Teaching Spotlights

Image of Professor O'Brien's headshot

This Week's Teaching Spotlight: Professor Cōlleen O’Brien, Halle Social Justice Faculty Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Social Work

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.”

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Previous Teaching Spotlights

  • 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.