Stronger Teachers, Stronger Ties Across the University: The Graduate Student Teaching Institute

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GSTI Participants
Graduate College Dean Susan Stapleton and the GSTI Participants

This past July, the WMU Graduate College and the Office of Faculty Development offered an exciting new opportunity for new and returning graduate teaching assistants — the “Graduate Student Teaching Institute,” a week-long, intensive training course designed to improve and expand students’ pedagogical skills. Over the course of the week, graduate teaching assistants from various disciplines and programs participated in group workshops on topics such as how to motivate students to learn, how to master active learning strategies, metacognition for student engagement, improving communication for diverse learners, and techniques for using technology in the classroom.

Professor Suzan Ayers (HPHE), one of the co-directors and facilitators of the Institute, argues that this kind of training is invaluable to our TAs. “We expect graduate students to magically be able to teach, and give them classes with hundreds of undergrads. Our graduate students have specialized knowledge about their fields, but they might not know much about how to teach when they first arrive here,” she says.

Another challenge faced by graduate student instructors is the isolation they may feel within their own programs, and a need to speak to other teachers from diverse backgrounds. As participant and co-facilitator MaryKate Bodnar points out, “as a graduate student, it is easy to get stuck in our own departments, feeling isolated from the rest of WMU. I really enjoyed learning from these instructors and meeting other GTAs from around the university. There is power in diversity of experience, and GSTI offered us a venue to exchange ideas and experiences.”

Several other graduate students who participated in the GSTI remarked on the diversity of participants and backgrounds, noting this as one of the most valuable aspects of the institute. Shelby May, a new MA student in HPHE, found an immediate support group with her fellow grad students: “because I’m so new here, being with other students who’ve been in my shoes before, hearing people share their experiences… that was all very valuable. The students were very encouraging even though everyone came from different majors, backgrounds, and cultures. Despite all this, we were all were interested in the same things about teaching, and we made each other think and challenged each other.” Cody Williams, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Mallinson Institute’s program for science education, agrees, saying that one of the most memorable parts of the GSTI was “the diversity of people I met…. Coming from different disciplines, they have such different ideas and approaches, some coming to teaching from a purely practical standpoint, and others from a more creative or theoretical perspective. It was also great to meet different grad students from all over the world, and hear about different international approaches to teaching.” Despite the variety of experiences and backgrounds, Shelby observed that all participants (both faculty and grads) were regarded as being on an equal footing — “we were all colleagues, and everyone was in the same boat (including the facilitators!).” And it appears that the relationships forged during the GSTI will be long-lasting ones; as MaryKate reflects, “we built relationships with each other. It is wonderful to have contacts around the university that I can collaborate with to improve my teaching.”

Beyond having a chance to bond with students and faculty that they might not have otherwise met on campus, participants found the institute’s practical advice and open, honest discussions of teaching to be invaluable. Both Cody and Shelby praised the “nuts and bolts, realistic discussions of teaching,” while Emma Powell, a Ph.D. student in Public Administration, found inspiration in “the facilitators’ passion, energy, experience, and ‘war stories.’” Emma also noted that “the technology sessions and e-learning training were so applicable and the breakout and small-group sessions were most beneficial to process big concepts into usable nuggets of action and take-aways.” Shelby adds, “your brain was exhausted at the end of the week, but you really had the chance to ask real questions, and find out what you’re getting yourself into as a teacher.”

Both Shelby and Cody had high praise for two particular presentations: a workshop on metacognition and student engagement, offered by Andrea Beach (Director, Office of Faculty Development) and a presentation on the historical impact of Paul Robeson, by Paul Solomon (Professor, Frostic School of Art). Dr. Beach’s discussion made instructors think about how we coach and instruct our own students to study, to learn, and to apply — skills that instructors often take for granted. Mr. Solomon’s presentation focused attention on the importance of timing, structure, and order when you are planning to present information, as this can make the difference between a dry lecture and a moving narrative. Participants also had high praise for workshops on constructing handouts and syllabi, including a discussion of “first day of class practices,” in which facilitators suggested that instructors involve students in creating the syllabus, asking for class input in deciding the ground rules of the class. They also enjoyed Dr. Julie Apker’s (School of Communication and Graduate College Fellow) presentation, “Beyond the Classroom: Applying Teaching Skills to Broader Professional Goals,” a session particularly applicable for participants looking at the job market. All told, these kinds of workshops and small group discussions encouraged everyone to speak up and have an active, dynamic role in the Institute.

Creating a learning environment of this kind required collaboration among a number of experts on campus. Dr. Ayers, Dr. Beach, Mr. Solomon, Sarah Cox (OFD Doctoral Associate), Dr. Emily Walter (Post-doctoral Assistant in the CEHD), and Graduate College Dean Dr. Susan Stapleton worked together to conceptualize and build the schedule for the Institute. Says Dr. Ayers, “this institute was Sarah Cox’s brainchild — Sarah developed the curriculum for the institute, basing a lot on a one-year ‘learning community’ she had with several GTAs last year. Sarah developed the curriculum and she, Paul Solomon, and I all brainstormed about how to create this kind of learning opportunity.”

While the Institute seems to have been a rousing success all around, Dr. Ayers adds that this is a kind of “beta test year” for the event. The Graduate College and OFD plan to make the GSTI an annual opportunity for graduate students across the university, with participants receiving a certificate of completion. Beyond this, the GSTI is only the first component in a new Graduate Student Teaching Credential program (co-facilitated by Drs. Ayers, Walter, and Paul Solomon). Plans for this credentialing opportunity include requiring completion of the five day Teaching Institute, consistent participation in a learning community across the academic year 2014-2015, and production of a professional portfolio synthesizing their experiences, not to mention a significantly broadened “toolkit” of pedagogical knowledge, experience, and a support network that they will take with them into future roles as teachers and faculty members.

All participants we spoke to heartily recommended this experience for their fellow teachers. As MaryKate sums up, “It’s the workshop we all crave when we start teaching. It’s the best balance of theory, practical tips, and team building with other educators.”

 

**The Office of Faculty Development continues to offer workshops, advising, and “Cool Tools” sessions intended to help graduate teaching assistants (and faculty) improve their teaching skills. Have a look at their website to see what’s coming up!

Meet a Graduate Ambassador: Michael Saldama

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Graduate Ambassador Michael Saldama, College of Engineering
Graduate Ambassador Michael Saldama, College of Engineering

My name is Michael Saldama and I am from the Dominican Republic. I received a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Management and Technology from WMU and I am currently doing a Master’s in Engineering Management as well. During my free time I like to watch all kind of sports, however, I follow baseball and basketball more than any other. During my undergraduate studies I was part of the Western Student Association Allocations Committee. The experience I obtained there led me to enjoy being around students more and to be a resource in any way I can for them. I will be serving as the Ambassador for the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and my main goal is to let all of our graduate students know that there is an entire organization looking out for them and trying to do whatever it takes to make their time at WMU one of their most memorable experiences.

GradTalks: A New Venue for Grads to Present Their Research

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Welcome to GradTalks at the Lee Honors College!
Welcome to GradTalks at the Lee Honors College!

In Spring 2014, the WMU Graduate Student Association (GSA) developed GradTalks, our own version of TEDtalks, an opportunity for WMU grad students to talk about their innovative research, travel to conferences, and other exciting scholarly experiences. TEDtalks grew out of a conference dedicated to tech, education, and design, and now the 10-minute, interactive presentation style used at that conference has spread world-wide and encompasses topics ranging from life-hacks, science and engineering, business practices, arts and humanities, social media and new technology. Thus far, our GradTalks have also embraced this inclusive scope, featuring students speaking about research in areas as diverse as dental anthropology, LGBT identity-creation in online forums, technology and disability studies, bacterial applications for curing cancers, education among Central American communities, and the transitional experiences of international students. The talks have been recorded and will be available online in the near future.

Recently, we talked to graduate alumna and former GradTalks participant Jamie Losee about her experience presenting in this forum. Jamie completed her MA in Anthropology last year, and her research focuses on dental anthropology.

 

Can you tell us a little about the topic of your GradTalks presentation and your research in general? 

Jamie: My GradTalks presentation was on the preliminary results of my thesis, focused on secular trends in dental health in the US during the 1900s. I am interested in inequalities and differences in rates of dental disease in relation to SES, race, sex/gender, and time. My sample of human skulls was taken from the Hamann-Todd Collection housed at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This sample is a low SES population from the early 1900s, who all died in Cleveland. I am comparing my results to published literature on dental health from the mid to late 1900s. I have found racial secular changes in dental health, that could be related to changing cultural consumption patterns (sugar consumption, smoking, drinking, etc.).

How did you prepare for the presentation format?

Jamie Losee, M.A. in Anthropology
Jamie Losee, M.A. in Anthropology

A 10 minutes presentation seems long (or at least it did when I was an undergraduate), but when you are doing a presentation on your thesis research 10 minutes is nothing. I had to make sure that my presentation had a quick general introduction to my topic, so that everyone in the audience (non-anthropologists) would be able to understand and follow my research. Then, I also had to have time to present my results. It was definitely a task to try to fit everything into the 10 minute presentation, but it is really necessary to be able to condense your research into a shorter presentation for a general population.

How did the presentation help you? Was the practice talking about your research helpful?

It was great to start giving presentations about my results way before my thesis defense, because people have been able to ask me questions that helped focus and clarify my research and results. I, also, went to our international conference about two months after my GradTalks presentation in Calgary, Canada, and had already had a good place to start from, and a presentation under my belt. It is really important for a graduate student (any person in general) to be able to give a presentation and talk about their research in various formats to various audiences, and this experience was helpful to prepare me for future presentations (including my thesis defense). I really enjoyed being a part of GradTalks because I improved my presentation skills, but also improved my thesis as a result of discussion with other graduate students.

What is the greatest benefit of the Grad College offering this kind of event for students?

I think this event is a great benefit to the Graduate College because it allows for presentations to a cross disciplinary audience, which creates more well rounded research, these/dissertations, and graduate students. Explaining your research to someone from a different academic background can be very difficult, but often allows for discussion that would have never taken place between two people with similar backgrounds. I never could have imagined that other graduate students (may who I had never met) could help improve my research so much. I also think this is a great benefit because it gives graduate students the ability to present their research, which can sometimes be difficult. Academic conferences can sometimes be hard to get accepted to and are frequently far away and costly, so having this medium on campus is amazing!

 

GradTalks will start again in Fall 2014, and GSA will begin accepting applications for presentations in September. Any student wishing to share an exciting research idea or scholarly experience to a supportive, audience from a variety of disciplines should consider presenting. For more information, contact the GSA at gsa@wmich.edu.

Welcome new grads!

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DCF 1.0Hello all and welcome to a new year of graduate study at WMU! We’re so excited to get to know our new students and to say “welcome back” to familiar, friendly faces! To get the latest in news about graduate education, opportunities for funding, workshops and other activities, and WMU programs, check out our various online news venues. The Graduate College website provides the most detailed information about our programs, our funding and fellowships, graduate policies, and support for research, writing, and professional development. For daily updates on grad news, articles of interest, events, and alumni news, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@WMUGradCollege), and have a look at our e-newsletter, The Grad Standard. You can see what’s already been scheduled in terms of workshops on our Fall 2014 events calendar. You can also watch our students talk about their experiences and have a look at our virtual social media symposium on our YouTube channel. The GSA (Graduate Student Association) website provides info about our grad student governing body and their activities (also, check out their blogFacebook, and Twitter feed). And visit us again here at The Grad Word to read articles and essays penned by our own students about their experiences here and abroad, and to hear about the latest opportunities offered at WMU! Have a fantastic start to fall 2014, everyone!

Meet an Ambassador: Jesus Romero

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Jesus Romero, Master's candidate in Higher Education and Student Affairs
Jesus Romero, Master’s candidate in Higher Education and Student Affairs

Hello all! My name is Jesus and I am originally from Whittier, CA. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies from UC San Diego and I am in the Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) Masters Program. I am also the graduate assistant for leadership and volunteer programs in the Student Activities & Leadership Programs (SALP) office. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, going to the movies, and keeping up with the many TV shows I watch. I will be serving as the Graduate Ambassador in the area of Diversity & Inclusion with the goal of making all graduate students feel welcomed on campus and celebrating the myriad of social identities we represent.

Meet an Ambassador: Mohamed Gibril

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Mohamed Gibril, M.A. Candidate, Public Adminstration; Haenicke Institute for Global Education
Mohamed Gibril, M.A. Candidate, Public Adminstration; Haenicke Institute for Global Education

Hello! My name is Mohamed Gibril I am a Graduate Student Ambassador for the Haenicke Institute for Global Education, and I am a Masters student at the School of Public Affairs and Administration. I am completing a Master’s degree in Public Administration, specializing in Human Resources and nonprofit leadership. I started my program in Spring 2014 and I hope I will graduate in the summer of 2015 (if everything goes according to plan!). I have a B.S in Political Science and an M.A. in Global Politics and Intercultural Studies; prior to joining the MPA program I worked for the United Nations (UN). My experience in the UN made me realize that I needed further education and experience to advance my career. My first approach to enhancing my knowledge was through training programs (I did a lot of them) then I went through the MPA curriculum and I realized that no training can beat the amount of knowledge and experience I could gain from such program. I have to be honest — since I have been in college my aim has been to get my degree and join the workforce; however, once I started working, I realized how competitive it is out there… the people around me were highly qualified, but I believe that my current program will give me an advantage over the competition. I look forward to representing the Haenicke Institute’s students at the graduate level!

Meet an Ambassador: Michael Bobbitt

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Michael Bobbitt, Ph.D. Candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision
Michael Bobbitt, Ph.D. Candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision

Hello to all! My name is Michael Bobbitt, and I am a PhD student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program here at Western Michigan University. I currently teach the counseling techniques course here at WMU. Before coming to WMU, I was working as a provisional licensed professional counselor at a not-for-profit agency in Springfield, MO. During my time at this agency, I worked with individuals and couples dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and other difficulties. When I complete my program at WMU, I hope to teach at a counseling program and conduct research that focuses on counselor-in-training self-efficacy and natural disaster trauma.

When I am not at school, you can typically find me with a cup of coffee in my hand watching sports. I am originally from St. Louis, MO which means that I am a lifelong fan of the Cardinals, Blues, and Rams. My second home in Michigan is Lawson Arena, as I often cheer on the hockey team here at WMU. I also like to unwind by listening to music. My taste is music is pretty eclectic, as I can be found listening to anything from folk to metal.

Meet an Ambassador: Alex Houser

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This week we’re introducing one of our new Graduate College Ambassadors, Alex Houser!

Alex will be starting his 5th year as a PhD student in the fall, in the discipline of Economics. He describes himself as a business geek, and is currently interning with the Consumer Analytics function of PNC, where he will remain until August 27th. Academically, much of his research focuses on statistics, and specifically producing new statistical procedures which are well suited towards economic data.

Business remains one of his main hobbies, and he has enjoyed coordinating with a group of students to run and maintain the Campus Beet weekly vegetarian lunch in the Wesley foundation, a small but profitable organization lunch (check out a WMU News article about this student-led initiative here). Alex serves as one of two bread bakers for the organization.

Meet Becky Straple, new Editor of The Hilltop Review

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Hello, everyone! As the new Editor of The Hilltop Review: A Journal of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Research, I wanted to drop in at The Grad Word and introduce myself.

Becky Straple, the new Editor of The Hilltop ReviewI’m a PhD student in the Department of English, currently working on my coursework. I specialize in medieval literature, particularly Old English and Old Norse and issues of gender, sexuality, and the body in those literatures and in Anglo-Saxon and early medieval Scandinavian cultures. I’m considering branching out into early medieval Ireland, too… so if anyone knows where I can take a good intensive on Old Irish, drop me a line. (Or where there’s an outdoor archery range in Kalamazoo!)

I have what I consider to be good, well-rounded experience in the fields of English and publishing, from teaching to copy editing to technical writing. I once worked for a safety consulting company that specialized in industrial shipping, doing technical writing for them and copy editing things like safety manuals and tables specifying the load-bearing capabilities of specific clamps or the severity of pinch points on a shipping vessel (so for anyone out there feeling insecure about their job prospects with an English degree, never fear—you’d be surprised at the jobs you can get). I’ve worked in IT departments and for web design departments and I’ve been working as a freelance copy editor and proofreader for the last five years or so, working on projects from young adult Christian sci-fi novels to scholarly monographs and from academic journal articles to my uncle’s Vietnam memoir.

I’m excited to start working on the Fall 2014 issue of The Hilltop Review, and on that note, I’d like to let you all know about the Call for Papers (and Artwork, and Creative Work, and Book Reviews, and Letters to the Editor!) for that issue. The deadline for this CFP is September 22, but I highly encourage you to submit early—maybe you have a seminar paper from last semester, or are finishing up a chapter of your thesis or a literature review. Take advantage of all the free time you have over the summer (ha!) to prep it for submission and send it in! I’ll send out a reminder about the CFP when the semester starts, but I thought it might be good for everyone to get a jump on things and open the call now.

Submitting to The Hilltop Review is a great way to gain experience about or to try out the publication process at a scholarly journal. We’re completely run by students, but we follow the same procedure that many other peer-reviewed journals do. You submit, your work is blind reviewed by one graduate student and one faculty member in your field (they don’t know who wrote the work they’re reviewing), and we let you know whether your work will be included in the next issue, whether it needs work and can be resubmitted, or whether it’s not right for the current issue. If you need to revise and resubmit, we review the work again, and hopefully you’ll see your name and your research in the next issue! It’s also a great line to have on your CV and something to brag about! Plus, we have awards for the three best articles ($500, $300, and $150), for the best creative work ($250), and the for the artwork selected for the cover ($250)!

Some things to know, if you’re interested in submitting:

  • While the last few issues of The Hilltop Review have had themes, I thought I’d start with an issue that’s open to any topic, methodology, field of research, etc. The Spring issue will probably feature a theme, and we’ll let you know what that will be when the time comes.
  • The Hilltop Review publishes research articles, creative writing, artwork, and letters to the editor. This year, we decided to try book reviews, too; so if there’s an exciting new publication out in your field, please review it and submit the review for consideration!
  • The Hilltop Review is also looking for new Editorial Board members and peer reviewers. If you are interested in either of these positions, feel free to email me any questions you have. To self-nominate, please send me a short cover letter and your CV (which should include a statement about what fields you are comfortable reviewing in).
  • You can see a detailed description of the guidelines for submission (for all types of submission listed above) at The Hilltop Review on ScholarWorks.
  • All submissions are now being handled through ScholarWorks. This is a platform for hosting scholarly journals, on which The Hilltop Review has been available digitally for several years. This is a great system; you can upload your submissions here, and I can assign a reviewer to it, edit it, and respond to you, all through one system. We hope this will be more efficient and useful than emailing back and forth between multiple people. You will need to create a new account to submit if you don’t already have one.

If you have any questions or concerns about The Hilltop Review, the publication process, or me, your new Editor, please feel free to contact me. I’m looking forward to working with you all to promote graduate scholarship at Western Michigan University for the next two years!

Spotlight on Success: Dr. Clara Adams

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For Dr. Clara P. AdaClara Adamsms, GEP scholar, current recipient of a Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship, and recipient of the Graduate Research (2013) and Graduate Teaching Effectiveness (2012) Awards from the Chemistry department, the decision to pursue research in chemistry at WMU has yielded fantastic success, but she gives credit to those who helped and inspired her in her chemistry lab and at the Graduate College. After completing her undergraduate degree in Charlotte, North Carolina, she might have attended pharmacy school if not for the opportunity and encouragement she received from WMU’s Dr. Sherine Obare, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Clara’s eventual advisor. Dr. Obare gave Clara the chance to work on a project in her lab in Charlotte — a project evaluating stilbene-based molecular sensors for the detection of organophosphorous pesticides — the first “real world” academic experience Clara had outside of her undergraduate chemistry labs. Later, Dr. Obare encouraged her to apply to WMU’s master’s program in chemistry, after which Clara was quickly promoted to begin the Ph.D. program. As a doctoral student, Clara continued her work, developing metallic nanoparticles that could detect hydrogen peroxide and pathogens like Escherichia coli.

When she had an opportunity to take on teaching responsibilities, Clara worked as part of an interdisciplinary team to create a new laboratory unit that would better demonstrate immediate and real-world applications for chemistry and biology. Working under a fellowship awarded by the GAANN program (Graduate Assistants in Areas of National Need), Clara collaborated with Dr. Donald Schreiber to develop a “food science” lab that would allow students to determine macromolecules present in food items. Using chemical reagents, students determined the amount of macromolecules such as carbohydrates, lipids, and sodium chloride in foods like chips, cheese, nuts, and turkey. While Dr. Schreiber laid the ground-work for the lab, Clara grew the idea, working out procedures for the tests and expanding their scope to go beyond their initial idea of testing for amounts of protein in tortilla chips! Thanks to the efforts of Clara and Dr. Schreiber, that innovative lab has been implemented into WMU’s undergraduate chemistry program.

Beyond this, Clara’s research in shape control of metallic (ruthenium and palladium) nanoparticles took her to national conferences, including her first oral presentation at the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia in 2012 (a conference that annually draws 30,000 professors, students, and practitioners), to international venues, such as the 2013 IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) conference in Istanbul, Turkey, where she presented her research in a poster session. She sees her future research going into the uses of shape-control for other metallic nanoparticles not extensively studied right now; she wants to do further research into using electrochemical sensors for detecting other bacteria, waste contaminants, and environmental pollutants. As Dr. Adams observes, “this area of research is crucial because nanotechnology is still relatively new, so there’s not much research into how nanoparticles affect the environment.” Clara is currently looking at post-doctoral positions where she can continue her work, and has even considered broadening her experience by starting research in cosmetic chemistry in the future.

Through all her success in research, teaching, and publication at WMU (she has four articles to her name, plus one in the works, as well as a book chapter!), Clara is effusive in her praise of Dr. Obare, for encouraging her to apply first to WMU, and then for numerous awards and funding opportunities. She thanks Mr. Tony Dennis and the GEP program, for providing countless opportunities for professional and academic development, as well as Linda Comrie of the Graduate College, for helping her through a labyrinth of funding rules and policies, and Dr. Marianne Di Pierro and the Graduate Center for Research and Retention, for their workshops on applying for grants and post-docs, which Clara says “are definitely needed and wanted!” Finally, Clara is every day thankful to God for giving her the strength to begin and continue this journey, and the blessings that have come to her along the way. We’re sure that her success has only begun, and wish her the best as she graduates with a Ph.D. from WMU this spring.