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
HINDSIGHT: WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM MY FIRST YEARBy 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.
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.