Partnership Spotlights


The Faculty Development Center is pleased to announce "Partnership Spotlights," in which we will be highlighting successful and impactful student-faculty partnerships that are happening right here on our campus! Those profiled will share advice on starting partnerships, the importance of them for both the faculty and student involved, and more!

Partnership Spotlight

This Week's Partnership Spotlight: Dr. Christopher Gellasch and Rose Allen

Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

We had the chance to speak with Rose Allen and Professor Christopher Gellasch about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Rose Allen is in her last year here at Eastern. She is president of the Geo Club and also is a senior majoring in Environmental Science with a concentration in hydrology and minor in geology, which is how the two of them met. Rose had Professor Gellasch for an environmental science class during her freshman year. She couldn’t figure out what she wanted her concentration to be and went to Professor Gellasch for some advice and he helped her set up her concentration. During this conversation is when she mentioned she was interested in doing research and later that same year an opportunity came up to start working with Gellasch on research. 

Professor Gellasch is an associate professor of hydrogeology, hydrology, and environmental science in the department of Geography and Geology. He received his BS in Geology from Eastern Michigan University. He then went and received his master in Geological Sciences from Indiana University and his Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After 23 years as an Army Environmental Science and Engineering Officer, he returned to EMU in 2017.

This partnership has been together since May of 2022. The research is done as part of Rose’s senior thesis. For their research they go up to the EMU Fish Lake Environmental Education Center near Lapeer, MI and take groundwater and surface water samples from different sites there. After that they bring the samples back to the lab and analyze them for different nutrients, then synthesize the data. Rose will be done with this project after her graduation this month. For Professor Gellasch, this project is continuing with other students. As Rose said, “One of the cool things about science is that there is always more to do.” So the project will continue on. There is always more to do and more to learn to help them better understand Fish Lake. 

Something that has changed since they first started their partnership and now is the way they interact with each other. When Rose first started she wasn’t quite sure about field work and everything that he did, so Professor Gellasch started taking her out and showing her how to do certain things in the field and the lab so she can have a better understanding. 

Two years later Rose is now the person he brings to Fish Lake when he has a field trip and teaches other students and other groups such as a Boy Scout Troup all the things they do. As Professor Gellasch stated, “She has now evolved into a mentor of her own.” While at first she was learning, she is now looking at graduate schools to become a scientist and also a teacher. Rose has enjoyed being able to work with others on her project and showing them everything she is doing. She has presented this work at the Undergraduate Symposium for the last two years and is also publishing this in a peer-reviewed journal which is a big milestone for her personally.  

The hardest thing about being in a partnership for Rose is learning how to become her own person under an amazing mentor. Finding her own signature from Dr. Gellasch or other professors has been hard for her. For Professor Gellasch, the hardest thing is making sure to give his students the opportunity to figure things out on their own, but also not sending them astray. 

To navigate power in control in their partnership as students and faculty, Professor Gellasch lets his students take the lead, but he will be there for questions if need be. This leads to some very positive outcomes.  For example, a memorable experience for them was when Rose presented at a national conference last October. Having that opportunity and seeing Rose have that opportunity to present in front of experts in the field and be confident was really rewarding for them both. 

A setback they have had was finding time to finish the final steps of the project, especially in Rose’s senior year. Rose has had a lot on her plate with school work, research, and her actual job. Balancing these all resulted in needing to push things back later than initially planned. 

A piece of advice Rose has for someone wanting to start a student-faculty partnership is “If you had a professor that you liked in the past, go to their office hours, talk with them, build a relationship, first as a student, and then, if you’re interested in doing research, through discussion with them you can find out what work they are doing and if they have any projects available.”

The partners also discussed the need to get to know each other first. The student has to know the professor and the professor the student. You sort of want to have a personality match to see if you are able to work well together so you can make sure it will work out well because this project can be anywhere from 1-2 years. 

We thank Professor Gellasch and Rose Allen for sharing their work and their insights about partnerships with us.

Previous Partnership Spotlights

  • Dr. John Koolage and John Milkovich

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    Partnership Spotlight

    This Week's Partnership Spotlight: Dr. John Koolage and John Milkovich

    Interviewed by Elena Parshall

    We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. John Koolage and John Milkovich about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    John Milkovich is a graduate assistant in the History & Philosophy Department and with the General Education Department here at EMU. On top of being a second-year graduate student, John also teaches an introductory course at the university. He began his college career at EMU as an undergraduate student studying social studies education with a concentration in history. He picked up a philosophy minor his first semester and quickly made the switch to make philosophy their major. After receiving their bachelor’s degree, he applied to the Graduate Program at EMU and is pursuing their master’s degree. 

    Dr. Koolage is the Director of General Education, a professor of philosophy, and an ENVI affiliate.  He began his career as an undergraduate student at the University of Manitoba where he received a bachelor’s degree in commerce with a specialization in finance. He went back to school to pick degrees in psychology and philosophy. He was later accepted into a PhD program at UW Madison. He has been a professor at EMU for fifteen years. 

    Their relationship began when John was a freshman visiting Dr. Koolage’s office to discuss changing his major (John has had several classes with him since), but their first working-relationship began in 2021. They were working together on introducing a philosophy summer camp for children and the ideas of how to integrate a spark of curiosity in the minds of children regarding philosophy as a whole. In 2023, they were also part of the Teaching and Learning Together Community through the Faculty Development Center (FDC). Their current work on course redesign started this current academic year. 

    Their partnership consists of teaching and research in the sense of an intensely focused course redesign for one of Dr. Koolage’s classes. They are exploring an assignment of helping students read and internalize information, and then relating that practice to how it expands their curiosity. The methodology they are testing involves students, John explained, “sitting down with a reading they’ve already read and they film themselves reading it out loud and then talking through all of the thoughts they have while they read it.”  The duo wanted to figure out a way to implement this teaching method into a philosophy of life sciences course, so the two of them did some background research to analyze how to maximize student engagement with this style of teaching. They have intentions of publishing a paper regarding these types of think-aloud activities and the correlation with individual curiosity. 

    Another thing analyzed with these types of activities is the notion of having a way to individuate students within the classroom to form specific student-teacher relationships. Dr. Koolage said, “Think-alouds are an opportunity to have somebody who’s thinking for themselves about the material assigned to them and submit that to me, and then what I’ve tried to do this semester is respond.” He asks students via reflection what they’re interested in and asks them to think about their own thinking in a meta-cognitive way. From there, he can give a meaningful response back, having felt he knows the student’s interest better, which begins to build a relationship between him and the student.

    When continuing about their partnership, Dr. Koolage said, “it gives you this interesting insight into how that particular student thinks about what they're engaging with. And,  you never have access to that otherwise, you know, you don't just ask people in class stuff like that.” John added in regards to students who don’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking up in class about the benefits of structuring an assignment in this way, “The other ones may feel anxious because they're in this sort of public setting, or just may not have the words at the time, to come up with something that they feel confident in expressing in this kind of public format.”  John intends to utilize this method of teaching in their course as well. This multifaceted approach to learning is proving beneficial in engaging students’ curiosity and expressiveness towards the material being taught. Continuous learning will always occur and the work to incorporate useful pedagogies into the classroom will never be done according to these two. 

    When asked about difficulties within their partnership, the two both expressed feelings of gratitude with how “easy” this partnership has been to them. Dr. Koolage remarks on how there’s an understanding of structures between the two of them that have derived from previous partnerships of Dr. Koolage, that has made the work easier to do and more efficient. However, it was mentioned that navigating the time barriers associated with being in different spots in life can be difficult at times. 

    Dr. Koolage expressed his gratitude towards John for “thinking through this project’s virtues” when questions are raised about what this project is. He also commended them for having a new teacher mindset to help answer the hard questions; “This project would not exist without them.” John said he’s learned that having a mentor who’s academically interested in the same things, and has been in the field longer than he has, has opened his mind to new pedagogies to implement in the classroom. John said, “Assisting students in their education, while also teaching my own class is very, very enlightening and fruitful for me to think about how I can adapt and change my own class to better do that.” Another important takeaway from this partnership John addressed was the feeling of intellectual self-confidence it has given them. He mentioned previous instances in schooling of being dismissed and being treated like their opinions weren’t valued, and that this partnership has helped establish a foundation for himself within education.

    Discussing power and control dynamics within the partnership, John expressed appreciation for  the friendly nature between the two that allows for informal conversations which typically lead to advancements on the project. John said it allows them to feel comfortable knowing that while Dr. Koolage has power, the two of them interact in a way that those small fears regarding power are not true concerns. Dr. Koolage’s perspective on power and control dynamics is that with John being in the department and the project being so domain-specific, the project is seen as theirs. He views this partnership as a true collaboration on work they each individually and intend to implement in their classrooms, knowing that they’ll each put their own spin on it. 

    We asked each of them for a piece of advice to anyone considering a student-faculty partnership. John gave the insight of “if a student were to go to a faculty member and have sort of negative or bad experience in that first time, maybe that's just not the person for you. That's just not the faculty member you should be engaging with in a partnership relationship with. Dr. Koolage wanted readers to know “I think working with, let's call them students for now, but like partners who are not always the same as you in a lot of ways, is an extremely quick and easy way to transform your own thinking. And, it's so rewarding to have better thoughts, ideas, practices and so on that not doing that seems like doing yourself a disservice…if you're not a person who's sort of welcoming to thoughts from others, and you're not always trying to build these partnerships, then you won't have any.”

    This student-faculty relationship reveals the power similar interests can have. It can enable long-lasting, mind-cultivating work through a feeling of camaraderie where work doesn’t always have to feel like work when you’re in the right company. We at the FDC, thank John Milkovich and Dr. Koolage for their time and incredibly insightful remarks!

  • Dr. Christopher Robbins, Jennifer Bennett, and Hannah Bollin

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    Partnership Spotlight

    Dr. Christopher Robbins, Jennifer Bennett, and Hannah Bollin

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins and Elena Parshall

    Written by Elena Parshall

    We had the chance to speak with Hannah Bollin, Jennifer Bennett, and Dr. Christopher Robbins   about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Hannah is a doctoral student and Doctoral Fellow in the Educational Studies program here at EMU. She received her bachelor’s degree in English at Concord University and then her master’s degree at EMU in Women & Gender Studies. Jennifer is a fourth-year doctoral student and Doctoral Fellow in Educational Studies. She works closely with The Workshop for Community+Collaboration. She also taught for eight years before returning to EMU for her master’s degree which was then followed by her pursuing her doctorate. Dr. Christopher Robbins is a professor of Social Foundations of Education, coordinator for the EDST program, and a founding collaborator for The Workshop for Community+Collaboration. He received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Penn State before coming here to teach. All three of these individuals are first-generation college students. 

    Dr. Robbins met Hannah when she first entered the doctoral program here at EMU. Jennifer and Dr. Robbins met sixteen years ago when she was in her undergrad program and was taking one of his classes. Since then, the two have collaborated on a project for community advocacy groups, which became known as “The Workshop” in mid-February 2023. Hannah and Jennifer met through Dr. Robbins in the fall of 2023, and the three have been working together as a triad ever since. They meet internally on a biweekly basis to identify actionable steps and plan the next meetings, and in a larger group with community partners to brainstorm and gather ideas for engaging community partners and developing projects and events in the other weeks.

    The project they’re working on, “The Workshop for Community+Collaboration,” is a service project that seeks to integrate community-based research and community-engaged teaching and learning, through their fellowship that “seeks to be both a service group for community partners and agencies that serve children and families between the home and school while also seeking to become a center-like site where we do workshops, research, engagement, and programming with the partners.” Their relationships with other organizations have expanded immensely as they strive to establish a place that (1) people readily know to visit for support in pursuing their missions; and (2) can amplify the work that they, and other partners, do for the community. The groups they’re working with serve community groups and agencies that address mental health,  housing, food insecurity, counseling, health care, youth advocacy, etc. 

    Dr. Robbins mentioned how this partnership has impacted him in a different way than previous partnerships in the sense that Hannah and Jennifer are not students in his classes, so the pretenses of a traditional student-faculty partnership are dropped. He is able to work directly with them without having the pressing matter of teacher-student role performances in the foreground; they were able to work and learn from each other with less concern around power dynamics. He mentors them and they mentor him. Dr. Robbins said, “it’s nice to not be engaged in that role performance; we can just say what it is we want to do.” With power dynamics broken down between the three, the pieces of the project come together as each is able to focus on their strengths. The word used most frequently throughout this interview was “complementary.” They each commented on how they work so well together because they are each complements of each other. 

    The hardest part of being in a partnership from Hannah’s perspective is to “realize that while you may have had a negative past experience, don’t assume that every experience will be like that.” And then to set boundaries for yourself so you know what and when to communicate certain things so you don’t reach a point of shutting yourself down. Jennifer mentioned how hard it is to trust yourself and your own voice and how gaining that confidence is a slow process, but well worth it. Dr. Robbins spoke on how “relationships require time but so does the work they do,” so navigating that barrier to gain relationships while you’re working has been hard for him, and how, in general, he wishes there was more time in the week.

    Some advice this group is willing to give anyone who’s looking to pursue a partnership would be to have confidence in yourself and what you have to say because people do want to listen. Jennifer said, “Look for the people who make space for you to show up as your whole self.” Also, she said to advocate for yourself in spaces but be able to communicate your interests to others. Dr. Robbins adds, “Be bold. Be humble. Be genuine, and be grateful.” On top of all these other great pieces of advice, they encouraged being open to learning in both roles: faculty and student. If one can open their mind to the notion of learning, great things can happen, but only if you lean in and trust the individuals that you’re working with. Dr. Robbins said, “You get power by relinquishing it. If you’re going to be in a partnership, you can’t be a controller, you’ve got to trust… you do better work when you trust.” 

    This partnership is a wonderful example of how leaning into each other with trust can produce beautiful, life-changing work for both students and faculty members involved. We thank Jennifer Bennett, Hannah Bollin, and Dr. Christopher Robbins for their time and wisdom shared with us!

  • Dr. Marshall Thomsen and Hannah Popofski

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    Partnership Spotlight

    This Week's Partnership Spotlight: Dr. Marshall Thomsen and Hannah Popofski

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    Written by Elena Parshall

    We had the chance to speak with Hannah Popofski and Dr. Marshall Thomsen about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Hannah is a graduating senior studying Physics and Astronomy. Dr. Marshall Thomsen has been a professor at Eastern Michigan University since 1987 in the Physics and Astronomy Department, teaching a wide array of courses.

    Their first meeting came from Hannah taking Dr. Thomsen’s Heat and Thermodynamics course. With her involvement in the Honors College, Hannah began doing little research projects within her first course with Dr. Thomsen. Later, during her Ethics course with Dr. Thomsen, Hannah collaborated on a project with him that was later presented at the Undergraduate Symposium. This Symposium project solidified their working partnership together.

    For their ethics project, Dr. Thomsen reached out to Hannah to contract with her for the ethics course she was taking. At the time, he was serving on an Ethics Working Group put together by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. Dr. Thomsen had the idea that, for Hannah’s honor contract, she could gather information for a report the Working Group was writing. He felt particularly comfortable contracting her for the project because he noticed her confidence in her coursework. Hannah’s participation consisted of researching misconduct policies of many science organizations, and seeing “what their code of conduct contained in relation to receiving awards and honors at that organization.”

    Following this, Hannah reached out to Dr. Thomsen and asked about working on her thesis project with him. Hannah chose Dr. Thomsen as her thesis project advisor because “he's a very organized and methodical professor and mentor… and I knew he'd be able to keep on track with me”  He accepted and had an idea in mind: the relationship between the harmonics of rumble strips and the speed at which cars drive over them. With rumble strips being spaced around twelve inches apart as a general standard, a series of tests could be done. This meant that a model could be made regarding the frequencies that are produced at a certain speed when driving over rumble strips. 

    Some of the takeaways Hannah learned from this partnership with Dr. Thomsen consisted of time management, and how challenging it is to be committed to your own schedule to get things done in a timely manner. She has also learned how important it is to have a relationship with mentors and advisors, and how those relationships can open up opportunities besides traditional undergraduate research. 

    Dr. Thomsen has learned how using these partnerships can help develop his courses and enable him to utilize research findings for practical uses inside the classroom. Additionally, he has found that collaboration on projects can help iron out some kinks that had not originally been noticed when a single person was working on the research. He also mentions how communication skills are essential to continuous learning. He elaborated on the idea stating, “I find I'm always having to fine-tune my communications and things which seem straightforward to me. I realized when I convey the information to the student, ‘hey, it's not coming across quite the way I like to.’ And so this allows me to fine-tune that for kind of general purposes, that is it'll make me a better teacher in the future”

    Advice Hannah would like to give to anyone considering a student-faculty partnership would be “Don't be afraid to ask professors about doing research…  I was afraid of my professors, not because they were scary, but because I didn't know them… but you're not going to know unless you ask your professors who are here to help you.” Hannah also mentioned, “I think the hardest part is actually asking in the first place. And then once you start doing the research, that's actually the easier part.” 

    Dr. Thomsen suggests that faculty considering a student partnership should have a direct and achievable project in mind for undergraduate students so “[students] don’t immediately feel like they’re lost,” but to have more flexibility for graduate students with projects that may or may not pan out. “I think it's important for the undergraduate students to be able to see a project all the way through from start to finish because there are a lot of different components.” Dr. Thomsen emphasized the importance of helping students to understand that there is a learning curve for each new project, that sometimes a project does not develop the way you had expected, and often adjustments need to be made as the project unfolds. Involving the student in as many aspects of the project as possible, from planning through dissemination, gives them better insight into these challenges.

    This partnership is important to Hannah because of the benefit undergraduate research has for STEM majors. She elaborates, “I feel like employers want to see that you've had experience applying your knowledge, not just learning and sitting in a lecture. But also it's fun for me, I'm in this major because I like doing research.” This research will once again lead to a presentation at the Undergraduate Symposium this week.  Finally, Hannah discussed how pushing and challenging yourself is pivotal to personal growth and education.

    This partnership is an exemplary example of how traditional research projects and partnerships can be enriching experiences for both the student and faculty members involved. We appreciate Hannah Popofski and Dr. Marshall Thomsen for sharing their wisdom and experiences with us!

  • Dr. Courtney Lewis and Alivia English

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    Partnership Spotlight

    This Week's Partnership Spotlight: Dr. Courtney Lewis and Alivia English

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    We had the chance to speak with Alivia English and Courtney Lewis about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Alivia is a Graduate student in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program. She is the Graduate Assistant for the Faculty Development Center. Dr. Lewis is an associate professor in the Athletic Training program at EMU. She has been a part of the University faculty for 10 years.

    Their partnership came about from a recommendation through a common colleague for both. Jeffrey Bernstein suggested they should get together and talk about student instructor partnership in the clinical education learning community. Alivia said “Jeff introduced us to each other thinking that we would be a good team to lead that learning community.” They started meeting over summer of 2023 to do planning and prepwork to have the learning community ready for the 2023-24 academic year. 

    This learning community is focused on student and clinical instructor partnerships. Within the learning community there are students and clinical educators: “the idea is to level the playing field among all disciplines.” The community is a way to enhance clinical education and improve partnerships between students and clinical educators. This learning community started in September of 2023 and will end in April at the end of this academic year. The participants in the learning community meet in smaller groups in between full group meetings to do reflections and talk about their experience. Alivia and Dr. Lewis’ goal is to have a “solid artifact to share and disseminate what they have learned through the learning community with others.” 

    When the learning community meets they talk about different areas of clinical education. For example, they discuss where students need support or where clinical educators can improve their skills. Dr. Lewis said “it’s been really cool because across disciplines everyone is experiencing the same thing. While you think something may be specific to athletic training or to speech/language we are also finding that people in Orthotics and Prosthetics or Psychology are experiencing the same thing. 

    Since these two didn’t know each other and met through a mutual friend, they didn’t know what to expect, and the beginning of this partnership was nerve-wracking. Dr. Lewis said “like anything when you are thrown into a new experience with new people there's a learning curve and the process of getting to know each other not as just two people but truly developing it into a partnership. Getting to know each other as people is challenging in any aspect of life.” They did not have any prior relationship so they had to “really let our guards down and be vulnerable with one another so we could create a partnership.”  

    At the beginning of this partnership they were very structured and had planned out what each other person was going to be doing. It was structured this way because they did not know how one another worked and they were trying to figure it out. Alivia said “as time goes on it’s been cool to see how we truly collaborate and how we bounce ideas off each other in meetings. It feels more like a natural partnership or collaboration now versus when we started.” Dr. Lewis added “it’s been nice to see our partnership develop alongside the learning community.” 

    Alivia said that the hardest part of being in a partnership as a student was finding her role within the partnership and having a lack of confidence. Dr. Lewis always showed, and told Alivia, that she values her opinion and what she brings to the partnership. With this reassurance, Alivia was able to know what contributions to make and how to fill the leadership role. For Lewis, it was the fact that Alivia and her come from two different programs and didn’t know anything about each other. She said “I really valued the fact that we are from two different programs because I think it removes any sort of power dynamic. It’s two people with similar interests that are working together on something.” 

    Dr. Lewis’ favorite part of the partnership was getting to use the knowledge she learned from a group. She said “I came into this being a member of TaLT (Teaching and Learning Together, an FDC initiative) and learning what it really means to teach and learn together and have these partnerships. So being able to implement what I just learned is super memorable for me.” Alivia’s favorite part of this partnership is the friend (Dr. Lewis) she got because of it. She said “when we sit down for a meeting and the first 15 minutes we are just chatting and catching up, it has been really rewarding and special to be able to connect with Courtney in that way.” 

    A piece of advice Alivia gives individuals wanting to start a partnership is “be clear on expectations, and have confidence in yourself. It is a learning experience for both parties involved so trust the process.” Dr. Lewis added “definitely understand the expectations going into it, and really evaluate yourself in terms of why do you want this partnership. You really need to understand your own definition of partnership so when you go into it you have those clear expectations.” She also said “ don’t be afraid to look outside of your comfort zone, if you hear or see somebody on campus doing something cool that intrigues you even if it is outside of your norm go for it.”

    This partnership is important to Alivia because it has helped her grow. She said “this partnership has helped me grow personally and professionally. I think I have been able to learn so much from Courtney through this partnership and I wouldn't have gotten those opportunities inside of the classroom. I have gained a lot of confidence being in this partnership.” Dr. Lewis said “partnerships in education have been really important to me because there is always growth and together we can get there. I always try to make my classroom feel like a community environment where people feel like they are an equitable part of their educational experience. So to be able to partner with Alivia and do that in a totally different aspect is really meaningful.” 

    One thing Alivia has learned from this partnership is the fact that everyone is learning. She said “it helped me learn that it’s okay to still be learning and that it’s a cool thing and there is nothing wrong with that.” Dr. Lewis said her biggest takeaway from this partnership is, “don’t be afraid to say yes to something, and truly value what other people see in you.”

    This partnership is a clear example of the potential of student-faculty partnerships. The partners profiled here did not know each other initially but still took a shot and have built a successful learning community and a successful partnership. Their partnership does not end when their learning community ends; ideally, they will have this connection forever.

  • Dr. Peter Blackmer and Alexxus Watson

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    Partnership Spotlight

    This Week's Partnership Spotlight: Dr. Peter Blackmer and Alexxus Watson

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    We had the chance to speak with Alexxus Watson and Dr. Peter Blackmer about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Alexxus is a senior studying Africology and Political Science. Dr. Peter Blackmer has been teaching at Eastern Michigan University for four years in the Department of Africology and African American Studies. Dr. Blackmer has received multiple degrees, including his Master’s and Ph.D. in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. 

    Alexxus and Dr. Blackmer first met when Alexxus was a student in one of his classes. The pair started working collaboratively through an honors contract for AFC 221: Black Liberation Struggles. During a previous course, Dr. Blackmer noticed Alexxus’ passion for the work when she wrote a 6 to 8 page paper about the histories of police brutality and community resistance in Detroit. The reason this caught Dr. Blackmer’s attention was due to the fact that the original assignment was only supposed to be two pages long. So, when deciding what the honors contract was going to be, it was a no-brainer for Dr. Blackmer to pull Alexxus into one of his already existing projects. 

    The partners have collaborated on two main projects over the past few years. Their first collaborative effort began when Dr. Blackmer pulled Alexxus into his and his colleagues' pre-existing project titled We Want Safety Not Surveillance: What Safety Means and What Residents Want,” which explored Detroit’s Project Green Light initiative. For this project, Dr. Blackmer trained Alexxus on how to conduct oral interviews and literature reviews, and he even provided many sources so Alexxus could understand the basis of the project. Through this work, Alexxus was introduced to different organizations/organizers in the city, as well as people like attorney David Robinson, who has over 30 years of experience with the Detroit Police Department and as an attorney representing survivors of police violence. Her work with this project would later allow her to present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Alexxus sees this project as her first impactful experience with research and presenting.

    Their second project, on which they are actively working together this semester, is Alexxus’ senior thesis for the Honor College. Alexxus is currently examining how Black female hip-hop artists resist certain notions of misogyny in society, and how they utilize community building with their audience and the industry. Alexxus describes how Dr. Blackmer, once again, has exposed her to a whole new array of scholars, even some who he knows personally. Alexxus was recently sharing a source with Dr. Blackmer, and, turns out, he knew the author! Dr. Blackmer habitually connects Alexxus directly with scholars in the field, which Alexxus finds incredibly impactful to her research experience. Dr. Blackmer shares that this is the same experience he received from mentors as a graduate student, so this is “just [him] carrying forth the way [he] was taught.”

    This partnership has been an incredibly important aspect of Alexxus’ education. Alexxus put it plain and simple with this statement: “Everyone knows how much I love Dr. B. That’s my guy.” Dr. Blackmer has been one of the biggest supporters of Alexxus’ success, especially in helping her navigate graduation and all her next steps. He provides constant reassurance, and is a great resource for her. Because he has navigated this before, Dr. Blackmer provides a model for Alexxus on getting into a Ph.D. program and pursuing a life of research. Alexxus explains further the impact that Dr. Blackmer has had on her, stating “My whole trajectory has changed. His guidance and support had helped me figure things out in ways that I wasn’t figuring it out by myself…I think it’s such a beautiful thing how you can arm the next generation of scholars to go out into the world and take the knowledge you planted in them to do something.” 

    Dr. Blackmer explains his support of Alexxus, and students in general, as something he has learned from having good mentors himself. He explains how some scholars have “an inclination to develop mini versions of themselves”, but he finds this tactic incredibly boring. The importance of his participation in this partnership comes from the things he can learn from students. He states, “Working with a student like Alexxus who is so inquisitive, passionate, and interested in this work for the right reasons… it’s what helps me sustain me and my work.” He elaborates that it is incredibly exciting for a faculty member like himself to watch students cultivate and apply their knowledge. He also admits that working with Alexxus has been a learning experience for him, too, and allows him to dive into more bodies of work and even reconnect with old friends. To put it simply, he states “It’s just been a lot of fun.”

    Both partners shared their perspective on the aspect of “power dynamic” within the collaboration. Both agreed that the power is distributed quite fairly in their partnership. The experience and information shared have been beneficial towards both parties, with each contributing their own level of experience, expertise, and knowledge. For Alexxus, she has never felt belittled or less than because of her level of knowledge. In this partnership, and in his classrooms in general, Dr. Blackmer gives plenty of space for his students to contribute their ideas and thoughts. Dr. Blackmer attributes this dynamic partly to his scholarly work and education. He shares with us the wisdom that he’s learned: “the best organizers are great teachers, and the best teachers are effective organizers, and that means understanding and navigating dynamics within spaces.” Dr. Blackmer views part of his job as pulling the best parts of students out of themselves and empowering them to explore their interests. He advocates for the fact that authentic partnerships should not be exploitative. Students, just like anyone else, deserve credit, recognition, and fair treatment for the work they provide in academic spaces. Good partnerships should contribute in meaningful ways to the growth of both partners.

    Starting a partnership can be hard. Alexxus described how it can be incredibly intimidating to reach out to a professor and engage in collaboration outside of the classroom. However, Alexxus advises that students should “be intentional in establishing [collaborative] relationships and keep a good rapport with people in general.” She believes students should stay in touch with faculty because you never know what opportunities may arise in the future, even if you don't currently see active opportunities. She acknowledges, however, that this effort is “a two way street.” Professors also should be open to these opportunities, to which Dr. Blackmer agrees. He advises faculty to create opportunities for students to explore their interests and “make space for authentic conversations.” He explains that this can be as simple as recommending literature, giving students articles and books to take home with them, or even just acknowledging their interests. This is the way Dr. Blackmer believes faculty can make the effort to connect with students and encourage academic and personal growth. 

    This partnership is a prime example of the experiences that change the lives of students and faculty here at Eastern Michigan University. This level of collaboration leaves students with tools that help them become scholars themselves. For faculty, this provides enriching and fulfilling reminders of why their work matters. 

    It was a pleasure to speak to Alexxus Watson and Dr. Peter Blackmer. We appreciate their time and dedication to their shared work.

  • Dr. Maria Milletti and Syed Wasiuddin

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    Partnership Spotlight

    Dr. Maria Milletti and Syed Wasiuddin

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    We had the chance to speak with Syed Wasiuddin and Dr. Maria Milletti about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Syed Wasiuddin is a senior majoring in biochemistry, but also Eastern’s 2023-2024 Student Body President. Dr. Maria Milletti is a professor in the Department of Chemistry. She received her undergraduate degree in chemistry and her Ph.D in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. While she has been teaching for 35 years, she has taught at EMU for 33 of those years.

    Syed and Dr. Milletti’s research partnership started two years ago.Syed had Dr. Milletti for a general chemistry course. They had a discussion about research, and eventually Syed joined her lab. This research project has been the same for the last two years “mapping out the energy profile for a reaction that can be used on an industrial scale.” Syed is currently working on writing his thesis as he is graduating in April so they are working their hardest to “bring the project forward as much as possible.” They meet once or twice a week depending on their schedule, throughout the academic year. They also attend other meetings/conferences. They recently went to Indianapolis for an American Chemical Society meeting. There are two others in this group with Syed, but they work on different projects. Some semesters there are group meetings, but this semester there are not any.

    For this research project, they use GaussView, which is a… that “visualizes chemical molecules as they move across a mechanism, which is dependent on what step they are using for the software to understand.” They model chemical reactions in their research and this software allows them to see those molecules. So they can understand more than what is known right now about the reactions between these chemical molecules. Their progress on this project is simply based off of the computer and how much of it it can process. They run multiple calculations at one time to ensure that they are moving forward. When they hit a “snag” they take it in steps and strategize. Where did it go wrong? What can they do next? How can they change things? They will know that their work is complete when they figure out everything they were looking forward to when they started this project two years ago.

    While there have been a few setbacks in their research. Most recently, they forgot to include two atoms in the molecule. Because of this, the computer was unable to calculate how the mechanism works and the energy of the proposed mechanism. They didn’t discover this until a month into it, because the computer doesn’t send an error message, or it buries it while continuing to work. After it was finally done, they then realized their error and all of the work was indeed useless. Which put them back a few weeks since they had to restart. This isn’t the first time this has happened and it probably won’t be the last, but it won’t stop them on their journey. They power through it.

    When asked what they wanted the outcome of this partnership to be, Syed replied that he wanted a connection. He wanted to be able to both understand and apply chemistry to the real world. Dr. Milletti wanted to be able to “teach in a way that is different from what [she] does in class. A different way of mentoring a student, and all the things a teacher should do in a different setting is rewarding.” In the long term, she grows connections with students, reaching out to tell them about their careers, where they ended up, and their lives. This is beneficial for both partners.

    This partnership started after Dr. Milletti brought it up during the last day of the General Chemistry 2 lab. To Syed, at first this didn’t seem interesting to him. The reason he is now in it is because of a conversation with the now department head, Harriet Lindsay. He had the realization that this is actually what he wanted to do and went to Dr. Milletti and wanted to be a part of this research. Syed has started to think differently and more theoretically about what he's doing and moving away from organic chemistry analysis and he finds this a good fit for him.

    The hardest part of this partnership for the both of them is finding time. Dr. Milletti sometimes struggles with finding out how much of a push she should give a student. She finds herself wondering how much she should be hands off and leaving it to the student, because in class there are dates, and deadlines and a syllabus saying how it goes and even though there is sort of a syllabus for research, there is a closer relationship because it is with individual students. She doesn’t want to seem overbearing, but she wants to be conscious so things get done. She doesn’t want it to take away from their classes or hers either so she has to balance a lot, which she changes over the years to work better.

    Syed states that it is important to understand that even though there aren't credits for this semester, it is still like a class and has deadlines to meet, because there are expectations.  Even though it isn’t as clear cut, it is important to note that this is on a student's current course load, so you don’t want to work too hard, but you want to work hard enough without wearing yourself out. 

    A nice memorable experience they have is going to the meeting in Indianapolis. It was nice seeing everyone interact with each other, and people they didn’t know who are chemists. It is a very professional event, so seeing her students talk as chemists and see how well they do is rewarding to Dr. Milletti. 

    A piece of advice that Syed gives to students is “ Go in with an open mind. A lot of students in the lab are always nervous about it….but it is worthwhile…Just take in the information and learn from it more than anything.”

    A piece of advice from Dr. Milletti for a faculty member is “Don’t lose track of the fact that you’re doing this with the student and not for the sake of the research, which sometimes is easy to forget. You’re doing it because you're training a student. Don’t push past where it's good for the students to try and get data out of them.” Student-faculty partnerships are important and we want to continue with them so working together with a student closely and focusing on the partnership and building and learning from it, and each other is beneficial.

  • Dr. Ron Delph and Riley Coffee

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    Partnership Spotlight

    Dr. Ron Delph and Riley Coffee

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    We had the chance to speak with Riley Coffee and Dr. Ronald Delph about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Riley is a third year undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history. Dr. Delph is in the Department of History and Philosophy, where he teaches European History. His specialty is the European Renaissance and he has been at EMU for 31 years. 

    The partners met in Dr. Delph’s course, HIST 300W: Researching and Writing History, a year ago. The course consisted of students sitting down with Delph, and discussing ideas for research papers, with Delph helping students ultimately make a decision on what was a feasible and well-rounded idea. Riley explained that his affinity toward working with Delph was formed because “Dr. Delph seemed to be the best faculty member that [he] could’ve had for [his] project. He is well-versed in the field.”

    Riley is an honors student here at EMU and is working on completing his honors thesis, titled “Democracy in Decline: The Causations for the Collapse of the Roman Republic.” His thesis covers the history of the late Roman republic, specifically “the causations for the collapse of the republican system and its dissolvement into a system of monarchy.” Delph is his thesis advisor. For his thesis, Riley assesses data from primary and secondary sources. Once a chapter is completed,  he turns it into Delph, who then edits it and makes suggestions on how to improve Riley’s writing and analysis  “It’s a pretty collaborative process,” Delph says. He also notes that Riley is “responsive to suggestions.” Riley will be presenting a chapter from his thesis at the Undergraduate Symposium this March. 

    Riley is also participating in Dr. Delph’s study abroad spring break program in Italy this year with 19 other students. On this trip, students will travel to Florence and Rome to explore the history and culture of these two cities from the classical past up through the Renaissance. The two partners both expressed their excitement about this opportunity; this is one of the most popular study abroad programs at EMU.

    With any project, setbacks are bound to happen. Riley shared his experience with such challenges: “I haven’t had any setbacks content-wise, but definitely with some research… and also [with] just the arduous process of writing.” Part of this process involves revising his chapters after Delph has edited them. Riley notes that some chapters are more annotated than others, which adds to his research time. Delph chimed in, stating “it’s a learning process. While you are working through the paper, you are problem solving. You are thinking about a broad topic, and then analyzing material that hopefully will give you an answer to your question.” 

    Dr. Delph is incredibly supportive of Riley’s research process.He explained that Riley is taking the correct approach to his research: starting early. Delph elaborated on this idea by noting that Riley was wisely working on writing one chapter per semester as he moves along through his junior and senior year: “[Riley] can work on one chapter per semester. There is nothing like waiting until your final semester of senior year. You try to write this thing all at once, and people implode because they just can’t do it.” Riley understands he can gain a lot of knowledge from Delph, stating “At the end of the day, I’m the student and he is the professor. I am here to learn from him.”

    Riley’s advice to anyone wanting to start a partnership is to reach out to the professor and build connections. Riley has done this with a couple of his professors. He shares that it's as easy as staying after class and asking about the lesson, or any curious questions you have about the content. He also suggests going to office hours to create familiarity with the professor. 

    To Riley, this partnership is important because of his interest in a career in academia; Dr. Delph has the career he wants. He explains that “being able to learn first hand from someone who is as experienced and as skilled in the field as Dr. Delph has just been an invaluable experience.” Delph shares his love of working with students and watching them blossom as “the best part of being on the faculty here.” To him, supporting students through their academic journey, training them, and helping develop their skills is what makes his time here worthwhile. 

    One important skill Riley has developed from this partnership is learning his limitations and how to communicate with someone, such as a mentor. Learning how to incorporate people’s advice into his work has been impactful, especially when both parties are trying to accomplish the same goal. For this partnership, Riley shared that their goals consist of “ a completed thesis, a successful trip to Florence and Rome, and finally a great presentation.” 

    This partnership has been rewarding on both sides. Riley is gaining a ton of useful knowledge and experience. Delph is feeling rewarded and happy he gets to help others advance in their careers. A partnership like this represents a definite high impact practice in higher education!

  • Dr. Kimberly Barrett and Coreena Forstner

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    Partnership Spotlight

    Dr. Kimberly Barrett and Coreena Forstner

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    We had the chance to speak with Coreena Forstner and Dr. Kimberly Barrett about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Coreena completed her academic career at Eastern Michigan in December of 2023. She graduated with a major in Psychology and double minored in Criminology and Sociology. Dr. Kimberly Barrett is an Associate Professor of Criminology in the Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology Department. She has been a part of the EMU faculty since 2013. 

    Coreena and Dr. Barrett met in White Collar Crime class in Winter of 2022. Coreena had an interest in the University of South Florida (USF) for graduate school because they have a big emphasis on the intersection between criminology and mental health. She reached out to Dr. Barrett because she earned her PhD from USF. Coreena is a first-generation student and sought mentorship for her senior project for the Honors College. She said “ I had to reach out and ask for advice on what I should be looking for and what I should be doing.” After that initial conversation they have been working together ever since. 

    Dr. Barrett said “Coreena sent me a couple papers that she has worked on about mental health and criminology. She very quickly established herself as an ambitious student and a bright student.”

    Some of the projects they have worked on Coreena initiated and Dr. Barrett provided feedback and input. Barrett has also involved Coreena on a couple of her projects, including assistance with data entry and data cleaning. Dr. Barrett said “ this partnership has been collaborative in both directions.” 

    Coreena was second author on a paper that was published on “examining the lack of prevalence of corporate crime course work in Criminology and Criminal Justice bachelors programs.” Dr. Barrett, Coreena, and Maegen Gabriel (an EMU Sociology graduate student) collaboratively collected and analyzed data from over 400 bachelors programs. They found that the overwhelming majority of the programs don’t require students to take a corporate or white collar crime class to graduate. Coreena assisted with data entry for this project, and she also helped with the reliability analysis. Coreena made contributions during the revise and resubmit process as well. They presented findings from this study, as well as additional analyses of this dataset, at three conferences– one international (2023 Examining the Multifaceted Harms of Corporate and White-Collar Crime Conference)and two regional (the 2022 and 2023 Midwestern Criminal Justice Association Annual Meeting).

    I asked Coreena what advice she would give to someone wanting to start a partnership. She said, “For my situation I kinda just took a shot in the dark and was being kinda vulnerable and being like ‘Hey, I don’t really know what I’m doing. She was able to do this with Dr. Barrett because she felt very safe with her. She then went on to say “ultimately to reach out it takes a little bit of courage. Just being open and being aware that you don’t know everything and that there is something or somebody you can learn from. Hopefully you can find someone that is receptive to that. Luckily, it worked out in my case.” 

    Dr. Barrett said “ faculty bios and websites can be a great way of learning a little bit more about faculty and I think reaching out to a faculty you haven’t met just to talk about something that you saw on their website is another great way to initiate that connection and to seek out those opportunities.” They both agreed that in student-faculty partnerships someone has to take a shot in the dark and make that connection first and see where it goes from there.

    Coreena said that there has been a couple of challenges that this partnership has had to confront. “I had a couple of hoops I had to jump through with the Honors College because originally I was going to use my McNair project for my honors thesis but there were different requirements that I didn’t anticipate. So there were a lot of changes and panic on my behalf. Dr. Barrett was so patient with me and I’m so thankful for that because those couple of months were so frustrating.” Coreena was able to change her McNair project to fit the requirements for her thesis paper.

    There hasn’t been any major changes in the partnership per say but as Coreena became more familiar with her tasks due to repetition they were able to have less face-to-face time and they were able to communicate via email.  Coreena said “I gained my confidence so there were a lot less step-by-step instructions. I still had questions all the time but I think that kind of changed it was less directive on her behalf and more so me being like "’Oh, Ican catch up, I remember doing this on the last project.’”

    This partnership has been memorable for Coreena because Dr. Barrett taught her “how to be an academic.” Dr. Barrett helped Coreena process her future plans. She helped her identify universities and made her really think about what she was looking for in a graduate program. Dr. Barrett's memorable moment was when she watched Coreena graduate and give the keynote speech at the Honors College Graduation Ceremony. She said, “It was such a nice culminating moment listening to Coreena reflect on her time and offer some words of encouragement to her colleagues.” Dr. Barrett went on to say “I feel honored to have been able to work with Coreena.”

    This partnership was important to Coreena because she really needed the guidance and mentorship to help her decide her future plans. Coreena knew graduate school was something she wanted to pursue and she was struggling finding any type of connection to a faculty member. She said “it was important to me to find someone willing enough to work with a student that they didn’t really know.” Dr. Barrett said this was important to her because of the mentors she has had in her life. She said “ I feel like I’ve had very good mentorship in my life. So, I wanted to try and be able to pay it forward.”

    Coreena said she has learned “general professionalism” while working with Dr. Barrett. She said “I feel as though I’m graduating and moving to the next step, a lot more well rounded and not just in one area but a lot of technical skills.” Dr. Barrett has learned about mentoring. “Mentors also benefit from the mentoring dynamic and relationship. I am always trying to be a better mentor.” 

    Coreena and Dr. Barrett have both learned a lot from each other, through multiple projects and rewrite sessions. Their partnership does not stop just because Coreena has graduated. She will take all the skills she has learned from Dr. Barrett onto graduate school and into her work life. Dr. Barrett will continue to try and be a great mentor just like the ones she had in her journey to her position at EMU.

  • Professor Robert Erlewine & Meg Bernstein

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    Partnership Spotlight

    Professor Robert Erlewine & Meg Bernstein

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    We had the chance to speak with Meg Bernstein and Professor Robert Erlewine about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Meg Bernstein is in her senior year majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in Jewish Studies and Creative Writing. She has been attending Eastern Michigan for a year and a half. Professor Robert Erlewine, who joined EMU in August of 2022, is a Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy and is the Director of the Center for Jewish Studies.

    Since his arrival at EMU, Erlewine has been hard at work building the presence of Jewish Studies across the Eastern Michigan University curriculum. Erlewine recently finished leading the Engaging Jewish Studies at EMU group, a learning community through the Faculty Development Center which aimed to try and “augment and bring more Jewish Studies components into courses.”  Erlewine's desire to implement Jewish studies doesn’t stop there. He wants students to get involved in this process, and that is where Meg comes in. Meg is a part of the Symposium Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) program, and Professor Erlewine is her faculty mentor. 

    This partnership started outside of the University at a leadership event for the Jewish community in August of 2022. Meg said, “I already knew who he was, so I made a beeline to him right away.” Meg then took one of Erlewine’s classes last year and then halfway through the semester, “Professor Erlewine asked me if I was interested in writing for the Washtenaw Jewish News and interview[ing] some of the scholars that he was bringing in for a lecture series.” 

    The Faculty Seminar consisted of seven faculty members and ended in December. Erlewine reported that “the Jewish Studies curriculum has gotten a little thin.” He looked around campus for “courses that with a little bit of pushing could have real Jewish Studies content.” Professor Erlewine reached out to people and tried to spread the word, and issued a call through the FDC's website. To his surprise, Erlewine got seven applications even though he “would’ve been happy with five.” 

    Professor Erlewine’s advice to anyone wanting to start a partnership is to ask a student “Hey, have you thought about doing…?” It is good for a professor or mentor to reach out to students and present them with the opportunities because the students may not know what is available to them. Meg agrees with this. “I had no idea about the SURF program at all before it was mentioned to me.” Meg also mentioned that “from the student’s perspective, find a professor who you relate to on a personal level and one that you can develop a personal relationship with, and also someone whose work you admire and want to learn from.” 

    The hardest part of this partnership for Professor Erlewine is balancing the partnership with everything else they have going on in their lives. “We are both juggling a whole lot, and so finding time to talk is difficult.” Meg agrees with this, and she hopes to do an independent study with Professor Erlewine, which would make it easier to find time to collaborate. 

    A memorable moment for both Professor Erlewine and Meg is when Meg’s first proposal for the SURF idea became emotionally fraught in the wake of recent developments. Meg had initially proposed to write about the idea of homeland and the idea of Israel, but in the wake of the atrocities of October 7th and the ensuing war, these topics were too close to home for Meg to write about. Meg said “I was able to come to Bob with these issues that are deeply personal and say I can’t continue writing about this, can you help me reroute this project so it doesn’t cause me emotional duress?” Of course they settled on a different topic.

    This partnership is important to Meg because “I want to have really strong Jewish relationships both in my regular life and academically so I definitely sought out Bob’s scholarly work, and it’s important that I learn from somebody like him.” Professor Erlewine said that “Meg is an excellent student,” and “it’s really exciting when you have a student that excels and you let them go out and see where their own lines of inquiry take them.” 

    Meg has recently learned from this partnership that she frequently designs projects that are huge and need to be “reigned in and decide what the focus is” she said.  For Meg, Bob has been very supportive trying to guide her into examining one aspect of a project instead of the whole thing. One thing Professor Erlewine has learned from this partnership is “on a selfish level, Meg’s area of inquiry (the figure of Lilith in the Jewish tradition and popular culture) has helped me think about larger cultural issues in a more academic way. [It has helped me to] realize what the deeper conceptual stakes are” in a range of topics in popular culture.  

    While there will always be more to do in terms of getting Jewish Studies further integrated into the curriculum, this partnership is a clear marker of progress in terms of boosting the presence of Jewish Studies at EMU.  Both Meg’s research, and Erlewine’s seminar, have important roles to play in bringing more work on Jewish Studies to classrooms at EMU. 

  • Professor Zuzana Tomaš and Mars Ward

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    Zuzana Tomaš and Mars Ward

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    We had the chance to speak with Mars Ward and Professor Zuzana Tomaš about their student-faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Mars is currently in their final semester as an undergraduate student majoring in the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Program (TESOL) and minoring in Linguistics. They have been a student at Eastern Michigan on and off since 2011. Professor Tomaš is in the Department of World Languages teaching TESOL and English as a Second Language (ESL), and she also joined the EMU community in 2011. 

    Professor Tomaš recently received one of the Faculty Development Center’s Student Wellness Mini-Grant. The grant is meant to make it easier for students with hardships to succeed in class. With this she implemented “various activities and check-ins” which have been appreciated by Mars. This kind of feedback is in part what ignited Professor Tomaš’ passion for student wellbeing, and what started their partnership together.

    Professor Tomaš’ project is broadly about how professors can implement wellbeing practices to support student learning. She is looking very closely at her own class’ responses and determining whether these practices work and how students respond to them. Mars took this general concept of wellbeing and zoomed into more of the mental health side. They shared that “the whole reason this interested me is because of my personal ties with mental health, and how it affects students particularly. Being a student who dropped out three times during my undergraduate degree because of varying mental health issues. So this is something that really hit home with me and I feel like more research needs to be done about it.” 

    A big success they’ve had is Mars’ participation in the Faculty Development Center’s Flipping the Script Conference, a student-led teaching and learning conference that took place this past December. They presented a powerpoint Addressing the University Student Mental Health Crisis with Faculty Support: Centering Students’ Perspectives.”  During this presentation, they discussed the data they have collected through 10 pre-service teachers surveys, along with a qualitative interview from a recent Eastern Michigan graduate who identifies as non-binary. They have only done one pilot interview because they are waiting for their IRB approval, but eventually, Professor Tomaš said they “will be given to all of the pre-service teachers in the TESOL program.” 

    Mars was able to use this presentation to put students' mental health at the forefront of faculty members’ minds, and they left the conference with something to think about. In addition to participating in Flipping the Script, Mars was fortunate enough to be awarded with a Undergraduate Research Stimulus Program (USRP) award with Professor Tomaš as their mentor. Professor Tomaš said “the pressure is on to build on this pilot and really do a good job with collecting and analyzing the data, hopefully writing up a research paper and presenting at the Undergraduate Symposium.” 

    This partnership has had a couple minor setbacks. Professor Tomaš joked that “IRB is just a reminder that approvals take a while.” Another setback was survey response time, but that was to be expected by both Mars and Professor Tomaš. A challenge in this partnership was getting it started. They both knew what they wanted their end outcomes to be, but they’ve had to be patient in order to keep the partnership alive. The two have found it a little tricky to coordinate schedules and find time to work together. Ultimately, they’ve found ways to make it work. 

    I asked how they delegate power and control in their partnership. Professor Tomaš said “I view my students as future colleagues/future educators, because they are training to be teachers, so for me power has ever been an issue.” Mars agrees with this, and commented that “Professor Tomaš has felt the easiest to collaborate with vs a lot of other professors and teachers I’ve had in my experience. There is no power struggle or feeling of inadequacy if anything she has made me feel a lot more confident and powerful in my teaching.” 

    Professor Tomaš’ advice to faculty about starting a partnership is to “be explicit to students about opportunities.” She then goes on to say “sometimes we expect students to come and talk to us but I don’t even think most students are aware that this is something they can consider.” Mars agrees with that statement saying “I certainly wouldn't have known anything unless Professor Tomaš had not explicitly talked to me about the various opportunities such as conferences or grant applications.” 

    They continued with some advice to students. “I feel like I wouldn’t have had nearly enough motivation if it wasn't something that felt very personal and close. I don’t know that I would advise explicitly to pick a topic so close to home just because some of the research I was doing was triggering and upsetting. Just have confidence and feel passionately about what you are doing and remind yourself that it is making an impact.” Professor Tomaš added “what’s the worst thing that can happen if you approach a professor about opportunities? The worst thing that can happen is that they tell you that they do not currently have capacity for extra mentorship, but they are likely to refer you to someone who might be able to help. And more often than not, they will agree to mentor you because you have shown initiative.”

    This partnership is important to Mars because “the work that needs to be done on mental health and how it pertains to curriculum, I think is kind of revolutionary and instrumental, and being a part of that feels really good on a grand scale and on a personal scale in my own world it feels really good to participate in something like this.” Professor Tomaš said “the older generation of professors struggle with getting things right when it comes to our communication with non-binary students and I catch myself in class saying things that are problematic for non-binary students but Mars has been so gracious.” Partnership is about learning, and both Mars and Professor Tomaš have learned through the experience.

    Mars has learned “I am capable of doing something like this because my academic experience has been tainted by a lot of negativity and lack of confidence and not feeling like I'm smart enough. There was the looming feeling of worthlessness around academia for me, so being able to work with a professor that thinks I’m wonderful and encourages me to be confident, and trust myself.” Professor Tomaš has learned “sometimes if you have an individual who is brilliant but struggling all they need is knowing that you’ll be there to support them.” 

    Mars’ initiative to bring awareness to student’s mental health is working. Whether teachers start with a check-in or something small, it makes students feel seen. Professor Tomaš is an advocate for students’ wellbeing and she continues to try and understand the process of implementing check-ins and various other wellbeing-enhanced instructional activities. In this case, working together, the two of them are accomplishing more than they could accomplish individually.

  • Dr. Sarah Ginsberg & Shay Morrison

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    Partnership Spotlight

    Dr. Sarah Ginsberg & Shay Morrison, Department of Special Education and Communication Sciences & Disorders

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    We had the chance to speak with Sarah Ginsberg and Shay Morrison about their student- faculty partnership. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Professor Sarah Ginsberg is in the Department of Special Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders and has been working at the University for 23 years. Shay Morrsion is a graduate student and has been attending Eastern Michigan for 1 ½ years. This is their first semester working together in a partnership.

    Ginsberg and Morrison’s partnership consists of them facilitating a Collaborative Course Redesign (CCRD) learning community together, run through the FDC and funded by the College of Education. CCRD has students and faculty work together to create a successful redesign of a course that the faculty has taught previously. “There are 7 student-faculty pairs that we are guiding towards collaborative course redesign.” The student in each pair has previously taken the course and the faculty member will be teaching the course the following semester. In addition to the pairs being a part of the learning community, they are also involved in creating SoTL (scholarship of teaching and learning) research projects for their pairings. 

    Ginsberg and Morrison have collected data from a focus group with the students and faculty prior to the start of the learning community. Throughout the learning community the pairs completed assignments that “track their progress through their learning about the redesign process and how they approach and complete the process.” At the end of the year in April they will re-conduct focus groups to learn about the shift of thinking and understanding about the redesign process as a collaborative endeavor and the nature of collaboration in higher ed. They will know when their work is complete when “the course is successfully redesigned and when their research is fully disseminated for SoTL.” 

    This relationship began when Professor Ginsberg reached out to Shay via email, asking if she wanted to work on a project with her and she agreed. Shay was unsure about the process but knew that was something she was interested in doing. “At the beginning I hadn’t had any experience with research or with working in the SoTL field, so I had to read a lot of literature and get up to speed on the things I needed to know.” Shay and Professor Ginsberg would meet once every other week depending on what they needed to get done. They came up with a detailed schedule about the school year and talked about their approach on how to lead the learning community. Professor Ginsberg has never taught other people how to do CCRD, so “this process was really collaborative between Shay and myself. I had the experience and she had all of the knowledge from her reading.” 

    I asked each of them about the process of starting a partnership at the University. Shay shares her insight on how to start a partnership “as a student you can reach out to a faculty member as long as you are creating agency for yourself and advocating for yourself.” Professor Ginsberg’s advice is to “pick one faculty member each semester and decide that you are going to get to know that person better… informal conversations that may not be goal driven, but just increasing familiarity between the faculty and students.” This is the most important piece of advice for Ginsberg because “by sitting and talking to folks you find out where the common ground is and where common interests might be or where opportunities may lie.” From a faculty perspective, “when opportunities do come up they think oh wait I’ve talked to that student, he or she may be interested in this project, the folks that come and talk to us and started forming relationships with us; those are the people you think of first.” 

    Sharing power and control in a student- faculty partnership is an important aspect of collaboration. Ginsberg shares some light on this, “people have a very black and white idea of working with students and giving them any power or control over a course. That somehow translates for faculty that they have to relinquish power and control. Collaboration doesn't mean I don't still have control over the course or learning community, I still have an input. I think too often faculty avoid collaboration opportunities or partnership opportunities with students because in their minds it equates with then ‘I won’t have control over anything.’ They have to remember that a partnership or collaboration in higher ed is much like a partnership in the rest of your life, you always navigate what you want to do. It’s about two or more people coming together and asking ‘how should we do this?’” 

    Professor Ginsberg's most memorable moment is when Shay helped her with a difficult problem. Ginsberg did not know how to approach the problem and Shay came in and said “How about this?”, shared her insight and the problem was solved. Shay's memorable experience was at the beginning of their learning community. “It was really exciting just to see the faculty and students and how excited they were.” This got Shay excited for the learning community knowing that other people were equally as excited. 

    A piece of advice Shay would give someone wanting to start a partnership is “if you are feeling a little bit intimidated by the fact that you may not have expertise in the content area, don't let that hold you back from reaching out and getting more information. Feel like your experience has value and your potential has value too. This partnership has led to so many more things for me. Once you are a part of something you get involved in a bunch of more things. So just reach out, send an email, set up a coffee date and find out more information.” Ginsberg added “Make connections, make contacts, make relationships.” This goes both ways for students and faculty. The more relationships you make the more opportunities may rise for you.

    This partnership is important to Shay because “I never really felt like I had agency in my own education, or in the educational system as a whole, so just being a part of this partnership has allowed me to instill that in myself but in other students and faculty. I also think it’s translated to other areas of my education; I’m not afraid to reach out, if I have questions I’ll get clarification.” This is important for Professor Ginsberg: “hard work is always more fun with really good people. I think a lot of the work the faculty does is really hard. We are doing teaching, research, and service but when you can find people you enjoy doing work with makes a lower level of stress and a higher reward.”

    Shay has learned that “that equal collaboration between faculty and students is possible. You can overcome that power dynamic that's traditionally seen in higher education.” Ginsberg has learned that “the opportunity to work collaboratively with students is energizing and reinvigorating to your commitment to the work that we are doing here on this campus.”

    These partnerships are mutually beneficial for both the student and faculty. Students being able to collaborate with faculty shows the kind of commitment that the faculty has for the students here at EMU. It makes the students feel involved and opens up many more opportunities for them, like Shay has told us. For the faculty, they are learning the different perspectives students bring to their learning, and keeping their approach to teaching their classes fresh and engaged.  As Sarah Ginsberg and Shay Morrison show us here, student-faculty partnerships, when done right, create a win-win situation for both!

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