s student in Information Systems who taught in spring 2008, said, “The students are really engaged, and I had a wonderful experience.”
Another Teaching Fellow in the same year, Dani O’Neill, taught Sociology. Halfway into the semester, she remarked that “it has been a positive learning experience so far. I have a highly energetic group of students, and I would highly recommend the program to anyone interested in getting some experience teaching.” She was subsequently asked to continue teaching the next semester.
Out of the 30-plus alumni of the Teaching Fellows program, at least six have returned to CCBC to teach one or more classes in subsequent semesters. Several others have taken teaching or mentoring positions at other schools, including Howard Community College and Towson University.
Making a Difference
But it’s not just the students’ enthusiasm that encourages the Fellows. The Fellows also realize that they are making a difference in their students’ lives beyond merely imparting knowledge.
CCBC typically has a more diverse student population than UMBC — racially, economically and age-wise. Compared to traditional university students coming directly from high school, CCBC’s students range from dual-credit high school students to older returning adults, often with family and/or work obligations.
This rich environment provides unique opportunities for the Fellows to develop their teaching philosophies. Teaching Fellows are challenged to be creative when presenting their material. In many cases, they have students who are the same age or older, so they are challenged to convey confidence, authority and expertise.
The Teaching Fellows also find themselves as role models to their students. Beth Noratel, who taught Biology in Spring 2012, remarked, “I had to teach them how to study, instead of just assuming that they knew how.”
Programs like PROF-it and the UMBC-CCBC Teaching Fellows program are beneficial on multiple levels — to the graduate school and its departments, to the partner college/university, and especially to the graduate students.
In the case of UMBC, since the departments partnered with The Graduate School at UMBC and PROMISE to establish and support these programs, redundant teacher training was avoided. CCBC reaps large benefits by having first access to UMBC’s bright graduates who may go on to consider a teaching career at CCBC.
But the biggest benefits accrue to the graduate students themselves. Alumni of the program not only graduate with expertise in doing research, but they also come away well equipped with stronger teaching portfolios.
Amy Pucino, a 2010 Teaching Fellow and a UMBC Ph.D. student in Language, Literacy and Culture (LLC), remarked, “The PROF-it program got me thinking and reflecting about teaching. While my previous coursework had taught me the subject of sociology, PROF-it taught me to consider the pedagogy involved in teaching sociology. PROF-it helped me learn strategies from writing a syllabus to encouraging active learning.” Pucino is now a professor at CCBC.
The Teaching Fellows program is open to current UMBC graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Applications for Spring 2013 Teaching Fellows currently are being accepted.
Dr. Judith Pollack is assistant director for PROF-it at UMBC. She can be reached at email@example.com. Visit http://promiseagep.wordpress.com/category/prof-it-professors-in-training for more information about the PROMISE program.