Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Being Open to the Mentoring Process

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Member Program Chair

This Friday, from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in the Eaton's Neck Room of the Ammerman Campus, the FA and the Office of Faculty and Professional Development will host the second event in our FA New Member Discussion Series, titled "The Long View: Anticipating and Planning Your Career at SCCC."

This event -- featuring Dr. William Burns, Teri Morales, and yours truly -- will focus on presenting personal and anecdotal approaches to professional development. We hope to share practical and moderate approaches to work/life balance while at the college, along with advice on creating what I think of as "work/work balance" -- an equal (and desirable) distribution of time and energy among ALL facets of your career: the duties and responsibilities that come with your job title (as teaching/non-teaching faculty), service, and presentation/publication.
Isn't November supposed to be gray and damp?

Hopefully, you'll leave this event with very concrete ideas about how to navigate your first promotion and the years beyond, gaining the kind of advice, warnings, and inspiration that most of us mid-career types wish we'd been privy to when we began teaching at Suffolk.

One of the things I wish I'd known when I first began working at SCCC -- and was assigned my very own mentor through the New Member Program -- is the following: 
Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. 
Most of us regard being mentored as a passive role, but it's much more dynamic than that if it's conducted appropriately and correctly. So I thought that this week, before we present our second installation of the discussion series in our mentoring program, I'd share something I learned a few years back at the “ELT (NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust) Seminar on Mentors” co-sponsored by The Office of the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs and the Faculty Association.

The first three points come from a handout the ELT constructed, in which they quote Hal Portner, author of the book “Being Mentored: A Guide for Protégés” (Corwin Press). Portner asserts that in order to get the most out of mentoring, you should “be” the following:

Be ready – “Wholeheartedly accept the opportunity to be mentored”

Be willing – You need to “believe that you have an ongoing need to learn . . . When you are doing something you believe in – when what you are doing sits well with your set of values and is relevant to your life – you will do it better; you will do it with passion.” Additionally, you need to “have confidence that being mentored . . . can make a difference between success and failure.” And lastly, you must  believe that “being mentored can help you remain in the profession and have a satisfying and gratifying career.”

Be able – “Whether you have a mentor who offers little help or support, or a mentor who throws so much information and help your way that you are constantly overwhelmed, or a mentor who is . . . experienced [and] who understands how to work effectively with a protégé, you will still get more out of being mentored if you are ‘able’. Being able means having the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to be proactive in the mentoring process. Being proactive means not only being ready and willing to access the resources available to you, but also being empowered to do so.”

I think these three points can be very eye-opening and valuable, if you attempt to put them into practice. Mentoring involves not just humility -- admitting that you don't know everything and could benefit from guidance -- but a willingness to make the relationship work by helping your mentor shape the process. Ask specific questions. Let him or her know what you need. Offer feedback about the help and advice you receive -- let your mentor know what works for you, what doesn't, and what could use tweaking or adjustment.

Finally, the ELT handout offered these “Principles for Success”:
  • Take the initiative when it comes to having your needs met as a protégé.
  • Avoid making assumptions about your mentor’s plans and expectations.
  • Solicit feedback from your mentor as a way to improve.
  • Receive feedback objectively.
  • Attempt to construct ways to learn from seemingly untenable situations.
  • Take responsibility for your personal well-being.
  • Contribute to the learning of other educators.
 I look forward to seeing you at Friday's event!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NMDS Archive: Hindsight: What You Can Learn From My First Year, Part III

Editor’s Note:  This following is the last of the presentations from the very first FA New Member Discussion Series event, hosted in cooperation with the Office of Faculty and Professional Advancement, titled "Hindsight: What You Can Learn From My First Year," on September 12, 2014. Many thanks to Misty Curreli, Nick Giordano, and Jason Ramirez for their participation in the panel, and to Donna Krompinger and Chris Gherardi in the Office of Faculty and Professional Development for co-sponsoring this event with the FA. -- SKG


By Jason Ramirez, Ph.D., Department of Communication and Art

I am extremely grateful to Sarah Gutowski for allowing me the opportunity to reflect on my first year at Suffolk County Community College. The Michael J. Grant campus is an incredible place to develop my pedagogy and to share scholarly activities with a talented and dedicated community of administrators, faculty and staff. I have decided to approach this discussion by “gifting” my three best pieces of advice to our newest fa[culty]mily members. I hope these “tidbits” might help ease your transition during this first year at Suffolk County Community College.
The author

1) Rely on experienced colleagues to help you instead of “having all the answers.”

  • I was blessed with a wonderful Grant mentor in Bruce Seger. Though it took a bit of time for us to get together for lunch, I found our trip to the Premier Diner to be both enlightening and inspirational. Bruce had all the answers and his sage advice and easy-going demeanor allowed me to find footing during my first few months of employment.
  • My academic mentors, Alyssa Kauffman, James DeSario, Ralph Williams, Virginia Horan, Jeff Epstein, Marc Fellenz and Ken Wishnia were always available. Their wisdom and cordiality helped me discover my place within the college and amongst my students. The encouragement they demonstrated allowed me to brainstorm innovative approaches to everyday methodology.
  • I was lucky to have as my chairperson Dawn Tracy-Hanley. Dawn made it her mission to provide me with room to grow while steering a newly formed department.
  • Reach across departments and divisions! I found collegiality alive and well at Grant by seeking out the wisdom of campus colleagues including the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) advisor, Elida Buitron-Navarro.
  • Finally, the ability to converse with our Executive Dean, Dr. James Keane and our Associate Dean of Academics, Dr. Donna Ciampa, with all of my (there are no) “dumb questions” made all the difference while navigating the treacherous waters of “new appointment.” Dr. Keane and Dr. Ciampa remain my greatest allies; and their generous sponsorship allows for innovative programming—like a recent visit by OBIE Award winning playwright Carmen Rivera.   
2) Start small, end BIG

  • Beginning with the development of my course outlines, I realized that my most effective teaching would flourish with a concentration on clear goals and objectives. It was wonderful to easily access the sample syllabi made available on the SCCC website. Particularly helpful was the precision and clarity by which they had been vetted and compiled by the Theatre department, under the direction of Chairperson Charles Wittreich.
  • I realized that it is necessary to allow for new technologies of instruction whenever possible. I attempted to make use of online resources, Blackboard, Suffolk Online, and the incredible knowledge and dedication of our library faculty. Professor Susan DeMasi singlehandedly set my student scholars on the right path early in the semester by providing a workshop on locating theatrical texts. My students still maintain that her brief seminar provided them with skills they could carry well beyond the gates of the West campus.
  • I encourage you to search out like-minded individuals and committees for service. Within my first year I was able to become a part of the Grant Curriculum Committee, the Pedagogy Committee, and the Fine Arts Planning Committee. My desire to serve outside of the traditional classroom has given me the opportunity to meet magnificent colleagues and to assume positions of leadership within a very short time.
  • Allow your students to bring their classroom to the rest of the campus. In my Acting I classes, the paralyzing stress of monologue and scene performance was greatly minimized by an open-door policy. It was energizing to have students in various acting classes view and comment on each other’s work. In the same vein, our Acting II class utilized the entire year’s training during a publicly attended “Ten Minute Play Festival.” The question and answer discussion which followed our program, aptly named “A Class Act,” allowed me an opportunity to “fine-tune” my methodology for the following year. If you build it…they will come!
  • Become a club advisor and listen to your students. The dedicated students who re-certified the defunct Grant Theatre Club created a program entitled “Around the World Cabaret.” Working with Tara Fagan of the Office of Student Life, our small troupe of actors invited friends, family and community to a well-organized and extremely entertaining night of song, dramatic interpretation and spoken word poetry.
  • Get out of your own way! The Assistant Chairperson of Communication and Arts, Alyssa Kauffman, asked me to run our departmental “Coffee and Conversation” program. As you already know, the first year of full-time employment allows you little time to create anything other than grading spreadsheets and exams. However, stepping outside of my comfort zone and taking on the facilitation of a program for my departmental colleagues was a great way to introduce my pedagogy and personal interests to veteran faculty members. Ask yourself, “What can I share, based on my expertise, with the classroom, campus, and college-wide community?”
  • Reach out to the larger community whenever possible. I was ecstatic when I learned that Brentwood consisted of a large Latina/o community. Knowing that I could bring my own individual talents and scholarship to our neighbors, I discovered a local Spanish language theatre company minutes away from my classroom. Ironically, their Artistic Director sought me out at a national conference in Scottsdale, Arizona and we have begun plans to create an academic theatrical partnership in the near future.
3) Don’t neglect your own scholarly development

  • I have found that the first few years of full-time teaching can make “Jack/Jill a dull girl/boy.” I advise new faculty and staff members to keep an eye out for conference calls for papers and scholarly opportunities.
  • Keep in touch with your academic allies locally, nationally, internationally. We often forget colleagues who are making their way in similar institutions of higher learning. Remember to drop them an occasional email regarding the work you are doing as well as displaying an interest in their own recent activity.
  • A full-time appointment will often make grant and fellowship opportunities available. What you offer to your students at SCCC can benefit others across the country. Therefore, utilize any and all grant opportunities you come across throughout the year.
  • Don’t forget to investigate possible publication opportunities, both in your field of expertise and your pedagogical development. You have something important to share, so publish it!
  • Having said that…don’t get lost in the pedagogy! What was your dissertation or thesis topic? Have you explored that scholarship at conferences? In publications? Within your new department? As a program for the Teaching and Learning Center? As a proposal with your campus Pedagogy Committee? And most importantly, as a mentor within your own classroom?
  • Reach out to the union if you need to. I always find that I have questions regarding responsibilities which have been negotiated between the college and the union. It is always important to know what is contractually expected of you as well as what you can create as an opportunity for your own growth and development.
A former chair once advised me during a New Faculty Orientation, “In your first year…the only thing you should know…is where the bathroom is!” Fifteen years later I am torn. I find that I both agree and disagree with her advice. Stay healthy and spiritually nourished but, every once in a while, roll the dice and take a chance. Your colleagues and mentors are behind you every step of the way. And most importantly, the learning environment you create will benefit every person lucky enough to come into contact with you.