Shining a Light on Women Leaders in Social Work: WMU Alumna Courtney Dunsmore

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Courtney Dunsmore, MSW
Alumna Courtney Dunsmore, Master of Social Work

This past spring, Courtney Dunsmore walked across the stage to receive her Master’s degree in Social Work from WMU. After two years’ of work in the Policy, Planning, and Administration concentration of the MSW, Courtney’s experiences in that program include a co-authored article with her mentors, a professional conference presentation to a packed house in Las Vegas, various committee appointments, and a field placement that has confirmed her beliefs that this degree was absolutely the right choice for her.

A former Bronco undergraduate with degrees in sociology and psychology, Courtney knew she wanted to work in the human service field but dreamed of travel and exploring the world beyond Michigan. Soon after her first graduation from WMU, she followed her heart and joined AmeriCorps, moving to South Carolina and working chiefly in administrative program planning for Georgetown County United Way AmeriCorps*VISTA Collaborative. After her time in this program, Courtney knew that working and collaborating with non-profits was what she wanted to do… she looked briefly at graduate programs across the country, but eventually her vision shifted back to Michigan. She realized that she knew the MSW program here — she knew the department, knew the people she’d be able to work with — and it became clear that returning to WMU for graduate study was the correct path.

This year, the second year of her program, Courtney has had the opportunity to work with two faculty mentors to research trends in women’s roles in Social Work. Having previously established good professional relationships with Drs. Barbara Barton and Dee Sherwood, Courtney was invited to help them dig further into Dr. Sherwood’s dissertation research: a study of women in leadership positions in social work, the challenges they experienced and the progress they made.

They analyzed a group of interviews of female social workers that Dr. Sherwood had recorded, picking out ten as representative and then reading through and coding the interviewees’ responses. In this process, they narrowed in on different types of gender biases and micro-aggressions that the women experienced during their time in the field, especially as they attempted to enter leadership roles. Courtney and her mentors discovered that when these women attempted to pursue administrative roles or positions with greater responsibilities, they were often marginalized in various ways or told “maybe you should pursue a different direction.” Discouraging, certainly… but Courtney says she also finds this eye-opening, as she herself intends to head in the direction of leadership and administration within Social Work and may be faced with similar challenges as she forges ahead. She also observes that, in a project like this, the research process itself is fascinating — this kind of analysis demonstrates that these aren’t just individual stories or anecdotes about peoples’ job experiences; when taken collectively, the data show quantifiable trends in the ways women are treated and what influences them in the workplace.

Dr. Dee Sherwood, Dr. Barbara Barton, and Courtney Dunsmore at the Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference
Dr. Dee Sherwood, Dr. Barbara Barton, and Courtney Dunsmore at the Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference

Once Courtney and Drs. Barton and Sherwood had compiled their information, they began looking for conferences where they might all present. They applied and were accepted to present as part of a panel at the 27th Annual Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference, held this past February in Las Vegas. Courtney’s contribution to the trio’s 15-minute talk was to speak about past and present trends in women’s leadership in the SW profession — and they spoke to a full house! Following her talk, Courtney was able to check out posters and to speak to a number of graduate students about their dissertations. She reflects that it was invigorating to hear students talk about the genesis of their research. Spurred on by these conversations, Courtney says she spent a day looking at Ph.D. programs after the conference, but right now is planning to go straight into employment in the field. Regardless of whether she plans to undertake a doctorate in the future, she is building her credentials right now, as she is currently working on an article (co-authored with Drs. Barton and Sherwood) based on their presentation in Las Vegas, that they will submit to the Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research. As she writes the literature review for the manuscript, “Falling Silent?: Analyzing the Voices of Women Leaders in Social Work,” Courtney says it’s awesome to be co-authoring with her mentors, and a great opportunity to get a clear view of how professors collaborate and see their research through to the final stage of publication.

This spring, she completed a field placement as part of her MSW program, working at Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health in Kalamazoo, and has found it invaluable to be able to apply lessons learned in class to situations in her internship. This placement has allowed her to acquire hands-on experience in the kind of administrative and organizational tasks she would like to do in her career; she has performed gap analysis of current policies and crosswalked those policies with requirements for NCQA Health Plan accreditation at her current institution.

Courtney’s service to the WMU community also extends beyond her academic and research work. In her second year of the MSW, she served as a graduate assistant in the Dean’s Office at the College of Health and Human Services, working directly with the Communications Coordinator of CHHS. Also that year, she served on two committees within the School of Social Work — the Field Education Subcommittee and the Admissions Policy Committee, working with faculty and students to understand and improve the policies behind field placement and admission in the SSW. Finally, the joined the Bernhard Center Advisory Board as an alumna representative, serving on this board since last fall and voting on matters such as new vendors contracts at the Bronco Mall and reviewing and approving the Bernhard Center budget for the upcoming academic year.

All of Courtney’s hard work and dedication to her MSW, CHHS and the university really paid off as Courtney was one of five recipients of the Graduate Student “Make a Difference Award” for the 2015 academic year. She received this award at the Graduate Student Association banquet on April 17. In the words of her nominator,

“Courtney is always the first person to jump on volunteer activities within the university as well as the Kalamazoo Community. We were given the opportunity to participate in the bi-annual Point In Time Count at a local homeless shelter through one of our classes and Courtney was eager to help out. She also dedicated her day off on MLK day to the MLK Day of Service and volunteered with The Land Bank helping to restore some apartments in Washington Square. There is no doubt in my mind that Courtney is a true Bronco through and through.”

When asked what advice she might have for future graduate students in the MSW program (or beyond), she advises students should advocate for themselves: “It’s important to reach out, find connections, and network — not all experiences are going to be handed to you.” She has the highest praise for her professors and mentors, whom she says have been more than happy to advocate for her and help her along with her career. In the end, though, it comes down to you — “what you put in is what you get out of the program… if you want to succeed, you have to put the work in!”

— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College


Living the Mindful Life: My Journey to Tibet

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Justin Moore, Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology

Justin Moore sits outside of a monastery in Tibet
Justin sits outside of a monastery in Tibet

Mindfulness is a concept not new to the world, yet over the past twenty to thirty years it has increased in popularity in the west. There are various interpretations of “mindfulness.” Here, mindfulness is defined as the cultivation of ones’ ability to become and remain present and aware, paying attention to our direct experience in the moment. Mindfulness is an integral part in many third wave psychological treatments (“third wave” meaning some of the latest psychological treatments) like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). An ACT approach in psychotherapy is geared towards the evocation of increased mindfulness, acceptance, and psychological flexibility to help a person engage in behavior change linked to their values. A DBT approach in psychotherapy generally focuses on developing a person’s mindfulness capacity, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness skills, and emotion regulation to foster an ability to interact appropriately with the world and themselves. Mindfulness practice has also been incorporated into some school curricula, military training, work settings, and professional sports, with NFL teams like the Seattle Seahawks speaking about the benefits of its practice.

Originally, the concept and practice of mindfulness developed in the Buddhist tradition and many of the scholars who have created third wave psychological treatments have studied Buddhism and cultivated mindfulness from its practice. As a psychology graduate student, learning and using this skill for myself and for the clients I serve has been exhilarating, captivating, and eye opening. I began to notice how living in such a fast-paced society contributed to us spending very little time with ourselves. Like those who developed ACT and DBT, I wanted to study the powerful phenomenon of mindfulness at its source because, to me, deepening one’s understanding requires experience. So, I traveled to Tibet last summer to learn as the Buddhist Monks have for centuries. There, I visited many Buddhist monasteries and temples, learning mindfulness and meditation as the monks have done. I sat side by side with people whose compassion was so powerful you could feel their joy, love, and appreciation for life and humankind. As I traveled hours cliffside on narrow dirt roads to Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth, and Rongbuk monastery, the highest monastery in the world, I thought about how fortunate I was to have a firsthand experience of things I had previously only read about in books.

“The wheel of life, Trongsa dzong” by Stephen Shephard – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I was taught from the wheel of life (Bhavacakra), which is a piece of art found in most Buddhist temples and monasteries. It is said Buddha himself created the wheel of life as a tool to help teach his disciples and others. In hopes to reach a larger audience, this was created to depict familiar entities to evoke connection and understanding of and with complex Buddhist philosophy. At the Potala palace, where the Dali Lama once lived before his banishment from Tibet, and at the Jokhang Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tibet, founded in CE 647, the Monks welcomed me as if we were old friends. There, I saw beautiful artwork that told the story of Buddha, Buddhism, and the path to reach enlightenment. The foundation of their collective journey in Buddhism included having compassion for all beings, including insects, reptiles, mammals, and so on. In their teachings, they imparted knowledge about the interconnectedness of all beings and the importance of self-exploration through techniques like meditation. Meditation allows one to pay special attention to the self, to his or her emotions, thoughts, and his or her physiological responses to the environment. With practice, a space can be created between a person and these experiences so that one may take a step back to understand themselves on a deeper level. One meditation — a meditation on “precious human life” — resonated strongly with me. This meditative practice essentially illuminated the importance of being grateful for what one has and finding a place of contentment.

“Sacred lotus Nelumbo nucifera” by T.Voekler – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from the Bhavacakra, many other symbols are used to impart knowledge in this ancient tradition. The lotus is an important image that I saw in many Buddhist paintings, statues, and carvings. It symbolizes purity and freedom. This has been chosen as a representation because it blossoms through the murky, muddy waters into a beautiful flower untouched by the murkiness. Thus, the lotus moved through a dirty environment, clean and dirt free. It is said we too have the potential to rise through the noise and murk of our daily lives: to emerge from our preoccupations with things not present, with pain, jealousy, negativity, anger, and hatred, to reach a level of centeredness and presence to experience the actual moments in our lives as they occur. For me, the journey to Tibet was profound and contributed greatly to my experiential learning of mindfulness, meditation, and the benefits linked to its practice.

Pure Michigan, Pure Mallinson: Bringing Science Education to Great Lakes Tourism

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Joe Lane, Mallinson Institute for Science Education
Joe Lane, Mallinson Institute for Science Education

Joseph Lane, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, is dedicated to bringing together science education and tourism in Michigan. His research and dissertation focus on informal geographic education, specifically, exploring how science and geographic information could potentially be integrated into existing guided tours around the Great Lakes. For his dissertation, he is working with two touring companies — the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association and Shepler’s Mackinac Ferry. Typically, these cruises offer historical tours of the offshore lighthouses and areas around Mackinac Island and St. Helena Island, usually carrying 100 people per 3-hour trip, and providing narration by trained educational tour guides. Joe has been working with the tours to collect data about how science education could be incorporated into these already popular tours. This kind of informal education could have wide effects, as these particular tours usually attract several thousand people per year, and his research would certainly be relevant to these kinds of historical tours all around the country.

Joe’s interest in the integration of science education and tourism grew out of his previous history as a volunteer tour guide on St. Helena Island, as well as his desire to be an educator. Originally intending to teach geography, Joe came to the Mallinson Institute because he wanted a more interdisciplinary program — something that would allow him to teach a variety of courses in scientific fields. The MISE Ph.D. also requires an “early research” project, so Joe drew on his history with the St. Helena Island tour and his interest in Great Lakes education to develop his project. He credits his advisor, Dr. Joseph Stoltman (Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geography and MISE), as being a major influence on the direction of his program and for helping him turn good ideas into research.

Photo credit: Joseph Lane
Photo credit: Joseph Lane

Joe’s work has had an excellent reception from audiences in academia and in the tourism industry. Recently, he has presented at several conferences, including The Great Lakes Place Based Education Conference (GVSU, Grand Rapids) and the East Lakes and West Lakes Division of the Association of American Geographers conference (WMU, Kalamazoo). “Informal and nonformal scientific education,” says Joe, “is a new and expanding field, and there’s a lot of interest in this approach to teaching. And we’re getting faculty from different backgrounds to relate to each others’ research… people see this as cool stuff!” Following his presentations to academic audiences, Joe has authored or co-authored several papers in peer-reviewed journals, including “An Exploratory Qualitative Study of Anthropogenic Climate Change Skeptics’ Messages on YouTube” (2014), published in GSA Annual Meeting Abstracts,[1] and “What Supports or Promotes the Development of Geographic Knowledge, Skills, and Practices?: Pedagogy and Research Priorities to Improve Geography Teaching and Learning at the K-12 Level” (2013), in Research in Geographic Education.[2] His work is getting good reviews outside of the academy, as well — “I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm from tour guides,” he reports. “They’re as excited as I am about these kinds of partnerships!”

Though working toward the end of his doctoral program, Joe reflects that he’s had a very good experience in the Mallinson Institute for Science Education (MISE) and in the Department of Geography. “It’s a place I’ve enjoyed being, and it feels as though I’m meant to be here. I’ve had a very rewarding experience where I’m not alone. These departments have been so supportive of me over the years. It’s just a continual expression of support.”

— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College

[1] Bentley, A.P.K., Jones, J., Lane, J., Petcovic, H., (2014). An exploratory qualitative study of anthropogenic climate change skeptics’ messages on YouTube. GSA Annual Meeting Abstracts With Programs, Vancouver, British Columbia, v. 46, p. 601.

[2] Battersby, S.E.; Mohan, A.; Cooper, C.W.; Curtis, M.; Lane, J.; Tabor, L.K.; Wessel, J. (2013). What Supports or Promotes the Development of Geographic Knowledge, Skills, and Practices?: Pedagogy and Research Priorities to Improve Geography Teaching and Learning at the K-12 Level. Research in Geographic Education. Vol 15. No. 2. The Gilber M. Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education.


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social-media-2015Graduate students will use social media tools to enhance their graduate education and professional development at “Reboot Your Profile: Using Social Media Tools for Graduate Research and Professional Branding.” The free workshop features WMU experts who will help students heighten their online presence for improved teaching, research, writing, and professional branding. The event will be held on Tuesday, February 2 from 3 to 5:15 pm in Room 2720, Sangren Hall. Attendees can register at Participants should bring a laptop or other web-enabled device. All experience levels are welcome.

Sessions will feature the following topics and speakers:

  • Connect: Promoting Research and CollaboratingEli Collins-Brown, Associate Director, WMU Office of Faculty Development

Participants will learn methods for using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to network with other professionals, follow discipline-specific feeds, and publicize their research.

  • Engage: Blogging Best Practices for Research and Professional CommunicationIlse Schweitzer, Social Media Specialist, Graduate College

Attendees will consider blogging and micro-blogging to promote their research and learn best practices for these online tools. This session will also address social media pros and cons and how to search for discipline-specific blogs.

  • Stand Out: Develop Your Profile on Academic Social Media SitesJosh Kohnert, Social Media Manager, WMU Development and Alumni Relations

This session presents information about academic-based social media sites that facilitate professional networking. Participants will create and update profiles as well as learn best practices for online discussion.

Attendees are encouraged to review the Graduate College’s online modules, “Social Media and the University Symposium,” available on YouTube and at Co-sponsored by the Graduate College, the Graduate Center for Research and Retention, and Graduate Student Association, the event includes light refreshments. Contact Ilse Schweitzer, Graduate College, at for more information or visit

A Passion for Policy: MSW Student Zachary Henderson Works to Effect Change in Kalamazoo

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MSW Student Zachary Henderson surveys the view over Quito, Ecuador
MSW Student Zachary Henderson surveys the view over Quito, Ecuador

For Zachary Henderson, a first-year Master’s student in the School of Social Work, the MSW program has provided a wealth of opportunities to be involved in programs and policy-making to create real change in the Kalamazoo community. After earning his BA in sociology from Western, Zachary decided to shift his focus from sociological theory to the real-world applications of social work; he also wanted to make use of his Spanish language skills gained after studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador earlier this year. Our MSW program was an ideal choice for him, giving him the chance to work with the City of Kalamazoo and the city’s new Family Engagement Program.

As part of his field experience in the MSW program, Zachary’s interest in working with Spanish-language groups led him to an internship performing data-entry for the Hispanic-American Council in Kalamazoo. After a time, he realized that he wanted to have a better view of how governmental / municipal programs can make positive change for Kalamazoo citizens, so he talked to his former professor and City Commissioner Dr. Don Cooney about the role of policy in social work. Seeing Zachary’s passion and enthusiasm, Dr. Cooney helped to connect him with the Lewis Walker Institute and, through the Institute, with a new internship for the City of Kalamazoo. As a student intern for the city, he undertakes research about various government programs, including policies to reduce gun violence, poverty, and truancy. On his first days in his new position as a student researcher, Zachary participated in a meeting of the City Council with Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Dr. Cooney, Dr. Tim Ready, City Commissioner Laura Lam, and former Commissioner Stephanie Moore, and was excited by the opportunity to engage immediately in conversation about policy, and to see how his research could have real-world effects. Currently, he is working with the city to provide employment assistance programming for impoverished individuals. As Zachary explains, “it’s not just providing clothing, or help writing resumes or letters — we want to help people make real connections with employers and CEOs in the community. We need to see real change and improvement in peoples’ lives.” His passion for this work is clear as he excitedly talks about the other programs he’s researching for the city; “I get excited by actually seeing problems being solved, by seeing the impact of policy first-hand!”

The difference between the environment of the classroom and of the internship is clear, though Zachary has found a bridge between the two in order to make his skills and experience work for him. He explains, “social work is extremely research-based. What you learn in the classroom, those critical thinking skills — you really get a chance to put them to work in the field. You see the difference between classroom applications and real-world applications. But my internships have also really taught me to open up, and to be curious… I’m getting interested in the history of these groups I’m working with — too see the roots of larger conflicts, so that we understand where we are now.”

His department is enthusiastic about his work, as well. According to SSW Field placement coordinator Jennifer Harrison, “Zachary is not only completing his field placement in an arena that will allow him to research and advance policy to decrease gun violence, reduce poverty, and effect truancy rates, but was also recently hired in the Family Engagement Project working in North Kalamazoo to engage families in early childhood education. The Family Engagement Project is a partnership between the Douglass Community Association and the Office of Institutional Equity, and is led by Dr. Linwood Cousins. Zachary is excited to have the opportunity to partner with community members to make an impact in both of these programs.” Speaking about this recent opportunity, Zachary says that even though his work with the Family Engagement Project has just begun, already he can see the dramatic and insidious impacts of poverty, and how poverty is ignored or misunderstood by the wider community. Though he has begun by taking surveys and inputting data in order to help the Project conduct research, Zachary has also participated in meetings between the Kalamazoo Mothers of Hope, the city police, teachers, doctors, and other citizens, listening as community members discussed how they interacted with police, what resources they needed in order to find employment. This kind of personal interaction with the community, Zachary says, “makes you realize what some of these families are up against.”

Zachary has also been an active leader in his own program. He was one of the co-founders of WMU’s student chapter of the Association for Behavioral Sciences and Medical Education (ABSAME) — the first student chapter of ABSAME in the nation — for which Zachary now serves as President. For other students considering enrolling in WMU’s MSW program, Zachary’s message is clear: “Go for it! You can take the MSW program in whatever direction you want… you can make the work fit within what you want for your life, whether that means working in politics, in a school, in a hospital. You just need to know to ask for what you want or need, if you think your program isn’t going in the right direction for you.”

— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College

Total Health for Graduate Students

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On Wed. Nov. 12 from 4:30-6 pm, the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Association will co-sponsor “Total Health for Graduate Students” a free wellness forum to promote well-balanced lifestyles. The forum will be held in Room 208, Bernhard Center. Experts will present effective strategies in four important areas of graduate student wellness:

Achieving Financial Fitness, Susan Huff, PNC Bank

  • Living on a graduate student income can challenge even the most frugal individuals. Discover proven money management strategies to stretch your paycheck.

Managing Work-Life Stress, Jenna Gehl Jones, Sindecuse Health Center

  • Stress remains one of the greatest barriers to making progress on graduate degrees. Learn techniques to effectively manage stress and improve resiliency.

Revitalizing Your Nutrition, Gretchen Kauth Morin, Sindecuse Health Center

  • Finding it difficult to maintain healthy, convenient nutrition on a graduate student budget? Gain new ways of eating smart to sustain your busy lifestyle.

Re-energizing with Exercise, Jen Baily, University Recreation

  • The demands of graduate education can wear you down. Learn how to recapture your energy through physical fitness.

Light refreshments and give-aways will be provided. Register at Call Julie Apker, Faculty Fellow, Graduate College, 269-352-8156 for more information

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 Researcher 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.”

— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College

**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

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!