Teaching Spotlights


Faculty Spotlight

This Week's Teaching Spotlight: Michelle Belt, Part-Time Lecturer of Interior Design

Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

"Michelle is one of the most selfless and compassionate professors I have ever had. Her eagerness to inspire students and develop their passion for interior design is a quality I have always greatly admired while being in her classes. She is truly a remarkable and highly intelligent person who has impacted me on my journey toward success as a student in more ways than I can count."

We had the chance to speak with Professor Michelle Belt about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Professor Belt is a part-time lecturer here at EMU in Interior Design in the School of Visual and Built Environments with the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology. She has been teaching at EMU for 2 years now, but she also taught at EMU from 2012-2016. Her previous teaching experience began in 2005 at the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT) located in Troy, teaching Perspective Drawing & Rendering, and then she taught project-focused studio courses in the Interior Architecture program at Lawrence Technological University for 5 years. She received her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University in interior design then earned her Masters of Interior Design from Lawrence Tech.

Belt teaches a lot of different interior design courses covering areas of expertise from commercial and residential design, to hospitality, retail, and health care facilities, but workplace design is what she specializes in based on her prior professional experience (30+ years) practicing interior design. She always knew she wanted to be an interior designer in order to graphically and visually communicate ideas to people about efficient and functional spaces. She thanks her high-school art teachers, who mentored her in different avenues for expression, for helping her develop skills she still uses in her practice today. One of her college professors also broadened her ideas about creativity when he brought in ketchup and mustard to paint an interior drawing to show visual expression, which she loved. This reinforced the idea that designers should not be limited by conventional means to express their ideas about space and aesthetics.

Professor Belt was challenged to select a favorite class to teach because she likes them all. She likes the technical aspect of teaching first-year students architectural hand-drafting, but she also likes teaching the history of architecture and interior design courses because, as she says, “students can really understand today’s buildings and spaces because history helps them understand context, how spaces have evolved, and the reflection of culture and people using the built environment.” 

She also likes to teach about interior design materials. Students get very excited when they see the enormous variety of fabrics, flooring, furniture, paints, stone, and wood available for them to use. Appropriate use of materials and applications are important for designers to understand for protecting the health and safety of people who use the spaces they design. Knowledge of new materials being developed every day keeps designers current and engaged in progress in their field. So being able to teach students how to navigate the materials, information, and tools needed to solve design problems is fun for her. 

Some of the best feedback she has ever received is just the gratefulness and appreciation that students give her because a lot of them have never had any drawing experience, and have this “stereotypical” idea of what an interior designer is. Belt often says learning design skills is like learning a whole new language. Students learn new terminology, how to hold a pencil, and how to use drafting tools so that they are able to show the visions from their heads on paper and communicate with other design professionals. Her students appreciate her patience and when that light bulb finally comes on in their heads, that makes her feel good, and keeps her motivated to help the students earn their degrees and become design professionals. 

One aspect of Belt’s role as a professor that she finds most rewarding is helping students to not necessarily know everything that there is to know, but to know where to find information that they are going to need. She states, “Technology is always developing, and while the fundamentals and principles of design remain pretty constant, ideas and culture are always evolving. Being able to understand that and find information in all sorts of  places, or knowing about different organizations that are producing new materials or methods helps students to navigate those things and understand them. As a practicing designer myself, I see the graduates entering the workplace and becoming experts in their field, carrying their design solutions forward. So that's very rewarding for me.”

A unique approach Belt incorporates in all of her classes is a creative holistic approach to  information and learning. In her history class, students work in teams and choose a research project about a specific time period and style of design to study. They look at all the different aspects of the specific time period and style. She encourages them to investigate something fun to share their discoveries, like making a recipe, or dressing in clothes  from that time period etc. Her students enjoy this because they get to learn, as she states, “why that style came about, and how it impacts everything…styles may be lasting or fleeting, but the influences of those styles and the interpretation of different architecture and interiors with various and details and motifs help students start to recognize things around them from their historical studies. Students can understand that we not not only look at historical facts, and pictures of buildings, but we are trying to instill interest in something tangible that they can participate in during their research,”

Something that Professor Belt finds difficult about teaching is that she feels that there isn't enough time to spend with the students, even though her studio classes meet 6 hours a week. She often wants more time to work with her students and sometimes offers “workshops” on non-studio days in which students can take advantage of additional time to complete projects. She wants to be more accessible in-person to students but also meets with them on Zoom to work through project challenges. She is glad when students take advantage of the office hours that she has available and can have extra time individually if they need to clarify anything. She loves teaching at EMU because of all the diversity and diverse minds and ideas of all the students. She loves to work one on one with students and get to know them personally, because someday they may be working as her colleagues!

Do you know an EMU instructor that should be recognized in our faculty profiles? 

Submit a nomination here

Previous Teaching Spotlights

  • Maria Goodrich, Lecturer of Biology

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    "I really loved the enthusiasm of Maria and also how understanding she is. She really made me feel like more than just a student and she engaged my interest in ecology even though the content of this course was a lot of demanding work that I am not used to yet. She was really helpful with her feedback and also her availability for office hours/quick email responses and I love how she is trying to make the education system better and more about learning rather than just a grade."

    We had the chance to speak with Maria Goodrich about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Maria Goodrich has been teaching since 2010. She began her teaching career at Marygrove College, and has been at EMU as a lecturer in the biology department since 2021. She received her bachelor’s from Notre Dame University in 1999, her master’s from EMU in 2020, and did doctoral work at UC Berkeley from 2003 to 2008.

    Currently, Goodrich teaches higher level biology courses along with coordinating an introductory biology lab. Her favorite class to teach is the writing-intensive Laboratory in Ecology. She puts effort forth to make her classes enjoyable and flexible for students, and she has received positive feedback in return. “I try to take the focus off of grades and build a collaborative classroom culture.” 

    Goodrich centers her class on research experience. The research is based on student interest and student choice. “We do collaborative work as a whole-class team but then students break off into research groups and get a chance to develop their own research question and then carry out and communicate their interests.” That can be one of the most challenging parts of the class, but in the feedback Goodrich has received from her students, it is also one of the parts they enjoy most about her class. 

    The hardest part of teaching for Goodrich is assigning grades “I don’t like assigning grades and more or less ranking the students.” She finds the mentorship role the most rewarding along with helping the student develop skills they will use and remember forever. She values “any opportunity whether in the formal class structure or informal conversations in advising where I can help students develop skills and build toward where they want to go from my course.”

    An educator who had an impact on Goodrich was her statistics professor in graduate school. “He took a subject that a lot of folks can find dry and disorienting, and through a combination of pure enthusiasm and love for the subject and his ability to connect it and make it relevant for us, it took a course most people dread and for most of us it turned out to be our favorite.” She was taking that class as she was newly becoming an instructor herself as a grad student, and “That was a great model to have to inspire me to see how I wanted to interact with subject matter and also the kind of relationship I wanted to foster with my students.” 

    A piece of advice Goodrich has for incoming teachers is “Don’t feel like you have to have all of the answers, make the students a part of your team. There is so much more collective wisdom in the classroom when you activate their knowledge and bring in their experiences.” One thing she has changed in her teaching practices since she first began teaching is moving towards equitable grading practices. “[I] started as a new instructor being very rigid and everything was very regimented. Increasingly I’ve learned that I don’t care as much about students following strict rules or exactly when they hit deadlines. I just want them to truly learn and hopefully love the subject matter by the end of the course.” 

    Her favorite research project is what her introductory biology lab is working on. It’s part of the Tiny Earth course-based undergraduate research experience. A huge team of undergraduate students from a number of different colleges find soil bacteria that have antibiotic producing capabilities. “Students get a chance to sample soil from an environment that they are interested in and then isolate bacteria and screen them to look for antibiotic activity.” This is impactful because the students' research gets carried out to other researchers. “Ultimately, any one of the students in the classes could help develop a new antibiotic that would help with the antibiotic resistance crisis we are facing as a society.” This is giving incoming and current biology students access to an authentic research experience. 

    Goodrich likes teaching the students here at EMU because of “The diversity and enthusiasm of the students that I’ve had the privilege to work with here. They inspire me everyday with awesome feedback, and they help me grow as an educator.” A piece of advice Goodrich would tell new faculty is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn from your peers, connect with professional development opportunities, and don't be afraid to ask for advice or ask for help. One thing she would tell people designing a new course is to be ambitious, but don’t try to do everything at once. “It's exhilarating to put a new course together and there is so much great research on ways we can adapt to better serve our students. Don’t be afraid to take things in stages, and ask students what they need and be willing to adapt to their needs.”

  • Dr. Brendan Fay, Associate Professor of Art History

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    "Weirdest class. Best professor." 

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Brendan Fay about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Brendan Fay received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in mathematics and art history and his PhD in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard. He held a postdoctoral Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities at Stanford as well. He has been a professor in the School of Art & Design since 2015.

    Here at Eastern, Dr. Fay teaches art history. As a modernist, he teaches classes mainly focusing on 20th and 21st century art. These courses include Introduction to Contemporary Art, Modern Art, and an assortment of seminar courses. Seminars are always special, but Dr. Fay thoroughly enjoys teaching the introductory level courses. “The step from never having heard about a topic or field, or never having thought about it in a structured way, to knowing what it is and knowing the beginnings of how to think about it is just a much bigger step than all of the incremental stuff you add along the way,” he explains. The introductory courses open up students' minds, especially his Introduction to Contemporary Art course, which exposes students to the concept that “practically everything seems to be art in the 21st century.” 

    Within his classes, Dr. Fay offers up a sense of freedom and exploration in his assignments, allowing students to explore aspects of the content that interest them. For example, students will be asked to explore the work of an artist of their choice and create an “elevator pitch” for their classmates on this artist. Students also have been given the opportunity to go explore a museum and create their own tour of an exhibition. 

    When reflecting on what has changed most about his teaching practices over time, Dr. Fay notes that in the most recent few years he has attended as much to course policies as assignment design. Rather than thinking in terms of accommodations for individual students, he aims to keep building a broadly accommodating classroom. “It’s a small thing, but I keep getting further and further away from a one size fits all idea. I just try to give everybody a way to be in a classroom.”

    Dr. Fay credits Dr. John Lawler, an emeritus Linguistics faculty member at the University of Michigan, as someone who shaped him into the professor he is today. Dr. Lawler exposed Dr. Fay to how beneficial exposing students to raw data from the field of study is. “His approach was entirely ‘Here’s the raw material we work with in this discipline. Get your hands dirty and see what you can do.’” This concept has extended into Dr. Fay’s courses and has remained a consistent practice of his. 

    “Make sure you’re doing as much as you can to get to know students as they come into your classroom.” That is the advice Dr. Fay would give to a new faculty member. He says you should figure out who is in the room, what they bring to the table, their expectations, and how this all fits into your classroom dynamic. 

    Dr. Fay also notes that his involvement with the General Education program has been an asset to his teaching and classes. At every step along the way of working within this program. He has been asked to think about classes from a different perspective, which allowed him to view his content through the lens of how it affects people who are not going to be art historians. It also keeps him in contact with people like Dr. Cam McComb and Dr. John Koolage who have positively impacted his time here at Eastern. 

    Dr. Fay finds the beginnings and ends of students’ collegiate lives to be the most rewarding part of teaching for him. “The sort of early moment in our first semester freshman year where the switch flips and somebody feels like college is their place to be. The very end of the process, the symposium presentation, the acceptance to grad school, the job that somebody is able to step into or talk their way into on the basis of things they've learned along the way.” These moments shared with students over his years of working in higher education are what sticks with him.

    Currently, Dr. Fay is working on a book about photography and higher education in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He elaborates: “It is partly a story of how photography sees itself in relation to art, which sees itself in relation to university disciplines.” Aspects of the book explore the complicated life of the idea that college is about developing a toolkit for self discovery and self knowledge, not merely for receiving vocational training. Dr. Fay made sure to mention the following: “I haven’t written the conclusion yet.”

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Brendan Fay, and we thank him for his time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Heather Silander, Assistant Professor of Therapeutic Recreation

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    "Heather is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about Rec Therapy. She provides her students with wonderful in-class experiences, professional guest speakers, and engaging activities! Heather genuinely cares about her students and leaves a wonderful lasting impact on everyone she encounters. I can genuinely say I look forward to going to class when I know Heather is the Professor." 

    We had the chance to speak with Professor Heather Silander about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Professor Silander received her bachelor's degree in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation at Southeast Missouri State. She then went on to receive her masters from Aurora University in recreation administration.  She also received her doctorate in education from Aurora University with a concentration in curriculum and instruction. She originally had no intention of being a professor so never thought she would get her doctorate in education. She also never thought she would be teaching, but now Silander has been teaching for 12 years with 5 of them being at Eastern. 

    Silander teaches a lot of courses in her department as there are only 2 people in the therapeutic recreation department. Usually she teaches THRC 100, the introduction class and THRC200 which is the Recreation for People with Disabilities or, as she calls it, “the inclusion class.” This is her area of expertise where she spent a majority of time as a practitioner so it is one of her favorite classes to teach because she gets to talk about “how you adapt and modify to include people.” She loves to be able to share her background and her philosophy and get to talk about all the settings that a recreation therapist can work in. She believes that it is their job to “provide a safe and secure and successful space.”

    A unique opportunity that she offers in her classes is to provide a service learning project. She has the same students for both the fall and winter semesters and so she continued one of her service learning projects from the first class into the second last academic year. Last year, students had the opportunity to provide mindfulness and social-emotional learning interventions to Lincoln Middle School school students and create sensory bins for every classroom in the building. The next semester, the students continued working with the school by researching ways the school’s sensory room could be revamped using the funding from the school’s PTO. With the funding they had they had to come up with different ways and products to revive the sensory room and present it to the school administration. 

    The aspect of her role as a professor Silander finds to be the most rewarding is mentoring students. She moved to Michigan from Illinois and she still has students that she taught 11 years ago who still keep in touch. She also loves to be able to see them become professionals. She always treats her students like emerging professionals because “they're going to be professionals, and I treat them that way. And you know, we're a really small field and it's likely that they will have a relationship with each other after they graduate. And might even be working together.” So being able to create growing relationships between herself and her students and her students all together is the most rewarding thing for her.

    When asked about an educator that impacted her teaching philosophy Silander had a different take on the question. She hasn’t had any educators that she remembers she wants to be like, but people who she knows she doesn’t want to be like. Where she wants to learn from them in a different way. The person that did impact her teaching philosophy is not a teacher, but her mentor, a previous supervisor who helped guide her throughout her career and sometimes when trying to make a decision, she thinks about this mentor and asks herself “what would she do?” This person impacted her truly as a professional.

    Something that she has changed in her teaching practices since she first began is being more clear in her written instructions. Covid made her think more about what exactly she is saying and how this can affect what she is receiving. She also has changed the amount of flexibility she has. She consistently receives comments about how she is helpful and easy to talk to because of the amount of flexibility she gives to her students because being a student is a part of who they are, but they also might have 3 jobs, and families to take care of and that needs to be noted as well.

    Professor Silander is currently working on a research project on students with disabilities on campus and how this affects their sense of belonging. It is a part of some other research on students thriving and what this means for student success and also “what helps students succeed whether it's academic success or personal success because they're very intertwined. So we've done a couple of articles on what makes students thrive before, during and after Covid and now I kinda have branched out and looked at just students with disabilities.” Besides disability and inclusion being an area of passion, she is interested in this because she has seen students seem surprised when she followed their letters of accommodations with no issues.  That was the spark for the idea for this project. 

    Something that Professor Silander thinks should be included in a new course is bringing back interns and “talking to those students that are about to go out. You know about this is what it's like. So they actually talk to students that are living through it. This is very important and can be very educational and helpful for students to see what people who are in the same shoes are doing now.

    Silander wants to tell incoming teachers that they can learn from their students just as much as they learn from you. This can help create a safe classroom for students to feel free to talk. She also recommends a class contract. The last thing she says is to not be afraid to make mistakes and tell students that you made a mistake. Showing them that mistakes happen and that it is okay humanizes everyone.

  • You Li, Associate Professor of Journalism 

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Rylin Reynolds

    "Dr. Li was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about her work. She offered a global perspective of journalism that made [the] class more interesting."

    We had the chance to speak with Dr. You Li, associate professor of journalism, about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Li works in the School of Communication, Media & Theatre Arts. She earned her BA in International Journalism from Shanghai International Studies University, and an MA and Ph.D in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. Dr. Li has been employed at Eastern Michigan University for eight years. While at EMU she has won one National Science Foundation grant and four summer research awards to conduct research on data science literacy among non-STEM students, native advertising, and the impact of COVID-19 on women journalists around the world. She also earned a Women in Philanthropy award and a professional development award for building courses in digital media production and data journalism. Her favorite classes to teach are Introduction to Journalism, Data Journalism, and News Writing and Reporting.  

    Dr. Li said a two-way learning process was the most rewarding aspect of teaching.  “Preparing the content for each lesson makes me excited to teach it, and then I get energized by the students' questions and their feedback,” she said. “Teaching is a way for me to empower students, and help them realize their full potential and maximize their ability.” In journalism technical skills are updated every few years, which requires the content to change from semester to semester. The challenge of teaching the same courses over time is to think of creative ways to teach the same courses in different ways. Dr. Li often incorporates new concepts and approaches into her classes to engage her students. For instance, she partnered with a few computer science and communication classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Florida and incorporated a storytelling approach to teach data science and data literacy to journalism students in both introductory and advanced-level courses. Several student teams proposed and presented a data-driven solution to a real-world problem at an interdisciplinary competition across three universities and two teams won top awards. 

    Dr. Li also encourages students to acquire hands-on experiences through her project-based learning. Each year she has one project where students apply what they have learned in class to a real-world issue. In the past two years, she has done projects where students have the chance to conduct oral history interviews about the COVID-19 impact on EMU students and frontline medical workers. Those audios and transcripts are permanently archived in the University Archive and the National Humanities Center as part of collective memory about the pandemic. This semester, her history class will conduct oral history interviews with the Eastern Echo alumni of the 1960s and 1970s to document and preserve their sensemaking of that turbulent and critical historical period at EMU.  

    Her real-world approach to teaching journalism skills received positive feedback from her students. One student wrote in the Thank-An-Eagle letter that “Dr. Li goes above and beyond to ensure her students are well-equipped for life after college. She cares deeply for each and every one of her students. She reminds us to be confident in our abilities by holding us to a high standard and treating us with the utmost respect. I have taken three courses with Dr. Li and each class has prepared me for far more in life than I ever could have imagined.”

    Besides innovating existing courses, Dr. Li has added new perspectives to the journalism curriculum including global journalism and data journalism. Dr. Li knows that designing a new course can be difficult. Her advice is to look at the course from an assessment perspective, think of the learning outcomes first, and then design the course content and materials. “It is simply a reverse engineering plan,” she said. “What do I want to achieve, and how do I get the students to learn this?” Dr. Li learned about using outcomes to direct course designs from her role at the General Education Subcommittee on Assessment. As the committee chair, Dr. Li coordinates various program leaders to collect data on students’ learning outcomes to improve learning and teaching effectiveness. 

    For Dr. Li, education isn’t just about teaching students the technical skills required of an occupation but also the dispositional skills that would last a life-long time. For instance, Dr. Li learned about critical thinking through Mr. Tao Zhao, a journalism instructor in her undergraduate program who always questions the status quo. “He would question something that was written in the textbook and ask whether it is always this case,” she recalled. Zhao would then recommend books to read outside of the classroom to cross-examine the claims in the textbook. A media history professor Dr. Betty Winfield in Missouri introduced Dr. Li to research. Dr. Winfield would push Dr. Li, then a graduate student, to reach a higher level. “She would ask ‘Is this evidence solid? Is there anything else you could demonstrate? Did you cross-check this?’” Dr. Li recalled. Thanks to her teachers, Dr. Li becomes the educator she is today who challenges her students’ assumptions and helps her students to maximize their fullest potential. 

    Dr. Li likes teaching the students at EMU because the student population is very diverse. She taught at three different universities: Missouri, Oakland, and now Eastern. The students at Eastern are all different ages and have to balance their work and life. “Education is a privilege to some of the students here,” she said. “Teaching such a diverse population here would allow me to make a bigger marginal impact than at other institutes with a more homogenous student population.”

  • Dr. Ovidiu Calin, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    “I have been a student of Dr. Calin’s for three courses now and I am always pleased with how efficiently and thoroughly he teaches the material. He has beautiful board work, and is very apt at providing visual and analogous examples of difficult subject matter.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Ovidiu Calin about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Ovidiu Calin received his undergraduate degree from the University of Bucharest in Romania, and his PhD from the University of Toronto. Previously, Dr. Calin taught at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame. For the last 21 years, he has been a professor at Eastern Michigan, as well as teaching internationally in places like Japan, Kuwait, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

    It would be easier for Dr. Calin to list the courses he has not taught yet! He has been an instructor for almost all graduate and undergraduate courses in his field of work. Upon reflecting on his favorite courses to teach, College Geometry stuck out. He explains that this was the first class he was given to teach here, and partly the reason why he was hired. Eastern was looking for a Geometer, and he was just the person to fill that role.

    Dr. Calin has a passion for scholarship and his field of study, so much so that he writes his own textbooks. He loves writing his own textbooks because he is able to “get information to students that [he] knows best, put order in [his] ideas, and write to fit students’ needs.” This often fills in gaps in literature and presents information in ways familiar to students, which increases their understanding of the material. 

    Dr. Calin describes his writing of textbooks as a passion of his. His over one dozen books are published by well known international publishing houses and cover topics such as stochastic calculus, mathematical finance, differential equations, differential geometry, information theory, deep learning architectures, and other topics in stochastic geometry. Some of them have been adopted as graduate textbooks in other universities in North America and Asia. 

    One of his more recent textbooks covers the topic of machine learning, which Dr. Calin is currently in the process of making a recurring class here at Eastern. He is very passionate about this area of expertise, so much so that he organizes a conference around the topic every April. This conference, titled the Machine Learning Conference, features talks from students, faculty, and people in the field, and allows for great conversations around topics such as artificial intelligence.

    Dr. Calin found that often students did not enjoy math, especially in his introductory courses that may include non-mathematics students. He wanted to find a way to engage these students. Maybe he could not make them like math; however, he could make it entertaining. So, he decided to switch how he lectures, especially for an online class. Instead of posting videos of a powerpoint or in front of a chalkboard, Dr. Calin creates short cartoons, using his own voice and expressions with a tracking software. He describes cartoons as having “a power to absorb students' attention.” 

    Dr. Calin shared with me some of this content, and I, as a student, absolutely loved it! The use of cartoons and animations is nothing new in learning, however, it is rare to see it in higher education, especially within subject material like mathematics. This, combined with his exposition and clarity within his content material, is what Dr. Calin attributes part of the success of his classrooms. Simply put, “math scares people,” but he is working hard to make the experience more enjoyable.

    When reflecting on what he loves about working at Eastern, Dr. Calin cherishes two main things. First, he shares a love of our small class sizes. At other universities at which he has previously taught, he describes how classes could have 100 to 200 students. This made it difficult to address students, know their names, or even know if they’re paying attention while you’re teaching. With our small class sizes, Dr. Calin states “you actually get to know the student. You can see the students and talk to them. That’s part of the reason I came here.” Dr. Calin also appreciates the freedom he has within his classrooms. He feels like his department and students trust him to deliver material and make decisions that truly benefit the learning experience overall.

    Previously, the Faculty Development Center had the pleasure of awarding Dr. Calin two eFellows grants. EFellows is a classroom technology grant that helps instructors in obtaining the resources needed to successfully pilot innovative technology-based projects that enhance student-focused instruction in courses and curriculum. Dr. Calin has implemented two amazing resources with these grants. First, alongside the computer science department, he worked to build a “supercomputer” to run artificial intelligence softwares in 2019. More recently, he helped the mathematics department acquire three 3-D printers that allow professors and students to print physical learning pieces that can be used to understand geometric fields, algebraic concepts, and even calculus. 

    “Put time into scholarly work.” That is the advice Dr. Calin has for new faculty members. Address novel ideas in your field. Apply for grants. Keep balance in your life when it comes to teaching and research. Dr. Calin shares the wisdom that “the field progresses so fast, and it’s very hard to catch it from behind.” Working at Eastern allows faculty and instructors to focus on more than just teaching, so take advantage of that.

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Ovidiu Calin, and we thank him for his time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. Anne Casper, Professor of Biology

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    "Not only is Dr. Anne Casper committed to providing an excellent education to her students, but she also goes above and beyond to let her students know that she cares for their success in and out of the classroom. She took the time to get to know and learn about each student, which meant a lot to us as students, as it made us feel seen and heard."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Anne Casper about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Anne Casper received her bachelors from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She then got her masters from the University of Michigan and also received her Ph.D. from U of M as well. After that she did postdoctoral training as a part of the SPIRE program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also at Duke University.

    Dr. Casper primarily teaches Introductory Biology: Cells & Molecules (BIO 110), but she also teaches Genetics (BIO 301) and Cell & Molecular Biology (BIO 305).  Introductory Biology is her favorite class to teach, because most of her students are new to Eastern and this gives her the chance to welcome them and help them start off at Eastern on a good note. She talks with them about getting involved in campus life, and shows them a video on Ypsilanti. 

    Some of the best feedback Dr. Casper received came a year or two after she had taught an individual in class and they told her that her course encouraged them to stay in biology and was the reason that they stayed at college. She loves that she gets to be inspiring and supportive and show students they are not alone.

    The hardest part about teaching for her is figuring out where to meet each student and help them. Some students need help with basic biology concepts, some students need to learn college-level study skills, and others need the support of knowing someone who cares about them. She states, “figuring out what students need can be really hard, especially when BIO 110 is a really big class.” She wants every student to succeed, so structuring her class so that it meets a variety of needs is a top priority.

    The most rewarding part of teaching for Dr. Casper is relationship building. She states, “I have so many students that I am still in contact with years later.  I love hearing about their jobs, their joys, seeing their wedding pictures.” She likes that they still reach out to her and share their life. There is such diversity at Eastern and she enjoys being able to learn about all the different student experiences and backgrounds.

    When asked about an educator who has impacted her teaching philosophy, she states Dr. Scott Freeman, who is a now retired professor of the University of Washington. In 2011, he published a research paper on flipped classrooms and active learning in biology. She states, “When I read that paper, I knew I wanted to do that.” Although she didn’t know Dr. Freeman, she sent him an email and asked if he would help her teach using his methods.  He responded and invited her to be a part of his research.  At that time, he had just received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the transferability of this teaching style to different types of institutions. She traveled to the University of Washington to meet him and watch him teach, and then got to work with him for several years on a research project using this teaching method.

    This is also her favorite research project that she has ever worked on. After visiting Dr. Freeman, she incorporated his teaching style in her Introductory Biology course at EMU. During the first semester using this teaching style, she saw no differences in exam scores. So, before her second semester using this style, she replaced pre-class textbook reading with pre-class videos that she made.  In that second semester, she did see improved scores on exams.  This is one thing Dr. Casper has changed since she first began teaching. She makes 15 minute pre-class videos for students to watch before each class session, and then during class students work on activities regarding that video.

    Something she would tell new faculty is to “sit on several classes taught by professors that were featured on an EMU teaching spotlight.  Ph.D. programs don’t show you how to teach so sit in someone's class and watch what they are doing.” 

    One thing she would tell people designing a new course is to start by writing an exam and then work backwards. That way, you think about what you need to do in class to help students to succeed on the exam and learn what you want them to.

  • Miriam Furlan Brighente, Part-Time Lecturer, Women's and Gender Studies

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    "Dr. Furlan Brighente took the time to get to know each and every one of our learning styles and accommodated the class accordingly. She genuinely cared about us as students and wanted to make us successful."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Miriam Furlan Brighente about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Furlan Brighente received her Masters in Education (2011) and her Ph.D in Education (2016) from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná, Brazil. She also received her Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies at EMU and is a current Ph.D. candidate in Educational Studies here as well.

    Here at EMU, Dr. Furlan Brighente lectures in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, specifically teaching the Introduction to Women’s Studies course and the Gender and Sexuality course. For her, it is impossible to pick a favorite of the two. She described how both complement each other well, and how you can move concepts between the two classes in a cohesive manner. They just work so well together for her.

    The structure of Dr. Furlan Brighente’s classes are very dynamic and inspired by Paulo Freire’s and bell hooks’ pedagogies. Instead of being lecture-based, they are heavily discussion-based, so this leaves room for a multitude of learning activities. Her main goal as an educator is to promote dialogue with students, among students, and with the community through guest speakers, allowing students to take ownership of their learning, as she values a student- and inquiry-centered classroom environment.

    This form of learning “really values students' input and lived experiences, as well as their intersectional social identities, while being supported by readings from books, scholarly articles and other types of reading and listening course materials.” Also, with one of the learning outcomes of her class being “to develop or promote innovation and creativity,” she offers creative projects such as Playlist with Annotations and Zines that allow students to explore a topic that really interests them from the material that semester using creative and scholarly language.  

    One reason Dr. Furlan Brighente loves teaching students here at EMU is the support from the WGST department and the diversity within each classroom. This diversity adds a level of experience that varies from each student, which contributes to the rich discussions occurring within her classrooms. Diversity, although it is seen in every university, is extremely prevalent in EMU’s student population, more than she has seen in other places.

    When reflecting on what has changed or improved most in her teaching style over the years, one thing stuck out to her: learning about students' backgrounds, previous experiences and knowledge, and making connections between theory and practice.  She explained how, when learning how to teach, she was trained to be largely a content expert, but this lacked the component of how to teach and facilitate the learning of students. Dr. Furlan Brighente expressed the importance of getting to know students' lived experiences: how many hours students work a week, how many credits they are taking, what is going on in their personal lives, etc. through an open and genuine communication with them. All of this supports their learning styles and their ability to be successful in the classroom. This also ties into the advice she would give to new faculty which is, simply put, “get to know your students and their reading of the world. We as instructors have a lot to learn with and from them.” By doing this, you can adjust your teaching philosophy to attend to their needs keeping in mind that accessibility is an ongoing process. 

    In regards to people who have inspired her as an educator. Dr. Furlan Brighente had three people come to mind. First, Dr. Beth Currans from the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Brighente stated that “Dr. Currans always valued my psychosocially disabled and Brazilian experience and that was amazing for me. I felt I could belong here in the US.” Another individual who inspired her was Dr. Ethan Lowenstein from the Teacher Education Department. Brighente explained that “he has been a big support of [her] projects about Freire, Disability Justice, and Place-based Education and always believed in [her].” Last but not least, Dr. Furlan Brighente is grateful to Dr. Amanda O. Maher from the History and Philosophy Department. She said, “Dr. Maher helped me take my first steps as an instructor at EMU and always gave me valuable tips on how to improve my pedagogical practice."

    Outside of teaching, Dr. Furlan Brighente has been involved with the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS), based at EMU, which works alongside K-12 teachers and students and community partners and uses a place-based learning approach. She takes pride in the work done here, especially regarding Disability Justice and Universal Design for Learning.

    Dr. Furlan Brighente will have the opportunity to learn more about other teaching styles next month at the National Women’s Studies Association Annual Conference in Baltimore. She will facilitate a workshop called “Reimagining Pedagogical Practices Through Teaching to Transgress in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Courses” taking as a starting point her teaching philosophy influenced by hooks and Freire. The main goal is to reimagine pedagogical and transnational practices that transgress and keep our radical hope alive. It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Miriam Furlan Brighente, and we thank her for her time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. Charles Teague, Associate Professor and Finance and Department Head (I) for Accounting, Finance, and Information Systems

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins and Rylin Reynolds

    Charles Teague is the best instructor I've had at EMU. He explains things very clearly, presents material so it's easy to understand, and genuinely cares about his students' success.”We got the opportunity to speak with Charles Teague about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Charles Teague is an Associate Professor of Finance and the Interim Department Head for Accounting, Finance, and Information Systems in the College of Business. He received his undergraduate degree in business management from Gardner-Webb University in 1992. He received his MBA from University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1994, and later got his masters in mathematical finance at UNC Charlotte in 2013. Finally, he completed his Phd in finance at UNC Charlotte in 2018. Although he has been teaching for around 20 years, he has only been a part of the EMU faculty for five years. 

    Dr. Teague has taught over 12 different courses but primarily teaches in the area of corporate finance, including advanced financial statement analysis at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. From 1994 to 2013, Dr. Teague worked in the heavy equipment industry, primarily in sales, marketing, and operations. Since he worked closely with corporate finance in his own career, he “can give a lot of history and background from [his] working days, and [he] can explain to [his] students how finance fits into these organizations.” 

    Although Dr. Teague has received lots of feedback during his time teaching, the feedback that means the most to him is when the students feel like he cares that they do well in the class. He has children of his own that are around the same age as his students, and he feels like he can relate to the students just like he can to his own children. He states, “They are a young group of kids and they are just starting their lives, and I just want to make sure they are doing okay.”

    The hardest part of teaching for Dr. Teague is the current feeling of disconnect among students. He feels that since the pandemic, there has been a disconnect within the classroom between professors and their students. He said he often finds it difficult to build connections with students “since EMU is a commuter school [and] most of the students have jobs and other responsibilities, so they show up to class and leave right after.” Dr. Teague does try to offer some unique opportunities for his students to get them more involved in the classroom. Every year he recruits one or two groups of three to five students to participate in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Challenge. “The CFA Challenge is a worldwide competitive finance event hosted by the Chartered Financial Analyst Society that comprises over 6,000 students from over 1,000 colleges and universities each year. It is an opportunity for a small group of  students from the College of Business (usually 3 to 5) to come together as a team and compete against other teams from regional universities in the role(s) of an equity analyst. The winner of the regional competition then travels to New York to compete at the national and global level.”

    An educator who has impacted Dr. Teague’s life tremendously was his high school calculus teacher, Wilbur Short. Before he met Mr. Short, he never really thought about teaching, and even today, he finds that he still “thinks about his teaching style a lot when [he] teaches, he was a big influence on [his] life.”

    Dr. Teague's advice for incoming teachers is to “temper your expectations.” One of the most important things he has learned since he first started teaching is that you have to cater your teaching style to accommodate your student population. Student’s needs and learning styles change over time. Our students today are distinctly different from students from just 20 years ago, and you must modify your teaching style to accommodate them. Further, you need to listen to their feedback and try to incorporate teaching methodologies in the classroom that will help them better learn.  One thing specifically that he has changed in his own teaching style is the use of PowerPoints. When he first began teaching, he would teach the material mostly from memory without the use of slides, but based on student feedback, he now incorporates PowerPoint slides as a visual outline to make it easier for the students to take notes and follow along with his lectures. 

    Dr. Teague was asked what is one thing he would tell someone when designing a new course. He said to make it interesting for the students. What he means by this is to make it relevant, and use recent news or recent ideas to explain topics to your class. One example he gave in the area of finance is to introduce students to Python, a programming language commonly used in business and finance. “The University doesn’t have any classes where this is taught, but it is a hot topic right now [in finance] and employers want us to teach this.” So making sure that the course material is up to date is important when designing a new course.

    Dr. Teague recently moved to an administrative role in July. While he is not currently teaching this year, he still does anything he can to help out students. He stressed that we, as faculty, need to remember that many of our students here at Eastern are not traditional in the sense that they both have to work and try to attend classes at the same time. As such, their needs are often very different from what many of us may have experienced at much larger business schools. He states that “we need to build a skill set for our students to go out and find good paying jobs in southeast Michigan. That is our mission for the College of Business.” 

  • Rotesa Baker, Part-Time Lecturer, Leadership and Counseling

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Jesse Kwek

    “Professor Baker is student-centered. She is passionate about counseling and about teaching, and she nurtures a passion for counseling in her students. She loves to teach and is happy to take on additional teaching assignments. She does an admirable job of respecting the stated objectives of a course and differentiating her instruction for the particular abilities, interests, and needs of students. She balances high expectations with a humanistic, empathetic approach. Students respond well to her. Professor Baker is responsive, kind, and approachable."

    We got the chance to speak with Rotesa Baker about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Rotesa Baker received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and rehabilitation services from Florida State University in 1994. She then received her Master’s degree in counseling from EMU in 1998. She has been teaching at EMU since 2010. 

    Professor Baker won the Part Time Lecturer Teaching Award in the Winter of 2023, and she explains that earning that award was a major honor. She says, “when providing counseling to students in academia, it’s something I feel really good about… This award solidified all of the hard work and dedication and community involvement that I have put in. It means so much that other community service leaders wanted to nominate me, so I am beyond grateful to receive that award.”

    Within the department of leadership and counseling, Professor Baker teaches a mix of undergraduate and masters level courses including introduction to counseling skills and concepts, lifespan development, the case management course for counseling, multicultural counseling, and assessment and diagnosing. She particularly enjoys teaching the introduction to counseling, because it provides a platform for juniors and seniors who are considering going into counseling, psychology, or social work. She says, “it really helps students understand the constructs of counseling, and that’s important, because that course can make a difference regarding someone’s trajectory educationally.”

    Professor Baker also explains that she appreciates how experiential and applicative her counseling courses can be. As an example, she says, “one of the things I interject in my case management course is guest speakers, and this gives the students the opportunity to talk to individuals who are practicing in the field. They have all of this life experience and experience pertaining to counseling, and it’s an excellent opportunity for students to develop a deeper understanding of the field. Textbooks are great, but here they have an opportunity to ask these questions to people who are in the field every day, and that becomes a major takeaway from the course.”

    Professor Baker reflected on the influence that Dr. Irene Ametrano as EMU had on her educational and professional career. She says, “She’s been extremely impactful. She’s been a mentor, she’s been a pioneer in the discipline in relation to advocacy for licensure… her level of commitment and dedication to counseling has been extremely beneficial and inspirational and impactful.” 

    When it comes to advice for new educators, Professor Baker explains that “this is an opportunity of a lifetime to make such an impact on students within a given discipline, so I would encourage them to remain resilient, open minded, and have fun in the classroom.”

    Professor Baker has learned this from her own experience. She says when she first started teaching, she had different methodologies and expectations. “You’re taught how to be a facilitator in relation to student learning outcomes, developing a syllabus, and even giving students an opportunity to ask questions, but one of the things that you aren’t initially taught from an instructional standpoint is that life happens. You have to be amenable and receptive to the complexities, the intersectionalities and uniqueness that students bring to the classroom.” She said this became particularly clear during the pandemic. “The exacerbation of depression and anxiety started to manifest, people were losing loved ones and trying to function in the midst of a pandemic. You have to take all of that into account. A student isn’t going to be able to function or provide a level of output if they are not emotionally and psychologically well… Now I make sure I really know how my students are doing.”

    Finally, Professor Baker says that one of the things she enjoys most about teaching students at Eastern is the diverse population. She says, “I like that when passionate topics come up, or topics that pertain to social justice, people feel safe disclosing information and there is a reciprocal platform. There is a takeaway that I provide to my students, and I also get a takeaway from our class discussion.”

  • Krithika Prakash, Part-Time Lecturer in the Department of Psychology

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    Her teaching style was focused on people understanding the material instead of just regurgitating information, and this is a course that I am interested in and helps me understand/narrow down my overall career field. I love stats now.

    We got the chance to speak with Krithika Prakash about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Krithika Prakash received her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Neurogenetics. She then received her Masters in Clinical Psychology in 2022 here at Eastern Michigan University. She is currently in the program to get her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology also from EMU. 

    Some interesting facts about Prakash is that she won the Part-Time Lecturer Award during the Winter 2023 semester. She is, also, the student co-chair of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. 

    Prakash teaches statistics for undergraduate students in the psychology department. For one semester, she taught Introduction to Clinical Psychopathology, but she generally teaches the introduction to statistics course, also known as Quantitative Methods in Psychology.

    The aspects of a role of a lecturer she finds the most rewarding is being able to see a lot of students go from either really hating math, to tolerating math, or go from tolerating math to actually liking math. She states “There's a lot of math anxiety, so my goal is to help them get comfortable learning math in a way that they feel safe making mistakes. I see them go from really disliking or hating math to being like, ‘okay, I'm at this position where I can do math now. I don't hate math.’ And you know what? That's like a win for me.”

    Some unique opportunities that her students look forward to is, rather than using “point and click” statistical tools, she uses R/RStudio, which is a free, open source coding software. The focus of her class is to provide resources that are easily accessible to students such as free textbooks; additionally, the R software is completely free. Because she is still a student, she knows how expensive things can get, so she wants them to have access to good quality resources at a cost that also makes economic sense.

    An educator that has impacted her teaching philosophy is Sir Ken Robinson, who is a British educator who talks about how the way we teach right now is based on old-school methods of factory work, based off of scheduled bell systems. It is a one size fits all situation that moved into the educational system. So, she decided to make her own class more personalized with qualitative feedback, rather than just a grade. She accomplished this through reflecting on what she herself can do better in her next class so her students can get a grade that is acceptable to them. 

    The hardest part about teaching for Prakash is that she only started teaching post-pandemic. She has only taught one time in-person. The rest has been primarily online, either synchronous or asynchronous. She states “I think I've worked on trying to get students to keep in regular contact with me. But I think there's a lot of initiative from my end to do that, because students are now in that mindset because it's an online class. The engagement doesn't need to be as high as it would be in an in person class.” That's been the most difficult for her. She has found that her students who keep engaged with her and contribute to the questions and reflections tend to do really well in the class because they're asking all the relevant questions and getting the answers that they need to succeed in the class.

    Some general advice she has for teachers is that it is  “really important to do your prep work before the semester begins. As much prep work as possible, having most of my lectures pre-recorded has been really helpful, so that I can just post them. And then in my reflection assignments, if I'm finding that a number of students are having difficulties with the same concept or problem, I provide, like an additional video, that's more real time. But I think really getting a lot of prep work out of the way the semester before will be very crucial. And you can take that prep work and apply it to multiple semesters if you're teaching the same class, but doing it in the midst of your own Ph.D. program like I am in, it's almost impossible.”

    Something she would tell people designing a course in her program is to use formative assignments, rather than summative assignments, where the goal is to assess feedback, assess progress, rather than what they're achieving. Smaller, low-stakes assignments are more suitable for students, which is how she tries to teach in her own classes. 

    When asked how it felt to win her teaching award, she stated “I think I'm just truly grateful for the opportunity to teach. I didn't know I liked teaching as much as I did. I am a product of the teachers who taught me, and I am so very grateful to every single one of them and the way they influenced me. Receiving this award so young in my teaching career really helps put my name out there. It is a kind of validation for the work I've put in. I got some wonderful letters of support from my students, from my supplemental instructor, and my primary advisor, Dr. Ellen Koch, that honestly, I read, and I still feel really grateful that I have these people in my life. The award is just kind of an accumulation of not just all my effort, but everything I've learned, everything that people have taught me, and everything my teachers have taught me.”

    Congratulations, Professor Prakash, on this well-deserved honor!

  • Dr. Devika Dibya Choudhuri, Professor of Leadership and Counseling

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interview by Liv Overbee

    “My experience as her student left me in awe of her brilliance but also left me inspired by her generosity, sense of humor, and kindness. She truly cares about her students and serves as their fiercest advocates but also, oftentimes, their most challenging professor. She expects her students to think more deeply and abstractly and be more open-minded than many of us ever had before. What’s more, she recognizes the individuality of each of her students, encouraging them to pursue topics that interest them, sending them articles and book recommendations with topics she knows are of interest to them. To Dr. Choudhuri, no student is generic, and she makes it so that each of her students feels truly seen.I am so lucky to have been a student of Dr. Choudhuri’s. Not just because she challenged me to be a better thinker and counselor, but because she has helped me become a better person-one who tries to infuse passion, kindness, and mindfulness in all that I do.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Devika Dibya Choudhuri about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Choudhuri received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Smith College in Northampton, MA. She later received her Master of Science in Counseling from the University of Vermont, and her Ph.D in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a certificate of Advanced Studies in Women’s Studies, from Syracuse University in NY. Outside of her experience as a professor, she also is a licensed professional counselor in Michigan and Connecticut with over 20 years of experience working with clients.

    At Eastern, Dr. Choudhuri mainly teaches at the graduate level, specifically courses in the later part of the Counseling courses. These courses include many of the clinical studies, as well as some cross listed Women and Gender Studies courses. Dr. Choudhuri has a strong passion for group counseling as it is one of her specializations, so her favorite course to teach is surrounding this subject. With group counseling, Dr. Choudhuri believes that, rather than a client just telling you what is wrong, internal turmoil can now be brought to the surface with body language that could not normally be seen in an individual one-on-one session. “It’s complex, and I think it just shows everything about human beings,” Dr. Choudhuri explains.

    On top of her previously mentioned courses, Dr. Choudhuri also has taught within the College in Prison program. This experience was eye-opening to her, and she shared how she hoped to bring some humanity into the prison system within her teaching. The program was able to donate all the books, papers, and pencils needed, and Dr. Choudhuri taught using overhead lecture slides on a projector due to technology not being allowed. She states “The students were fabulous. They were so hungry to be there, to be learning, and to not be seen as just another inmate.”

    Although she has always thought what students need is important, Dr. Choudhuri explains that it can be hard to not fall into the traps in higher education that are only focused on the content. What she has realized, especially with many of the hardships revealed with the pandemic, is that trusting students, caring about a student’s wellbeing, and experimenting with flexibility creates a more inclusive and nurturing learning environment. Instead of penalizing students for wrong answers like she may have in the beginning of her teaching career, she now gives students the opportunities to learn from their mistakes, with the hope of gaining points back, to really change their level of understanding and comprehension. 

    Dr. Choudhuri has some simple advice for new faculty: listen to your students. Really get to know your students. She states “getting a PhD just means one knows one subject, however you should learn from students how they need to learn it.”

    When reflecting on students here, Dr. Choudhuri specifically points out the desire to learn that this current generation possesses. She explains that “[she] loves the impulse to want to learn as much as you can and the passion and activism of doing something about it.” She believes the current generation, instead of putting up with many of the past experiences with which students have, is willing to explore why things are the way they are.

    Recently, Dr. Choudhuri received the Teaching II Ron Collins award. Due to Dr. Choudhuri’s evident love and dedication to her students and the educational mission, this should come as no surprise. Although she has received awards for research, this award holds a special importance to her due to the fact that her own students and colleagues nominated her. Dr. Choudhuri described receiving the award as a very validating experience, stating “in some ways, I probably struggle most in teaching. So, it feels important that people go, okay, yeah, you’re doing well!” We send our sincerest congratulations to Dr. Choudhuri.

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Devika Dibya Choudhuri, and we thank her for her time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. Beth Henschen, Associate Professor of Political Science

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interview by Liv Overbee

    “Dr. Henschen undoubtedly put an immense amount of time and effort into assuring that her students were truly learning and engaging with the material. While it was evident that she was a stellar professor in the classroom, it was even more palpable that she cared about her students as whole individuals. In my opinion, it is great when a professor is an incredible educator, but it is far more noteworthy when a professor goes a step further and demonstrates that they are invested in the well-being and growth of their students. It’s evident to me that it brings Dr. Henschen great joy to both support and celebrate her students and their successes.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Beth Henschen about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Beth M. Henschen recently retired as an associate professor in the political science department. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Ashland College, and her Masters and Ph.D. in Political Science from the Ohio State University. She has been teaching for 45 years and was a full-time member of Eastern’s faculty since 2014. Previously she was on the faculties of Purdue University and Loyola University Chicago. 

    Typically, the courses Dr. Henschen teaches are American Government, Introduction to Law & Courts, Law & Policy in a Constitutional Democracy, and Civil Rights & Liberties. In each of these courses she reiterates a consistent theme. To quote Dr. Henschen, “My favorite color is gray.” Nothing about politics is black and white. There is a great deal of complexity in government and the law, she explains, and reminding students that her favorite color is gray is a way of reinforcing the complicatedness of the issues and institutions in our political landscape. Many students come to political science courses with misconceptions about how government works. “I hate politics” is a common phrase she hears from students, but she tries to make the material relevant and interesting and finds it rewarding when students come away with a deeper understanding and a more sophisticated perspective of the policymaking processes in a representative democracy. It is especially gratifying when students say they not only learned a lot, but that she made it fun. 

    When reflecting on the students in her classrooms, Dr. Henschen finds the sheer diversity in terms of background and preparedness to be both interesting and challenging. At EMU, faculty need to make sure they are supporting those who may not have come to college as well prepared as others who are quickly grasping more difficult concepts in the material. She states, “You can’t leave some students behind while you’re challenging the others. So, the goal is to be enthusiastic and energetic in every class, every time you see a student. They deserve to know that you care enough about what you do to make every class day meaningful, and that you also care about them.” Trying to bridge the divides in class has prompted her to rethink her teaching strategies to create more engaging sessions that meet students’ needs while also maintaining the standards and expectations of quality work that are central to the teaching enterprise. 

    One of the biggest changes Dr. Henschen has made to her courses over time is editing content. She describes her classroom style at the beginning of her career as very information-heavy. She has realized, however, that in teaching, just as in writing, you have to be a good editor. So, over the years Dr. Henschen has crafted course material to highlight the important aspects of the subject, the things that are most significant for students to take away from the class. She has also tried to increase student engagement by incorporating assignments that allow students to explore the nuts and bolts of government processes as well as important concepts like “democracy” or “public trust and confidence in the courts” in ways that interest them and that they find relevant. 

    At Loyola University, Dr. Henschen helped develop the first Preparing Future Faculty program in the country. She worked with doctoral students across many disciplines to guide them in thinking about issues ranging from classroom management techniques to strategies for balancing the demands of teaching, research, and service that make up an academic life. Her best advice for future faculty, and, indeed, for those who are already in the profession: “Be authentic.” It seems so simple, but in a world where there is an expectation to constantly prove your worth, that’s important to remember. “It is not your job to impress your students,” Dr Henschen explains, “but to be a role model for them as they move on to their next chapter of life.” Students can quickly determine if you have substantive expertise. Take time in the classroom not only to teach them the course material, but also to teach them skills that will prove useful in whatever profession they choose.  

    Recently, Dr. Henschen was awarded the Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Award—Teaching Award II. While she has been recognized for the quality of her teaching often during her career, the Collins award affirmed her belief that to have always been seen as teaching well demanded that she never stop trying to teach better. She was nominated for the award by her department head, Dr. Barbara Patrick, and a former department head in English Language and Literature, Dr. Mary Ramsey. She was grateful for the letters of support submitted by colleagues and former students. 

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Beth Henschen, and we thank her for her time and contributions to the academic culture here at EMU.

  • Michael Foster, Assistant Professor, Department of World Languages

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    Faculty Spotlight

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    I also would like to thank you for such an amazing class.I learned important information that pertains to my life as an educator. I never thought I would say that a Monday night class was fun, but yours is one for the records.  I will miss having you as a professor.”  

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Michael Foster about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Foster started his education at Wabash College, getting a B.A. in French Studies. He then continued his education, receiving his M.A. in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He received his second masters degree in French Language Learning at the University of Illinois. He then went on to receive his Ph.D. in French and Second Language Acquisition Teacher Education, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

    Since then Dr. Foster has been teaching at different universities, first being the William Jewell College in Missouri, then at the United States Military Academy in New York and now here at Eastern for the past four years. Dr. Foster teaches classes in three different sectors. The first sector is French, such French civilization, French grammar, and French literature, He also teaches classes in the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, including classes  language and diversity, and also a class for education majors who are working with English learners, so that they'll be ready to work with English learners. He also teaches a methods class for K-12 education majors, and also is supervising student teachers.

    Dr. Foster's favorite class to teach is language and cultural diversity in the US, and also the student teaching practicum. This is because “because the students in the linguistic and cultural diversity class are a diverse group of students, and they have good discussions, and they are very respectful of each other, and they don't shy away from talking about topics…important to talk about for our society today. And also, I really enjoy the student teaching practicum because the young women in that class are all becoming great teachers, and I'm seeing them develop their teaching skills and , you know, finding their own way as teachers and when I watched them teach their classes, it's really , you know, satisfying to me that I'm , helping pass the baton, if you will, to the future teachers”

    The hardest part about teaching for Foster is to find the balance of professional time and working with students and also time to recharge so that you are helpful to your students. You want to make sure students have time to process what they discussed in class and see how it is practical for them. On the other hand, the most rewarding part of teaching is to see students find their own voice, and find their own way through the material. Foster states “especially with this group of student teachers who I am supervising now, I've had them in class the last two years,  seeing them  grow even as a French major, and then being  a an education major with that and now being  ready to graduate and become a teacher after this semester,  really  seeing them find their own way, especially through all the troubles with COVID and you know,  the stress from online learning and letting them be resilient and find their own way.”

    An educator who has impacted Foster's teaching philosophy is his Ph.D. advisor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His advisor, Dr. Andrea Golato, who is now Dean of the Graduate School at Texas State University, was a great mentor for him.  She was originally his professor before he decided to ask her to be his dissertation advisor and mentor because he looked up to how amazing she was and still is. 

    Something that he has changed in his teaching when he first started and now is that he is more empathetic. When he first started teaching Dr. Foster taught at a traditional liberal arts college that was very strict, and then he worked at a military school which was even stricter.  He enjoys learning at Eastern how to be more empathetic and understand people and see the real world. And that's what he loves about Eastern. There are all backgrounds of students, faculty, staff, people working multiple jobs to pay for school and it shows you the real world. Dr. Foster wants to feel  he gives off the energy that he is someone who tries to understand and listens.

    Dr. Foster is going to Paris next year for the Olympics and he thought about a new immersion course/trip in which a student who is interested in France could go with him to the Olympics and see the cultural events,  learn French from native speakers, and learn about the history and culture in France and of the Olympics.  He hopes to be able to offer this course next year.

    Some of the best feedback Foster has gotten from students is that he was very helpful for them to learn. Foster talks about how he gets emails at the end of the semester saying things along the lines of, “Dear, Dr. Foster, thank you so much for a good class. I learned a lot in it, how to be a future language teacher and working with other people. I have learned a lot of good things I can use in my future career as a teacher.” And this makes him feel appreciated and  he is doing good in his class. 

    This all makes sense because Dr. Foster received the Ronald Collins Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching I (for faculty with fewer than five years at EMU) for 2022. When asked about how he felt about winning he stated, “Well, I'm still in shock that I, that I want it , it's truly an honor. And when I got the letter from the provost, I was crying… it was such an honor to get it. And I felt appreciated and privileged to get it. But I also want to make sure that I keep doing good work in the future at Eastern to show the university that I deserve it. Because I've only been here for four years. And sometimes it feels like time hasn't gone by that quickly. But it has. And so , just  getting such an award  is really humbling, you know, because I'm sure there's other deserving people on the campus as well. But it just makes me feel  I have to keep doing a good job with my students and earn it for the future.”

    Congratulations to Dr. Foster, we look forward to his future innovations inside and outside of the classroom and all he does at EMU. Thank you for everything, and being such a good faculty member.

  • Lauren Williams, Part-Time Lecturer, History & Philosophy

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    L. Williams

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    “ I liked the level of trust she created in the classroom. She creates a welcoming and accepting atmosphere to encourage students to engage in discussions. She was great to relate to, and could always have meaningful conversation about content.”

    We got the chance to speak with Lauren Williams about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Lauren Williams is a part-time lecturer in the History and Philosophy department. This is the end of her second year as a lecturer, with an additional third year of teaching experience here as part of her graduate program. She received her bachelor's degree in philosophy in 2019 and her masters in philosophy in 2021, both from Eastern. 

    Feminist Theory is the main class Williams teaches, however she has also taught Introduction to Philosophy. When it comes to Feminist Theory, there are two things Williams loves about the opportunity to teach it.

    First, Williams loves the students. Because Feminist Theory can be used to fill a general education requirement, the classroom has a lot of diversity.  However, Williams has observed that many of the students already have a baseline of knowledge and values that are helpful to succeed in this class and the discussions. Many of the students are passionate about the issues discussed in these classes, and are open to more education and okay with being wrong, which is a necessary part of learning. 

    The second thing Williams enjoys about Feminist Theory is the subject matter itself. Williams stated “I have always felt passionate about feminist issues. This course has been a helpful lens for me to reflect on my own life and my experiences growing up or various instances and experiences I’ve had as an adult.” Williams also loves that she can help students understand that philosophy is applicable to their daily lives through the subject of feminism. Students are usually primed to understand how applicable feminist material is, which operates as a nice bridge between philosophy and everyday life. In Feminist Theory, Williams likes to demonstrate that the material is current, so it is clear to see why we need this type of education. This type of understanding is very rewarding to students. 

    Even though she has only been teaching for a few years, Williams believes she has learned things about herself that have affected her teaching style. During her years as a student, Williams explained how she planned to do all sorts of “out of the box” things, applying all the proper techniques and following curriculum to a T. However, Williams learned that, although things may look good on paper, putting it into practice is not always functional. 

    Additionally, some semesters can be harder on professors than others, and Williams learned that it is okay to base your class off the level of engagement and effort you are able to give students at that time. Williams believes it is not fair to give students an assignment you know you are not able to grade in an efficient manner, or expect students to understand things if you are not able to be there to support them in that effort. Overall, Williams believes that, since the beginning of her teaching, she has learned that it is okay to deviate from the original plan. 

    When reflecting on her time as a student here, Williams accredited the Introduction to Philosophy course during her freshman year that inspired her to become the philosopher and educator she is today. This course, Williams explained, had an instructor and a Supplemental Instructor who were both very passionate about education, liberal arts, and philosophy. This course “set the gears turning” in Williams' brain toward the possibility of her career in education. Education was always something William valued, and these two influences included her in several educational projects that fostered that passion. They taught her everything she knows and, in a way, made the transition into her career easier. 

    In regards to advice for future faculty, Williams stated “do your best to be courageous and reach out to build a support network.” Do not wait for people to come to you. Do not be afraid to reach out. People are busy. Take the initiative.

    It was a pleasure to speak to Professor Williams and we thank her for her time and dedication to education here at EMU. 

  • Dr. Jonathan Skuza, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy 

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    J. Skuza

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    “Dr. Skuza is a wonderful professor and advisor. He goes above and beyond to help his students and teach his classes in an engaging way. He is one of the kindest and most caring professors that I know.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Jonathan Skuza about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Skuza received his B.S. in Physics at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. He then continued his education receiving his Masters in Physics at the University of Toledo, which is also where he began teaching physics classes. He then finished his education with a Ph.D. in Physics at The College of William & Mary.

    This is Skuza’s 7th year teaching at EMU. He teaches everything from Gen Ed courses all the way to our graduate courses. He teaches a lot for the masters program in physics but he also teaches the full spectrum of courses. Once a year, he tends to teach the first semester calculus- based physics course, which is Mechanics and Sound. This course is for first year physics majors, and also for engineering majors, because engineering majors have to take one or two semesters of physics. Also once a year, Skuza teaches the upper-level physics course called Modern Physics, which has a lecture component and also a laboratory component. He has been teaching this class every fall since he has been here. For grad courses he teaches Mechanics and Electrodynamics. Skuza states, “if I had to pick what I enjoy the most, I'd probably say the undergraduate upper level physics courses for majors and the first semester calc-based course.”

    The hardest part about teaching for Skuza is what he calls “playing tug-of-war with yourself,” trying to reach all students in some fashion equally, because naturally you are going to have a class with a range of abilities and also a range of prior preparation such as different math levels or physics preparation. Skuza states, “I have students who, this is their first-ever physics course, I have students who took physics in high school, I have students who took a physics course five years ago. So you know, trying to reach them and improve their skills, problem solving, and their awareness of the physical world is the focus.  Probably the hardest part is finding that balance, because you can't be too easy and you can't be too difficult; you try and hit somewhere in the middle, and challenge all of the students to some degree. And I see that, you know, when I give them an exam. Some people are quick, like they know what to do, and some struggle with the exam, but figure it out. And some struggle with it and make progress, but they don't get all the way there. I think that's the hardest part.”

    Something that Skuza has changed since he first began teaching and now is that he tries to lecture less. When he first started he ran the course like a traditional lecture course and he would solve problems in the lecture, which was how he was educated. He saw in the research how that was not effective, or efficient. That is not the best way to help students learn and he wants to give them the best chance to learn! So he started to do problem-solving in class, sometimes in small groups, sometimes by themselves.  When students solve problems on their own and together, he creates a setting where they can ask him any questions if needed. He then works through the problem with the class all together, by making them tell him what they have done. He states,  “that's more beneficial to them than watching me solve a problem and me telling them what to do, because I'm not going to be with them on the exam or out in the real world.” This is something he has taken from one of his undergraduate mentors who once told him “it's like watching someone play the piano, you don't get better by watching someone else do something, you have to do it.”

    The most rewarding thing about teaching for Skuza is working with students and being able to answer their questions. Having them go to him with questions or saying “Hey I wanna know more about this,” and seeing them be excited about the class and their growth in knowledge is definitely the most rewarding thing. Skuza talked about an example of this that happened a couple days earlier. He states, “We looked at a single integral in class, which is something that they've already seen in their calculus courses. What they necessarily haven't seen is a double integral or a triple integral where you have to integrate over two or three different variables, respectively. And so I didn't want to do that during class, but I mentioned it briefly. 

    “And a student came up afterwards and said, ‘Hey, I'm more interested in this. I know, I'll see it eventually. But you know, could you tell me some more about this?’ So I went through a double integral problem and then I said, ‘Here's a triple integral, see if you can do this on your own.’ He [later] came to me and said, ‘Here's what I'm getting. It's close to what I should get. But it's not quite there.’ So we worked through the problem for about an hour after class on the whiteboard. And, you know, we figured it out. And at one point, I was actually making a tiny mistake, because when we worked through it, we didn't get the right answer. 

    “Professors don't know everything, we make mistakes, I make mistakes on the board, I'll miss a minus sign. Because when I'm lecturing and solving a problem, I don't have notes in front of me, I'm not copying something down, I'm going through the motions of thinking about the problem, just like the students are, in real time. [So] once I figured out the tiny mistake in the triple integral, we got the right answer.”  He finds that just working with students is amazing because they are more capable than they believe and we have to give them great opportunities to rise to the occasion.

    While there have been a number of people who have influenced Skuza’s life as an educator, an educator who has impacted him greatly was one of his professors at Baldwin-Wallace named Dr. Ed Meyer. He was the same one who gave him that piano reference mentioned earlier. It was his first year in college and also Dr. Meyer’s first year teaching. Skuza states, “he brought real-world problems and real-world problem solving to the first semester and second semester physics courses that I took, and just his excitement and passion about problem solving and how to go about thinking about problems.” Skuza was a biology major before he took Dr. Meyer’s class; his course changed the course of Skuza’s life.

    Some advice Skuza has for incoming teachers is remembering that being a great teacher is something all of us aren't naturally great at, but something that you work at, and you get better over time. Also talk to your colleagues in your department, talk to your colleagues in your field at other universities, get their experience, learn from their mistakes, use those resources. Skuza leaned on people within his department such as Dr. Ernie Behringer and Dr. Diane Jacobs, who retired a few years ago, and he is so grateful that he was able to learn from them. Dr. Jonathan Skuza is so thankful for his own teachers, but also for the teachers he gets to work with today and he loves that he has the opportunity to be there for his own students and colleagues.

  • Dr. Leslie Blome, Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders

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    L. Blome

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    “Dr. Blome is an outstanding person and professor that we are very lucky to have at EMU. Her passion for teaching is inspiring and motivating. It is clear that she dedicates a lot of time and effort to make her classes interesting and informative, and I really enjoy the way she successfully caters to all learning styles. Her genuine kindness and concern for her students really makes her stand out.”

    We had the chance to speak with Dr. Leslie Blome about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Blome specializes in autism spectrum disorders and early childhood education. She started her education at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she received her B.A. in Speech and Hearing Sciences. She continued on to get her Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Florida State University, with her thesis being on “Communicative Profile of a Child with Autism Following Placement in an Inclusive Preschool Setting.” She then went to the University of Colorado, Denver for her Educational Doctorate in Leadership for Educational Equity - Early Childhood Education. Her research project was “Qualitative case study examining Physician Assistant student retention and application of autism knowledge during 3rd year clinical rotations: An applied, partnered project with the University of Colorado Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant training program.” 

    Dr. Blome teaches students to become speech-language pathologists, a career which she had been doing for 25 years before she got her doctorate. She specializes in autism, so one of the courses she is teaching is Communication Development in Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSD 506). She also teaches Early Intervention for Speech and Language-Impaired Children, ages birth to five (CSD 607), as well as an undergraduate class called Clinical Methods in Speech-language Pathology (CSD 343W). This class teaches students what to do when you actually get to a clinic with a client, such as how you design the session, how you figure out the target goals, and how to write for speech pathology. 

    This is Dr. Blome’s first year teaching, both overall and at EMU, and she is excited to continue on her journey as a professor. So far, her favorite subject to teach is her Communication Development in Autism Spectrum Disorders because she has been interested in this ever since she was an undergraduate. She also chose her graduate program because it had someone teaching who was studying autism, so this class is close to her heart. Her entire educational practice is based around it.

    Since she is a newer professor, Dr. Blome is in the process of forming her research agenda has not had a ton of research projects that she has completed.  She does love her doctoral research project, which focused on the training students received about autism in their program and how they felt about how they were able to retain and then apply that information when they were in their clinical rotation. She likes qualitative research because she is able to know the “how and the why” and the “internal thinking about different topics.” She really enjoyed “interviewing students and learning about how we teach about working with autism and working with families with children with autism.” She was really surprised about how much she could learn from the student working with autism about their training in such a short interview.

    Dr. Blome is a member of our Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) learning community, and she thinks that this aligns  with her wishes to do qualitative research along with teaching. SoTL really brings those two things together.

    When asked what the most difficult thing about teaching is, Dr. Blome responded,  “I think the hardest part is figuring out how to structure the syllabus and the classes so that students are getting the best opportunity to learn the information. That is an art and a science. And it is a new skill set to learn. I have the clinical information that I want to offer to students and also practical information” but the activities she needs to do to support her students' learning and structure it can be difficult. She believes that they need practical hands-on learning to fully understand.

    The most rewarding part of teaching was easier for her to think of. Relationships with students are super rewarding for Dr. Blome. “I can really see that has become evident this semester. I have some students in my classes that I had last semester and watching those students go through the two-year program is very exciting.” So also believes this is rewarding because of the feedback from her students that remarked on how she “created a safe space.”

    An educator who has impacted Dr. Blome’s teaching philosophy was her advisor when she was a graduate student in her master’s program. Dr. Blome went to that school specifically to study with her, and she follows her philosophy to this day because she is who taught her about autism spectrum disorders.

    One thing she would tell the faculty is to go to the Faculty Development Center as much as you can. As a new teacher who also came from out of state, she has mentors in her department, but the Faculty Development Center is helpful because it introduces new relationships across disciplines, especially if you are in person. It has been really valuable for her. She really appreciates all the help she has received and is ready to continue her teaching career at EMU.

  • Vance Kennedy, Professor of Chemistry

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    Vance Kennedy

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek

    “Dr. Kennedy is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable professors I have met. He has a strong passion for education and really cares about his students. Before his class, I never really enjoyed learning Chemistry. Dr. Kennedy changed that by his enthusiasm for teaching. He draws in real life examples that make students realize the importance of the subject and the implications in our daily lives.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Vance Kennedy about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Vance Kennedy received a bachelors of science in chemistry from Kent State University in 1987. He then went on to receive his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Case Western Reserve in 1993. He has been teaching chemistry at EMU for over 25 years. 

    Dr. Kennedy primarily teaches the general chemistry sequence as well as the lab component that provides students with the foundation for higher chemistry education. He enjoys teaching CHEM123, which is the second class in the sequence, because he gets the opportunity to build on what students learned in their first class and go more into depth on the topics they cover. 

    In all of his classes, Dr. Kennedy makes sure to include demonstrations, which he explains that a lot of professors have gotten away from in recent years. He also explains that, although his classes are primarily lecture-based, he always includes collaborative opportunities like worksheets that students can work together on during class. These projects also give him the chance to work with students on the problems in real time, and answer questions or offer explanations. 

    This interactive element is one that Dr. Kennedy strives to offer throughout his courses. One such way that he offers this is by setting aside time to go over exam results with his students. He says, “Sometimes they question the results on an exam, and sometimes that’s very beneficial… I have one example that I always use to let students know that they can come and ask questions about their exams: one student got an answer wrong, and it was about a salt solution. On that question, I called it salt water, and they said, ‘Well, what about the fish?’ That really opened my eyes, because it’s just a different way of looking at the question, using a biological perspective, where you’re looking at it as an environment. I always encourage students to give me feedback or to talk to me if they think they have an answer that fits. I get to learn from the students.”

    Dr. Kennedy says that many of the practices and approaches he uses in his own teaching were inspired by Dr. Lynn Deanhart, an educator with whom he worked closely when he began teaching at Lander University in South Carolina. He reflected, “I got to sit in on his classes and see how I should be teaching… That point in my career was a transition between being a student and being an instructor. He became a really great mentor and gave me a lot of ideas that I still use in my classes today.” This includes the demonstrations that Dr. Kennedy includes, as well as his approach to exams. He explains that his classes offer three exams as well as a final exam. Often, if students don’t do well on one exam early in the semester, they have little incentive to finish out the semester with more effort on the remaining exams. Dr. Kennedy offers instead, that if students demonstrate better understanding on the final exam, they can use that score to replace their lowest exam score. This technique, he says, provides more incentive for students to continue throughout the semester. 

    Since he began teaching, Dr. Kennedy has also begun offering worksheets for students in order to break up the points that make up their class grades. He says, “These worksheets are really close, if not identical, to what we’re doing in class. Then they get to know what the most important material is. Or, if a student isn’t a very good note taker, they can still see what they should be focusing on.”

    Dr. Kennedy also always includes students in his research. He says he uses his research to provide students a chance to experience a research setting, “I get to bring students up to speed on what would be expected in a research environment… they get a good understanding of skills like how to set up a reaction or how to purify a substance.”

    Dr. Kennedy also got the chance to serve on the College Advisory Council through the College of Arts and Sciences. He says that this experience was interesting because he got the chance to connect with different departments and to interact with people from different fields within the college. He says he got a better understanding of how different departments work, and how they were similar or different from his own. 

    One thing that Dr. Kennedy says he would tell incoming educators is, “Eastern is kind of a gem. It’s a niche place, and it’s really focused on teaching, and we have some really really excellent teachers that are really dedicated… This location is a really good place for attracting people who are seeking jobs in the sciences, and bringing some of those people or even maybe their spouses who moved with them into Eastern.”

    Dr. Kennedy also says, “We get some really wonderful students. They really buy in, they want to be here, and they can use this place as a bridge to get just about anywhere. Students might come in from all different places and not have a clue what they want to get into, but they try a couple of different things, and then they find their niche. Eastern really lets you find out who you are.”

  • Phil Simmons, Professor of Musical Theatre

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    Phil Simmons

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    “Kindness and Compassion are the two words I think of when I think of Phil. He cares so deeply about the success of every student in his classes and pushes them towards excellence everyday. By being his student, I have actively become a better actor, dancer, and person. Phil being back on campus has brought life back to the theatre department that we all were missing during the peak of the pandemic.”

    We got the chance to speak with Phil Simmons about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Professor Simmons was born in Oklahoma; however, he calls New York City “home.” He received his Bachelors’ of Art in Theatre and English from Oklahoma State University and his Masters’ of Fine Arts in Acting, with a secondary concentration in Playwriting, from the University of Georgia. Outside of teaching, he has worked in the professional acting world for over 20 years. He is also one of Eastern’s first split appointments, 51% in Communication, Media, and Theatre Arts and 49% in Music and Dance. This will be his seventeenth year teaching here at Eastern. 

    Here at Eastern, Simmons teaches a multitude of classes due to this split appointment. Among this long list of classes, we see upper- and lower-level musical theatre, acting, and dance classes, including jazz, tap, and musical theatre dance. Out of these classes, Simmons has a strong affinity towards his musical theatre classes at the 400-level because his students get to do more in depth work with strong, powerful characters. 

    Besides his great reputation and enthusiastic teaching, students can look forward to really exploring their own creativity in a classroom led by Simmons. For his acting classes, students look forward to doing a larger amount of powerful and diverse monologues. Simmons offers the opportunity to do as many monologues as possible, while still making sure each assignment is beneficial to the student’s learning. In his upper-level classes, students get to really “flex their creativity or stretch their creative boundaries” by choreographing and directing their own pieces. 

    Simmons, outside of teaching, has an impressive acting career to draw experience from. Some of his performances include Hysterium in a musical spoof of Greek/Roman melodramas during its first national Broadway tour, a sailor in “On The Town” during a European tour, and singing in a show called “Naked Boys Singing.” Furthermore, through being a part of an organization called “Broadway Cares,” he has had the opportunity to be on a stage with Hugh Jackman and Sally Fields, to sing backup for Elphaba from Wicked, and to meet numerous Tony and Oscar Winners. In response to all of these experiences, Simmons is constantly reminded that these actors are “people just like you and me.” He says that remembering that is very affirming and “makes him feel better about life.”

    Simmons always had planned on teaching, even before he began his acting career. He wanted to act for 20 years then take all of that experience and share it with students, which is exactly what he is doing now. One thing Simmons specifically learned from the acting field that he applies in his class is the idea of support. Simmons explains that “you watch movies about how cutthroat the professional acting world is, and, in reality, it isn’t really like that. Everybody knows everybody. It’s a small world. So, we all end up supporting and taking care of each other.” This is an important concept to apply in the classroom. If students feel that other students are rooting for them, it’s less scary. Simmons explains that this allows students to take risks and try something new. They feel supported, heard, and secure. 

    One thing that Professor Simmons has changed most about his teaching since he began is to be more compassionate. Simmons explains that, at the beginning, a lot of who he was as a professor and his expectations was influenced by the discipline of the professional acting world. Simmons states “everything works on a schedule, and everybody is just used to doing what they’re supposed to do, even when they’re not told. It took me a while to figure out that’s not how the academic world works.” Simmons believes that, just like previously mentioned, we all are here to take care of each other. It is a professor's job to care about why students are skipping class rather than just giving out zeros. It is also their job to support students when life happens and work with them, not against them. 

    Thanks to the dedication and work put in by Simmons, Eastern is now able to offer a BA in Musical Theatre, which is currently running its second year. Spending countless hours writing proposals, having them go up the chain of command in CMTA and in Music and Dance, and facilitating these conversations, Simmons was finally able to see this program come to fruition. Through all of this, he was reminded how important communication is to accomplish great things and really understand the experience of others better.

    Simmons dedicates who he is as a professor today to his mentor in grad school, describing him as "the most wacky, brilliant, funny man that [he] has ever known.” Simmons states that “everything [he] does in the classroom, and especially in rehearsals, is based off everything he taught [him].” 

    Professor Simmons' favorite thing about teaching students here at Eastern is the sheer amount of diversity in a classroom. Simmons explains that seeing everyone come together, no matter their background, major, or experience, and all of them lighting up like a lightbulb when they finally understand the same concept, is a very rewarding experience for a professor. Simmons states “It’s so great to see them understand the same thing. It makes me realize that we all have way more in common than we have that differs, and that there’s a commonality that is always there, no matter what.” 

    It was a pleasure to speak to Phil Simmons, and we thank him for his time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. Ildi Porter-Szucs, Professor of ESL/TESOL

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    Dr. Ildi Porter-Szucs

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    "Dr. Porter-Szucs has high expectations and is constantly concerned with not simply the students’ academics but also their individual and emotional needs. Before my first international conference, Dr. Porter-Szucs took the time to talk to me on how these conferences work and teach me the nuts and bolts of how such dynamics operate to help ease my nervousness. Not only that, but Dr. Porter-Szucs also worried about financial restraints and showed me different ways to secure scholarships, financial aid, and grants to help pay for all these costs. There are not many educators who like to trouble themselves with such matters, but she chose to smoothen the road ahead to lessen the obstacles and challenges for a full-time working mother and student, like myself."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Ildi Porter-Szucs about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Ildi Porter-Szucs was born in Poland and raised in Hungary, where she received her Bachelor’s in Hospitality Management. She received her Master’s of Education in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her Ph.D. in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE), from Michigan State University. This is her ninth year teaching at Eastern. 

    For the last few years, Dr. Porter-Szucs has primarily taught the undergraduate and graduate level language assessment courses. This semester, she is also teaching an introduction to linguistics course. Other courses she teaches include the methodology of listening, speaking, pronunciation, and a pedagogical grammar and phonology class. 

    When it comes to choosing her favorite course, Dr. Porter-Szucs put it best with “I think every class that I walk out of is my favorite at that moment.” When choosing a favorite course, it came down more to the students in those courses and her love for teaching them. In her 200-level/introductory courses, the students are new to the field. Many of them do not know what to expect. Seeing their progression and passion build to the point where they are making sound pedagogical decisions for their language partners and future students is very rewarding for Dr. Porter-Szucs. She is able to witness as these students start to blossom in her very own classroom, some even having that “aha!” moment that leads to them figuring out their future career, changing their major, and heading down a very important journey. Working with students in her 400/500 level classes is a whole different experience. With these students, many are in their last semester of the program, and applying through an assessment course everything they've learned. With these students, Dr. Porter-Szucs describes how there's a new element of work and life experience brought in that just isn’t seen in many of the lower-level courses. These students have so much still to learn, but also offer her the opportunity to learn from them as well. 

    When asked what students look forward to most about her classes, Dr. Porter-Szucs hopes that it is her reputation as a professor or the wonderful projects that they do, but she knows that her assessment courses are considered by students as a necessary evil within their program. No pre-service teacher looks forward to learning how to assess their future learners; however, assessment is key to understanding students' learning. Although they don’t look forward to it, she believes that the assessment courses are often an invigorating experience for TESOL students. When working with their own English learners, they get to see true growth and their advice being used. The next time the English learners improve, TESOL students also get to share in that success. Through creating assessments, TESOL students learn more about themselves and can work through breaking down any barriers that their assessment or viewpoints can present. Within her classroom, students can look forward to true educational and personal growth. 

    This personal growth is what Dr. Porter-Szucs loves about teaching students at Eastern. At any level, within every classroom, she loves witnessing the light bulbs go off for students when they understand a concept. Within her classrooms, especially at the lower levels, she often gets to witness students find passion for TESOL/ESL, especially those that never knew this area of interest existed. Many students that have entered her classroom have ended up changing their majors and career paths due to the sheer love they discovered through the course material. Her work helps fuel passions right before her eyes.

    One word describes what has changed most about Dr. Porter-Szucs’ teaching over the years: understanding. Dr. Porter-Szucs describes how, when she first started teaching, her students were older non-native speakers of the English language who had already developed and cultivated study habits that made them effective learners. When it came to teaching younger college students, Dr. Porter-Szucs discovered that she needed to work harder to mentor and guide students toward the learning process and not just the subject matter. Through this, Dr. Porter-Szucs developed a deep understanding and compassion for her students. Through lots of “soul searching,” she was able to create a class where students learned how they learned best, really improving their entire educational experience.

    When it comes to impactful professional events at Eastern, Dr. Porter-Szucs specifically wanted to highlight three diverse experiences. First, when Dr. Porter-Szucs was president of  Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages professional association, in her role as conference chair she made her conference co-chair a graduate student. With Dr. Porter-Szucs’s guidance, this student, Mary, as well as other students brought on board later, organized the annual conference for this organization, bringing together more than 400 ESL educators from across the country and world. These students also curated a pre-conference agenda for professional development involving K-12 educators and a parallel strand of the conference just for Eastern faculty and administrators. Dr. Porter-Szucs expressed her gratitude and appreciation for all the effort these students put in, and named this as a defining moment in her career here. 

    Second, she conceived of and researched the differences in student learning outcomes in Triple-Hybrid learning. Even without the pandemic, hybrid and distance learning is a very important concept in the TESOL/ESL community. This research, which has now been published and presented internationally, found that there is no statistically significant difference in the learning outcomes between the different learning modalities. This has allowed Dr. Porter-Szucs to advocate and work towards a more inclusive classroom in regards to learning styles. 

    The third defining moment for Dr. Porter-Szucs was her recent certification as a K-12 educator. She did this to better understand the K-12 system, and become a better professor for TESOL students who are choosing to work in the K-12 system. 

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Ildi Porter-Szucs, and we thank her for her time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. John Koolage, Professor of Philosophy

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    Dr. John Koolage

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    "No professor at EMU has challenged my thinking more than Dr. Koolage. He has pushed me to expand my critical thinking skills in a way that I didn't know I was capable of, and I always find myself captivated by class discussions and lectures. His classes never fail to be exciting, engaging, and thought-provoking. As an environmental science major I was worried that I would feel out of place in an upper level philosophy course, but my experience has been quite the opposite. Dr. Koolage's classroom has been a space where I am comfortable and confident with my thinking. He is highly committed to each student's learning, and is always available to provide help and guidance. After taking just two of his courses I seriously considered switching my major to philosophy. If I wasn't already a senior I would take every future class that he has to offer." - Anna Horning, Senior, Environmental Science and Society

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. John Koolage about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Professor Koolage specializes in general and feminist philosophy of science, receiving a Bachelor's degree in business at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, then receiving another Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Psychology, and a Masters degree in Philosophy from the same university. He then continued his education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and got a PhD in Philosophy. 

    Dr. Koolage teaches a multitude of different classes, such as Introduction to Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Philosophy of Mind, and Philosophy Teaching Practicum. Koolage has been teaching here at Eastern since 2009. 

    Introduction to Philosophy is one of Koolage’s favorite courses to teach. He states, “I like the idea of acquainting people with philosophic ideas, but also letting them see that it actually impacts things in their regular life.” He continues, “I really think it's fun to see people see that they can use the philosophical toolkit and ideas in ways that can better their lives and serve their communities.” He finds Philosophy of Science to be another one of his favorite classes because it is his area of expertise. Koolage finds it amazing that he can teach students what he spent his life thinking about. 

    The nice thing about teaching at the upper level is that you are able to incorporate new things, and he loves to learn with his students. As a Ph.D student, his dissertation work focused on whether or not science can tell us exactly how the world actually is. Now, thanks in no small part to learning with his students and his phenomenal colleagues at EMU, he also teaches feminist philosophy of science. This new research area has expanded both how he thinks about science, and how he teaches about ideas like scientific objectivity, the scientific method, and the critical role of inclusive groups in the pursuit of scientific research questions.

    Teaching offers a lot of opportunities, but Koolage finds that the hardest thing is to always update your teaching choices around learning activity design, changes in the EMU student profile, and how best to deploy cutting edge teaching and learning research. He believes that you can’t be complacent with your teaching. To manage the teaching load among the many responsibilities of faculty members, it is tempting to develop a class that you can deliver on the fly, but once you have been teaching for a while it is easy to see that a focus on ‘easy to deliver courses’ is a teacher-centered, rather than learner-centered, decision. As faculty, the goal is to serve the public good by building new knowledge, and in some fields, including philosophy, new knowledge sometimes requires us to rewrite old understandings. As a result, there is no fixed set of content knowledge. 

    Further, the breadth of the philosophic endeavor makes it impractical to simply identify some specific things that students must learn, rather, as teachers, we make choices about what to offer students that will serve them and the discipline. As a result, the challenge to always be building new knowledge in your field creates several challenges for teaching: how do we help students build knowledge for themselves and what subset of ideas will both serve to engage genuine philosophical questions and serve our communities? You're helping students construct knowledge for themselves. In your teaching, you want to introduce students to received views, but also to be able to critique them and construct new knowledge. It's interesting to have to rethink how you teach. As the people we teach change, we have to think about how to teach those people. You always have to adapt to what students are offering you. 

    While juggling all of these various needs can be quite challenging, Koolage finds this to also be very rewarding. Teaching and learning requires continual adjustment to changes in the world around you. At the end of the day, he thinks it is nice to see students develop their own understanding of things. 

    Something that Koolage does in his classroom that students happen to look forward to is use the idea of  “figuring it out together.” It is a joy to learn new things in his own class and students find it rewarding to not have Koolage tell them how it is, but figure it out together. Koolage employs short, daily writing assignments to permit him to adjust course material and assessments to students' stated needs and their place in the construction of their knowledge. 

    That said, he has really enjoyed a quite different learning activity known as the “Think Aloud.” Before Koolage was a professor, he studied to be a K-12 teacher in Canada. The think aloud is something that he took from that time and adapted it for university students. The think aloud is used by teachers of elementary students to demonstrate critical thinking, reading skills, and foment interest in texts, as the teacher reads to their students by literally stopping and thinking out loud as you read to them. 

    Koolage adapted this from work by Steven Bloch-Shulman, among others, for university students. Here they read a selected excerpt from the class readings and film themselves thinking out loud, by stopping and saying their thoughts when they occur, through the reading. When paired with a reflection, this can be a very useful teaching tool. Students can become aware of their own interests, assumptions, critical thinking patterns, connections to other knowledge, and so, for themselves. Students have unique ways of attaching to what they are reading and Koolage has found that having students reflect on these attachments can facilitate paper writing and learning. 

    Many educators have impacted Koolage as a teacher. He fondly recalled his instructor for his Educational Psychology class, who really taught him to think about education and teaching more broadly - as a multidisciplinary endeavor. She altered forever how he thinks about teaching.  Dave Concepción was another person to whom Koolage would attribute his teaching philosophy, especially when it comes to being properly disposed to the teaching and learning needs, but also about the centrality of teaching disciplinary reading. Not only did Koolage credit who he is as a teacher to his many great teachers, but also to his terrific EMU colleagues and his students. Koolage is a bit of a teaching and learning sponge - always learning about teaching. He noted how grateful he was for the numerous opportunities to learn about being a good teacher.

    One piece of advice that Koolage has for new teachers is to develop teaching mentors and to be courageous about asking about teaching. Additionally, it is helpful to invest in relationships with students where they can become teaching and learning teachers for you. “Talk about teaching, think about it, read about it. Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t.” Find people that you can trust, that you can be vulnerable with, and learn about teaching with them. Have the courage to share where you want to improve, times you have felt like you could have done better, and share your victories. Have a community of teaching to draw on and take pride in. Focus on how to put the knowledge you care about into the world for students to use and build on, and make the world a better place.  These perspectives are an important source of shaping Dr. Koolage as a teacher; we are fortunate to have him teaching our students at EMU!

  • Dr. Andrew Mansfield, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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    Dr. Andrew Mansfield

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek

    “Dr. Mansfield is an astounding professor with the innate ability to teach difficult subjects to his students. He is a superstar in the classroom and has rejuvenated my desires and drive to become a mechanical engineer. Before transferring to EMU, I was unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel. All I could see was a mountain of difficult classes yet to be taken in my mechanical engineering core curriculum. However, after just a week in Mansfield's Thermodynamics course last fall, I knew I was going to be okay. Dr. Mansfield truly cares about his students. You can see this through the effort he puts forth on a daily basis. He walks us through his lectures with great detail. I am captivated by the entire lecture, which is a very difficult thing to accomplish nowadays. Dr. Mansfield is a classic, high-level, engineering/physics/sciences professor who brings back what it truly means to teach.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Andrew Mansfield about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Mansfield received his Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2008. He then received his Masters of Science and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2009 and 2014, respectively. This year is Dr. Mansfield’s fifth year as an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering curriculum within the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology.

    Within the mechanical engineering curriculum, Dr. Mansfield teaches classes on the Introduction to Design and Manufacturing, Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, and a Senior Thermofluids Lab, which combines the group of thermofluid classes. The heat transfer class is Dr. Mansfield’s favorite to teach, because it is one of the last classes in the progression, and that is the class where he says, “...you really get to see the flower bloom! Thermodynamics is really hard, it’s sort of like learning a new language, and how to write a book and do math in that language. So, everything is very challenging, but by the time [the students] get through the next two classes, it’s like suddenly the light bulbs are on, and they’re doing really amazing, really hard, challenging calculations and succeeding… It’s always very satisfying to get to that point with the students.” 

    Within the group of classes that Dr. Mansfield teaches, he appreciates that the program size allows students to go beyond traditional lectures and exams to complete semester projects that  build on each other and utilize the skills learned in each class to complete the design of a solar thermal power plant. “By the end, they have this very complex portfolio of analyses of this power plant from different angles… And the projects also involve a triple-bottom-line design as a mentality or design approach. That means you’re looking at the economic, social, and environmental impacts of your decisions as an engineer. That’s pretty unique, and it’s something that you don’t find in a lot of larger programs where the base engineering classes focus primarily on the technical analysis.”

    Dr. Mansfield credits his Doctoral advisor, Dr. Margaret Wooldridge, at the University of Michigan, for inspiring his teaching style. He says he emulates her teaching by combining traditional and more unique project based teaching, but, “...something that she really taught me was that you can have really big expectations for students, you can give them challenging problems and really push them. But, you’re also a human, and they’re human, and you meet people halfway. Be flexible when [students] need you to be flexible, be understanding when they need you to be understanding, and at the same time be fair and hold students to account for what they said they were going to deliver and keep those high expectations.” 

    Along with this, Dr. Mansfield talked about changing his approach from when he first started teaching to inviting questions and offering help. He says, “At the beginning, I put a lot of responsibility in the students’ lap as far as coming to office hours to get help, and it’s something that’s important for their careers as well. Everybody needs to know how to ask for help, because no one has to do everything, and if you think you do then you’re probably not going to be good at your job!. But I’ve tried to be more vocally welcoming and nurturing over time, and that has definitely changed the way that I present myself to students.” Further, Dr. Mansfield explains that this is important to make the program more inclusive, “Our program is fairly diverse, but it’s still white male dominated, and so for people who aren’t from that group, especially because I am part of that group, it can take a little bit of extra reaching out to make them feel comfortable and understand that this is a good place for them.”

    Beyond the classroom, Dr. Mansfield is the faculty advisor for the Baja Off-Road Racing team, offered through the Society of Automotive Engineers. “That’s been really fun… students get a bunch of parameters and then they build basically a dune buggy, and then they go race. There are parameters around what the design needs to be but there’s a lot of open-ended options, so they have the ability to design and make whatever they want. It’s a good equalizer for students from many different educational programs and it’s a de-stresser, so that’s really rewarding and fun.” 

    Additionally, Dr. Mansfield has been the chair of the Strategic Planning and Continuous Improvement Committee for the School of Engineering for three years. “ We decided that strategically we must improve the diversity of our recruitment and improve our retention, especially for non-white male students, and also serve the community around us. To that end, we have Engineering Day, where all of the engineering clubs set up a bunch of tables, we have music and pizza, and it’s just a chance for students to go and check out the clubs, and that’s been a really good recruitment tool for our clubs, specifically for ones that focus on underrepresented students. In the spring, we also have STEM day, where we coordinate with a few local STEM education programs at Ypsi Community Schools. Students get to compete and win prizes, and they get to see the school and all of the events that are put on by the engineering clubs. Activities like that have been really impactful and we hope to see those students in our programs in the future.” 

    As part of this, Dr. Mansfield said he would also like to see more opportunities for students to be integrated into research as the university expands its research capacity. Dr. Mansfield sees this applying to both undergraduate and graduate students. He’d like to see the program offer more undergraduate research opportunities as educational experiences, and sees a potential for these opportunities to strengthen graduate programs as they’re developed as well.

    Dr. Mansfield says he loves teaching students at Eastern because of the diversity of backgrounds and their hardworking attitude. “It’s really nice to have a big mix of a bunch of different people with different life experiences and backgrounds. Because of this diversity, I think groups working on projects are richer in their approaches and their solutions.” He also appreciates that undergraduate students get to learn about how to work with people who have different schedules, needs, and perspectives, and he explains that these experiences help prepare students for a career in engineering. Additionally, he says, “Many of our students are non-traditional and also have to work jobs to support themselves financially - meaning they have to work that much  harder to complete difficult engineering classes. We have very few students here at EMU who feel entitled or simply expect that they should get a good grade. Our students work very hard and understand the value of their education. I am very lucky to teach at EMU!”

  • Dr. Cam McComb, Associate Professor of K-12 Visual Art Education

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    Dr. Cam McComb

    Interviewed by Liv Overbee

    “Dr. Cam is one of the best instructors Eastern Michigan University has to offer. She is highly informed; she has compassion for her students; she is flexible when needed. She cares a lot about the art education profession; she always shows up prepared. She takes feedback from students to make the class even better for future students, and is very responsive to students’ questions and concerns about the course.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Cam McComb about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Cam, as she prefers to be called, received her Bachelor of Art Education from The Ohio State University. She then received her Masters of Art Education from Miami University, and her PhD in Art Education from Pennsylvania State University. This year is Dr. Cam’s ninth year as a faculty member co-leading the K-12 Visual Art Education program within the School of Art & Design.

    Within the K-12 Visual Art Education program, Dr. Cam teaches three core classes: Introduction; Curriculum & Assessment; and Approaches to Visual Art Education, informally referred to as the “methods” course.  Methods in art education enables students to, as McComb describes, “take everything they’ve been putting together from their content areas and their pedagogical work and put those skills into the field so they can test the waters right before student teaching.” Out of these three classes, McComb says she gets evaluated best in the Introduction to Art Education course. She believes that most people do not know that art education is a profession, and she is hoping to change that. She explained “I started out as a business major, but then I discovered Art Education. Once I walked into the studio, it felt like I was coming home. When I talk to my Introduction to Art Education students, they understand that.”  A lot of students in my classes are trying to put away feelings of shame due to the fact that many people feel the need to graduate college in 4 years. McComb explains that, when students enter Art Education, she tells students,  “You found us. You found the profession. That’s great. Now, I can help them to see themselves as educators.”  

    In this intro class, specifically, Dr. McComb’s students, and Dr. McComb herself, look forward to utilizing a reading response strategy called Visual Notetaking. Her  students are asked to, instead of using text to outline a chapter, find a visual way to present their ideas about content from the reading. This can be done through pictures, doodles, using different fonts, letter styles, and organizational features, anything that allows students to visually represent a connection with the information they are studying. Dr. McComb says “It’s the first chance [students] have to ever do something like that in response to a reading. And, for me, it’s exciting because a lot of students, when you ask them to summarize the reading, they often just quote the text.”  McComb finds joy and charm in the drawings. 

    One thing Dr. McComb has changed most about her teaching this semester is to implement a process called “ungrading,” where she has decided to stop putting letters and numbers on student assignments. McComb says “Well… as an educator, I’m training educators. So, if they’re going to learn how to assess other people, why not start with themselves?” On each assignment, she gives students feedback, which she has renamed “feed forward”. At the end of the semester, students will present a proposal of what they think they’ve earned in the class, following a structure McComb provides to help map out their thinking process. Dr. Cam explained how much this has improved her viewpoint on student work, stating “It’s so nice to not have to deduct a point, and I find myself looking forward to looking at student work. Before using this approach I would think ‘Oh, I don’t look forward to grading.” 

    Dr. Cam hasn’t always worked in higher education. She actually started as a K-12 art teacher. She talked about loving the curiosity and wide dynamic of students a teacher is presented with in K-12 education. McComb explains, “When you teach a class of fifth graders, everyone’s in the room: the engineers, the scientists, the athletes, the creatives, everyone’s there. So, when you pose a problem, you have such a wide range of minds to address that problem.” Since coming to higher education, McComb uses these experiences from K-12 to drive her passion to create better educators. Dr. McComb states, “I like the idea that I have the potential to impact the way thousands of children are going to be educated. If I can really help that one art teacher step into the field equipped with the skills, the knowledge, and the understanding that they need, they’re going to impact everybody that comes into their sphere of influence.” 

    Dr. McComb has a strong passion for community building, and has been able to pursue this passion here at Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Cam, working alongside Dr. Cynthia Macknish, an associate professor of TESOL in the World Languages department, co-facilitates a group of instructors focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Dr. Cam credits Jeffrey Bernstein and the FDC for giving them the opportunity to lead a three-semester initiative to pursue these goals in working with others to all become better educators. 

    Recently, Dr. Cam was named Outstanding Art Educator of the Year from the higher education division of The Michigan Art Education Association. McComb was honored to receive this award, specifically because of who nominated her: a K-12 educator. McComb believes that it is important for higher education to form a strong relationship with those working in K-12 schools. McComb said “The fact that I was nominated by people who are teaching K-12 art really made me feel good. It wasn't a bunch of higher ed people getting together and saying, ‘oh yeah, let's pick Cam.’ It came from someone working directly with children, which really made me feel good because it made me feel like I'm making a difference in the state.”  

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr.Cam McComb, and we thank her for her time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. Steven LoDuca, Professor in the Department of Geography and Geology

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    Dr. Steven LoDuca

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    “I want to say that it has been truly a good experience taking [Dr. LoDuca’s] class for the summer. At first I wasn’t so sure of the class because of the fast pace time in the summer, but now it turned out to be alright and I think [Dr. LoDuca] did a great job as a professor because [he] always helped me and the other students whenever we needed it and I truly appreciated it. I would definitely recommend [his] class to people that are trying to take a science class because it was really fantastic.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Steven LoDuca about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. LoDuca was born in Wisconsin, and completed his undergraduate degree in Geology at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. He then went on to complete his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and his PhD at the University of Rochester, New York. After his PhD, he began working at EMU in 1990 in the department of Geography and Geology. 

    Dr. LoDuca mainly teaches classes within the Geology program, however some of his classes  also include students in the Biology and ENVI (Environmental Science and Society) programs. Courses he teaches at the upper-level are Sedimentology and Stratigraphy (which he had just left before this spotlight interview) and Paleontology. At the introductory level, he teaches a course in Earth history and a class he calls “the dinosaur class’, which has the official title of Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Trilobites. When asked to pick his favorite class to teach, Dr. LoDuca responded “It’s like asking me to pick my favorite child”. However, if he had to pick one, his favorite would be his Paleontology course. This is because it is an upper-level course that ties directly into his research.

    Dr. LoDuca has a very active research program here at EMU. Receiving grants from the National Science Foundation, he has been able to involve undergraduate students into his research. LoDuca explains that EMU does not have a graduate program in Geology, however this is beneficial to our undergraduate students because most of the attention goes towards them and their involvement. Specifically, his research focuses on fossils of very early or ancient aquatic plants. A mural based on specimens that Dr.LoDuca studied and named can now be seen in the new Paleontology wing of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He also does his own field work to collect fossils from various sites in North America, including in the upper peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York. In the last 10 years, he has also been fortunate to work with sites in South China (which sadly has been paused due to the pandemic, but he hopes to reactivate this work soon). 

    This research has been very important to Dr. LoDuca when it comes to connecting with his students. Often, the students that he comes into contact with through his classes end up working in his labs as undergraduate research assistants. This has allowed him to help more than 30 students present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium based on research completed with him, and it has allowed him to take students to work with collections at the Smithsonian and the University of Michigan, opening the door for many opportunities. 

    Dr. LoDuca likes seeing the growth and development of his students throughout their years in his program. He states “That’s really rewarding because I get to see students from the very beginning of the geology program to the very end.”. Many of his students move onto graduate programs after graduation and it “gives [Dr. LoDuca] a lot of energy to see them do well after they graduate”. He attributes part of this ability to connect with students to his smaller class sizes, where he is able to know every student by name. 

    Dr. LoDuca explained he gets a lot of inspiration from teaching his students and their feedback. The feedback his students provide is really helpful because it allows him to look at things in a different light than he did before or find connections between things he has not seen before. He states that “teaching for me is a feedback loop between me and my students. I provide them things, but they also provide things to me as well,” maintaining a lively and conversational classroom. 

    One thing Dr. LoDuca said has changed most about his teaching is the involvement and importance of technology and web-enhanced learning. When he was a PhD student, Dr. LoDuca explained how he charged his credit card “to the hilt” to buy a computer to complete his dissertation, since a computer was a serious luxury item in those days. When he started teaching, technology was still not a common thing. He says “there was no such thing as powerpoint. We were still using projected slides created with something called film”. Now, he is able to create web-enhanced courses through Canvas, decorated with powerpoints, videos, additional reading, etc that allows students of all different learning styles to get the most out of his classes. 

    Dr. LoDuca spoke about his time serving as the chair of the Science Facility Planning Board in the 1990’s. This was a committee of faculty members set with the task to brainstorm ideas for a new science complex (which we now know as the substantially expanded and beautifully renovated Mark Jefferson and Strong Hall). He states that these buildings are a “total game changer” for the faculty and students in them. His favorite part of the buildings include the classrooms he uses in the geology program, and a unique aspect of the basement of Mark Jefferson. This unique aspect is the rocks sitting on the floor, which he helped to pick out, that represent different parts and ages of Michigan’s geologic history. (I sure have slept on these rocks before, and shared this information with Dr. LoDuca, to which he responded “Well, I didn’t pick them out for comfort”). 

    On December 8, 2022, Dr. LoDuca was presented with the Outstanding Educator Award by the Michigan chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists. He was actually nominated by one of his former students and current colleague here at Eastern, Dr. Christopher Gellasch. Dr. LoDuca explains that Dr. Gellasch was actually a student in his very first course he taught at EMU. Dr. Gellasch now works alongside Dr. LoDuca, and was able to present him with the award. Dr. LoDuca thought all of that was “really neat”.

    It was a pleasure to speak to Dr. Steven LoDuca, and we thank him for his time and dedication to education here at EMU.

  • Dr. Christine Neufeld, Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature 

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    Dr. Christine Neufeld

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    "My time with Dr. Neufeld as both my thesis advisor and professor was transformative. Not only does she inspire her students to pursue passion projects in scholarship, but her approach to lecture and feedback were enthralling by all accounts. Dr. Neufeld took the time after class to help me understand what it meant to be a student and scholar. Her candor and transparency solidified my desire to help other students with professional development and to one day become a professor. She is a defender of truth, an advocate for the lost or silenced, and a brilliant teacher."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Christine Neufeld about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Professor Christine Neufeld was born and raised in Canada. She attended the University of Manitoba located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for her undergraduate degree. She then received her MA at Queen's University in Ontario. Continuing on with her education, she got her Ph.D. at McGill University in Quebec. She then did a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of British Columbia. Right after her fellowship she got her job at EMU, where she has been working for 19 years. 

    Dr. Neufeld is a medievalist, so she teaches classes in that area, in addition to her general literature classes. Some of the classes she teaches are Science Fiction, (Mis)Fits: Disability and Literature, Survey of Medieval Literature, Major Authors-Chaucer, Studies in Middle English, and Studies in Chaucer. She helped to design the Gen Ed Science Fiction class, as well as a class in Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythology. She is a specialist in “really old” literature, but she enjoys developing courses in genre literature and is exploring a new area of investigation in disability studies. She also teaches in the Critical Disability Studies minor.

    Professor Neufeld decided to co-design her Science Fiction class with her colleague Prof. Craig Dionne, because she is a really big fan of Octavia Butler, an American Science Fiction author. She wanted to teach her work along with the emerging work of other exciting women authors of color such as Nalo Hopkinson, Dr. Nnedi Okarofor, and N.K. Jemisin. This class became a chance to teach the kind of literature and diverse authors that she would not get to teach if she only taught early British literature. 

    Professor Neufeld decided to help her colleagues, Prof. John Staunton and Prof. Melissa Jones, revitalize the Literature program’s Mythology class so she could return to the passion that got her to start reading in the first place. As a teenager she read a lot of fantasy, which led to an interest in Celtic mythology when she began her university studies. She and her colleagues realized that students right now are excited about mythology because they are growing up reading books by Rick Riordan and others. Creating this mythology course was the chance to design the class she would have wanted to take as an undergraduate.

    Dr. Neufeld found it really hard to pick a favorite class to teach, but right now out of every class she gets to teach for undergraduates, she finds the Mythology class her favorite. This is because in this class she gets to “encounter students from all over the university that are interested in the class, regardless of what they want to be as a professional.” She gets to be really creative in this class, looking at the many forms mythology takes (ancient epics, novels, poetry, movies, webcomix, visual art), and discovering interesting ideas and connections between cultures with her students. She gets to learn new things from students who often have their favorite authors or who know about mythology in contexts she is unfamiliar with, like video games. 

    Among her upper level and graduate classes, Dr. Neufeld loves to teach her medieval literature survey class. She states “I love teaching the Medieval Literature Survey because I love being able to introduce students to a world that surprises them. We live in a world where so much knowledge is at our fingertips, and it is easy to find things. But ironically, it is also a world in which it has become harder to discover things. Algorithms keep us on familiar paths, taking us to the places we already know, and confirming the things we already think. Exploring a culture or time that is foreign takes us out of our comfort zone. It also gives us the opportunity to discover things that delight or move us where we don't expect it and to question our assumptions about the way the world works or should work. I like to think that such discoveries help students become more curious, because they realize that both the world, and they themselves, are more complicated and fascinating than they knew.” She goes on to observe, "I like to show them this place, this time, this art, that they think is going to be boring, but they realize it's funny, beautiful, sad, serious and it matters to them even when they thought it wouldn’t.”

    The hardest part about teaching for Dr. Neufeld is something that is not in her control, or the control of her students, which is the fact that so many of her students have lives that are much bigger than school. She worries about making sure they get the education they came for, while also being compassionate about what their limitations are and being respectful about what everyone is bringing into the classroom. She finds that finding this balance can be difficult sometimes. Another hard part about teaching is grading because she wants to give feedback and is more interested in talking to students about   “what did you do and how can you do it better” rather than putting a “label” on it.

    On the other hand, the aspect she finds most rewarding about being a professor is the interactions that she has with students. She loves nothing better than this. For Professor Neufeld, “To be in a classroom and to interact with students and to have them discover things about the world, about themselves and to be a part of their growth and to be able to see where they go when they are done is so rewarding.” She loves to interact specifically with EMU students because they are not formulaic thinkers who are afraid to think outside the box.. 

    An educator who impacted her teaching philosophy and made her the teacher she is today is the late Dr. Robert Finnegan, her medieval literature professor at the University of Manitoba. She loved him because he was both intense and extremely funny. She suspects that she took her teaching style from him. She found him really intimidating because he had high expectations, but also loved being pushed to become better.  He was super intense, but it was about intellectual integrity and being critical, and he always made time for her during his office hours. She loved that he was irreverent about the traditions he taught. He empowered her to question conventions and challenge assumptions.

    We asked Dr. Neufeld about one thing she has changed in her teaching over the years.  She commented that she has developed more creative assignments for students to do. She likes designing projects that will let people develop the skills they need to learn, but in different ways from the standard English term paper. For example, in her Science Fiction class she gets her students to create a fanzine or website as a final project. Also she started to use more visual presentations since she had to make all those Powerpoints for her Zoom classes during the pandemic. She is also interested in learning more about neurodiversity in order to create a more universally accessible classroom.

    One piece of advice Professor Neufeld would offer new faculty  is “if your department doesn't have an official mentor process, find yourself a mentor because there is a learning curve and lots of unspoken things that you need to know as you begin a tenure-track position. It doesn't have to be someone in your department–find someone who you can have coffee with once a month, because just having a connection to talk about how things are going for you can make a big difference.”

  • Dr. Paul Leighton, Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology

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    Dr. Paul Leighton

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins

    "What stands out the most about Dr. Leighton's approach to teaching is his constant drive to provide students with new perspectives and insights. His courses have a special way of bringing the topics to life with so many of his course materials uplifting the voices of those who are often left out of academic conversations. You can feel his dedication to both his field and to his students as soon as you walk in the door."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Paul Leighton about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Leighton received his bachelor’s at State University of New York, Albany, and did all of his graduate work at American University  in Washington D.C. receiving his Masters of Science in Justice and his Ph.d. in Sociology/Justice. He has been teaching here at  Eastern for 25 years specializing in white collar and corporate crime, punishment privatization and inequalities (class, race and gender).

    Dr. Leighton has taught multiple different undergraduate and graduate classes, but he is currently teaching a graduate seminar in Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (as an affiliate of Women and Gender Studies), an undergraduate class in White Collar Crime, and Senior Seminar. He also developed a special topic class on Marijuana Decriminalization, which for the Winter 2023 semester will become Marijuana Decriminalization, Psychedelics and Law because of the recent move to decriminalize psychedelics.

    Dr. Leighton finds it hard to name his favorite class to teach because there is something about each of them that he loves. He finds that teaching his class on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is a “real privilege.” It isn’t fun, but it is very meaningful with the discussions that take place during class and with the people coming to the class for personal or professional reasons. He loves to talk to undergraduate students about white collar crime because of the fact that people don’t really think of these as crimes in spite of what one class reading calls the “non-stop scam economy.” He is the co-author of the book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison(a 13th ed will come out in 2023), which captures the decades-long trend of getting tough with minor violations of the poor while allowing the rich to grift and exploit with few consequences. He enjoys working with his Senior Seminar students because he gets to work closely with them on their research projects, see what they’re interested in reading, and help them improve their writing before graduation. He is very excited to teach the new class about marijuana and psychedelics because many students are now employed in the marijuana industry and an increasing number of jurisdictions are allowing people to take psychedelics for mental health and wellness. 

    Leighton’s Domestic Violence class goes to Catholic Social Services to observe the batterer intervention program for people (mostly men) who use physical, emotional, and sexual abuse to control their partners. He takes the class to see how it operates as an intervention on bad choices rather than coups counseling, psychotherapy or addiction treatment. This is an important part of the class because it begins to tie together all of the readings and integrates everything from cognitive behavioral therapy to “the structural level of patriarchy and feminism.” 

    SafeHouse is the Washtenaw County domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, crisis hotline and advocacy center. This is something that Dr. Leighton has been a part of since 2007, being President of the Board for two years, and being a member of the board for 6 years. Twice a year Leighton is the lead facilitator on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion module which is a 2 hour module that is a part of the 40 hour crisis intervention volunteer training session. Leighton was originally asked to help with the training because of his book,Class, Race, Gender & Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America (currently in a 5th ed). So he has helped them with this for 10 years to continually revise and improve the training. His book, Class, Race, Gender & Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America has been a big help because he is constantly learning new things about oppression in the U.S. and having his privileges challenged in new ways. He is currently working on the 6th edition of the book. 

    Inside of the classroom, the hardest part about teaching for Dr. Leighton is the aspect of assigning grades. He likes teaching and interacting with his students, but he doesn’t like assigning a number to their work. Another challenging aspect of teaching has been the constant change in instructional formats, from in-person, to all online asynchronous, then synchronous, and now hy-flex (with people in the room and on zoom) simultaneously. That has been challenging to keep up with the change and trying to engage with students through the changing formats and impact the pandemic has had on their lives.

    On the other hand, the most rewarding part for him is his students finding new insights into the field, and he is able to point them to an idea that they are excited to learn more about and that is very rewarding for him. Also when a student goes on to higher education because they want to learn more is another reward for him. Dr. Leighton had a student who he found to be amazing, “She came into the grad program and we persuaded her to go for her Ph.D.” Being able to see his students take off in their lives such as Carrie Buist, who wrote one of the first books on queer criminology called Queer Criminology, which now is currently in a second edition, is very gratifying for him.

    Someone who has impacted Dr. Leighton teaching philosophy was his professor in a graduate-level deviance class he took as an undergraduate. The professor didn’t want to use textbooks about deviance and instead exposed the class to writing by people society regarded as deviant, like the Marquis de Sade (from which we get the term sadism). The class also read Kafka’s Metamorphosis, where the main character wakes up as a giant insect and narrates the rest of the book from that perspective. The Professor asked hard questions about what’s normal, the critiques deviants had of conventional society, and the basis for moral, laws and criminal justice systems. The students had to learn to take marginalized people and positions seriously. Dr. Leighton said this was an “unforgettable experience.” 

    In graduate school his teacher Robert Johnson studied the death penalty, men on death row and execution teams. Johnson’s interest in adaptations to stress brought a humanist perspective, “seeing the people as people” whether they killed criminally or under orders and following a detailed protocol. Leighton found that the execution team was different compared to what he originally thought, with an emphasis on professionalism and practice drills where they took turns in the role of the person being executed. 

    The biggest difference between the teaching style when he first began and now is that he used to stick with what was in a book and made that the point of what students should get out of it. He thinks now he is a lot more thoughtful in adding, omitting, and critiquing what is in the book.  Leighton also said he tries to be innovative in finding new examples and ways to connect with students.  For example, when Taylor Swift tickets went on sale, he talked about TicketMaster as a monopoly that could abuse its power without consequence and made a reading on the topic an extra credit question on his final exam. 

    Currently, Leighton heads the Advisory Board for Swoop’s Pantry, which provides free food, personal hygiene products and clothing for the EMU community. His work on inequality and conversations with students made him a supporter of the pantry from its first days. Leighton noted that food and housing insecurity have negative impacts on students’ physical and mental health as well as academic success. He encourages faculty and lecturers to add a note about Swoop’s to their syllabus and connect with university efforts to help students graduate in spite of periods of economic hardship.

  • Dr. Joe Ramsey, Professor in the Department of Teacher Education

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    Dr. Joe Ramsey

    Interviewed by Lauren Silvia

    "I wanted to take the time to thank you for being such an important part of my growth as an educator. Your class was so exciting for me, and it was amazing to learn so much about the history of education in our country. I went on to use that knowledge in all of my other classes over the last few years." -Lindsay, former student in SFCE 572 (History of American Schooling and Literacy).

    We had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Joe Ramsey from the Department of Teacher Education about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Ramsey received his Bachelor’s degree in History and German from the University of Southern Indiana before going to graduate school at Indiana University. Originally, he was planning on getting his graduate degree in History but switched to teaching after he began substitute teaching for extra money. He really enjoyed taking education courses, especially the social foundation courses, and then he decided to get his degrees in the History of Education. This shaped the work that Dr. Ramsey does and he refers to himself as a “historian of education,” meaning that he is “a historian but [his] research focuses on schools and children.” He ended up here at Eastern after getting his doctoral degree, in the very specialized field of History of Education, and has been here for fifteen years now. 

    At Eastern, there are three classes that Dr. Ramsey teaches regularly including one undergraduate course, SFCE 328W (Schools for a Diverse and Democratic Society), and two courses at the graduate level, including a History of Education course as well as an Introduction to Urban Education course for doctoral candidates. Dr. Ramsey enjoys all of the classes that he teaches, all for different reasons, but he enjoys the undergraduate class because “[students] might not have been exposed to a lot of the material before … And so it’s just great to kind of see the light bulbs going off, when they read something new, or we’re talking about something new, and you can see it's like ‘I’ve never really thought about that before.’” 

    To Dr. Ramsey, teaching is an extremely rewarding career and experience, so the challenges he faces within teaching are easily outweighed by the rewards. He believes that it can be difficult to ensure that the courses he is designing are student-friendly in their delivery and that he’s effectively teaching the material to the students, but that he is “always looking for student feedback” in order to shift his pedagogy and get the class right. He enjoys hearing if students think something in the class was overwhelming or if they didn’t enjoy something so that he can change things to hopefully make it more enjoyable for the next round of students. In terms of what he finds rewarding about teaching, he really enjoys seeing the academic growth of his students during the time that they are in his classroom, seeing how their writing improves, and even seeing some of his graduate and doctoral students turning the papers they have written for his course into publications or presentations for academic conferences. To him, “It's very rewarding that . . . some of the information that . . . we talked about in class, you know they've delved into it. They've created their own knowledge, and they've shared it with the world. So that's wonderful.”

    When discussing Dr. Ramsey’s current research projects, he brought up an online peer-reviewed journal that he created, in collaboration with his doctoral students, called Impact: the Journal of Community and Cultural Inquiry in Education.  This platform gives a space for students not only to write something, but get it peer-reviewed and published so it is accessible for others to read. Specifically, it gives students from all disciplines and backgrounds a platform to write about, “the examination and analysis of education in a variety of local, regional, national, and transnational contexts.“ Part of the reason this came about is because in Dr. Ramsey’s writing intensive classes, there is usually a big research project due at the end of the semester, and although students get to present their research at the end of the class, he is the only person who gets to read their work in its entirety. Giving students this opportunity is important to Dr. Ramsey because, “over the years [he has] read so many wonderful papers and [he’s] the only one who got to enjoy it fully… now [there is] this journal and if students want to, they can let the world read their work.” 

    As always, we wrapped up by asking Dr. Ramsey about his favorite parts of teaching here at Eastern Michigan University and working with Eastern students. He answered with a variety of things, including that he likes working with the students here because, “a lot of the students here at Eastern really take their education very seriously … they don’t take it for granted,” but also noted the “diversity that’s on campus here. It makes seriously engaging conversations in the classroom.” He enjoys working with students to create a comfortable enough space in his classroom for students to share their opinions and questions, with no judgment, in order for everyone to learn from each other. 

    Dr. Ramsey also really enjoys the opportunities that he has here to attend things such as professional development workshops and seminars put on by various departments on campus and that he works in a department where his colleagues are, “always sharing books with one another, always sharing ideas, sometimes we observe one another’s classes. So we’re always getting great ideas just from each other.” He enjoys that many people in his program area (Social Foundations)  come from different professional backgrounds and training but they’re all able to, “use those other lenses to look at education in a big sense, to kind of look at the big picture . . . . How does politics impact education? How does policy? How do economics impact education? How does ethnicity impact educational policy? So on and so forth? These really big questions. Right? What's the purpose of education?” The ability to build their classes around trying to answer these questions and challenging what both themselves, and their students, know, is an appealing part of Dr. Ramsey’s job.

  • Dr. David Thomas, Program Director of Therapeutic Recreation 

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    Dr. David Thomas

    Interviewed by Lauren Silvia

    "Therapeutic Recreation: Improving Lives, One Activity at a Time"

    Dr. Thomas graduated from the University of Western Colorado with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, the University of Northern Colorado with a Master’s in Therapeutic Recreation, and later Temple University with a Ph.D. in Therapeutic Recreation with a focus on Gerontology. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Thomas worked as a recreational therapist at the VA Medical Centers in Butler, PA., and later Pittsburgh and Cleveland where he was selected for the VA’s administrative training program. He later served as the Director of a Dementia-Care unit in Philadelphia while finishing his dissertation at Temple University.

    After graduating with his Bachelor’s, Dr. Thomas took a job as the Aquatic Director of the Boy’s Clubs of Denver, Colorado. It was during this time that he discovered an interest in therapeutic recreation as he saw the power of recreation in improving self-esteem for kids that were more vulnerable. A particular memory was helping a boy, who was constantly bullied, develop swimming skills that enabled him to compete in a tournament in front of his proud parents, and how it changed his confidence and self-concept. After this, he decided to get his Master’s in Therapeutic Recreation so he could focus on helping others using recreation as a modality .

    When talking to Dr. Thomas about what he believes is the most rewarding part about teaching, he said that there wasn’t a specific “most rewarding”, but rather “many micro rewards,” in day- to-day teaching, especially seeing students grow within the program and develop a passion in the field. He enjoys “seeing that “light bulb moment,” when everything comes together and the students begin to understand how their newfound knowledge can be applied in their practicums.

    Dr. Thomas also finds it rewarding to foster the unique strengths each student has that can be used in a helping role. A big differences he found between his teaching style now compared to when he first began, is having the flexibility to get off-script, using opportunities that arise in the classroom to build on important concepts. As a beginning teacher, spontaneous teaching moments were often not taken advantage of. His advice to new educators would be, “take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what you want to accomplish and understand there are many ways to get to that destination. He encourages newer faculty to take advantage of the excellent faculty support services offered on campus to learn teaching methods outside one’s own comfort zone.

    In terms of his research, Dr. Thomas has done decades worth of work in the field of gerontology, specifically focusing on wandering and pacing in patients in middle- to late-stage Alzheimer’s and other dementias. While he worked for the VA Medical System, he developed a novel “wandering program” which emphasized the strengths and potential of patients who exhibited wandering behavior and tailored activities that accommodated individual abilities. Although strength-based approaches are common practice today, at the time, most patients who wandered were looked at as a nuisance and were often restrained, both chemically and physically, rather than seeing the behavior as a reflection of underlying needs. Dr. Thomas’s early pioneering work and publications helped to define wandering and how activities could be adapted to optimize skills that remained relatively intact - consistent with the progression of the disease. An example would be identifying procedural or implicit memories that could be triggered through an activity, thus providing the person with a sense of personal competence and success in a world where failure has become the norm.

    Dr. Thomas’s research has led to extensive international connections, primarily in Ukraine, starting in the early 2000s, with his affiliations with the Institute of Gerontology, the National Medical Academy of Post Graduate Education, the Ukrainian Research Institute of Social and Forensic Psychiatry and Ministry of Health (Kyiv). He has collected data, on-site, at various Neuro-Psychiatric Hospitals in Berdiansk and Zaporizhzhia which compared dementia care systems to the the United States while also working with his partners in Ukraine to identify viable approaches to care that could be applied to an under-resourced country. He has provided numerous presentations, over the course of his affiliations, in both Kyiv and Donetsk, and has published on his Ukrainian research in the International Journal of Social Research and the Ukrainian Ministry of Health Archives of Psychiatry.

    Dr. Thomas cited that one of his most rewarding professional achievements was being invited to Almaty, Kazakhstan as a Faculty Fellow by their Institute of Gerontology to develop the programmatic features of their nation’s first National Memory Center with a mission to assess and provide early intervention for community members with MCI and early dementia. He established the program components that would comprise the foundation for the Center and provided training to staff on how the components could be operationalized. It was “really gratifying to see the plans of the Center carried through” with a formal opening in 2015. Further international affiliations involved collected data on dementia group homes in Kyoto, Japan while also presenting in Nagoya, Japan on the applications of therapeutic recreation within dementia care environments. Most recently, Dr. Thomas was the PI of a drug trial conducted in Australia, sponsored by Woolsey Pharmaceutical, Inc., on the effect of Fasudil on Wandering Behavior among People with Dementia.

    Dr. Thomas developed and hosted an annual teleconference series on aging (over an 8 year period), between Eastern Michigan University and Ukraine’s Institute of Gerontology, featuring speakers from both Ukraine and EMU/SE Michigan on common issues that affect older adults. This aging series was transmitted across 32 sites in Ukraine along with sites in other post-soviet nations, reaching an audience that involved over 5,000 health care professionals and informal care providers. A similar educational forum - although smaller in scope - was developed locally. As a Faculty Fellow with the EMU/Wayne County Agency-University Collaborative Mental Health Grant, Dr. Thomas organized and facilitated a training program for providers of dementia care that was broad-cast in multiple sites in SE Michigan.

  • Dr. Dyann Logwood, Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies

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     Dr. Dyann Logwood

    “Dr. Logwood is an amazing professor, but best of all–she leads with excellence and a huge heart. She has a special place in her heart for mentorship and takes on that role with pure excellence and authenticity. Dr. Logwood is selfless, a trailblazer, and devoted to teaching, all while stressing mental health and self-care.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Dyann Logwood about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Logwood received her bachelor’s with a dual degree in Women’s Studies and Communications from the University of Michigan. She also has masters degrees in both Women’s Studies and Communications, as well as a PhD in Teacher Education. She has been teaching here at Eastern for around 25 years.

    Dr. Logwood is currently teaching WGST 230L2/500, an academic service-learning and Learning Beyond the Classroom course called Mentoring Youth in Urban Spaces. On Tuesdays of the class, there is the lecture portion that focuses on intersectional and black feminist mentoring models, and on Thursdays the class goes to Ypsilanti Community Middle School for the field experience and works with their mentees in a program called Project BIG. This class is Dr. Logwood’s favorite to teach because it provides opportunities to create curriculum to adapt to the needs of the mentors and mentees. An example is when she added new literature to the course focused on mentoring neurodiverse youth of color. Dr. Logwood stated, “I really enjoy finding resources to prepare my students for the mentoring experience to ensure they are the best mentors that they could be. This class is constantly evolving; therefore, I have to provide inclusive materials that encourage my students to learn more about youth development and advocacy and to dig deeper into their diverse experiences in middle school. When you have a team of students who are willing to actively engage with the course materials, by offering insight into youth culture, you create space for everyone in the learning community to grow and thrive.” She also teaches a number of other classes, including Introduction to Gender and Sexuality, Gender and a Global  Perspective, Black Women: Politics and Racism, and Black Women: Religion and Sexism. 

    Dr. Logwood strives to “teach the type of class that [she’d] like to take.” She doesn’t want her students to look at her and think she is bored because that lack of energy coming from boredom is what she will receive in return. “If I’m bored, they’re bored. Therefore, I’m prepared and excited for every lecture and discussion. It is my sincere hope that my students are positively affected by the energy I bring to each class.” Dr. Logwood loves anything related to mentoring, whether it is middle school or university students. It doesn’t matter, she loves it all. She loves mentoring at every level because everyone is in need of support, including our faculty. She firmly believes “mentoring is necessary at every stage of life.” 

    The advice Dr. Logwood has for all educators is to attend and create faculty development workshops and seminars. She says that some of the most meaningful experiences she’s had at EMU happened while attending several Writing Across the Curriculum and Advanced Writing Across the Curriculum workshops hosted by Ann Blakeslee and the University Writing Center staff. These workshops bring together faculty from across campus for an opportunity to obtain strategies and resources to support student reading and writing. This offers an opportunity to engage with faculty and staff from a variety of disciplines, which provides access to a broader scope of resources. Another piece of advice Dr. Logwood has is to attend the Faculty Development Center’s workshops, which provide opportunities to “reimagine the ways we think about pedagogy, curriculum, and grading, while providing innovative strategies for effectively supporting our students.” 

    The biggest difference between Dr. Logwood’s teaching style when she first began teaching and now: she makes sure every assignment and reading has a purpose. She has become even more intentional in assigning course materials that challenge students while preparing them for the upcoming assignment. She admits, “I love updating my course content. I’d pack each week with readings and videos that I thought were amazing.” At the same time, she’s learned to be more selective when choosing course materials, instead of assigning several readings and videos each week. She added: “I’ve also learned how to create assignments that help students grow throughout the course.”

    Dr. Logwood is grateful for the wonderful teachers she had during her K-12 experience. They were from a variety of backgrounds (ethnic, racial, religious) and this has impacted her life. She is especially grateful to her high school English teacher, Ms. Trudy Adams, who pushed her to share her writing with the world; because of this Dr. Logwood started to enter writing and oratory contests. She entered Eastern’s very first MLK Day Celebration contest in which she wrote about youth activism, social justice, and what it means to be Black. She ended up winning the contest and presenting her speech in front of hundreds of people at the MLK Day Celebration luncheon. This introduced her to public speaking which resulted in her competing and representing the state of Michigan in the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) sponsored by the NAACP and other local and regional oratory and writing contests. 

    Ms. Adams also introduced Dr. Logwood and her classmates to literature by Black authors. She donated books from her personal collection because the school didn’t provide them. She stayed after school often assisting her students with their writing and helping them prepare for competition. To further inspire her students, Ms. Adams invited author and poet Margaret Walker to discuss her journey and inspire the next generation of Black writers and poets. In closing, Logwood shared a final thought, “I can definitely say that competing in writing contests, having supportive teachers and mentors, changed the trajectory of my life. This type of support made me want to awaken hidden talents and an engaged approach to learning within my students, and to support each student in their efforts to get to a place of self-confidence and peace or that place of endless inspiration.”

  • Dr. Christopher Robbins, Professor of Teacher Education

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     Christopher Robbins

    Interviewed by Lauren Silvia

    "What stands out most when learning from Dr. Robbins is not so much the breadth and depth of his knowledge (this is, of course, evident immediately), but that he wants you to learn - that he is deeply committed to your learning. He gets to know you and your interests as a learner, and pushes you to engage deeply and critically with them, challenging what you think you know while exploring what you do not (yet). He is both caring and compassionate while recognizing that learning is most meaningful when it is relevant and rigorous; he blends care and high expectations together to help students reach their fullest potential. "

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Christopher Robbins about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Robbins grew up in rural Pennsylvania and started his educational journey at Montana State University before transferring to Pennsylvania State University to finish his undergraduate degree. He also obtained his graduate level degrees from Penn State. Before becoming a college professor, Dr. Robbins taught at the middle school and elementary school levels and really enjoyed working with students and connecting with them through reflecting on the experiences he’d had as a student. Dr. Robbins taught one year at Penn State and since then has been teaching at Eastern Michigan for 16 years.

    Dr. Robbins was inspired to become a teacher, even switching his undergraduate major from Environmental Science, by combing through used bookstores when he was on a financial hiatus from college to find something to read, and finding books on social theory in education.  One particular book was entitled Theory and Resistance in Education, and was written by Henry Giroux, who ended up one day being his mentor. He remembered reading this book and thinking, “Here's someone researching and making a career looking at what schools aren’t doing right and providing a language for understanding how educational experiences are structured across various institutions.” This is something he had thought about since high school, but without the theoretical grounding; to his teachers’ frustration he even used to ask questions in high school about why schools were and weren’t doing certain things. The work that he read during his working gap years inspired him to think about how he could work in school systems, make positive changes, and serve all students to enable them to become who they want to be.

    At Eastern, Dr. Robbins teaches undergraduate and graduate students, including at the doctoral level. On the undergraduate level, he teaches the class Schools for a Diverse and Democratic Society, “which deals with the politics, history, and philosophy of education,” which he tends to teach in a current issues and cultural studies lens. He also teaches this class in a collaborative, dialogic format, developing the curriculum in conversation with the students, so that students can explore their interests in the class and get answers to the questions they have. At the master’s level, he teaches Sociology of Education as well as Emergency: Schooling and the Politics of Fear, which looks at how political interests have used fear as a way to move repressive policy through schools. At the doctoral level, he teaches a class called Education, Democracy, and Social Thought. His favorite part about teaching, especially teaching here, is the students. In his spotlight he said that the students were, hands down, his favorite part of teaching and that, “things could collapse around here [but] if the students were still here, I would come here.” He loves that the students here at Eastern are willing to ask questions when given the chance, participate in dialogue, and truly want to engage within the classroom in order to learn more. 

    Dr. Robbins talked about how from the moment he taught a class during his interview process for this job and got to interact with those students, he knew he wanted to teach here. When he was interviewing for the position, the time slot available for the teaching sample he had to do was right after his flight and he recalled that, “with suitcase in hand, [he] walked into the classroom … Almost instantaneously,  in 2 minutes, it was like, ‘I do want to teach here, I hope they hire me.” To him, this was because of how the students participated and were willing to ask questions, even with them just meeting him. Dr. Robbins also talked about how he loves teaching here at Eastern because of the colleagues he gets to work with in the Teacher Education department and how they all work together; “in the ways that they are trying to teach the students to be professionals,” and he gets to feel secure in his work environment, knowing that “there’s somebody [he] can trust to go to,” if there is an issue in the classroom or if he needs help working through something. 

    Dr. Robbins believes that the most rewarding part of teaching is, “having the opportunity to ponder with people.” He elaborated upon this, going on to say that education and teaching allows a space for people to come together and simply ask the question of, “why?”, in order to think about certain topics, how things can be better, how people can change things, and to form a better understanding of how things are done. He also said that creating the space for students to start asking these questions themselves is a great part of teaching because the students he teaches are going to be the people who make future changes and big changes at that. 

    In terms of his research, Dr. Robbins talked about the research he’s done in the past, which focuses in some manner of authoritarianism. He thinks that this work is more relevant than ever and he enjoys knowing people are starting to pay attention to it. Currently, he is working on a book project with a former doctoral student looking at the politics of mass death (civic and biological) and the rise of nationalism.  

    When asked about who his mentors are, Dr. Robbins mentioned that he does look up to many of the colleagues he currently works with, but always looked up to Sylvia Jones (who recently retired from his department) as a mentor. He talked about how he was hired during the last faculty strike, before the one this year, and he was in awe at how Sylvia Jones composed and carried herself and knew that if he wanted to be successful here at Eastern, he needed to look up to her and learn how to carry himself. When Sylvia Jones was retiring, he told her about how he looked to her as his mentor here and how sad he was to watch her leave. He also mentioned that Henry Giroux was always an intellectual mentor of his. 

    He also noted that both of his parents were his mentors, with his late mother’s quiet wisdom, kindness, and curiosity shaping him to be who he is today and giving him the foundation in his life. His father also got him interested in language and questioning through the music he introduced him to, including artists like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and other protest music artists. He often says that, “these were his first classes in sociology and history and social theory,” and enabled him to, even as a kid, ask questions such as, “what is a union? Why is Guthrie saying that there needs to be a union?” and that these experiences somewhat led him to the career he is in now, at a place he deeply enjoys.

  • Dr. Peter Blackmer, Assistant Professor in Africology and African American Studies

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    Peter Blackmer

    Interviewed by Lauren Silvia

     “I nominated Dr. Blackmer to be spotlighted because I feel he deserves recognition for his efforts and care that he gives to his students. He has inspired me educationally as well as personally and has been a source of support for me while navigating college and my career choices. I believe he has genuine interest in the success of his students and it shows through his teaching as well as his commitment to the material he is teaching. He’s the GOAT!"

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Peter Blackmer about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Blackmer received his Bachelor's degree in History from Wagner College in 2010. He then received a Masters degree in Secondary and Special Education from Wagner in 2011, his Masters degree in Afro American Studies from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2014, and his Doctorate in Afro American Studies from the same college in 2018. This is Dr. Blackmer’s third year teaching at EMU. 

    Dr. Blackmer has taught Introduction to Africology and African American Studies, Dimensions of Racism, Black Liberation Struggles, as well as graduate courses in Public Policy, and Race, Crime, and African American Experiences. Black Liberation Struggles is his favorite class to teach, and this is particularly because his own educational experience at UMass was shaped by a department which was full of faculty members who had direct experience in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, and who were among the founders of the discipline of Black Studies. Because of this, Dr. Blackmer feels that he was trained well to interpret, analyze, and teach the histories of these movements, and this class allows him to bring this background into the classroom directly - not only can he draw on his own research and experience, but he can bring veterans and elders of the movements into the class to meet with his students. This offers a unique opportunity for Africology and African American Studies to understand the significance and history of these movements from the people who know them best. 

    Creating opportunities and experiences for his students to engage in the material in different ways is important to Dr. Blackmer, especially because, as he explains, “a core tenet of black studies is that we don't just do education for education's sake, but we study for the purpose of using that knowledge within our communities and advancing struggles for black liberation,” and he’s constantly finding new ways to incorporate this philosophy into his teaching. For example, in his Dimensions of Racism class, Dr. Blackmer has introduced a community action project in which students identify an issue of racism in their community, then research the backstory of the issue and talk to people who are directly impacted by it and people who are currently organizing against it. Using projects such as these in his classes, Dr. Blackmer says, “allows students to develop the analysis to answer questions like ‘What do we do with this information? How do we use that within our communities to engage in anti-racist organizing work?’ … So we're bringing both that scholarly research and analysis and also centering lived experiences… Those are both really important modes of knowledge production, and we can lay some foundations for students to build on after they leave the class as well.” 

    Dr. Blackmer also acknowledges that he has tried to incorporate more innovative, interactive, and collaborative projects or dynamics like this since he first began teaching. He reflects, “I started here in the middle of the pandemic, and that was really isolating for all of us, but for students in particular. Now that we’re back in the classroom together again I’m trying to make the most of that time and have people build relationships there, whether that’s through starting classes with a partner or small group discussions, or leaning into a more call-and-response flow to the class… [I]t brings more balance to the classroom and lets students share their experiences and reflections and insights on a topic.” 

    His students have responded well to this flexibility and care. Dr. Blackmer explains that one of the most common pieces of feedback that he receives, and that he prides himself on, is how deeply he cares for his students. “Particularly during the pandemic, because everyone had so much on their shoulders and everyone is experiencing different forms of trauma, we as teachers are in a position where we can develop trust and relationships and we can be a really valuable resource for students. So, I invest time and energy into getting to know my students and making myself available if they need me. That means answering course questions but also working out personal problems and helping to find resources, as well as being adaptive in the classroom.” 

    Dr. Blackmer credits a teacher and mentor of his, Dr. Rita Reynolds of Wagner College, as setting him on the path to being the educator that he is. He says, “I got my masters in education, and my plan was to be a high school social studies teacher, and Rita was like, ‘No you’re not, you’re going to go get your PhD in African American studies,’ [at the same program that she went to]. I had taken classes with her, and she saw that I was interested in the material and that I wanted to keep learning, and she recognized that I was invested. She then invested in me and made opportunities for me, and made connections for me.” Dr. Blackmer says he’s learned a lot from reflecting on how this mentorship impacted him, and now he tries to provide the same level of support for his students.

    Beyond the classroom, Dr. Blackmer is involved in the community in several ways. He is the faculty advisor for the Aspiring Educators of Michigan, and he says the group is able to focus on a lot of social justice and racial equity work. He also works in the community on the aforementioned project focusing on police surveillance in Detroit. This project centers survey data from a coalition called Green Light Black Futures which gathers community input about safety resources and about communities’ experiences with policing and surveillance. Dr. Blackmer is also the lead researcher for the Detroit chapter of a project called Rise Up North, a national digital humanities project that presents local studies of black freedom movements in northern cities, such as Newark, New Jersey and Detroit. The project includes a website that teaches various topics and histories of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, and offers perspectives of local people and foot soldiers in the movements. Whatever projects he’s working on, Dr. Blackmer says he tries to bring students into it in various capacities. He says that these can be opportunities for students to not just gain experience, but to build lines on their resumes or CVs, especially if they’re interested in graduate school. He explains that he does this work and involves students in this way because he believes in making scholarship accessible and impactful for local communities. 

    Finally, Dr. Blackmer reflected on teaching students at EMU. “I have students that are coming into my classes and eager to learn, because they have questions about what they see in their communities or the world around them, and they want to find out answers to those questions. What I've what I've found here is students that are eager to learn for real reasons, not just to learn for the sake of getting a paycheck once they get out of college, I mean, that's important and nice, too, but students that are looking for someone to encourage them and push them and invest in them. What I’ve found is that when they get what they’re looking for, they succeed and then go on and do great things. My students are fighters, and for the kind of work that I do, I couldn’t ask for better students to be doing it with.”

  • Dr. Caren Putzu, Associate Professor of Social Work

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    Caren Putzu

    Interviewed by Lauren Silvia, Undergraduate Student Worker

    Dr. Putzu recently received an email from a former student saying, "I just wanted to email you to let you know that you have played a tremendous role in my life and you probably don't even realize how much. In my future endeavors, whichever route I choose, I hope to be a genuine asset to those who look up to me just as you are. I really can't thank you enough, but I will try to. Thank you!!"

    We got the chance to speak to Dr. Caren Putzu, from the School of Social Work, about her teaching style and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Putzu got her Bachelors in Arts in Sociology/Anthropology from Gettysburg College before getting her Masters in Social Work from the University of South Carolina and her Masters in Public Administration from the College of Charleston. Before getting her PhD in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University, she worked in the field of school social work through the organization Communities in Schools (CIS), which places site coordinators into the schools. She really enjoyed being able to work with CIS, getting to know the families and even served as the program manager during her last 3 years with the organization, overseeing all the site coordinators and managing grants. 

    Currently, Dr. Putzu teaches a variety of classes within the School of Social Work.  She says she really feels lucky to teach in Social Work as professors are usually able to choose the classes they teach based on their experience and the topics about which they are passionate. Dr. Putzu does a lot of program evaluation and consulting for Social Work agencies, so the classes she teaches are mainly research- and policy-focused. These classes include SWRK 222 (Social Welfare Policies & Services), SWRK 251 (Self-Assessment for the Profession of Social Work), SWRK 405 (Analysis & Change of Social Welfare Policies), and SWRK 430 (Introduction to Research Methods for Social Work). When asked what the most rewarding part about teaching these classes is, Dr. Putzu referenced how amazing it is to watch students grow and engage with the work they do, especially because she teaches “two areas that evoke a lot of anxiety,” and it’s really rewarding to see students’ confidence build.. She believes that she challenges students within her classroom but in a way that makes them connect concepts from their experiences and other classes in order to truly understand the material and that this learning “makes the anxiety go down” among her class. She loves to hear students talk about how much they enjoyed her class, even if they had to work really hard or did not get the best grade, and see them choose to come back to her classes. Her students have also left her great course feedback, leaving comments on course evaluations such as "I appreciated being able to have discussions about difficult topics and still feel like I was in a safe environment,” and “Expectations were clear and Dr. Putzu was always more than willing to offer assistance to better our learning. Well organized and a great learning environment.” These are the comments that Dr. Putzu says she is “most proud of,” and that knowing students felt safe and comfortable in her class was one of the highlights of her career.

    Dr. Putzu has been teaching for several years now -  seven here at Eastern Michigan with prior experience with adjunct teaching at universities before that - and has made a lot of changes since starting teaching. For example, she started her career at institutions that were very textbook heavy and has since learned to make the switch, now using other reading materials as resources in the class. 

    She also has found that she has become a lot more organized and likes to keep master calendars for herself where she leaves notes on what readings they are using, what in-class activities will be happening, as well as notes about what went well that day in class and what really did not so she can reference them when planning her course for the next year. Dr. Putzu uses this as a method to grow within her classes and continuously make sure she is teaching in the way that is best for students. She also likes to give organized calendars to her students in their syllabus so that students don’t have to look in more than one place to find when something is due or what is expected of them. She said this is probably her biggest piece of advice to other educators, to find a way that works to keep them organized and to become less reliant on just what the textbook says. 

    During these spotlights, we always enjoy hearing what instructor’s favorite parts of teaching at Eastern Michigan and teaching our students is. Dr. Putzu discussed how unique of a place Eastern Michigan is as a learning community and how being in this community really gives her the chance to learn from her students. Having students in her classroom who come from a wide variety of backgrounds gives her the opportunity to hear their perspectives and see how she can connect their experiences outside of the classroom into the class, for the benefit of both herself, and her students. 

  • Amanda Ellis, Part-Time Lecturer, Department of Psychology

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    Amanda Ellis

    Interviewed by Trinity Perkins, Undergraduate Student Worker

    Student Quote (written to Professor Ellis): "First off, I wanted to let you know that I appreciate you so much. For the first time in my three years at EMU, a classroom has felt like a community. I am so grateful to have been able to take an in-person class with you, to have learned not only psychology but LIFE from you, and to have met an inspirational woman. I hope you fully internalize the impact you have made on the lives of students such as myself, and are able to remember this as one of your many strengths. Your honesty and “realness” has allowed me to understand that academic spaces can still be comfortable and foster genuine connection, trust, and free flowing information."

    We got the chance to speak with Professor Amanda Ellis about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Professor Ellis obtained her Bachelor's of Science in Psychology at Michigan State University. After that time she started working at the University of Michigan before she started the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program in 2009 at Eastern Michigan University. She then completed her masters in 2012. After she discovered the Ph.D. program was not the right fit for her, she left in 2015 without finishing, and was immediately hired as a Part-Time Lecturer at EMU where she has been teaching ever since. Professor Ellis has been teaching for 10 years, starting while in graduate school.  She also occasionally teaches at Oakland Community College; she is not currently doing so, but did last year. She also did a year-long training practicum at EMU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which helped her to better understand the psychological needs of undergraduates.

    Professor Ellis is currently teaching Introductory Psychology in both an honors section and, for the first time, a Gen Ed section. She started teaching the honors section back in 2014 when she came to Eastern. She is also teaching another class called Quantitative Methods in Psychology. She teaches this every fall and it's her favorite class to teach. She designed it herself after the professor before her retired. She loves this class because her students “like [her] style, because they are not scared of the class, and [she] makes it not scary.” 

    The hardest part about teaching for her is the balance of work and life. She has two young children and lives about 45 minutes away from Eastern so she commutes. She also has to drop both her dogs and her children off to daycare or school every morning right before work and pick them up right after work, which is a rigorous task. She finds it hard to do work at home so she has to do all her grading and prepwork between classes; finding time to do this is challenging, because of how busy she is. Keeping a work-life balance can be difficult for her. 

    She also finds it difficult, as a psychology professor, to make time for her students' personal needs. Students come to her wanting help, “they need someone to point them in the right direction,” she says, “I wish I had more time to do everything that I would like to do to support my students. I think sometimes it's a struggle, watching them struggle, and not necessarily being able to do as much as I‘d like.” Especially after the pandemic, maintaining good mental health has been a struggle and so a lot of therapy offices have very long waiting lists or they cost too much and are hard to get in.  “The system’s challenging and trying to work within that - it’s really hard and not always in alignment with my personal values.”

    Dr. Alissa Huth-Bocks is someone who has impacted Professor Ellis’ teaching philosophy greatly. Dr. Huth-Bocks was the teacher of Professor Ellis’ graduate psychotherapy class, and she took Ellis under her wing. Dr. Huth-Bocks took time in helping Professor Ellis to pay attention to both what people were saying and how they were saying it. Dr. Huth-Bocks supervised Professor Ellis in running a high stress divorce group which was part of Professor Ellis’ clinical training in EMU’S clinical psychology program.  This was known as the EMU Psychology Clinic then, and is now known as the Community Behavioral Clinic at EMU. Professor Ellis states that Dr. Huth-Bocks was, “very attachment oriented, looking at relationships as foundational and that is absolutely how I approach teaching. I learned so much from her as a supervisee in her classes, and I've absolutely taken that teaching style going forward.  She was always very organized, very prepared, but not in a way that seemed rigid, anxious, you know, things got done, but she let things go in a pace they needed to go. And I absolutely do that.” 

    Professor Ellis has advice for incoming teachers. She says that you need to break up class in order to keep your students' attention. She also encourages colleagues to spend the first day of class, and simply talk through the syllabus, walk through Canvas, and encourage the students to introduce themselves to 3 different people, make a class group chat, share their notes, and take pictures of the slides. 

    Professor Ellis also believes there is no such thing as a weird question. She states, “I don't care how off topic it is, if something is occurring to you, that is relating this information to something you've read in another class or learn somewhere else, you might be able to help one of your classmates. So there are no such things as weird questions… Because I know from the science, the memory science and learning science, that the deeper they connect with the material, the more they're actually going to bring it into their long term memory, the better they're going to learn. And the more likely they are to actually retain the information after the test.”

    While working on her thesis in graduate school, Professor Ellis used data from an existing project at U of M and worked with moms who had experienced abuse and neglect in their own lives, and were also experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. After they had their first baby, Ellis looked at the bonding and attachment with the stress and trauma hormones in mothers and babies. The researchers made home visits all over Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and downtown Detroit, which led Ellis to join EMU because of a collaborator who used to work in Eastern’s psychology department. When she got onto campus she started looking at how different parenting attributes can contribute to problem behavior in aged children 8-12.  Professor Ellis looked at how “life stress can impact what are called executive functioning skills.”

    Professor Ellis’ goal since she began teaching is not to put more stress on her students. If this means canceling an assignment, that is what it means for her. She doesn’t want to become a source of anxiety for her students. After the pandemic, there was an increase in mental health issues and finding therapists because they are so booked up. She wants her students to feel as if they can come talk to her, and wants her class to feel like a “deep breath” amid the sea of turmoil many of her students are facing.


  • Dr. Clyde Barnett III, Full-Time Lecturer of Leadership & Counseling

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     Dr. Clyde Barnett III

    Written by Lauren Silvia

    Dr. B transformed the way I view learning. I've had teachers that were passionate and teachers that were knowledgeable, but it wasn’t until I attended Dr. B’s courses that I witnessed someone seemingly blend those two traits so effortlessly. His care and intelligence extends outside his subject matter and intentionally spills over into the culture he cultivates in the classroom.”

    We got the chance to talk to Dr. Clyde Barnett III, from the Department of Leadership and Counseling, about his teaching experiences, philosophies, and styles. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Barnett received his Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of Michigan-Flint and later went on to receive his Masters in Higher Education Student Affairs, Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, and Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University. Most of his experience and research is in the areas of student voice and community building, Dr. Barnett has received several academic certificates and also has participated in a study abroad program to Germany through New York University where he was able to do research on higher education leadership. To Dr. Barnett, student voice means listening to student perspectives in the classroom, and also elevating student agency and opportunities to make real changes. He now teaches several courses in the Leadership & Counseling department focused on equitable leadership and community building. Dr. Barnett acts as coordinator of the interdisciplinary LEADership minor in the department.

    Although Dr. Barnett did start his career in the field of marketing, even briefly working for Nike, he always knew that he wanted to be a teacher. He said that even while growing up, whenever anyone asked him what he wanted to be or what he wanted to do as a career, he’d always respond that he wanted to be a teacher. This desire to be a teacher and passion for working with students is what made him want to come back to school, especially after learning about the field of Higher Education Student Affairs. 

    For Dr. Barnett, the most rewarding part about being an educator is seeing students become more and more confident in themselves and also building relationships with his students. He said he always knew, even when just starting to teach, that building relationships with students is important but he values it a lot more now because he’s realized that, “if I’m not in any sort of a relationship with students, students can’t learn from me, especially if that relationship is not positive.” Dr. Barnett believes this is especially important in his classes where they talk about heavy topics such as equity and justice. He has also noticed that having these relationships with students make them a lot more comfortable and confident in the classroom and in relating their experiences to others in the class. This is especially apparent to him in his LEAD 301 class, Emerging as a Culturally Competent Leader, as he finds that students come into the classroom believing that they have no leadership experience and then as they become more comfortable, they reveal all sorts of things they have done as leaders. 

    Outside of the classroom, much of Dr. Barnett’s time is dedicated to doing research surrounding student voice, student agency, and how voice and agency can influence educational policy and practice at all levels. He currently is working on a variety of student voice projects, including one through Michigan State University, where they talk with middle and high school students about student voice, primarily Black student voice, and their experiences. They are doing data analysis to better inform schools on what students' experiences are, especially now after COVID, and how to improve conditions for students in schools. He also did similar work in Muskegon, Michigan with Dr. Rema Reynolds-Vassar, surrounding student voices in predominantly Black schools. Dr. Reynolds-Vassar was his faculty mentor while he was completing his doctoral program. He also works as an co-advisor with Dr. Reynolds-Vassar for a high school student voice group out of Communication and Media Arts High School in Detroit called “The Plug,” which has made real changes in their school focusing on changing anti-Black, racist, and sexist policies. Both Drs. Barnett and Reynolds-Vassar are contracted to write a book about the experiences working with this group. 

    When asked what he likes most about teaching here at Eastern Michigan, Dr. Barnett immediately said that it is the students and the community. He said that “Eastern is a magical place,” and he realizes all the unique opportunities that come from being part of this community. He loves to hear from his students, of all backgrounds, and make connections with them within the classroom to work together. He loves seeing the unique community we’ve built as compared to other schools because, “no one else looks like us and no one else is us.” He embraces this community so much and it is what has kept him coming back to Eastern time after time.

  • Dr. RJ Koscielniak, Assistant Professor of Geography and Geology

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    Dr. RJ Koscielniak

    Written by Lauren Silvia and Trinity Perkins

    "Dr. Koscielniak is hands down one of the most diligent and passionate professors this university has to offer. His lecturing style is quite assiduous and enlightening."We got the chance to speak with Dr. RJ Koscielniak about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Koscielniak obtained his Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of Missouri in 2008. After his time as an undergraduate he went to Washington University in St. Louis to receive his Masters in Urban Innovation and Policy, which he received in 2011. In 2020 Dr. Koscielniak earned his Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Michigan. Later that year he started teaching at EMU, which just so happened to be online because of the pandemic. He officially started in a classroom in February 2022. Dr. Koscielniak specializes in urban decline, environmental change, and urban and regional planning. 

    Dr. Koscielniak is currently teaching “Readings in Planning.” He thinks of this class as “a way of contemplating anti-racist and post-capitalist or non-market futures of the built environment.” He wanted to take a new approach to teaching this class by looking at the history behind the places and bring it into the late 20th and 21st century. Dr. Koscielniak has taught this class every year since he's been here at EMU and has loved it. The hardest part of teaching for him is the way higher education has changed and the fact that you have to recognize that some students are not initially passionate about the topic you are teaching, but that you have to adapt to that and find ways to connect. Also, how you frame stories can sometimes be a really difficult process. Although it can be difficult, Dr. Koscielniak finds that moment when everything feels connected to be the most rewarding part of his teaching.

    An educator who has impacted Dr. Koscielniak’s teaching philosophy and inspired him is Dr. Joshua Akers from University of Michigan-Dearborn. Dr. Akers is an Associate Professor of Geography and Urban and Regional Studies. Dr. Koscielniak states that Dr. Akers was pivotal in his research and was also extremely helpful behind the scenes. Akers was not from Michigan, but showed commitment to the region and RJ admired that. 

    Some advice that Dr. Koscielniak has for new teachers is to be flexible. He has only worked here for about 2 years and he noticed that the need to be flexible is something that is very much needed for instructors. Especially with COVID, you have to be flexible about where students are in their lives. You want them to be able to be transparent with you in your dealing with them. You can’t have the mindset “I just teach,” You need to be able to change, and see that something needs to be adjusted mid-stream. Another big tip Dr. Koscielniak has is to “pass the mic” to students. Let students lead the class - give them a chance to make the time impactful! 

    One of Dr. Koscielniak’s most important research projects was one in which he followed the supply chain of dirt, called ‘Ground Forces: Dirt, Demolition, and the Geography of Decline' in Detroit, Michigan. He studied the dirt that was being used to fill holes from demolished houses in Detroit, finding data about where it was coming from and how much money was being spent on dirt. The project found significant evidence of corruption and Dr. Koscielniak was covered by the Detroit News four times - he still gets interviews about this project to this day! Dr. Koscielniak still even contributes to an ongoing federal investigation that took place about the dirt and the demolition contractors. 

    One time, Dr. Koscielniak was giving a conference paper in Washington, D.C., when a man came up to him afterwards and said he needed to talk to him about this project. The man was from the Department of Treasury and was working on an investigation of the dirt and corruption in Detroit. Dr. Koscielniak found out that the dirt is coming from new housing in the suburbs and filling in demolished buildings in places such as Detroit. A home that was sold in Birmingham, Michigan for five million dollars provided dirt that filled the holes from demolishing in Detroit. Dr. Koscielniak states “We are protecting and privileging the suburban development to get their dirt to fill holes in Detroit.” 

    Dr. Koscielniak is researching many different things right now.  Some projects include studying people losing their homes in New Orleans because they can’t cut their grass and also the selling of brick coming from tearing down St. Louis and used in new development in places such as Phoenix and Houston.  Much of this work builds off the project on Detroit dirt that was so pivotal to his early career.

    Dr. Koscielniak is still relatively new to EMU, but is ready for more years here. He likes being in the Midwest, the deindustrialized places, and can see things that we need to do better such as building an infrastructure and transit and he's able to “start in a different place” with EMU students. “We can agree that things don’t work, we accept this to make steps to resolve them.” This commitment to a scholarship of engaging - making his work relevant to the region in which he teaches - is very much a hallmark of Dr. Koscielniak’s career.

  • "What We've Learned" by FDC Student Workers Jessi Kwek and Hannah LaFleur

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     Jessi Kwek and Hannah Bollin

    Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, we have had the opportunity to interview a variety of educators who were nominated for the Faculty Development Center’s Teaching Spotlight Series, and to get to know them and what makes them the exceptional educators they are. These educators are typically nominated for our Teaching Spotlights by their current or past students, who have recognized that these teachers go above and beyond to make their learning experience the best it can possibly be. As students who have had the opportunity to talk to over a dozen of these teachers, even if only for a short time (usually around half an hour), we recognize the profound impact that these educators have on the people around them, and we wanted to acknowledge some of the lessons that we, as students, have learned from these conversations about teaching and learning, and offer our perspective on what makes these educators so special. 

    It’s clear from the start that each of these EMU faculty members are incredibly passionate about their fields and about teaching their content. These passions reinforce each other, but they are important for different reasons. When students see the enthusiasm that these educators have for their discipline, they say it makes them more interested and makes the subject seem easier to learn. Equally important is these educators' passion for teaching. Even during our short conversations, it quickly became clear that each of these educators is excited about passing their knowledge and expertise in their discipline to their students, and connecting with them in the process. Many of these educators shared that they love teaching because they learn so much from their students. Their students pick up on this will to learn and to listen, and in their nominations they thank these educators for making their insight feel valued. 

    One of the most important ways that these educators open up a chance for students to share their insights is by incorporating student feedback into their classes. This can mean making feedback and questions on class material more accessible, which Dr. Gavin Edwards does by making anonymous surveys a part of every class period, in order to give every student a chance to ask questions or reveal their struggles without judgment. (All of the spotlights we mention, and others, can be found in the Teaching Spotlight page on the FDC website.) This can also mean giving students space to connect their lived experiences with class material. Dr. Carmen McCallum gives students this space by integrating “hot topics” into some of her classes, where she sets aside the first 15 minutes of class for discussion on how class material can be applied to current events and gives students the opportunity to reflect on how this relates to their experiences. Certainly, this feedback can also be fluid. Many of the educators that we spoke to reiterate the importance of understanding that some strategies or methods might not be as effective or helpful in a given semester, and strive to make changes that work for their students. 

    Beyond feedback, these teachers also explain that connections with students are a vital part of their teaching. They don’t want to lecture at students if they don’t need to - they want the learning experience to be collaborative and engaging. These discussions and connections allow the educators to have a fuller understanding of their students, and they use that to make the learning experience more effective. Dr. Julie Becker uses her industry experience in textile design to give her students a more well-rounded education and help guide them toward being able to make their own mark on the industry. Dr. Andreia Gendera makes a point to include information about her experience being Latina in the business world when she’s teaching, and offers advice and help to students of color who may be facing similar experiences that might not typically be acknowledged in a classroom setting. These educators want to give students the chance to explore their passions and interests in and outside of the normal classroom setting. Similarly, Professor Colleen O’Brien offers these opportunities in the social work program, notably by offering students resources to implement programs in the community where they see a need that has not been met. 

    The educators that we spotlighted take opportunities outside of the classroom to deepen their knowledge of their discipline and to strengthen their teaching. Dr. Ethan Lowenstein uses his role as the Director of the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition to incorporate the lessons he teaches in the classroom into real life, by taking direct action to help practicing K-12 teachers empower their students to take civic action in their communities. Dr. Ebrahim Soltani does this as well, both through his role as an advisor to the Model UN club at EMU as well as through participating in Academic Service-Learning workshops. He says both of these roles have allowed him to foster connections between his students and the local and international community.  

    Above all, the educators who are nominated for teaching spotlights are appreciated by EMU students because they recognize and celebrate EMU students as they are. The final question we ask these teachers in our conversations is what they like about teaching students at Eastern, and every one of them is eager to speak about how hardworking, creative, and talented their students are. They speak about how impressed they are that, along with all of the things taking up students' attention outside of the classroom, they continue to show an incredible amount of insight and dedication within the classroom. These educators recognize that EMU students often don’t come from the most privileged backgrounds, and they use this to inform their connection with students. They also notice that this often means that EMU students work incredibly hard for their education, and know the value of it. They emphasize that in their experience with EMU students, both in and outside of the classroom, they are impressed by how dedicated they are to the work that they do, and the passion that they show for it.

    Having the chance to interview these educators as students has provided us with a new perspective on our experiences with the professors at EMU. Their willingness to make time to be there for their students and to go out of their way to make their classes unique is impressive. Their enthusiasm for what they do speaks volumes, and is a testament to their passion for teaching. These interviews serve as an opportunity to get to know these educators on a more personal level, and understand what drives them in their professions. These individuals exemplify the focus on students, inside and outside the classroom, that represents Eastern Michigan University at its best.

  • Dr. Amanda Stype, Assistant Professor of Economics

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    Amanda Stype

    Interviewed by Lauren Silvia and Jessi Kwek, undergraduate student workers

    "Dr. Stype makes going to class fun! Whether it is online or in person, she knows how to encourage her students to participate. She genuinely cares about her students and forms real connections with them. She works hard to make the material understandable. I always know that if I take a class with Professor Stype, I will learn a lot. "

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Amanda Stype, winner of the 2022 Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching I, about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Stype received her BSBA in International Business and Economics, as well as her BS in Mathematics/Statistics from Ohio Northern University in 2009. After her time as an undergraduate, she went on to receive her Masters in Economics from Bowling Green State University in 2010 and then her Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University in 2016. After finishing her doctoral degree, Dr. Stype began her teaching career at Oakland University, then Miami University before coming here to Eastern Michigan University. Now, she is going into her 6th year teaching here at EMU. She is currently the Economic Department’s Honors Advisor for the Economics department. 

    Currently, Dr. Stype teaches several classes on both the undergraduate and graduate level, including teaching a course for the Honors College. Although Dr. Stype found it difficult to narrow down which class is her favorite to teach, she said she enjoys teaching Health Economics because it brings in Economics/Business majors who are interested in learning more about healthcare and health insurance as well as Health Administration majors who are required to take the class. She said that it adds a lot to the class to have students who can share their perspectives, some coming from backgrounds in economics and others coming more from the health background, to help each other learn. She also said that she enjoys teaching Government Finance, which she taught her first year here at Eastern Michigan University and is now teaching again after 5 years, because it gives her the chance to see how much she has grown as an educator in those 5 years and adapt what she did then to make the class better.

    Outside of the classroom, Dr. Stype is currently working on research in civic education for elementary educators and has done research in the past on how veterans access their health insurance plans and benefits and the way that the Affordable Care Act potentially impacted infant mortality rates (for the better) through the expansion of Medicaid. Her work has been published in the Journal for Epidemiology and Community Health, Contemporary Economic Policy, the National Tax Journal and the Journal of Risk and Financial Management.

    For Dr. Stype, she believes that the most rewarding part of teaching is seeing her students succeed. She noted that she has been teaching long enough now for students who she had their freshman year to have graduated and that she gets joy out of seeing them grow up and do things like graduate, further their education, get married, and have kids. Part of this joy comes from the fact that Dr. Stype takes the time to see her students, and get to know her students, as whole people who have lives outside of the classroom and she tries to teach to the whole person instead of just focusing on strict subject matter. She also feels that receiving the recognition that comes with the Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Award was awesome and just made her feel appreciated, especially because of how much she loves teaching and interacting with students. 

    Looking back, Dr. Stype never originally planned on becoming an educator, but is grateful she did and says she can not imagine herself doing anything else. She credits her graduate advisor, Steven Haider, who helped give her the opportunity to teach a summer class. Dr. Stype said that she had told him she wanted to teach that summer so she’d know she “didn’t like it.” Throughout the summer, she taught a six-week Principles of Microeconomics course where she was with the students 2-3 hours a day. After teaching the class, Dr. Stype’s perspective was changed and she recalls telling her advisor that it, “wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done.” She discovered that summer that she really likes teaching and now says that she has “no regrets,” and is so happy she is doing this even though it wasn’t her original plan.

    When asked what she wish she would have known when she started teaching and what she would tell new educators, she said that her advice to new educators is to take things one day at a time and to remember that “it is a marathon, not a sprint,” and to take care of themselves because the work they do can be very overwhelming and lead to burn out. She also encourages educators to be less reliant on PowerPoints and structured lectures and instead bring in case studies, articles from the news, journal articles, and other real world material to encourage students to put theory into practice in the classroom. 

    Dr. Stype talked lots about how much she loves being in the classroom, getting to interact with students and building a community. What she likes most about teaching specifically at Eastern Michigan University is the diversity of our student body, Dr. Stype noted that she loves seeing the diversity of our students as well as how many different walks of life our students come from. She talked about having students in her classes where some are fresh out of high school, some are older than her, some work full-time and also go to school full-time and some are parents, caregivers, etc., and how much she enjoys being able to work with all different types of students.

  • Dr. Harriet Lindsay, Professor of Chemistry

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    Dr. Harriet Lindsay

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, undergraduate student worker.

    "Dr. Lindsay made a special impact on my personal and career interests during my two years learning from her in the classroom and working with her in the lab. Organic chemistry, and chemistry in general was a sore subject for me and I even considered not pursuing medicine to avoid taking organic chemistry. Not one day had passed before Dr. Lindsay has eased my fears and dispelled my negative outlook on the material. From a student looking to avoid chemistry at all costs to now, where I recently graduated with a chemistry minor shortly after completing a research thesis on organic chemistry, it's incredible to see how one teacher impacted me so dramatically. I'm now well on my way to medical school, and it's clear to me that I wouldn't be on this path without Dr. Lindsay. I owe my current and future success to her."

    Award: 2021 Excellent Teachers Engaging Alumni Award

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Harriet Lindsay, winner of the 2021 Excellent Teachers Engaging Alumni Award, about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Lindsay received her BA in Organic Chemistry from Hendrix College in 1992. She went on to receive her Ed.D. in Higher Education in 2001, and her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in 2002 from the University of Arkansas. She began teaching at EMU in 2002.

    Dr. Lindsay teaches a variety of courses in the Chemistry department. In the undergraduate program, she teaches the two-course sequence of Organic Chemistry with its accompanying labs. She also teaches on occasion in the Master’s program, with classes such as Advanced Organic Chemistry, and Scientific Writing. In the Honors college, Dr. Lindsay developed the Organic Chemistry sequence, and teaches these courses as well. Speaking on her involvement with the Honors College, she says “that’s been really enjoyable. You know, I love teaching all students!”

    Upon receiving the Excellent Teachers Engaging Alumni Award, Dr. Lindsay was very excited, “in part because it’s a great honor and also because I was nominated by a research student who’s actually a very good friend of mine now. He was a student who worked with me for four years, from his very first day as a first year student, all the way through his senior year.” This made winning the award an especially meaningful experience to her.

    A defining characteristic in Dr. Lindsay’s teaching is her decision to employ a “flipped classroom.” She chose to convert her classroom into its flipped version in 2017, in which she provides students with lectures online ahead of time, and uses class time for a more interactive experience. With this change, she has noticed that it has given her the opportunity to make the most of her time in the classroom by dedicating it to answering questions or addressing students’ needs. She asserts “it’s a great way to teach Organic Chemistry, and I think it’s easier for students to learn that way. I can get to know the students a lot better if I’m walking around, talking to them during class rather than just talking at them.”

    Students have agreed that this has been a successful switch. Dr. Lindsay’s students most often respond that she is organized and enthusiastic. To this, she says “it’s my hope that the fact that I really love coming to class is evident, and I think it is to some extent.” She also notes that, while Organic Chemistry has a reputation for its difficulty, particularly on the Pre-Med track, she tries to “dispel that fear as quickly as I can. I mean it’s true, it’s a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be awful work. You know, hard work can be fun too.”

    The most rewarding part of teaching for Dr. Lindsay is interacting with students, and she explains that she is able to engage with students through research. “I get to work with them one-on-one and train them, and watch them sort of grow and blossom as a scientist. It’s super fulfilling when a student I’ve worked with is able to go on to do something they really want to do. That’s really exciting.” Connecting students with research opportunities and collaborating with them on these projects is a highlight of Dr. Lindsay’s role as a professor. She says that “aside from when I’m teaching or doing my own research, I chair the organizing committee for the Undergraduate Symposium, I chair a committee that awards undergraduate research fellowships, so I’m really passionate about that too. Having a one-on-one mentor experience with faculty is pretty cool for both faculty and students. There’s just no substitute for it.”

    The value of having a mentor was instilled in Dr. Lindsay from her time working with her Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Matt McIntosh at University of Arkansas. She recalls, “At the same time I was doing my Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, I was also working on an Ed.D. in higher education with a teaching emphasis. But, somewhat ironically, much of what I learned that was useful for my teaching, I learned from my chemistry mentor. Not that what I learned in the College of Ed wasn’t useful – it was – but I really sort of pattern my style after him.” She describes his method of teaching through incomplete note handouts, which provided students an outline for the content they needed, with space to draw the corresponding structures. Dr. Lindsay details how she adopted this into her own teaching. “It was really an awesome way to help students organize their notes and be interactive in class, so they’re not writing down every single word that I would say, they’re actually just filling in the important parts and practicing what they’ll ultimately be drawing on tests.” Based on her own experience, Dr. Lindsay advises incoming educators to “find yourself a good mentor, do what they do, and then make changes to make it your own.”

    In addition to her own research and teaching, Dr. Lindsay is also a faculty associate for undergraduate research in the Office of Graduate Studies and Research. Here, she works to administer fellowships through the Undergraduate Research Stimulus Program, which finances opportunities for undergraduate students to work with a faculty mentor on a project. With her passion for research, this position is a point of pride for Dr. Lindsay. She says, “Science is really, at its core, about doing research – it’s not about learning a bunch of stuff – it’s about taking that knowledge and applying it.” According to Dr. Lindsay, the role has been “very gratifying, to be able to help other faculty and students work towards their goals.”

    When asked about her favorite thing about teaching the students at EMU, Dr. Lindsay attests, “I love how motivated and focused EMU students are – our students want to do well. I love that they trust me to guide them. That it’s evident to me that they’ll do what I ask, and I appreciate that. They work hard, they’re earnest, and they’re sort of singularly focused on their learning, and that’s pretty cool.”

  • Dr. Andreia Gendera, Part-Time Lecturer of Management

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    Andreia Gendera

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, undergraduate student worker

    “Professor Andreia really presents the coursework in an enjoyable and profitable mix. I loved how every week our class was set to take information we had learned in that week’s material and find current news and event articles dealing with that subject. This allowed wonderful group discussions, and me to really just see how what we’ve learned applies in our present day-to-day world… It is because of professors like this, that I feel excited and confident to become part of that business world.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Andreia Gendera about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Gendera first obtained her Bachelors in Business Administration in Management at Estacio de Sa University, UNESA, in Brazil in 2006. She then earned a certificate in Business Communication from Western Town College in Toronto, Canada in 2006. She earned an MBA in Information Technologies from the Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Brazil in 2008, as well as an MS in Management from Estacio de Sa University, UNESA, in Brazil in 2010. Dr. Gendera also received her Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising from Eastern Michigan University in 2019. Finally, in 2022 Dr. Gendera earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University.

    Recently, Dr. Gendera received the 2021 Part-Time Lecturer Distinguished Teaching Award. She said that winning the award felt, “amazing… I have a passion for teaching, this is what I’ve been doing for twenty years and that’s my life, I don’t see myself doing anything else. To be recognized while being part time as Eastern Michigan University, which is a big institution with lots of great professors, means a lot, because it means that what I’m doing is actually being noticed by the students and the university. It was awesome, really.”

    Dr. Gendera teaches a variety of classes within the Management Department, including Introduction to Business, Business Communication, Managing International Business Communication, and Organizational Behavioral Theory.

    In her teaching, Dr. Gendera wants to make sure that she is not the center of attention, but that the students are. For each of her classes, Dr. Gendera likes to have students pay attention to what’s going on in the news and apply the theory and the literature to what’s happening in the world right now, and to have conversations about it. She says that she likes to see students grow throughout the semester, “when the classes are just beginning, there are a lot of students who are like ‘Oh my god I have to talk, I’m not used to this,’ but by the end of the semester they talk about the topic with so much passion, they really come out of their shell and they’ve gotten out of their comfort zone.”

    One of the ways Dr. Gendera facilitates this participation is through the ‘Shark Tank’ project that is part of her introduction to business class. “It’s a hands-on experience that shows how to put what the book says into practice in the real world. It’s really cool to see because students get to be really creative, they have to come up with something that hasn’t been thought of yet. Then they get to play the roles of the sharks and the entrepreneurs and they get into it, they come dressed to impress and come with a prototype to present, so it’s really fun.”

    Seeing students grow in this way is Dr. Gendera’s favorite part of teaching. “A lot of times I get to see them in the very basic classes where they might feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, and then I get to see them when they’re ready to graduate, full of confidence, full of knowledge, ready to start this whole new life that’s in front of them. Seeing them grow and how they’re different from the very first time that I meet them to the last time that I see them is really special because they’re people that I get to know.”

    Dr. Gendera says she’s had lots of teachers who have inspired her and pushed her over the years, but one in particular was Dr. David Anderson, who was a mentor and teacher to her while she was getting her doctorate at EMU, and he even ended up being her dissertation chair. “I think that he is just my eternal inspiration, he is just an incredibly caring educator. It doesn’t matter what time of day you need him, he’s going to be there for you. When I met Dr. Anderson, I decided to be just like him as an educator, and I think that if everybody would have at least one class with him, he would really change the world.”

    Dr. Gendera is passionate about helping students reach their full potential, particularly those who are underrepresented in the business world. She says, “I feel like the mama bear that comes in and takes everyone under my wing, especially the Latino students. I try to bring them together and I want to make sure that they’re in a good place and that they’re supported. I try to give some extra insights because there can be so many uncertainties and the culture is so different. I want to make sure that I’m available from the first day of class to talk about the culture and all of the places they could go, and we can talk about things that are not necessarily related to school but that might be affecting them. For all of my students, I want to be there for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s the evening or a weekend, we’ll find a time that works for everyone.” 

    Dr. Gendera’s experience as a black Latina woman in the business world has partially inspired the focus of her research, specifically her dissertation. “In my dissertation, I was studying resilience and, especially, how the Latino community can achieve their career success and get to the point where they want to be. That’s something that Eastern really allowed me to do, is dedicate my time to this research and this thing that is my passion and that I believe I can really make a difference.” You can read more about Dr. Gendera’s research in her dissertation, “Quantitative analysis of contributing factors of career success and overall and academic resilience in higher education: A refinement of Tinto’s theory to stop Latinx oppression.”

    Dr. Gendera also talked about her favorite part about teaching students at EMU. “Eastern is like a second home to me. When I moved from Brazil, they opened up doors and I feel like I really belong here. When I look at Eastern students, I have the same feeling. I think that students come to Eastern because they are looking for that feeling of belonging, so I like seeing that the classes are smaller, and getting to teach students is more than just putting them in an auditorium. You get to know them and when you’re teaching them, you get to know their struggles and successes. I like knowing that for a lot of students at Eastern, I can relate to them and they can relate to me, they can look at me and know I’m a normal human being and we can be on the same level. Eastern really gives me the opportunity to have those interactions and that’s what I really like most.”

  • Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, Professor of Engineering

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    Dr. Muhammad Ahmed

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, undergraduate student worker

    "Dr. Ahmed has been instrumental in helping guide me through the process of earning my bachelors degree in Engineering Management at Eastern Michigan University. Not only has he helped me in choosing classes for each semester but he has taught several of my courses which will help in advancing my career into a management role."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, winner of the 2021 Ronald Collins Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching II, about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Muhammad Ahmed has a Bachelors in mechanical engineering from NED University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan. He earned his Masters in Mechanical Engineering, as well as a Masters in Manufacturing Engineering, both from Wayne State University. He also received his Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Wayne State University in 1999. Before beginning his career in higher education, Dr. Ahmed worked for Ford Motor Company for 5 years, where he was a senior manufacturing engineer, specializing in new product development. He was also the chief Research Scientist at Wayne State University for NIST grants with the Department of Commerce. Besides these professional experiences, Dr. Ahmed is also the President and cofounder of a nonprofit called Net Scholars which provides scholarship opportunities to students in STEM globally, focusing primarily on Pakistan and NED, where he completed his undergraduate studies.

    When Dr. Ahmed first came to EMU, he made it his goal to revitalize the engineering program, modifying the curriculum to make it more competitive. The participatory element of his ethics and leadership classes reflects this, they are a way for students to become more engaged with their learning. “I love to listen to the different perspectives. We will ask their opinions about what went wrong, how can we address this, what are the ways to accomplish that task of ensuring – whether you are a US citizen or a global citizen – that life for everybody has the same value?” He also enjoys the analytics side to the courses he teaches, where decision making is explored using data and mathematics. He remarks, “What I appreciate nowadays is the utilization of machine learning and how it will change the world.” Dr. Ahmed notes that a majority of the students in the program he teaches are above the age of 35, so through these courses, he provides an education on new technologies emerging in the discipline, and how it will affect the way his students work in the fields in which they are already involved.

    A challenge that Dr. Ahmed discusses in his teaching is the task of changing his students’ perspective for leadership. “The way the engineer’s mind is, it’s always binary thinking – either it is right or it is wrong – because we follow physics and mathematical laws that you cannot break. So that becomes the mindset of an engineer. When it comes to managing, there’s a lot of gray area, and this is the hardest place where we have to convince them that they have to change their attitude towards right or wrong. There’s no right or wrong in management, there is just a better way of doing things.”

    One thing on which Dr. Ahmed’s students have given him the most positive feedback is his continued encouragement, which he provides through presenting his students with rigorous challenges. He recalls a student telling him that “If you had not pushed me to that level, I would not have understood the capabilities that I have.” He also makes himself available for students to reach “outside of business hours,” because he recognizes that most of them have careers of their own and need a quick response when they ask, as it may be their only opportunity to complete the assignment they are working on. Speaking about his teaching, Dr. Ahmed says “I don’t take it as a profession. For me, it is more of a noble gesture that you do for society. Being a lecturer is a huge undertaking. You cannot say it’s a nine-to-five job, it is a twenty-four hour job. And one aspect of a teacher is that they are good at listening, but on top of that, they are very kind.”

    This kindness in teaching was modeled for Dr. Ahmed by his tenth grade math teacher, Madam Sophia. He says, “She was extraordinary. She showed me that kindness in a person is another way of teaching, and that kindness can go a long way.” Another mentor that Dr. Ahmed mentions is Dr. Farasat, a professor he had in his undergraduate studies in Pakistan. “He taught me one big thing: that in education, when a student is answering something, don’t ever tell them they are totally wrong.” Instead, he describes the method of validating the students' thoughts and considering that they might be right, but then pointing them in the direction of the answer he was looking for.

    Dr. Ahmed’s current research in the area of Engineering Management, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the use of artificial intelligence in the area of group decision-making. He is also involved in collaboration with several faculty from the College of Business to establish market strategies for new industries, as well as the use of artificial intelligence in the supply chain.

    A unique position that Dr. Ahmed has at EMU is his role as the co-founder of EMUiNVENT. This is a K-12 program that focuses on incorporating innovation into school curriculum. Each year, an annual competition is held at EMU in affiliation with the Henry Ford Foundation’s Invention Convention, where students in the community work with EMU students to develop crucial problem solving skills. The program places an emphasis on the importance of collaboration in coming up with solutions and executing plans by involving students from a variety of disciplines including STEM, Business, and Art & Design. Dr. Ahmed says that “it is the hope that everything is included, and the idea is to bring all the students in, rather than saying ‘this is just for STEM.’”

    When asked what he likes best about teaching the students at EMU, Dr. Ahmed says “I personally think that our students here have a lot of potential. Within the institution, I think that we promote a healthy environment of growth through mentorship. I love EMU, I think I made a very good choice by selecting this institution.”

  • Dr. Ashley Wilson, Professor of Biology

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    Woman with brown hair smiling at camera

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, undergraduate student worker

    “Though I am a year post-graduate, Dr. Wilson will always be remembered as one of the most compassionate and caring human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to get to know. She is armed with an artillery of knowledge in her field, and wields these tools with a graceful, and effective delivery, while maintaining a critical fun factor. She is patient and kind, and goes above and beyond for her students’ success. Her creative teaching style ensures important conversations are had, and the material being learned is retained. I still remember much of our zoology materials and use them as “fun facts” in my field. Even in my years out of her classroom, she is still pushing and advocating for my entry to post-secondary veterinary school. I am so grateful to have her in my corner, and I encourage everybody to step foot in her classroom at least once. The experience is worthwhile, science major or not!”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Ashley Wilson, winner of the 2021 Ronald W. Collins Part-Time Lecturer Distinguished Teaching Award, about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Wilson received her Bachelor's degree in Wildlife Conservation from the University of Nevada Reno in 2008. During her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa. Dr. Wilson conducted research in Puerto Rico during her Master’s program and received her Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in Biology. She received her Ph.D. in Biological Education from the University of Northern Colorado in December of 2018. She began teaching at EMU immediately after as a part-time lecturer in January of 2019. She teaches a variety of courses including Evolution, Ecology, and Zoology.

    Though she does not have a favorite class to teach in particular, Dr. Wilson really enjoys her Introduction to Zoology course, because it provides her with the opportunity to teach students from all disciplines and backgrounds, and gives her the chance to get them interested in biology through the study of animals. In contrast, she also likes to teach her higher level biology classes because “students are really into what they’re learning and get really excited about things.”

    When asked about some of the most positive feedback she has received about her teaching, Dr. Wilson reports that her students consider her approachable and enthusiastic. “I try to be goofy and entertaining, I think it helps students be more interested in the content, and to stay engaged and succeed in the course.” She finds it to be an especially meaningful compliment when her students decide to major in a subject after taking her course in it, noting “it makes me feel like I’ve done my job well.”

    The most rewarding part of teaching for Dr. Wilson is when she is able to help her students overcome a challenge and reach a moment of true understanding in their learning. She says, “My favorite thing is seeing that ‘light bulb’ go off in the eyes of my students. Like they are struggling with a concept then all of a sudden it clicks and you kind of get that big ‘Aha!’ moment.”

    Dr. Wilson values the importance of having mentors, and has created many meaningful relationships through her education and her career. One mentor of hers is Dr. Allen Kurta from the EMU Biology department. Speaking about him, she says, “We call him my academic father. He taught me a lot about just being a teacher, and doing research, and all kinds of stuff.” Another mentor that Dr. Wilson mentions is Dr. Cara Shillington, also from the Biology department at EMU. “She has been a really strong female role model in particular for me.” Being a woman, as well as a first generation college student, Dr. Wilson relishes the opportunity to be a role model for her students, offering her students a living example of the possibilities they have to succeed in the sciences.

    Dr. Wilson advises incoming educators to “teach what you love if you can, because that is really obvious to your students and that’ll help them to love what you teach too.” Besides this, through her time as a teacher, Dr. Wilson has come to value the importance of incorporating active learning into her classroom. She recognizes that this is a practice that comes with experience, since “you kind of have to relinquish a little bit of that control over the learning environment.”

    An upcoming opportunity that Dr. Wilson is anticipating is a series of career camps for fifth graders in the community, where she will be sharing her experiences and expertise with students with the goal of inspiring them to become scientists in the future. This opportunity hits especially close to home for Dr. Wilson, as she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to become a scientist in sixth grade. Drawing from this experience and relating it to her opportunity to be involved in the upcoming camps, she asserts, “this is a perfect age to try to get that in their minds.”

    Speaking about what she likes best about teaching the students at EMU, Dr. Wilson says, “One of my favorite things about Eastern is just the diversity of students and cultures.” She recalls the town where she grew up, and its lack of diversity, and how that has created an appreciation in her for the diversity of the students and faculty on EMU’s campus.

    In her experience of winning the Part-Time Lecturer Distinguished Teaching Award, Dr. Wilson shared, “Obviously I was pretty excited! I’ve never received an award for my teaching, so it was definitely something I was very honored and excited to receive. To be recognized by the university and my colleagues in that way was very motivating for me. It made me feel like I was actually doing things right, and that I could help continue to inspire students.”

  • Professor Cōlleen O’Brien, Halle Social Justice Faculty Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Social Work

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    Woman with brown hair smiling at camera

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek and Hannah LaFleur

    "To say that Colleen is amazing would be an understatement. Her work as a professor is immeasurable, and incomparable to any others I've experienced. She constantly ensures her students feel supported, and offers additional support whenever it is needed. She goes above and beyond in the classroom to create a safe, and comfortable environment that nurtures a positive learning experience. She's impacted my own self view and has helped me gain confidence in my field, as well as shortly become someone I look up to, and hope to be like in my own practice. I truly could go on and on about her and the incredible work she does, but no one has that much time. I am so thankful to have crossed paths with her."

    We got the chance to speak with Professor Colleen O’Brien about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Professor O’Brien earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 1995, and received her Masters of Social Work from Eastern Michigan University in 2008. She has been working at EMU for 12 years, and has a depth of experience in the social work field including work in organizations focusing on youth development, as well as her own private practice. Her teaching focuses on interpersonal practice skills, rather than theory and research, and she enjoys being able to give students hands-on experience at all levels of learning. 

    As far as her favorite classes to teach, Professor O’Brien tells us that “I like all of my classes a lot, which is really lucky. I will say, I really gravitate towards group work. I come from agency work where I spent a lot of time working with groups, so I would say the Practices with Groups class is probably my favorite. I also really love working with people in the field as they’re navigating that experience, and taking what they learn in the classroom to putting it into practice.”

    Professor O’Brien finds it important to focus on hands-on learning and simulating real life situations that students will encounter in the field. “Teaching a developmentally responsive format that students could use – they get to present, but they also get to give feedback to their colleagues as participants for multiple groups at the end of the semester. It’s been a really great way for students to be able to confront some of their concerns about being the content deliverers.” She also makes sure to connect with students personally, and she feels like this enhances both her teaching and their learning. She explains that “I do a final circle in all of my classes on our last day. Over the course of the semester, I write down/develop/think of a word or phrase that I feel like that person embodies as a student of social work. I write it on a card for them and write them a note on the back about their skills, and then we do a seated circle at the end where I get to present that to each student and share the word and share a few words about how I’ve seen them bring their skills to the space. It is really powerful so that’s been a great way to bring the way that I practice into the classroom too.” 

    Being a part of a learning community at Eastern has been one of the most rewarding parts of her position as a professor. “What I found in the school of social work is that we really do have a learning community where we’re always in different combinations. Students, staff, faculty, colleagues in other departments. Talking about ‘How are we going to figure out more so we can do better for the community?’ I think it’s our mission to do that and we’re actually doing that.”

    Professor O’Brien spoke about the impact that her mentors have had on her in 25 years working at the Ozone House Youth and Family Services Drop-In Center. “It had such an impact on me in our learning together. Thinking about, ‘Oh, if we have this goal, how are we going to get this together? What do we all have to contribute?’ And taught me so much about how, as much as you might think you’re the teacher here, you better always be the learner because otherwise you’re missing so much.” 

    When offering advice to new teachers, Professor O’Brien emphasizes how important it is to remember the value of experiences in the field. She says that she realizes that coming from community-based work to the university structure can be an adjustment, but it’s important to think about, “How does the existing structure support and amplify what I’m bringing in?” She advises new teachers to look at it as a collaboration between what they bring to the table and what resources are provided to them, “not that you’re trying to teach to the resources, but you’re trying to bring them both together.” 

    Professor O’Brien also spoke about her experience as the Halle Social Justice Faculty Fellow, where she gets to work with students outside of a classroom setting to lead a committee of other social justice focused faculty members to create social justice programming, including offering a specialized social justice scholarship for students in their second semester of field work that allows them to do additional hours at their field placements for a legacy project that promotes social justice. She says, “It’s just amazing work and it’s a really amazing opportunity to connect with students in a different way and support students in a different way, and also operationalize social justice programming outside of the classroom.”

    Finally, Professor O’Brien spoke about how much she loves teaching Eastern students. “Working in the community for all those years… I got to work with students and interns from all of the local schools, and I always noticed that Eastern students would be the most likely to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. They see the value in the work they are going to be doing, they’re open to serving the community in the way that the community needs to be served.  I saw this out in the field and that’s been amplified tenfold since I joined the Eastern community. They want to do not just the exciting work, but the necessary work.”

  • Dr. Ebrahim Soltani, Associate Professor; Political Science Expand dropdown
    Image of a smiling Dr. Soltani in long sleeved shirt and scarf

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, undergraduate student.

    “Dr. Soltani is one of the most passionate professors I’ve ever had. You can tell he really loves teaching and he’s really excited and knowledgeable about the subjects he teaches. But you can also tell he cares about connecting with students and making sure everyone is engaged and understands the material. When he gets the opportunity to start a discussion in class he lights up and he uses those discussions to really challenge you and make you think deeply about the subject.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Ebrahim Soltani about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Soltani received his Medical Doctorate from Iran University of Medical Sciences (1994). He also received his Masters in Political Science from Syracuse University (2005). He went on to receive his Ph.D. in Political Science (2017).

    Dr. Soltani is a professor in the Political Science department at EMU, and has been teaching here for eight years. Before his career as an educator, Dr. Soltani practiced as a physician in Tehran, Iran. He also worked for one of the most influential intellectual journals in Iran, Kiyan, which discussed religion and politics. He became the editor-in-chief for the journal, and held this position for two years, until the publication was eventually shut down by the government. Religion and politics continued to be an area of study for Dr. Soltani following his time working for the publication. Speaking of his time working and living in Iran, he says that “focusing on the relationship between religion and politics has not only been intellectually very stimulating, but also - politically speaking - very crucial for us who are living there.”

    There are two classes in particular that Dr. Soltani loves to teach. The first is Introduction to Political Thought, which he especially enjoys because the students have very little knowledge of philosophy or political science coming into the course, which allows him to help them engage with some of the most important topics within these two subfields. His other favorite is Religion and Politics, which is interesting to him because of his personal and professional experience. He also likes teaching this class because “the relationship between religion and politics is very important and complex, and even complicated here in the United States too. During the recent years we have seen how influential the role of religion is in the politics of the US.”

    Participation is something that Dr. Soltani really emphasizes in his teaching. He has incorporated the use of “cold calling,” or calling on students without their hands raised, to encourage them and invite them to take part in the conversation. He notes that this tends to take the students off guard at the beginning of the semester, but that once they have become accustomed to it, they are always prepared to participate in discussions and that “they find it to be an opportunity for dialogue and critical contemplation.” 

    Dr. Soltani sees the classroom environment as “a kind of one-semester journey,” and he believes you need to know the people on the journey for it to go well. Because of this, he notes that the most difficult part of the journey with his students is the beginning, because “they don’t know me and I don’t know them. You are 10, 15, 20, 30, 35 human beings in the same environment - the same boat - starting a journey together in the ocean of knowledge, without knowing each other.” To overcome this, Dr. Soltani encourages his students to open a window to the way they see things – their worldview – which allows them to connect lived experiences to the topics discussed in the classroom. This takes courage and vulnerability both on the part of himself and his students, but the result is a more fruitful experience for everyone involved. Another thing that Dr. Soltani has found to be of paramount importance is learning the names of students. He asserts that this is a way to recognize your students as human beings, and that it is an important step in overcoming authority barriers in the classroom.

    When asked about an educational mentor, Dr. Soltani revealed “I have been lucky enough to have the privilege of being a student of so many good teachers in my life, including Professor Ralph Ketcham who was a historian of the American political thought. What was so impactful for me when I was his student was the fact that although he was a very accomplished professor who had published several books, influential papers, and was recognized as an authority in his subfield – he was so modest and open-minded. He, without any direct conversation about philosophy of education, influenced my way of thinking about being a teacher. I should emphasize that his modesty was not a simple moral characteristic, it was an essential part of his philosophy of knowledge and teaching.”

    Reflecting on how his teaching has changed since he began as an educator, Dr. Soltani remarks “it has been a kind of transition from being a lecturer to a more modest listener who invites students to engage in the conversation – becoming more comfortable with what some educators call productive discomfort: a simple dialogue gradually transforms to a Socratic dialogue; to a set of challenging questions, uncomfortable silences, tentative answers, and unanswered questions again. This conversation makes you as a teacher vulnerable, and also makes your students vulnerable because nobody knows where the conversation is going. But if the conversation goes well – and there is always a danger of not going well – that’s a fascinating journey: it’s a group existential discovery.”

    Dr. Soltani’s research involves a variety of subfields. One of the subjects he has covered is secularism, particularly through a comparative study of the issue of religion and politics in Iran and Turkey. Another area of research combines his expertise as a medical physician with his political science background by looking at the impact of the socioeconomic status of patients on their ability to recover from the traumas they have experienced (PTSD). Most recently, Dr. Soltani has begun a study on the experience of exile. Being an immigrant himself – coming to the US in 2003 and never returning to his “home” – this is a subject that is especially personal and fascinating to Dr. Soltani. His studies include research of different experiences of exile for individuals from varying social, religious, and political backgrounds, which he will use to create a more comprehensive and existential understanding of exile.

    Two roles that Dr. Soltani has been involved with as an EMU educator include being an advisor and professor for Model United Nations at EMU, as well as participating in Academic Service Learning workshops. The experiences he has been able to share with and provide for students through Model UN have been transformative, and created opportunities for learning beyond the walls of a classroom. Model UN is an opportunity for hands-on practice in international diplomacy and travel is a large part of the Model UN experience, and through this, Dr. Soltani has been able to join students in their trips to rich centers of culture around the world, which have resulted in many inspiring memories for himself and the students involved. Through his participation in the Academic Service Learning workshops, Dr. Soltani plans to create real life connections for students that bring classroom discussions into the community and vice versa.

    Finally, when asked about what he likes best about teaching the students at EMU, Dr. Soltani tells us that “many of our students are coming from a very modest background, some of them are first generation college students. They are working 30-40 hours per week, and they have 4-5 courses. And truly from the bottom of my heart, I admire them. These young souls, coming from those challenging backgrounds, transform during their college education. I can imagine what a difficult and challenging task they have. They come to class, and they are tired. Some of them cannot pay for expensive textbooks. These students are not privileged; but they are passionate about learning and they’re fighting against all difficulties and challenges and complexities of life to become more aware of the world they live in and hopefully to change it. I love being in touch with them in our classrooms and playing a role in their existential journey.’

  • Dr. Ethan Lowenstein, Professor, Teacher Education; College of Education Expand dropdown
    Image of Dr. Ethan Lowenstein teaching.

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, undergraduate student

    “Dr. Lowenstein has played a powerful role in my growth as a teacher, academician, and researcher. If not for him, I would not have transitioned so positively to a teaching role at EMU, a role in which I strive to practice what he taught me to recognize as ultimately important, the practice of community building.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Ethan Lowenstein about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Lowenstein received his B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Carleton College in 1992. He went on to receive his M.A. in Social Studies Education from New York University in 1994 and his Ph.D. in International Education from New York University in 2003.

    Dr. Lowenstein is a professor in the teacher education program and has been teaching at EMU for 20 years. He has taught a variety of courses throughout his time at EMU, but recently he’s been co-teaching a block of three courses with Dr. Iman Grewal which includes curriculum methods, practical, and social foundations courses. He’s also enjoyed teaching courses in the doctoral program for educational studies on teacher development and on schools as collaborators within the community. 

    The class that he co-teaches with Dr. Grewal was one that Dr. Lowenstein noted as one of his favorites to teach and participate in. He says, “I really love teaching in a team… I think it’s almost unnatural to teach by yourself because any one person is going to be limited in their perspective. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. It’s also just a lot more fun, especially if you’re co-teaching with the right person. I really appreciate teaching with someone where we can get together and brainstorm together or debrief the class and figure out what our next step is. I really think of teaching as an art form, it’s both an art and a science, and part of the science involves constant reflection on what’s going on with your particular students and their questions and curiosities.” 

    This is part of the advice that Dr. Lowenstein offers to incoming teachers, “Find colleagues you can work with… even if you’re not co-teaching with them, you’re curriculum planning and debriefing and you’re getting out of this isolated bubble. You don’t have to do it by yourself… you can’t do it by yourself, I would say.” 

    Another thing Dr. Lowenstein enjoys about the class is its nontraditional structure- the class is taught from 9:00 to 2:15 two days a week, which he feels allows for a greater sense of connection and community to be developed than in short class periods. He also feels that it’s important that the class takes advantage of opportunities for learning from different sources. “When a question comes up in class, we can pick up the phone and ask someone at a different school or at a community organization, ‘can you speak to the class about this? Can we come visit you and you can show us this thing first hand?’ So that really broadens out the learning community and when you get multiple perspectives on the same question you can get more sophisticated thinking about it.”

    Dr. Lowenstein also acknowledged some of the hard parts about being a teacher, including the structure of the educational system and managing a workload. He says that, “People can kind of straightjacket themselves when they want to make change, it takes imagination for us to be able to do things differently and that can be really difficult to do when we’ve been invested in one system for so long, even if that system detracts from our collective wellbeing.” 

    He also talked about how long it took him to figure out how to manage his workload in a healthy way, “I really struggle with the demand that the system puts on everybody. As a teacher it puts you in a very challenging ethical quandary because you might have students who have very intensive needs, and you might be working in a community where you’re trying to work to challenge some structure like racism, and that’s complex and complicated and emotional work and sometimes it can be difficult because you feel like there’s this need but you don’t have the time to meet it. You want to take care of your students but you also have to take care of yourself… So how do we navigate that terrain? I think that’s a question that’s been silent but may not be so silent anymore.”

    As far as teaching structure, Dr. Lowenstein spoke about some projects that he offers in his classes that excite him because he feels they allow students to be more creative and flexible in their work. “We had a project about what matters and who matters, we were reading [the book We Want to Do More Than Survive] by Dr. Bettina Love, it was very powerful and we gave students a choice of what they could do to answer those questions and it was pretty incredible. We gave them very short, simple instructions and what the students created with that was just amazing. One student did a documentary, one did a multimedia show, one did this incredible painting… and it was all because we released control which allowed for a variety of learning processes to take place.”

    This community-based and classroom-led approach is important to Dr. Lowenstein. He spoke about an opportunity that he had to develop a curriculum for a class with doctoral students last school year, in an entirely virtual format. For this class, Dr. Lowenstein taught the same group of students for two consecutive courses and they worked together to develop the curriculum and syllabus for the second course. They also co-facilitated the class, “they were actually practicing their teaching and I was more of a coach. That was the first time I had ever done that, and it was just so cool because there was a huge amount of expertise in the class. The doctoral candidates knew much more than I did in a variety of different ways. I think as a professor it’s important to realize that you don’t know everything and this really shows that you have to create a learning structure where you’re able to work together and understand each other and learn from each other.”

    Dr. Lowenstein also spoke about his role as the director of the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition. “When you’re engaged with your students and you’re connecting to your community and its strengths you’re also engaged in some kind of action, a civic action… So that’s an organization that emerged from this place-based approach and we’re almost 15 years old now and I’ve been the director of that organization for I think 12 years at this point. That’s an organization that works with practicing teachers who are practicing in schools and community organizations and youth, and we work to empower youth to be stewards of their local communities and also the Great Lakes region. We take an eco-justice approach, where we look at integrated issues of social and ecological justice and we help teachers create projects with their students to tap into the strengths of their community and also address issues of environmental justice and social equality.” 

    Finally, Dr. Lowenstein spoke on what he likes best about teaching students at EMU. “I’ve taught at some different places and I think, to be quite honest, Eastern students are some of the most open minded and the most hard working. They take their education so seriously and they’re so open minded. If you give Eastern students an opportunity to explore something new, they’ll take it, and I don’t think that’s always the case. A lot of students are also working part or full time jobs outside of school, but they’re here to learn so there’s just a real seriousness and respect for the time spent learning, I really appreciate that. I also think that Eastern students are fun, they’re playful. There are some places where maybe students come in with more rigid ideas and are more entitled, but Eastern students don’t have that. I know that I may be biased but I think that Eastern students are some of the best, and I love my colleagues here and I love the community here. I feel like teaching really does come first here and I think that that’s really important.”

  • Dr. Kimberley Barker, Full-Time Lecturer; Management Expand dropdown
    Image of a smiling Dr. Barker wearing a brightly patterned scarf

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, Undergraduate Student

    After a terrible winter semester, I was determined to perform at the best of my abilities in the summer semester. Thank goodness I was able to get out of the rut I was in. I attribute that to something you taught me in MGMT 486 Organizational Change and Team Building, the M.A.D.E project. I learned how to break down any assignments into small manageable parts and put it all together at the end. My group decided to do a canned food drive and I remembered the feeling of happiness and fulfillment working on a project that helped others. So during the summer semester, I began to volunteer more at a local charity and took on some projects there. That really lifted my spirits and I attribute that to your teachings. Another thing that really helped me was your infectious enthusiasm you display every week in our (zoom) classes. You have such a positive vibe Ms. Barker and it was truly an honor to be a student of yours!

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Kimberley Barker about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

    Dr. Barker received both her Bachelors and Masters (MBA in Management) from Hawaii Pacific University. She also received her Ph.D. in Organizational Development from Benedictine University in 2015. She has been teaching at EMU since 2015, and is the recipient of the Full-Time Lecturer Distinguished Teaching Award (in 2019). She has five years of experience in Human Resources, and over fifteen years in hospital administration. Dr. Barker is also a Vice President of the Board of the International Society for Organization Development and Change. Through this position, she has had the opportunity to host webinars, which she posts on her YouTube channel, and also incorporates them into her classroom.

    Dr. Barker began teaching in a part-time position and immediately fell in love with it. She says she was met with the feeling that it “was something I was born to do.” Being an older student in her Ph.D. program, she has a deep understanding of what it’s like to be in school as an older adult, working and with family responsibilities as well. She has a particular empathy for those students for this reason. Her goal in teaching is to help students live their best life at work. She values the approach of making scholarly work practical for people, believing that “if we can’t bring scholarly work to a level where ‘people like us’ can relate, it is kind of a waste.” With this in mind, she adapts her teaching to a style that is digestible and applicable to life outside of the classroom, which can translate into a more natural practice in the workplace.

    Her favorite classes to teach include courses centered around culture and leadership, including her class on Organization Change and Team Building. She asserts that communication is the basis of everything, and says that “there are a lot of incredible thinkers and strategists out there, but if they can’t communicate their vision, it’s not going to get very far.” She also enjoys teaching Business Communication because “if you learn to communicate effectively, it sets you up for success in life.” In these courses, she continuously encourages students to use the resources at their disposal, such as the writing center, or simply exposing their resumes to the people they respect for feedback. In this way, she helps students to explore their strengths and develop their abilities to seek opportunities that will grow their success.

    Connecting with students is another aspect of teaching that Dr. Barker really enjoys. Through LinkedIn and email, she is able to stay in touch with former students and follow their journeys in their careers post-graduation. She notes “it makes me feel really good when a student circles back to me after graduation to ask for my advice.” Oftentimes, she has observed that the students know the answer to their questions (in their heart and head), but are looking for someone to ask them the right questions to validate their thinking. When this type of circumstance arises, Dr. Barker tries to ask questions and understand their perspective to lead them to the answer they need. “Listening and asking questions is a vital part of communication,” she says, “and these are some of the most valuable skills you can have.” 

    As a faculty member, Dr. Barker finds it especially rewarding how energized she gets by teaching. Not only do the students benefit from her enthusiasm, but she is constantly learning from them as well. She loves the exchange of ideas and information! She even credits her students with inspiring some of the ideas in the book she just wrote. Considering herself a proponent of gratitude, she leads her life in a manner that focuses on appreciating the experiences and opportunities she has had, and believes that this outlook “can really change your life.” By recording for 21 days three things you are grateful for, it can literally make your brain see things in a more positive light. In her teaching, she wants her students to know that she cares about their success, and gives them the tools they need to succeed. “I try to encourage ‘the heck’ out of them, but at the end of the day, they need to show up and do the work.” 

    Creating a culture in the classroom in which students know that their professor supports them is an integral part of Dr. Barker’s teaching philosophy, and her students have attested to the difference this has made in their learning experience. She has also found it beneficial to tailor classes to the needs of each body of students within it. By exploring topics that students express more interest in or relate to more closely, Dr. Barker is able to reach students in a deeper way, making their needs feel recognized. Getting through to students can be difficult, especially in a time where a considerable amount of learning takes place online, but Dr. Barker works to find ways to engage students and make the class feel more personal, remarking “when it happens, it gets me excited!”

    When asked about what she likes best about teaching the students at EMU, Dr. Barker mentions how much she loves the diversity and inclusive environment of the university. “I think it brings a richness to the classroom experience,” she says. She has immense pride in her students and their endeavors, even after college. “We have students who are super successful!” The reason for that, she believes, is the reputation that EMU graduates have of being hard workers. “They can handle the tough stuff, and they are innovative and creative.”

    Hard work, coupled with mentorship, is something that Dr. Barker values most. She has always had several people she can look up to and meet with regularly, who have had her best interest at heart. This not only applies to the workplace, but all aspects of life. She encourages her students to conduct informational interviews, in which they ask their role models for the chance to “pick their brains,” and provides them the opportunity to share their stories and secrets to success.

    Her own secret to success? “Be a continuous learner. Read every day. You want to be on the cutting edge of your profession, especially in this age of rapid change.” Another remarkably valuable aspect to success according to Dr. Barker is collaboration. This notion is exemplified by a quote she shares from extremely successful investor and hedge-fund manager, Ray Dalio, that “collaboration is the new competition.” Through learning from those she respects and surrounding herself with collaborative people, she understands that the process of sharing ideas and building off of one another can take you to places you’ve never dreamed of!

    She explores this, and many other aspects of positivity in the workplace, in the book she co-authored with Mary Ceccanese, YOU Can Create Positive Change at Work! Relating to her passion for gratitude, Dr. Barker took the idea that anyone can make positive change at work, no matter their position, as a driving force in her writing. “To me, the most important thing is getting this message out into the world. So far, it has been very well received.”

    “We will be having a College of Business endorsed Summer Book Club Read of her book that is open to students, faculty, staff, friends, and all of ‘The Kardashians’,” she says jokingly in an attempt to show that everyone is invited. While it is open to students, faculty, and staff at other universities too, EMU students will receive LBC (Learning Beyond the Classroom) credit for participating in at least two of the four summer “book club” reading virtual discussion sessions.

  • Dr. John Wegner; Full-Time Lecturer, History and Philosophy Expand dropdown
    Dr. Wegner's headshot. He is wearing a tie and a purple dress shirt.

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, Undergraduate Student

    "The expertise Dr. Wegner brings to his subject is what makes him stand out in his teaching. By including small scale aspects in the big picture stories he tells, his lectures become a rich retelling of past events that captivate students' attention through a human perspective. He's able to teach history in a way that makes it come alive."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. John Wegner about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. John Wegner received his BA in Journalism from the University of Toledo. He also received his MA in Speech Communication from Bowling Green State University. He received his Ph.D in 1992 from Bowling Green State University. He also received an MS in Geography and Planning from Eastern Michigan University, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation.

    Dr. Wegner had a career in public relations and journalism before his career in education. He worked on publications, press releases, and photography for Evergreen Local school district in Ohio. He worked mostly off camera for Channel 24 in Toledo, and was a producer for Channel 57 in Bowling Green. His career in mass media began with a passion for photography, which he picked up as a teenager, and led him to pursuing his ambitions of becoming a photo-journalist.

    After about ten years in the mass media industry, Dr. Wegner decided to shift his career direction. His experience as a journalist made him an excellent writer and photographer, but the confrontational nature of journalism, as well as the criticism that came with it, was something that he wanted to steer away from. When he pondered shifting career paths, his History minor from his undergraduate studies offered a different path, and he was particularly interested in the subject. He had some experience teaching from his time as a graduate assistant, and he found that it was something he both enjoyed and succeeded in.

    Once he returned to school and earned his Ph.D., Dr. Wegner became an “academic gypsy.” He adjuncted at various universities around the area, including EMU, eventually leading to his full-time work at the university. He enjoys his career and remarks “I am doing something that satisfies me, and EMU is a good institution to be affiliated with. I like it.”

    Dr. Wegner teaches a variety of courses in the History department, including his favorite, HIST 313 – Michigan History. He notes that students tend to be more responsive and interested in this class because it is a higher level and more specialized course. One of his areas of specialization is state and local history because “it is history you can see quite readily. When you find something really readily available to you, I find that it makes it that much more interesting.” He also enjoys visiting local historical sites and monuments, and furthering his knowledge of Michigan and Ohio history, which he can incorporate into his lessons.

    Some of the best feedback Dr. Wegner has received from students is when they report that his courses are among the best they have taken in college. He takes all of the feedback he receives to heart and he values meaningful interactions with students. It is especially rewarding for Dr. Wegner when he has the chance to mentor students for the Undergraduate Symposium, and he takes their willingness to complete a project under his direction as a compliment. He reflects that a simple comment such as “I really enjoyed this course” from a student can make his day.

    Dr. Wegner asserts “the thing about teaching is that performance is part of it.” He compares the act of giving a history lecture to the oral tradition, and the origins of history as a discipline. “History, at its core, is telling stories,” he says. The passing down of stories and retelling of events is “what makes history come alive” to Dr. Wegner, and he works to deliver his lectures in such a way that reflects this. He credits his family history and the stories he heard growing up with instilling the passion for history and learning in him.

    Dr. Wegner is involved with several avocations outside of the classroom. He is an excellent cook, and cooking has been an interest of his since he was very young. He began when he was around 8 years old, and cooked a complete turkey dinner at the age of 12. He is also currently learning to play the banjo as a hobby. Besides this, he is very interested in gardening, and devotes himself to enhancing the beauty of his home and yard through various gardening and landscaping projects. Photography is also still something he enjoys, and for which he has had a lifelong passion. 

    As a professor, Dr. Wegner finds the most rewarding part to be learning new things. He states that “if you’re going to be a good teacher, you had better be a good learner.” He describes himself as always being curious about something more, which he fulfills through independent research. He belongs to the Michigan Historical Society, which provides him with opportunities to grow his expertise and “experience the things that make history come alive.” He ventures to say that the first order of business as an educator is loving the subject you teach. “If you love your subject, I think you’ve won about 90% of the battle. I still like it after all of these years. I still enjoy learning new things.”

    There are many mentors who have influenced Dr. Wegner along the way through his education and career, but two names come to mind in particular. The first is Roger Ray, whom he had as a professor in his undergraduate studies at the University of Toledo. Dr. Wegner recalls Ray as a brilliant man who had the ability to choose the most important elements to include in his Early Western Civilizations class, and make the content come to life. “He did an excellent job of it, so he has really inspired me quite a bit.” The second individual that Dr. Wegner credits for their influence is his first grade teacher, Mrs. France. He recollects that she was strict and old-fashioned, and he can’t say that he particularly liked her, but he respected her. She was the person who taught him to read and write, and introduced the very basics which provided a foundation for the rest of his education.

    Dr. Wegner is currently working on a manuscript for an article which examines the first attempt at bridging the Detroit River. He also has another project on state history in mind – an article for Michigan History Magazine on the Study Club Fire that occurred in 1929 at a Detroit speakeasy. He has tentatively invited a student to collaborate with him on this research project.

    At EMU, Dr. Wegner especially likes the diversity of the student body, and enjoys getting acquainted with people from so many different backgrounds. As a first-generation college student himself, he has a great appreciation for the number of first-generation students who attend EMU as, and recognizes that they tend to truly understand the value of higher education. Also, he particularly admires the vibrance of the teacher education students, and the enthusiasm they tend to bring as future educators. Occasionally, he will be contacted by former students once they become teachers themselves, asking for guidance or help with lesson planning, which is always a very rewarding experience for Dr. Wegner. This demonstrates the impactfulness of his interactions with students, and creates a ripple effect for students beyond his reach.

  • Dr. Julie Becker, Professor; Interim School Director & TRTI Director; Technology and Professional Services Management; Textiles Research and Training Institute (TRTI) Expand dropdown
    Image of a smiling Dr. Becker

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, Undergraduate Student

    “Dr. Becker’s dedication to Eastern and its students is inspiring. The enthusiasm with which she teaches, her vast knowledge, her dynamic attitude make her classes an engaging environment in which the student is encouraged to flex their creative muscles and push the limits of what was previously thought possible.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Julie Becker about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Becker received her BFA in Weaving and Illustration from Bowling Green State University in 1983. She received her Master’s degree in Home Economics concentrating in Textiles, Fibers, Weaving and Product Development Design from Bowling Green State University in 1986 and her PhD in Technology Management from EMU in 2017. 

    Dr. Becker is a Professor in the School of Visual and Built Environments and is the Interim Director within the School Technology and Professional Services Management in the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology. She has been teaching at EMU for over 20 years. 

    Dr. Becker began her career in the furniture industry at the La-Z-Boy headquarters in Monroe, MI.  She had difficulties finding skilled designers so she developed a class for EMU to teach students how to design furniture.  After 15 years working in industry, she decided to take a full time position with EMU to further train the next generation of product developers. She noted her own industry experience in aiding her ability to prepare students. Now, Dr. Becker teaches classes such as fashion forecasting, business of fashion, product development design, and sewing. She especially enjoys teaching classes that involve technology, such as a new 3D CAD software used by the Fashion Marketing Innovation program. 

    Her experience in the fashion industry greatly influences Dr. Becker’s teaching style. She says, “Right up front you know my expectations, I’m very detailed in my rubrics and I run my classroom as if the students are my employees; because I want our students to be marketable; working on real life experiences. You’re going to learn how to tear apart (reverse engineer) an automotive seat and put it back together in CAD and learn skills needed to work with industry on a project… My teaching philosophy is very hands-on and project-based.” She emphasizes the fact that this is something unique that her classes and the Fashion Marketing Innovation Program at EMU have to offer. Every faculty member in the program has industrial experience in different parts of the fashion industry, so students have more opportunities to learn skills that industries are looking for and even make connections with companies while they’re still in school. She says this is something that really sets EMU’s Fashion program apart from others. 

    One educator of Dr. Becker’s that influenced her in this teaching style was Marjorie Miller, who taught textile testing and fashion merchandising at Bowling Green State University. Dr. Becker says, “Professor Miller was like our mom away from mom, and she was tough but fair. If your pattern was a pencil line off or if you didn’t sew a seam quite right or if you didn’t measure a certain fiber component quite right, she was on you, and I learned a lot from her.” Mrs. Miller taught Dr. Becker more than just sewing, she inspired her to, “be approachable and caring, but to be tough to make sure students know their stuff.  Students must know they have to put in the work but they also know that I care that they learn and I want to make sure that they succeed.  I am approachable; they know that if they have any questions they can always come see me.”

    Image of Dr. Becker with EMU mascot, Swoops

    This philosophy also guides the advice that Dr. Becker has for incoming teachers, which is to be flexible and check in with your students often. “Every class I teach is different.  You have to learn who is in your classroom. You have to pay attention and assess them right at the beginning to learn what their skills are and modify the class lectures accordingly. If I’m teaching a basic sewing class and no one has ever touched a sewing machine, I know I have to start right at the beginning. However, if they already have a little bit of experience, I don't have to place as much focus on that part, so the focus can be in other areas, keeping the student interested.  At the same time, in each class I make sure to challenge the students that want to be challenged and set time aside for the students who are struggling outside of class, so they don’t fall behind.” Dr. Becker also advises that, “if something isn't working in your class don’t be afraid to try new things, some things will work and some things won't, but be open and honest with your students and engage with them. They're not just a number behind a screen, they’re a person, and each student comes with a whole set of expectations and different ways to learn. Check in with your students often, don’t wait until the end of the semester for the teaching evaluations. I ask my students every day if I could have done something different or explained something better. I’m always adapting to their feedback.”

    Teaching at Eastern certainly informs Dr. Becker’s approach to teaching. “The diversity of the students at Eastern is amazing; everyone comes with such different backgrounds. Our students come from mostly working class backgrounds and a lot are first generation college students, and I can relate to that because I was a first generation student. We have to understand that because of that some of our students don’t have all the means to make college easier… I think that also shows that they have fortitude and that they’re willing to do what they have to do to get ahead.”

    As a final note, Dr. Becker notes the struggles that many EMU students face. “One thing a lot of our students don't have is a support system. I think it would really help our students to make friends in their classes. We need to do more to give them that supportive environment, encourage them to work towards a common goal and work as a team.” She says building these connections and a peer support system could have a huge impact on the student wellness, their success, and student performance in the classroom and beyond.

  • Dr. Daniel Brickner; Professor; Accounting, Finance, & Information Systems Expand dropdown
    Image of Dr. Brickner's headshot

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, Undergraduate Student

    “Professor Brickner is the kind of man who is going to tell you like it is. And because of that, I knew it would be important to value the things that he said. He has a passion for teaching and uplifting his students in a way I have never seen another professor replicate. My time in his class was invaluable. Every day he encouraged his students to take steps to improve their future. Brickner has an enthusiastic spirit and a plethora of knowledge and experience in his field. He’s the kind of person who you meet and your life is instantly changed. He put a lot of things into perspective for me (and for many other students, I’m sure), and I am eternally grateful for that.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Dan Brickner about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Dan Brickner received his BBA from Cleveland State University and his MBA from Kent State University. He received his  Ph.D. from Kent State University in 2002. He has been teaching at EMU since 2000. Before his career as an educator, Dr. Brickner practiced as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) at the Cleveland office of Ernst & Young, where he was a financial statement auditor. In his work, he conducted tests to verify the accuracy of financial data that companies disclosed to decision makers. As he rose through the ranks, his position involved supervising and teaching new hires within the company. This became an aspect of the job that Dr. Brickner grew fond of, fostering his interest in teaching, and eventually served as the catalyst for him to pursue his masters and doctorate and become an educator.

    Having a background in the field of accounting provided Dr. Brickner with the expertise and perspective to teach this applied discipline. An important aspect of accounting is “learning by doing,” as he puts it. His professional background is the basis of knowledge and practical experiences from which he can draw to educate his students. He has found that this adds to his credibility as an educator, and resonates with students learning from someone who has practiced the discipline as a career.

    Dr. Brickner teaches a variety of courses on accounting. At the undergraduate level, Accounting 296 is among one of his favorites to teach, as it is the first major-specific course in the accounting program. He notes that there is a certain enthusiasm surrounding the class, since students are “just embarking on their journey into the major, and there is an element of excitement because of that.” In the graduate program, the course that Dr. Brickner teaches on Auditing is another one of his favorites. Considering his professional background, he has plenty of experience to bring to this class, which makes it more enjoyable. Oftentimes, the students in this course have had him before in their undergraduate classes, so he has the chance to get to know them even better and continue working with them.

    Students note that his teaching is best characterized by the energy he brings to the classroom. Dr. Brickner is very passionate about what he teaches, and this translates to the students clearly. It is important to him to bring a natural, positive attitude to the classroom, which he says “helps build the interest level with students.”

    When asked about the challenges of teaching, Dr. Brickner admits that it is most difficult to see students putting a great deal of effort into his courses without getting the results they’d like to see. He notes that his discipline is quite rigorous and technical, and that he wants to see his students succeed. Dr. Brickner provides help to students to the greatest extent he can, and celebrates their successes as they come. In the cases where students have breakthrough moments, he finds this most rewarding. The intrinsic value of the accomplishments that his students gain is a valuable result of the work they do in the classroom.

    Another rewarding aspect of his position as an educator is the success stories that his former students share with him post-graduation. The emails he receives from these individuals updating him on internships, career opportunities, or successful professional certification exam experiences are some of his favorites to read. He says it makes him feel like “he’s made a difference in the world.”

    Dr. Brickner’s classes offer the unique opportunity to explore practical “real-world” uses for a degree in accounting. By familiarizing students with the tremendous professional career paths in the accounting field, the post-graduation transition can be less stressful for Dr. Brickner’s students, as they have a greater understanding of the opportunities available to them. Some measures Dr. Brickner takes to prepare students for the professional world include discussions around resume preparation, job interview practice, searching for internship opportunities, recruiting for full-time positions, scholarship applications, and student accounting organizations. Dr. Brickner has found in his experience that “students lack exposure to these things coming into my class, but they are thirsting for this information.”

    One of the projects that Dr. Brickner says stands out from his time at EMU is a collaboration with the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. Together, his classes participated in a simulation of a typical fraud investigation case, giving them insight and experience to consider when looking into careers in the field. Some of the topics covered throughout the simulation included legal issues involving fraudulent reports of income, obtaining search warrants, and performing surveillance, among others.

    A key aspect to Dr. Brickner’s teaching style is his interactive approach in the classroom. He is able to get to know students by name rather quickly and he incorporates opportunities for participation often, to keep students engaged. One strategy Dr. Brickner has employed is that of leaving blanks in his lecture slides, to be filled in during class time. This not only creates incentive to attend lectures, but also it holds students accountable to being alert and following the presentation. Providing students with this resource alleviates the stress of rushing to copy the entire lecture into their notes, and gives Dr. Brickner the opportunity to pose questions during his lectures based on the missing segments. He has found that this tactic builds engagement and energy during his course lectures, and helps enhance students’ understanding and success in his courses.

    Dr. Brickner credits many of his past teachers and professors with influencing him as a teacher today. He enjoyed attending and observing other instructors’ classes “to pick up pointers to incorporate” into his classes. Recalling his high school days, Dr. Brickner recognized two teachers in particular that shaped him in his teaching and learning: his accounting teacher, Mr. Bob Gale, and his math teacher, Mr. Jack Bonza. At the university level, two more names came to mind, with whom he worked closely during his Ph.D. program – Dr. Michael Pearson and Dr. David Fetyko from Kent State University.

    In his role as a professor, Dr. Brickner has found that it is most important for students to know that their instructors care that they are learning, not just going through the motions. By creating an environment where students feel cared about, they become more motivated and diligent to be successful in their classes, which translates to future successes in their careers.

    When asked what he likes best about teaching the students here at EMU, Dr. Brickner notes their work ethic and appreciation for educational opportunities. Coming from a working class background himself, he can relate to the hard work that the students of EMU are often tasked with, between school and having a job. With this, he says that our students do not have an arrogance to them, but rather a genuine enthusiasm for what they are working towards. Working with students who possess this mentality is a rewarding experience for Dr. Brickner, as he says “they really appreciate it, they want to be here.”

  • Dr. Imandeep Grewal, Assistant Professor, Teacher Education Expand dropdown
    Image of Iman Grewal in a brightly patterned shirt.

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, Undergraduate Student

    “The care she has for her students is the most apparent thing about her class. She creates an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued, which really allows students to be vulnerable and get the most out of their time in class with her. Her dedication to creating transformative educators out of each one of us is unparalleled.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Iman Grewal about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Iman Grewal received her BSc and MSc from Punjab University, Chandigarh, India; MA in Educational Psychology from Eastern Michigan University; and her PhD in Educational Studies (Urban Education) in 2014, also from EMU.

    Dr. Grewal teaches a variety of courses in the Teacher Education program, including undergraduate, masters, and doctoral-level classes. Her favorite courses to teach are the EDPS 222 Human Development and Learning ASL course and the Intro to Qualitative Research doctoral course. She has also taught five new courses in the past few years, including one which focuses on mental health for educators.

    Concerning her teaching style, Dr. Grewal recalls an academic service-learning faculty fellowship she participated in several years ago. Through this experience, she began to rethink the approach she was taking to her teaching, and the impact it was having on students. With a new emphasis on building relationships at the center of her education philosophy, Dr. Grewal decided to get rid of the textbook that limited her due to the constraints of its pacing and content sequencing, and instead opted to focus on creating a culture in class where students' voice and engagement were central. This was a radical change for her classroom, but it yielded results that were undeniably beneficial to students. Rather than learning about teaching, students were now presented with the opportunity to experience teaching, and engage in active learning to become transformative educators. Through her connection with 826 Michigan, an out-of-school tutoring program for K-12 students, Dr. Grewal’s students are able to get hands-on experience in education long before student teaching. 

    At the root of Dr. Grewal’s passion for teaching is the philosophy that “Learning is living.” She works to debunk the myth that learning has to look one specific way, instead believing learning happens in every interaction we have if we are open to it. Deepening the sense of belonging for students and creating meaningful experiences in the field are most important to Dr. Grewal.

    As Dr. Grewal has worked with students, a lack of diversity in the education courses became even more apparent to her, and was something of great concern. After being awarded the John W. Porter Endowed Chairship at EMU in 2016-17, Dr. Grewal launched the NEXT Scholars program, which focuses on recruitment, retention, graduation, and success of students from historically marginalized communities. In her own words, the program “creates community for students anchored in love and support.” Dr. Grewal emphasizes long term engagement with the NEXT students, which has been shown to allow them to believe in their own potential and build meaningful relationships with their mentors. The NEXT Scholars will be hosting their student-led “Ed Talks” non-conference on March 19, 2022, which will feature discussions on decolonizing the College of Education; all faculty are invited to attend.

    In February, Dr. Grewal is piloting the Hope Partners Project, which rethinks the current process of student teaching. The project pairs NEXT Scholars with “elder teachers” with similar backgrounds to support and develop a relationship early in their education. Dr. Grewal says that “this gives the students the opportunity to learn from people like them and experience how to navigate the educational system and process in a way that empowers the NEXT Scholars.”  Dr. Grewal and her colleagues  Johnnetta Ricks and Sara Muchmore presented on this topic at the CONNECT Conference last week.

    Another endeavor close to Dr. Grewal’s heart is the nonprofit she runs in India. Her doctoral research is located in India and focused on access to education for girls living in poverty. In particular, she studies the effects this has on gender perception, roles, and expectations, as well as the ability of girls to make essential life choices such as staying in school or financial independence. Through this experience, Dr. Grewal was able to spearhead the founding of the nonprofit, Sikhya: Strengthening Girl’s Voices and Choices Through Education, which provides mentorship and funding for the girls and young women, and works with them to find their path to financial independence. 

    Dr. Grewal has accomplished all of this as a single mother to Tej, 22, and Kabir, 20. She credits her father’s belief in “investing in education for his girls in a deeply patriarchal society as the inspiration for [her] commitment to and understanding of the value of education.”  

    The students here at EMU continue to benefit from her continued excitement and passion for teaching after so many years in the field. She commends “their commitment and persistence to be engaged in a purposeful way, and make a difference in this world.”  The mutual respect and admiration between teacher and student is clear to see in the case of Dr. Iman Grewal.

  • Professor Jennifer Felts, Full-Time Lecturer, School of Communication, Media & Theatre Arts Expand dropdown
    Image of Professor Felt's headshot

    Interviewed by Hannah LaFleur, Undergraduate Student

    “Felts brings her huge personality to every class and makes the subject engaging from day one. Drama and Play in the Human Experience is a class that is so specific to Eastern and is one you don't see at many other schools. Taking this class with Felts presents the unlikely yet perfect opportunity to learn more about yourself and how your experiences shape you.”

    We got the chance to speak with Professor Jennifer Felts about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Professor Jennifer Felts received her BA in Theatre Arts from Eastern Michigan University in 2003. She received her MFA from London International School of Performing Arts (in conjunction with Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado) in 2006.  Felts teaches in the School of Communication, Media, and Theater Arts. She teaches a variety of theater courses, including Theater Appreciation, Fundamentals of Acting, and more, but she specializes in Theater Movement.

    The majority of Professor Felts’ research stems from the shows she puts on. She notes that “while this may not take the form of traditional research, like a journal or paper publication, it’s what needs to happen to create a performance that reflects the appropriate time period, mechanics, and modern interpretation of each show [she] works on.” The merging of historical background with contemporary devices in theater is the product of detailed research and analysis, which takes place prior to the show’s production. By going back to the original resource that a performance comes from, Felts can model how it will be conducted on a stage, taking into consideration other components to its production, such as budget limitations, among others. In this way, her research is much more experiential and applied than, perhaps, other scholars, however it is no less rigorous or significant.

    When asked about who her biggest supporter or mentor has been through the years, Professor Felts says, “Oh my gosh, there are so many. My high school drama teacher inspired me to initially follow this.” Another important inspiration to her, one of EMU’s own, Pirooz Aghssa from the Theater Department is not only her mentor, but now her colleague and one of her best friends. She notes that every EMU professor that has taught her, and now teaches with her, has forged her into who she is today. The late Terry Heck Seibert was another great inspiration to her, in all of her goals as a student, educator, and performer.

    A key element to Felts’ philosophy in teaching is her rapport with students. Due to the nature of theater, an emphasis is placed on bringing out joy and playfulness, so building strong bonds with students helps her to achieve a level of vulnerability that translates into more successful work on the stage.

    With this in mind, Felts points to confrontation as one of the most difficult parts of teaching. With the tight bond her and her students create and the need for vulnerability, there can be an opportunity for her to be perceived as “part of the pack,” and possibly lose some sense of authority over students, simply because she is so involved in participation in the classroom. To prevent this, she notes that “you always have to find the balance of ‘how do I do that?’ and maintain the hierarchy that I'm the leader.” Though it can be difficult for students to view her as a separate entity, it is important to the success of her classes. She also notes that this has become less of a problem naturally as she becomes more experienced, gaining a sense of how to mitigate this, as well as becoming older and having a clearer dynamic with students of boundaries.

    Some of the best advice that Professor Felts has received pertaining to her teaching comes from Emeritus Professor Dr. Sally McCracken. At a time when Felts was experiencing very low morale and a difficult time reviving a class of unengaged students, she was reminded that “you only get one.” What Dr. McCracken meant by this is that there will only ever be one class in your career that feels impossible to get a handle on. The first time that it happens will be the last, because it teaches you how to navigate a dynamic like that, and how it can be prevented in the future. Felts learned that it gives you the chance to learn through the experience, and through trial and error, to develop techniques of how to switch the energy and shift the space to tackle issues before the environment becomes toxic for the students.

    In her classes, Felts emphasizes the ability to understand that “life is nothing but possibilities, and that there’s not always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, just different ways to do things.” She recognizes that this can be a daunting idea, and encourages students to seize the opportunities they are presented with. Another point of pride for her in the courses she teaches is the joyful environment and energy. They serve as a break from the monotony of a rigorous course load for students, offering them a chance to tap into their creative side and move their bodies. Most of all, she points to the laughter and the opportunity for students to break out of their shells, as what sets her classes apart.

    Professor Felts believes that overall, the most rewarding part of her experience as an educator is all of the people she has been able to encounter and learn from, with varied backgrounds and rich life experiences. She notes that working with the younger generation is something that she finds encouraging, appreciating their optimism and empathetic listening, as well as civic engagement. In regards to EMU specifically, Professor Felts is most fond of the diversity in students she gets to teach, based upon race, gender, age, sexuality, and more. The student body, according to her, are a varied and enthusiastic bunch. She says that “we really have the world as our students,” which is what she likes best about teaching here at EMU.

  • Dr. Gavin Edwards, Associate Professor, Chemistry; Environmental Science and Society Interdisciplinary Program Expand dropdown
    Image of Dr. Edwards in a red shirt

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, Undergraduate Student

    “Dr. Edwards was my favorite professor in undergrad at EMU. He tried his best to help us understand the content - he walked through every concept in detail and he really “dumbed it down“ for us. His PowerPoint Presentations were also organized in the simplest way and he always had puns and jokes in them. Overall, he made the difficult classes feel easy and I am very thankful for him”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Gavin Edwards about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Edwards received his BS in Chemistry from the University of Leicester in 1997. He also received his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Chemistry from the University of Leicester in 2001.

    Dr. Edwards research focuses on understanding the role the biosphere has in atmospheric chemistry, particularly how biogenic emissions affect the chemistry of ozone. He’s currently starting a project that would research the air quality around schools and map how air quality is impacted by traffic in the area throughout the day. 

    Dr. Edwards teaches in the Chemistry Department and Interdisciplinary Program in Environmental Science and Society within the College of Arts and Sciences at Eastern Michigan University and has been teaching at EMU for 15 years. He teaches general and analytical chemistry classes, and has the most experience teaching fundamental general chemistry classes. These are also the classes Dr. Edwards most enjoys teaching because he finds it exciting to have the potential to inspire students to start careers in chemistry by making those first classes enjoyable. 

    This was the experience that Dr. Edwards had in his undergraduate chemistry classes. He says he was inspired by the professors who made an effort to connect with the students because “I always thought professors were intimidating… but I found some who were really interested in the students, they would ask how we were doing and cared about us, not exclusively academics.” He also appreciates the impact that his PhD advisor and other graduate school professors had on his career by believing that he could be successful in academia. He says, “believing in students has a huge impact, it’s important to encourage students when they come to you for help that, even though they might be second guessing themselves, they’re capable of learning, they might need to make some changes but you can help them make those changes and show them that they can succeed.” 

    One of the ways Dr. Edwards encourages students in his classes is by using technology to break down the potential intimidation that might make students scared to ask questions or ask for help. He creates online polls linked directly in his powerpoints that students can fill out from their own computers or cell phones to share what they might be having a hard time understanding or ask questions. Dr. Edwards likes doing this in his classes because, “it’s important to make sure you don’t just get the same 4 or 5 people asking questions or making comments in class, this way everyone gets a more equal voice, even people who are more shy about putting their hand up in class.” He also emphasizes to his classes that they can learn from each other; he encourages them to create group chats to talk about the class, ask each other questions, and help each other study. 

    Dr. Edwards also provides his students opportunities to give him anonymous feedback a few weeks into the semester, which he values highly and uses to adjust his teaching throughout the semester to make sure it’s working the best for everyone. He believes it’s good to lean into this change. “You can’t have just one teaching philosophy, it has to change over time… as an educator you’re always trying to get better and relate to your students more so that bar you set for yourself is always changing and you should always be trying to get better… that’s a really important mindset to have.”

    In offering advice for new teachers, Dr. Edwards says it’s important to share your passion for the subject you’re teaching, “students really pick up on that… if you can demonstrate that you’re passionate about a subject then even a student who might be more on the fence about a subject, like chemistry, might get more out of it. I love when students tell me they thought they would hate the chemistry classes but that it really wasn’t that bad. People have a lot of trepidation about chemistry and about science in general, they think it’s going to be really difficult, and it is, but if you can show them that they can do it and help them find their own passion for it then students can get a much better experience from that.”

    Dr. Edwards has also shared this passion in his role as an advisor in the chemistry department, where he’s gotten to connect with high school students and give them more information about Eastern’s chemistry department and why it might be a good fit for them. He’s also taken part in STEM Day, where he got to give chemistry demonstrations to high school students, he says, “it was especially exciting to get the chance to create that passion with minority students because minorities are often left out of academia so to give them more opportunities was really worthwhile.” 

    Finally, Dr. Edwards highlighted one of his favorite days of the year at Eastern: the Undergraduate Symposium. “I’ve been to international conferences where Nobel laureates have spoken but when you go to our undergrad symposium here you realize how good EMU students are and how good the research is that we do here and I think that gets overlooked a lot. The quality of the science and the research the students do here really excites me. I'd put up the best students EMU has against students from any other institution and the Symposium really showcases that.”

  • Professor Julie Kuether, University Supervisor Student Teaching, College of Education Expand dropdown
    An image of Julie Kuether outdoors and smiling

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, Undergraduate Student

    "Julie pushes you to do your best work, and is always so kind. I was lucky to have a professor who cares so much about her students and cultivates them to be such amazing educators."

    We got the chance to speak with Professor Julie Kuether about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Professor Kuether received her BS in Home Economics from James Madison University in 1971. She also received her Masters degree in Family and Child Development from The Ohio State University in 1972.

    Professor Kuether is a university supervisor for the student teaching program in the College of Education. She has been supervising EMU’s student teachers for 10 years.Professor Kuether started out as a child development specialist after finishing her Masters degree, but she was inspired to get into teaching after having children of her own because it provided an opportunity to work more closely with kids, something she had always enjoyed. She says when she first got back into teaching she found it fun; she says, “the fun of teaching is seeing people blossom, and seeing kids become what they can.” She has enjoyed her role in mentoring student teachers just as much: “teaching at Eastern has been really rewarding to see that we have such dedicated people who are going into teaching because they really love it, not because it’s an easy job or because you get summers off. They’re going into it because they really have a heart for children and for making a difference for kids. It keeps me hopeful about the future and about where education has the potential to get things right.” 

    Professor Kuether spoke on how teaching has gotten harder since she was teaching middle school, which she says makes the dedication of teachers today even more impressive. “When I was teaching, teachers had a great deal of autonomy and we selected curriculum that we thought met our students' needs at that moment. We also had a lot of time for team-building and interdisciplinary units that I think made a big difference for the kids. I think one of the biggest challenges our student teachers face now is the issue that I call ‘canned curriculum,’ where our students are told exactly what to teach, in some districts even down to what page you have to be on on a particular day. So instead of being tailored to the student it’s based on an outside company.” 

    Professor Kuether also acknowledges that teaching has changed because the issues that students are dealing with have changed. She says, “I think another issue that students are facing more than ever is the trauma that students are bringing with them to the classroom, from their home lives but also from the pandemic, there’s a lot more that students are having to handle and now teachers are having to deal with that as well. On top of that they’re moving back and forth between virtual and in person and hybrid platforms, so the demands on teachers are much greater than they were even just a few years ago.”

    When asked to give advice to new teachers, Professor Kuether says the two most important pieces of advice she has are to be organized and to focus right away on building strong relationships with students. “It sounds really mundane but be organized. I think that teachers must be able to multitask and they must stay organized, otherwise they just get overwhelmed by the demands of the job. It’s equally important to build relationships, almost everything comes down to the relationship with the teacher. Research shows that children work best for someone that they care about. I always encourage my students to start with building relationships and then behind the scenes to be organized and I think if you can bring those two things together along with your own enthusiasm then that’s a big head start into teaching.”

    Despite the challenges that teachers face today, Professor Kuether is proud of the preparation the EMU’s student teachers have going out into the field. “I would complement Eastern greatly on our program. Our students come out of the program with a really strong background. I hear out in the field all the time that our students from Eastern are some of the best prepared student teachers they’ve had.” 

    Aside from being prepared as student teachers, Professor Kuether complemented EMU students' readiness to transition into a teaching role. “There’s a huge learning curve but they all just excel at moving from that student role to that classroom teacher role. Seeing them at the end is the biggest reward I get. Some people are born to be teachers and you can just tell that from their personality but there’s so much more to it than that, and to see them get it all together at the end and become less of a student teacher and more of a partner with their cooperating teacher is just amazing.  They just mature and grow up and I think they really prosper. It makes me really happy that Eastern students are well prepared, we can give them a solid student teaching experience and they’re really ready for the jobs they’re being offered.”

  • Dr. Carmen McCallum, Associate Professor, Leadership and Counseling Expand dropdown
    Image of Dr. McCallum smiling in a yellow top.

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, Undergraduate Student

    “From the first day of class, Dr. McCallum made it clear that her course was a welcoming and inclusive environment. She encouraged all of her students to freely share their perspectives on the course content and how our life experiences influence our prior knowledge. She modeled strategies that we can use to support our future students in the ways that she supported all of us in the class. Class content was always engaging and relevant, and I will be a better student affairs professional because of her.”  

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Carmen McCallum about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. McCallum received her BA in Sociology from the University of Michigan in 1997. She received a Masters of Social Work from Wayne State University in 2000, and a Special Education Certificate from Wayne State University in 2005. She also received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Michigan in 2012. 

    Dr. McCallum teaches in the Leadership and Counseling department within the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University and has been teaching at EMU for 5 years. She teaches classes at the Masters level including Introduction to Student Affairs and College Student Development, and at the Ph.D. level including Ethics and Politics of Education and Leadership, and Introduction to Qualitative Methods.

    Dr. McCallum’s research focuses on the graduate school pipeline, which includes how students become interested in graduate education, how they get accepted into graduate school, the experiences that students have in graduate school, and the effect that graduate level education has on a person’s career trajectory. Currently, she is excited about a program that she’s heading at EMU called Mentoring for Life, which is part of a collaboration between graduate schools and the National Science Foundation to enhance mentoring skills and well-being in graduate students studying STEM disciplines. This project aims to provide graduate students with tools to advocate for themselves as mentees and to become mentors, and it is currently in the second of three grant-funded years. 

    When it comes to teaching, Dr. McCallum credits her background in social work as shaping her philosophy about how people interact with their environments and acknowledging that they’re not isolated beings. She says the same is true for students, “they’re not disconnected from their roles as a wife or a mother or a friend… or anxieties they have outside of the classroom.” She acknowledges that these factors all have an effect on student’s experiences and performance in a class, and that it's important to understand this in order to be able to work best with students. 

    She also mentions Dr. Patricia Gurin at the University of Michigan as a mentor who has influenced her teaching style. Dr. McCallum got the chance to work with Dr. Gurin on a research project when she was in graduate school, and despite the prestige Dr. Gurin held in her field, “she would walk in and give us hugs like she was our grandmother.” Dr. McCallum says she appreciates that there was no sense of hierarchy in the project, and her voice as a first year graduate student was treated as being just as important as anyone else’s. This is how Dr. McCallum approaches teaching now, “I know I’m coming in with certain content but students are coming in with their own knowledge and experiences, and I want to be able to understand that and bring that into the classroom so that I can learn from that and their peers can learn from that as well.”

    This philosophy seems to be present in the way Dr. McCallum engages students in course content as well. She says she makes her curriculum culturally relevant by integrating “hot topics'' into her Introduction to Student Affairs course. One or two students each week are assigned to find a hot topic that’s happening in higher education and present it to the class, then the first 15 minutes of class are spent discussing the topic. She says this shows that, “while it’s important to understand the theories of higher education, this is a way to look at how those theories are actually playing out in real life at this current moment.”

    Dr. McCallum tries to make sure that the content she brings to class will also connect with her students. This is something that she says she’s become more aware of over her teaching career. She says, “It’s really important to take a step back and understand what you’re teaching. Now I’ll go back and look at the articles that I've assigned and think, ‘Are these all white male scholars? If so, how do I include women of color? Men of color? LGBTQ people?’ I want to make sure to include these people so that students are seeing themselves represented not only in the course content, but also in the scholars that are showing up, and that takes time and effort but it really does make a difference to students.”

    Being a first generation college student herself, Dr. McCallum sees the importance of creating a sense of belonging in higher education, especially at EMU. “We have a lot of first generation working class students who don’t come into the classroom with elitism and entitlement but with a hunger to learn and do better. These are students who understand the importance and the value of a higher education and know this is their opportunity to change their lives and possibly the lives of generations of students that will come after them.” She says that faculty members need to think about the spaces that they’re creating in the classroom, “We’re setting the tone by the first day of class for how students are going to learn over the entire semester. If we're not coming in ready to teach, to connect with students, and to help them learn the material and get to where they need to be, then they're not going to feel a sense of belonging, they're not going to want to be in that class… We should meet them where they are and help them achieve the goals that they have for themselves academically.” 

  • Dr. Catherine Gammon, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science Expand dropdown
    Image of a Dr. Gammon smiling and wearing a blue top

    Interviewed by Sabah Boudalia, Undergraduate Student

    “I have had her for two of my classes, she is very well organized and is amazing at relaying the information in a fun and interactive way throughout the semester. I have always looked forward to her classes.”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Catherine Gammon about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Catherine Gammon graduated in 2008 with her undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Bath (UK). She received her Physical Activity and Health master’s degree from Loughborough University (UK) in 2009 and her Ph.D. in 2016 in Exercise Physiology from Michigan State University. She then went on to pursue post doctoral work from 2016-2018 in Behavioral Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge (UK). 

    Dr. Gammon has been teaching at EMU for 3 years in the School of Health Promotion and Human Performance. Currently, she is teaching Undergraduate Statistics, Exercise and Sports Psychology, and Exercise Epidemiology. Looking back on these classes, Dr. Gammon believes that the Epidemiology class is the class that aligns most closely with her training and she enjoys, “being able to deliver high-level insights.” The Exercise and Sports Psychology class is the class that she’s taught the most and has had the most chances to refine . Dr. Gammon told us, “all the students bring their own exercise and sport experience to the class so we can have a lot of interesting discussion on how the material relates to them.” Lastly, the Statistics class is one she believes has the widest applicability, which is the inherent appeal of this class for her as an educator. She gets to teach concepts that will be applicable in almost any career field that students choose. The way Dr. Gammon put it, “Regardless of which career you’re going into, being able to interpret and summarize data, explain it in a meaningful way and knowing where to get high quality scientific information are really important skills.” 

    Dr. Gammon also works with Eastern Michigan University’s Swoop’s Pantry. Her role as a member of the advisory board is to support the functioning of the pantry. Dr. Gammon’s position at Swoop’s is one she enjoys, “The SWOOPS team that run the pantry are a joy to work with,” said Dr. Gammon, “I’ve been able to collaborate with people from different departments on research that we’ve done with SWOOPS and that’s exciting.  Research with the pantry also fits with my research direction that focuses on promoting the health and wellbeing of young people.” 

    On reflecting about educators who shaped her into the professor she is today, Dr. Gammon mentioned her postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Esther van Sluijs of the University of Cambridge. Dr. van Slujis made it clear that professional life is not independent of personal life and was considerate of the interaction between the two. Dr. Gammon noted Dr. van Slujis’s patience, saying “I really appreciated her willingness to take the time to explain things.She recognized the importance of building self-confidence in aspiring researchers and giving them time to develop in whatever way they needed to.” Dr. Gammon feels she learned the importance of compassion, patience, and paying it forward from her mentor. 

    Over the years, Dr. Gammon has learned things that she is able to give as advice to incoming teachers. She notes that higher education teaching gets easier and you become more efficient. She’s also gotten to see the harder part of teaching, which is seeing students struggle and fail in her classes.  Often this is because they are, “working so many hours to pay their way through the degree ...that they can’t dedicate sufficient time and energy to succeed in their classes”. Dr. Gammon said, “I find that really difficult.”

    Some of her favorite times in her teaching career are the moments when students reach out to her and tell her she’s taught them things they find valuable and useful, and when it comes across that she is passionate and excited about the material. It is these moments that she feels like she’s done a good job. She also loves doing research projects with students.  Dr. Gammon told us, “I find it really enjoyable to give students an opportunity to take ownership of something outside the classroom and explore the data and do the analysis and see what it says and compare it to the literature. I find that really exciting and it’s fun to mentor a student through that process.” Whether in research with students or in classroom projects, autonomy is something Dr. Gammon values giving her students. 

  • Dr. Christopher Elias, Associate Professor, Undergraduate Coordinator Economics Expand dropdown
    Image of a white man in dress clothes

    Interviewed by Sabah Boudalia, Undergraduate Student

    “He taught me Macroeconomics which is a very intimidating course. He executed it in a way that was digestible and ultimately cultivated my interest in pursuing an economics degree”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Christopher Elias about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Elias received his BA in Economics from Youngstown State University in 1999. He received 2 Master’s degrees, the first of which being in Economics from Florida State University in 2000 as well as in 2002 in Industrial Engineering from Youngstown State University. Lastly, he received his Ph.D. in Economics in 2014 from University of California Irvine. 

    Dr. Elias has been teaching Economics at Eastern Michigan University for nearly 8 years. This semester he is teaching Principles of Macroeconomics, a Graduate Macroeconomics Theory course as well as his favorite class, Financial Economics, about which he often tells students, “that’s probably a class I’d teach for free.”

    Dr. Elias particularly appreciates when aspects of his research overlap concepts he teaches in the class allowing him to reference his work to students. “It's been nice to have research projects that I’ve worked on that I can talk about in the classroom.” Dr. Elias told us. The first example of this dynamic between courses he teaches and his research is between the series of papers he’s been working on for the last 4 or 5 years and the Graduate Macroeconomics Theory course he teaches. “There's been a good kind of symbiotic relationship between my work in that area on these papers and my teaching in that particular class.” Elias says. In addition to this example, every winter semester he teaches a Time Series Econometrics Course. In this class, his most recent research has related to the topics covered in that class. 

    In regards to his teaching style, Dr. Elias values an organized classroom structure and believes it is something that students appreciate. Included in this organized structure is a lot of course material to be able to reference as well as a set schedule. Regarding scheduling and organization,  Dr. Elias said, “I think it helps with preparation and I just think it makes it a little easier for the students to plan ahead so they know, ‘okay you know I’m not going to be able to come to class this particular day. What am I gonna miss?’” With all of that being said, the best feedback received from his students typically notes this standard of organization and planning Dr. Elias likes to uphold. 

    Reflecting on the years spent being a professor and researching in his field, Dr. Elias says, “I certainly am a better Economist now than I was years ago. I think I have a better command of the material. My research has progressed significantly in the last 8 years which I think at the higher education level definitely helps you in the classroom. I think it’s very difficult to be very effective in the classroom at this level and not have an active research agenda so I think the two really feed into each other.” 

    When advising incoming faculty on the experience they’re about to embark on, Dr. Elias likes to emphasize organization, setting clear goals/policies, and going in prepared, “knowing your stuff.” To emphasize the significant relationship between knowing your material and running an effective college class to new faculty, Dr. Elias says, “Don’t go in not prepared because students will pick up on that, and if you lose credibility, if it looks like you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re going to lose credibility very quickly. So it’s incredibly important to be prepared.” The last piece of advice he’s offered is being objective in terms of grading, “I like telling students this is my grading system and this is how you’re going to be graded”, says Elias, “I want to make it as absolutely easy as possible for them to be able to calculate their grade because that’s important.”

    His focus on making his classroom as student-centered as possible is what led him to realizing the great student population he gets to teach at EMU each year. In fact, diversity of students is his favorite part of teaching EMU students. He believes the wide range of backgrounds and opinions really play a significant role in the classroom setting. “There's been multiple times when I’ve been teaching and I’ll get a question or comment and I never thought of it like that or that is a really good insight.” Dr. Elias said, “the longer you do this you think, ‘well I won’t hear anything new or anything that’s really gonna open my eyes,’ because you think you’ve heard it all before but that’s not that case at all. I think that comes from the broad diverse background of the students that I teach.”

  • Dr. Hedeel Guy-Evans, Professor, Chemistry; Neuroscience Expand dropdown
    An image of a smiling woman with dark hair

    Interviewed by Sabah Boudalia, Undergraduate Student

    "As an undergraduate student, I had felt like I was just learning to pass a class. That was until I entered Dr. Evans’s class, where my new found interest was in cell signaling and how the body operated through these signals. Her teaching style wasn’t like other professors, she was always willing to help and made learning easy and understandable with real world examples."

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Hedeel Guy-Evans about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Hedeel Guy-Evans graduated with her bachelors from Eastern Michigan University in 1984 and went on to get a Masters and Ph.D. from Wayne State Medical School in 1986 and 1992. She also completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biochemistry from the Université Pierre et Marie CURIE (University of Paris VI) from 1992-1994.  While at Eastern (2009), she was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to Paris, France to work at the Institut Curie. She was the only scientist from the United States to go to Paris as a Fulbright Scholar that year.  She won the 2019/2020 EMU Distinguished Faculty Award for Research as well.

    Dr. Evans carries an impressive research history, being a part of nearly 60 publications/projects. Her interests and expertise are in the regulation of insulin-like growth factor binding Protein-3 (IGFBP-3) and β-Amyloid by Humanin (HN) as well as Pyrimidine Biosynthesis. Aside from this, she also was the key initiator in the development and launch of the Neuroscience (NSCI) program (a field that intertwines Biology, Psychology, and Chemistry) here at EMU, which made its debut in 2016. 

    Dr. Evans teaches undergraduate Foundations of Biochemistry, Biochemistry, Neuroscience, as well as graduate Neurochemistry, Cell Signaling in Disease, and Chemistry Seminar. She can’t choose a particular favorite class, though each class is different in its own way, it’s the science that really gets her excited. She told us, “I mean I just love science, so whatever I teach I’m just having fun with it!” Her passion for what she teaches has been evident in her students’ feedback. Even when the feedback is perceived as negative, she still happily listens to it. “All their feedback, whether it can be perceived as negative or positive, has always been welcomed and spectacular”, said Dr. Evans. “My students have been my best teachers.”

    In Dr. Evans's classroom, there’s always room to explore, learn, and discover. She helps push this development of individuality and autonomy in her students, especially by letting them have room to figure things out on their own, she says, “I think my students are always surprised when I let them try to figure it out.” She also co-authored an article published by the Journal of Chemical Education in 2016. The article proposes a method of teaching an undergraduate Biochemistry laboratory course that includes the use of a research based lab, grant proposals, and experimentation on real experiments and data. It’s in classes like the Biochemistry laboratory where she teaches in this method that students are able to gain confidence. It is clear the value Dr. Evans places on allowing her students to be themselves even in the lab and she finds that when she helps her students gain confidence, the outcomes rarely disappoint. 

    Dr. Evans heads an active research program at EMU funded by a $445,500 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support her project entitled Probing the Role of Insulin-Like Growth Factor-Binding Protein 3 and Humanin in Regulating Hyaluronan Function.  The research project centers on examining the overlapping interactions between molecular players, linked to both neurodegeneration and cancer. Through this funding by NIH, she can better provide a comprehensive training research opportunity for undergraduate students in the Biochemistry and NSCI programs to equip students with an authentic and extensive hands-on research training at an early stage of their education and cultivate an interest in a career in biomedical research.

    Dr. Evans has always been about realizing the potential of her students and trying to bring that out. “I always tell my students that the hardest thing to do in this life is to be you… focus on you and bring out that potential!” Her focus is on reminding and encouraging her students to build on and reach their potential and not as it relates to anyone else. The hardest part of teaching for Dr. Evans is giving out bad grades. She tells students, “That might be the grade you got in my class today” but she is confident in their abilities to get A’s once they acknowledge and work towards their potential and has seen it happen as well. “I see my students grow before my eyes… I’m always so happy to have any role in their growth,” she told us. 

    When asked for tips for incoming faculty, Dr. Evans emphasized that the focus should be on your role as a professor, “By far the most important thing is how you relate to your students”, Dr. Evans told us, “target your students, know them, feel with them, help them grow, no matter what teaching style you have.” This advice didn’t just occur to her in an instant, it was over her years here at EMU and the different experiences she’s accumulated through this journey that helped her realize this. One of the experiences she reflected on was her first lecture at EMU. She remembers a student on the very first day commenting on her teaching, “A student came up to me and he said ‘I don’t like your teaching style’— the very first day. Then he starts telling me just be yourself, don't try to just be that person that’s teaching, you got to let the students see you. So, I think that’s the best thing that’s happened [to me]. Since then, I started slowly being myself. When the students see you, they can be themselves too.” said Dr. Evans.

    She was then asked to reflect on her time at EMU, and decided to focus on the students and opportunities here saying, “Eastern is the kind of place where you can be whatever you want. There are so many opportunities for you to grow at Eastern.” She attributes this aspect of EMU to the wonderfully diverse background of students who bring their own background and experiences to EMU to make the academic experience that much better. She also noted the attitude of students and their learning in the classroom here at EMU. She described a classroom where students are not afraid to speak up and show the teacher another way of thinking or even express to the teacher that they may be wrong in some aspect. Dr. Evans really values this quality that EMU students tend to have and loves it. She said, “I tell my colleagues, ‘you wanna know how much you don’t know? Go teach a class here.’ And this is, in part, why I say they have been my greatest teachers (her students).”

  • Professor Jessica Kander, Lecturer, English Language and Literature Expand dropdown
    Image of a smiling women with glasses

    Interviewed by Jessi Kwek, Undergraduate Student

    “Jessica Kander helped make my undergraduate and graduate experience at EMU truly magnificent. She is passionate, driven, charismatic, and I've loved learning from her as an undergraduate student and I love working with her now as a graduate assistant even more.”

    We got the chance to speak with Professor Jessica Kander about her teaching experiences and philosophy. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Professor Kander has been teaching children's literature at EMU for 12 years. She especially loves teaching writing intensive courses because she explains, “I feel like I get to know the students better and get to help scaffold their passions, and I find I really get to differentiate my teaching more effectively.”

    Having had over a decade of experience teaching at EMU, I asked Professor Kander what advice she had for new teachers. She listed two pieces of advice, “don’t reinvent the wheel,” and “give yourself time to take a break.” She advises new teachers to remember they have a community that is rooting for their success. “Find inspiring mentors, teaching blogs or research blogs… because there’s tons of stuff out there that you don’t need to start from the beginning, somebody else has some stuff that you can work from and I don’t see a problem with really leaning on those resources… look at what other people are doing and create your own spin on it.” Professor Kander also reminds new educators to have fun outside of work in order to be able to get the most out of work. “Academia has a way of eating into our entire lives and into our entire sense of self and if you want this to be sustainable and enjoyable in the long run you need to find ways to enjoy yourself that are not related to academia.” 

    Professor Kander reflected on the educators that have had an impact on her, notably Annette Wannamaker, Cathy Fleischer, Doug Baker, Sheila Most and Elizabeth Dӓumer, who she encountered in graduate school at EMU. “They each approached their teaching and our learning in really raw and honest ways and I think that’s what I appreciated, just that sense that failure and playfulness had a real place in their classes and I think that demystified the learning process for me… I always felt incredibly inspired in their classes, I enjoyed going to class and I  enjoyed the work that I was doing with them and I think one of the things that I took with me for my own teaching was their way of boosting me to be a better version of myself without making me feel like I couldn't get there, they were always pushing me to be better without making me feel like I wasn’t already good.” 

    In her time at EMU, Professor Kander has had the opportunity to be involved in EMU’s community in lots of unique ways. She talks about two of her favorite experiences, being an academic advisor to the quidditch team, and taking part in “Writing Across the Curriculum,” a program run by Ann Blakeslee. Professor Kander loved being a part of the quidditch team, “the students were wonderful… it was a completely student led team and it was really fun seeing the varying levels of engagement.” She also credits “Writing Across the Curriculum” as being a useful opportunity for educators from all departments. “It gave me the opportunity to get closer with professors and instructors from completely different programs and maintain those connections… it’s also been great knowing [we’re] making sure that we’re really thinking thoughtfully about our students as these holistic beings who are taking classes in many different departments and working on projects and knowing that just because I'm a literature professor doesn’t mean I'm the only one who’s working on writing with them was really rewarding.”

    Finally, Professor Kander talked about what she loves about teaching students at EMU. “I really appreciate just how hard working and thoughtful and practical our students are. I’m constantly blown away by all of the obligations that our students have but they keep showing up again and again and again and giving it their all. They really have clear visions for themselves… they know why they’re here and they really value the experience, they don’t take it for granted and I think that allows us as instructors to really give them back our all. I think that’s something that has forced me to become a better instructor because I know how strapped our students are in terms of time, so I know that the work has to be really important for them to do it, I can’t just assign it because I think it’s interesting… it has to actually serve a purpose both for me and them. So as I'm developing course material I'm constantly thinking about, ‘Okay, is this really necessary? What is this actually going to accomplish for the students?’ so it's really helped me fine tune my teaching in that sense.”

  • Dr. Andrew Ross, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics Expand dropdown
    A white man with glasses standing in front of a bulletin board wearing dress clothes.

    Interviewed by Sabah Boudalia, Undergraduate Student

    “Dr. Ross was a pleasure to have as a teacher. As intimidating as Calculus 2 was for me as a freshman during the pandemic, he eased my anxiety with his caring attitude and perspective of feedback rather than grading. He was really understanding of his students' situations. Even with the online asynchronous structure of the class, I felt a certain realness and kindness with him. I would recommend him to anybody!”

    We got the chance to speak with Dr. Andrew Ross about his teaching experiences and philosophy. His answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

    Dr. Andrew Ross graduated from Harvey Mudd College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Math in 1996 and from University of California Berkeley in 2001 with a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (a branch of applied math). He’s been teaching at EMU for 15 years. He is currently a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and does advising regarding Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Science and Analytics (DSA) program.

    This semester (Fall 21) he teaches Mathematical Modeling and Calculus 1. The Calc 1 class is particularly interesting to teach for Dr. Ross because of the range of majors he gets in the class. “Hopefully every class is a different way of thinking but that class, Intro to Calculus, is a new way of thinking,” says Ross. The topics and examples covered in class are, as Ross describes them, “fun for us as teachers and students to play with but it can have real impact on people’s lives.''  Mathematical Modeling can also be interesting because, Dr. Ross’s words, “helps expand people’s variety as to how math can help people and the planet and animals and such.” 

    Aside from teaching, Dr. Ross has an exciting research agenda. Together, he and departmental colleague Dr. Stephanie Casey are working on developing a set of curriculum materials for future Secondary Education Mathematics teachers. They are focusing on introducing inclusion and empowerment through statistics. “Statistics can be really empowering to people who want to show what’s going on in society and to pose ways of changing it,” Dr. Ross told us. “We’ve chosen as many data sets as we can that look at social situations in the US and stereotypes on what type of people are ‘good students’ or care about education. We’re trying to break stereotypes like that using data, which is really important to people who will be high school and middle school teachers so they hopefully don’t go into their classrooms with inaccurate stereotypes about which students are the ‘good’ ones.” The program has already been piloted in around a dozen places nationwide.

    Dr. Ross’s passion for advocating diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the classroom has been evident through his projects, his classroom management, and even through the book club he helps lead. The book club this semester discusses a book by Dr. Pamela Harris and Dr. Aris Winger called, Asked and Answered: Dialogues On Advocating For Students of Color in Mathematics.

    In the classroom, Dr. Ross is moving towards an active learning and inquiry-based style of teaching, “I’m also trying to do more active learning and discussion-based teaching. I have a long way to go toward being perfect at that but I’m doing less lectures and more group work.” That being said, he focuses on flexibility and introducing a caring attitude in his classes.  Students often give positive feedback to the level of care he gives to them. Math and care are typically not two words that go together, and it’s typically not a trait students are used to from mathematics professors. “You know, math is not typically seen as a caring subject. A bunch of us in the department are working to change that.” 

    Ross introduces caring within his classroom by trying to relieve stress and anxiety surrounding tests and examinations. This semester, his Calculus 1 class doesn’t have any full exams. He is instead introducing projects in place of the exams by letting students focus on their interests and how they intertwine with the math he teaches them. Lastly, Dr. Ross is promoting this caring mindset by moving towards a conversation-based method of grading, believing it can, “really encourage the idea that by the end of this course there are some good things for you to learn and if you didn’t learn them at exactly the right timeline along the way that’s ok.”

    Finally, there have been a few professional development opportunities offered that Dr. Ross felt were worth noting and particularly benefited him. Among them are the Writing Across the Curriculum Project, the Creative Scientific Inquiry and Experience (CSIE) program, and the FDC Connect Conferences. Currently, Dr. Ross, with his department head and another colleague in his department are going through training around inclusive STEM teaching so that they can facilitate a professional learning community within the department next semester. 

    Some of the best parts of teaching students at EMU for Dr. Ross is helping students broaden their view on the application of mathematics in the world, seeing students who struggle in his class learn and achieve their goals, and of course the occasional times where his class inspires a student to expand their education by including math in their studies.