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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

TLC: Teaching and Learning Centers

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

This week I participated in an hour-long talk and reading as part of the Eastern Campus Teaching and Learning Center, which is one of three "faculty-managed facilities designed to enhance teaching and learning excellence for full and part-time professional staff," according to the Eastern TLC web page. In this session, Adam Penna and I gave a delivered a short presentation titled "To Poem or Not to Poem," based on professional development work we did over the past summer at the Southampton Writers Conference and International Theatre Festival. 

Our presentation fulfilled our obligations to the Faculty Development and Retraining Committee (which is co-chaired by our FA Secretary, Marie Hanna) for funds we were granted for summer professional development. Next week, I'll post more about Conference Reimbursement and Faculty Development and Retraining. For now, let's just get familiar with the TLCs.
Pretty nice view, eh?

Over the past month and a half, you may have noticed a few (or more) emails about the TLC on your campus and the events held there. The description of the TLC above is eloquent, but it can't quite capture all of the wonderful opportunity that your campus TLC can offer you.

Ultimately, the TLC is similar to the Professional Development Workshops held on Fridays by the Office for Faculty and Professional Development, but a little less formal. Also, TLC presentations typically require less of a time commitment, and reduce the need to travel to another campus, because each campus has its very own TLC. Thus, each TLC calendar is tailored to the needs of its immediate community, and may feature sessions that are unique and distinct from the kinds of sessions held on the other campuses.

Each campus TLC offers a chance for us to learn from others outside of our immediate disciplines about a myriad of topics via various modes. Each coordinator for the TLCs attempt to cover a range of topics, but you can expect that many sessions will cover technical aspects of software that faculty use frequently, such as the Microsoft Office Suite or Blackboard Learn or apps that can supplement your YouTube videos and/or PowerPoint Lectures. Other times, you'll find talks or lectures presented by faculty who may be trying to fulfill a grant requirement (like my colleague and I did) or by faculty who have an interest in sharing the results of their research and/or writing projects with the greater campus community.

Because faculty schedules are so varied and we often face conflicting commitments, sometimes attendance at these TLC workshops and lectures can be a little smaller than those at Professional Development Workshops -- but honestly, I find this kind of environment more useful. Smaller groups allow for more personalized presentations, and in the workshops, this usually means more time for you to ask your questions and receive individually-tailored guidance.

The TLCs do attempt to keep the campus community aware of their presentations on a regular basis through weekly emails, but it's a good idea to bookmark the TLC website for your campus just in case you can't find the TLC notice among all the other emails you receive from students and committees and colleagues.

They are:

Additionally, the TLCs are always looking for new kinds of workshops, lectures and/or presentations. Presenting at a TLC session is a great way to build your campus service (and we all remember how important campus service is to promotion, right?). If you have an idea for a lecture or workshop or presentation, send an email to your campus TLC coordinator, and she/he will help you make it happen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

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

Editor’s Note:  The following was presented at 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. In another week or so, I'll be posting the text from the last of our presenters, so that even if you weren't able to attend the session, you'll still have access to some of the insight and advice offered at this professional development workshop. -- SKG



Our three panelists, FA President Kevin Peterman, and SKG

by Nicholas Giordano, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ammerman Campus

Although I was an adjunct since 01/2006, I was still nervous once I was offered and accepted a full-time faculty position. Prior to the start of the semester, I had all sorts of expectations on the teaching side -- from the classes I was assigned, to the students that were going to be in those classes, to handling a much larger workload. On the campus side, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At least I was comfortable with teaching and interacting with students, but now that I was full-time, I wasn’t sure what I would be doing on a regular basis. In previous positions I had, there was structure. My concerns were interacting with other faculty because as an adjunct, I had a full-time position which did not allow me to interact with other faculty members. Also, I had no idea how to get involved on campus and what activities were available for me to participate in. The following is a list of critical observations from my first year:


No Two Classes are the Same

Although the classes were from the same section and only a few hours apart, I found that my 9:30 a.m classes were a lot more vibrant than my 3:30 p.m. classes. In addition, my 8 a.m. classes were lively, which was not expected, as I believed they would be rather quiet.

Be Authoritative

It is important for the students to know who is in charge and commands the classroom. From the first day, it is critical that you seem tough and for the students to understand that you will follow through on your policies. This allows for two things to occur. First, it can weed out the lazy/immature students who will drop your class rather quickly, which facilitates a friendly learning environment. Secondly, the students cannot legitimately complain at the end of the semester because you articulated your policies in a clear and succinct manner. The reality is that you can pull back throughout the semester after setting the tone.

Expect the Unexpected

I never expected to be called an infidel and racist by a student. Moreover, I never anticipated it would happen while the department chair was observing me. It is important to remember that it is your classroom and you are the one in control, as long as you can maintain your composure. I red flagged this student a week before due to an email he sent me when discussing his paper topic. I recognized this student may be a problem so I spoke with the department chair just to give her the heads up and be on record and she in turn notified the Dean of Student Affairs. This allowed us to pay closer attention to the student. It is critical that you make sure to cover yourself and document any incident/evidence you may have. Following the outburst in the class, I told the student to leave and I would talk to him after class. The student was a good person, but he was stubborn and did not understand how to separate fact from opinion or respect the opinions of others.


Managing Downtime

While most professionals would envy our work schedules, time management is essential. My schedule had large blocks of “free time” between classes. At first I preferred to have back-to-back classes. However, once the semester was in full swing, I appreciated the time because it allowed me to further develop assignments, re-tweak lessons, spend time with students, explore the campus, attend events, and run home or do errands when needed.

An important factor in time management is to know when to make research paper assignments due. In the fall of 2013, I assigned a comprehensive paper that was due the first week of December. I became quickly and completely overwhelmed due to other end of semester work (i.e. finals), as well as wrapping up committee work. I now make the comprehensive paper due a month and a half before finals.

Asking for Help/Working with Other Faculty Members

Prior to joining Suffolk Community College as a full-time faculty member, I worked for the New York State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services. I was tasked with managing the NYC region. Working in the Homeland Security/Emergency Management arena, you are responsible for multiple projects, cultivating relationships between federal, state, local and private sector partners, and attending meetings with people who have extremely large egos.

When I came to Suffolk, it was nice to see how friendly and helpful other faculty members can be. Many of the faculty members would introduce themselves and ask if you needed anything or had any questions. And most were eager to help and assist me in any way they can. ADVICE: if you need anything or have a question, just ask. Most faculty members are willing to go out of their way to help. Remember all of us were considered “new” at some point.

Observe/Study Other Faculty Members

While some of us may have several years of teaching experience as adjuncts or in a college setting, we are not experts by any means. Now that I was full-time and had large gaps between classes, I found it beneficial to observe several senior faculty members. This provided me with a great opportunity to incorporate new ideas in the classroom in addition to building a relationship with other faculty members. ADVICE: seek knowledge from other faculty members as a way to possibly identify strengths and areas for improvement.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take on Committee Assignments

Within two months of being full-time, I was asked (really told) to be the chair of the Political Science Assessment Committee. A first I was a bit apprehensive and anxious, but I did it and it was an eye-opening experience. The project was successful and I easily completed the assessment. Throughout the process, the department chair and other faculty members provided an enormous amount of support and I realized I was anxious for nothing.

While doing the Political Science Assessment, I was also asked to sit on the SUNY Transfer Path Committee. It was a relatively easy assignment and allowed me to interact with other faculty members from other campuses outside my discipline/department.

If there are any questions, feel free to contact me or any other faculty members.