The cross-sector partnership

Here’s the talk I gave today at the Northeast Association of Graduate Schools conference. The graduate deans were very interested in helping doctoral students and postdocs prepare for careers at teaching-intensive institutions, so that was heartening.

* * *

The program I’m here to talk with you about today is aimed at doctoral students and postdocs, but it did not originate in the doctoral sector. It grew from some frustration I had as a dean, interviewing job candidates who seemed to know very little about the kind of institution at which they were interviewing. I once interviewed a candidate from Brown, in the social sciences. When I asked her what kind of adjustments she might have to make, in coming to teaching at a regional comprehensive university from Brown, she said, “Well, I’d start by cutting my syllabus down by about two thirds.” That’s just wrong, and it comes from a lack of knowledge of who our students are and what they can do.

Two years ago, I read in the Chronicle about a session at the Council of Graduate Schools conference that discussed preparing doctoral students for teaching at teaching-focused institutions. I immediately wondered why the session hadn’t been run by folks FROM teaching institutions. So I thought, let’s get these sectors together to talk about how better to prepare their students/our job candidates. I invited deans and faculty from doctoral institutions, regional comprehensive universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges in Southern New England to come and have lunch at my university to brainstorm about ways to make better connections among our institutions, in aid of getting better-prepared teachers into the teaching-intensive schools. I had read about the Preparing Future Faculty programs and made sure to invite a faculty member from my institution who is an alum of PFF from the University of New Hampshire.  I’ll talk more about that program in a few minutes.

The enthusiasm at that meeting was encouraging, and we soon planned an event for doctoral students and postdocs at which folks from the teaching-intensive schools would present a variety of workshops that I’ll let John describe. The participants were so excited about what they were learning, that we knew we had to make the event annual. We called it Teaching at Teaching-Intensive Institutions. But the, what seemed to some of us, woeful ignorance in the room about what a teaching-focused job involved made us wonder whether we shouldn’t be going even further in helping our potential faculty to learn about life on a 4-4 or 5-5 teaching load.

So a group of faculty and administrators began talking about the project we’re building toward now—a freestanding graduate certificate in Teaching-Intensive Institutions, independent of a doctoral student’s home institution. How could we put together such a certificate without depending on coursework? We knew we couldn’t mandate that the doctoral institutions all offer coursework in pedagogy, although many do. And we knew that coursework in pedagogy didn’t automatically include instruction in what students would need to know about community colleges, regional public institutions, or other non-research-focused schools. So we thought we’d design the program to operate on a kind of micro-credentialing system. We would offer credits, for example, for completion of online modules that would deliver some of the kinds of information that our workshop did: what types of institutions make up the teaching-intensive sector, who are our students, what are the working conditions like, etc.

We knew we’d need on-the-ground experience at the teaching-intensive schools, so we would include shadowing opportunities—three-times-a-semester tag-alongs where a visitor gets a sense of the whole day of a faculty member on a 4-4 or 5-5 load. We would offer workshops at schools from both sectors. And we’d find ways to match up undergrads from the 4-4 and 5-5 schools with doctoral students and postdocs. All these activities would be badge worthy, leading to a certificate that would demonstrate commitment to the teaching-intensive sector as well as readiness to hit the ground running.

As we have been working on this idea in the Southern New England region, we’re not waiting for a foundation-God to make it happen—we’re hoping for that, of course, as some of our plans really do require some initial investment. But we’ve started arranging ways of connecting the sectors while we’re building. John will tell you about the daylong events we’ve had for grad students and postdocs in our first two years and the kinds of workshops they have included.

I want to present our ideas while they’re still in development so that
1) We can disseminate what we think are some pretty good ideas in hopes that some of you will want to pick them up in your own local areas, and
2) We can get better ideas from you, while we’re in the early stages—you can help us to see what we’re leaving out, what would help, what’s hopeless, what can be better.

Here are some of the roadblocks we’re encountering as we try to build connections among our institutions, as well as some of the successes we’re having:

Problem number one: where’s the real problem?
Are we addressing this issue from the wrong starting point by going directly to the students? By trying to reach out to students via graduate deans or directors of graduate studies and expecting students to find their way to us? By targeting our workshops at the students themselves, and by running the workshops Two funding agencies so far have told us so—one in rejecting a grant application and one by way of encouraging us to shift our approach as we apply.

The reason doctoral students don’t know about careers at teaching-intensive institutions, how to prepare for them, how to apply for them, is because there are no structures at the doctoral institutions to lead them in that direction.

You know the huge difference between the situations of science PhDs and postdocs, social science folks, and those in the humanities. Outcomes are different, training is different, expectations are different. When science students talked to us at the workshops, they told us that, in their labs, they could not express an interest in teaching at all, or they would not be taken seriously by their supervisors.

Humanities students, on the other hand, all knew that they were headed for teaching careers—they just weren’t sure what the differences were between types of institutions, and they had little idea of what the conditions on the ground were at institutions other than their doctoral homes. The phrase “4-4 or 5-5 load” was Greek to them. I had to explain that it meant how many courses one was expected to teach per semester.

It was not that these students and postdocs were unwilling to shape their careers around the expectations of a teaching institution. It was that no one had ever told them it was an option.

So where should we start in addressing this issue? With the students, or with the faculty that trains them?

Obviously, we’re going to need to work both ends of this. Some departments or even some universities might not be interested in promoting opportunities for their doctoral students or postdocs to learn about teaching careers at teaching-intensive institutions, so we need a way to reach students directly. Some of the students who came to our Teaching at Teaching-Intensive Institutions event came because they were encouraged by faculty advisors to whom we had reached out, but many came on their own, having heard about the event at random, from friends in other departments, or because they saw a flyer posted in the graduate office.

Outreach directly to students is important, but infiltrating departments is more productive in the long run. As Vanessa Ryan, in the graduate school at Brown, pointed out to me, making structural change within doctoral programs will have the most impact—seeding connections with teaching-intensives in graduate coursework means that those connections are institutionally sanctioned, embedded, and available to all. Programs that train students in pedagogy already should reflect all the kinds of institutions at which students might end up teaching, and programs that don’t include pedagogy, such as many STEM programs, could (and are already starting to) add them. The president of the foundation considering our grant said to us, “You don’t want your program to promote the idea that it’s not graduate schools’ responsibility to teach their students how to teach—don’t take that job off their hands.”

Many professional associations are addressing the role of broader career training in graduate study. The June 2012 BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH WORKFORCE WORKING GROUP REPORT, A Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director
National Institutes of Health, recommended that

“• NIH should create a program to supplement training grants through competitive review to allow institutions to provide additional training and career development experiences to equip students for various career options, and test ways to shorten the PhD training period. The best practices resulting from this program will help shape graduate programs across the country. The working group felt that including diverse types of training (e.g. project management and business entrepreneurship skills needed in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, or teaching experiences needed for a successful faculty position in liberal arts colleges) would be particularly valuable for those who go on to conduct NIH-funded research as well as benefit those students who do not follow the academic research career track.”

Note that the options for academic employment considered by the NIH for PhDs in biomedical sciences included only research institutions and liberal arts colleges.

The report went on to say that

“. . . graduate training continues to be aimed almost exclusively at preparing people for academic research positions. Therefore, the working group believes that graduate programs must accommodate a greater range of anticipated careers for students. Graduate programs should reflect that range, and offer opportunities for students to explore a variety of options while in graduate school without adding to the length of training. Graduate programs also should openly communicate the career outcomes of their graduates to potential students.”

Programs subsequently initiated by the NIH include focusing on mentoring, especially through the creation of mentoring circles. I’d be very interested in hearing from any of you who has experience of this method—we like the idea of trying it out cross-institutionally and for all disciplines as part of our program. Other science interventions include IDPs, individual development plans, that students and postdocs work out for themselves and share with faculty mentors, and, in places like UMass, better and more comprehensive training programs for faculty mentors.

The American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association are both also working on alternative career paths programs, both benefitting from support from the Mellon Foundation. These programs open up the possibility of alt-ac and non-academic jobs for PhDs in humanities, where the career path, as Leonard Cassuto notes in his book on graduate education, has long been understood to lead to the professoriate, unlike the path in sciences and social sciences.

With all their disciplinary differences in approaches to career training across these interventions, however, they all have in common that they do not address the need to train PhD students or postdocs to teach students who have different needs than the undergraduates at their doctoral institutions, not do they acquaint the doctoral students and postdocs with the range of kinds of institutions beyond research institutions—the kinds of schools at which they are much more likely to end up teaching.

One program that did, and in some cases still does, address that need is the Preparing Future Faculty program, initiated in 1993 by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and was funded until 2003. PFF institutions developed coursework that focused on teaching and linked research universities with regional comprehensive schools, liberal arts schools, and community colleges in their neighborhoods. When funding for the program was ended in 2003, momentum for the effort slowed, although some programs, such as UNH, devoted considerable institutional resources to maintaining their programs.

PFF described its program thus:

“PFF programs have three core features.

First, PFF programs address the full scope of faculty roles and responsibilities that include teaching, research, and service, emphasizing how the expectations for these responsibilities often differ in different campus settings.

Second, doctoral students participating in PFF programs have multiple mentors and receive reflective feedback not only for their research activities but also for their teaching and service activities.

Third, PFF programs meet both of these goals in the context of a cluster of institutions, typically involving a doctoral degree-granting institution or department collaborating with various partner institutions or departments. The cluster might include, for example, a doctoral institution, a liberal arts college, a community college, and a master’s university. Within the cluster, the partners work together to provide experiences that will allow the participating graduate students to learn about the roles and responsibilities of faculty members at each institution. This may involve arranging for a teaching experience, working with a teaching mentor, observing faculty committees, learning about faculty governance, and attending faculty development activities designed to address the special needs and interests of the students at another institution. The cluster is an evolving paradigm. Some PFF programs have modified this paradigm to involve partnerships between multiple doctoral institutions, or between an academic institution and partners in industry. Other programs have provided professional development opportunities at research universities for faculty at partner institutions in exchange for the benefits that doctoral students derive from partnerships between institutions.”

PFF is a great program, and it’s been around for quite a while now. Programs go through life cycles, of course, and Harry and Carrie from UNH were telling me last night that as faculty members who were active in PFF retire, they are not necessarily replaced with new faculty who are equally committed to the program. And so we return to the issue of the responsibility of graduate faculty. Their responsibility to enable their graduate students to learn to teach and to acquaint them with the full range of teaching opportunities that exist for them. How to cultivate enthusiasm for adding that responsibility to an already-overburdened graduate faculty member’s job?
Another key issue for us in trying to develop a freestanding graduate certificate is how to build in aspects of the program that have clear benefits for the teaching-intensive institutions and not just for the doctoral students. Having a doctoral student attend your class three times in a semester and watch you work, in office hours and meetings and in every other aspect of your day at a community college, for example, sounds a bit like a pain in the neck. How could we structure that experience so it would be rewarding for the host faculty member? Cash, of course, helps—teaching-intensive faculty are notoriously underpaid, like most everyone in higher ed, except, I’m told, graduate deans. So we would build in a stipend for the mentoring involved in the shadowing visits.

Our planning group also suggested that the shadower, for want of a better word, could conduct focus groups with the faculty member’s students, getting their perspective on the class and perhaps feeding back useful student input on what was working or not in the class. I’d be interested in other ideas for ways the mentors at teaching-intensive institutions might benefit from having the grad students on their campuses. We also thought that each grad-school shadower could, at the end of the semester, offer a workshop for students at the visited school, about what the transition to graduate school is like. Even if the teaching-intensive campus has master’s programs, as mine does, that does not mean that our undergraduates understand what graduate education really is. In fact, I’ve recently written a piece about that for Inside Higher Ed. I’m not sure when it’ll appear, but I’ll link to it on our blog, Teaching at Teaching-Intensive Institutions (I’m open to a less cumbersome name).

We also are trying to build into our program a structure whereby doctoral students and postdocs could take undergrads from the teaching-intensive schools into their research projects over the summers. A job candidate who can talk about supervising undergraduate research is a rarity, in my experience, and she would really stand out as especially committed to the kind of work we do on our campuses. In the sciences, it might be possible to slide an undergrad into a lab for a summer, but it’s more complicated in the humanities and the more humanistic of the social sciences. Undergrad research is increasingly common in those fields but less so in tandem with a faculty member’s ongoing research. And it would be an unusual doctoral student in the humanities who has enlisted an undergrad to work with him on his dissertation. But I think the potential is there and is exciting. Imagine an eager community college student spending a summer helping a doctoral student with archival research, or checking references, or working on data visualization, or even proofreading. Wouldn’t any one of those activities, no matter how mundane, be more exciting and useful for a first-generation college student than spending the summer working at McDonald’s?

It’s internship redefined, with three big goals
• helping the doctoral student to gain a good credential in mentoring an undergrad
• helping an undergrad get valuable research and research support experience, and
• creating conditions that will help to build the diversity of applicant pools to PhD programs.

Bringing in undergrads from the kinds of schools I’m talking about—community colleges and regional public universities—means bringing in diversity of many sorts. At my institution, two thirds of our students are either students of color, Pell recipients, or first-generation college students. And many are all three. So offering undergraduate research possibilities at doctoral institutions, on the doctoral institutions’ dime, would help to create pipelines for qualified students from underrepresented groups as well as increasing the credentials of the doctoral students. Many aspects of these kinds of cross-sector programs are simply win-win for both sides. They just would need to be funded!

You deans from master’s institutions—think about the kinds of collaborations you have with doctoral institutions, and the kind you’d like to have. What kinds of links do you have to community colleges—any programs that create structures for community college students to continue straight through to graduate degrees? You doctoral program deans—what are your links to teaching-intensive schools? Direct? Indirect? Pipelines for doctoral programs that would benefit? The program John and I are working on is just one kind of model for cross-sector collaboration. I’m sure you have lots of others, and I hope you toot your own horns about them.

Suzanne Ortega has told me that one of the biggest problems with trying to maintain connections between institutions in PFF programs is how hard it is to maintain connections between institutions, period. Without funded structures specifically aimed at making campus visits run smoothly, insuring that people talk to each other across the county, and making the small payouts that keep people motivated, it’s very difficult to ensure that folks, especially overburdened faculty, are able to focus on anything outside their own departments or institutions. For ties to be nurtured, someone has to get paid to nurture them, it has to be someone’s job. That makes regional initiatives difficult, unless one institution agrees to pay someone to keep them going.

In our program, which I hope you’ll want to make suggestions for and perhaps even to join, we aim to learn from what works in PFF as well as in the other, discipline-specific programs I’ve described. We’re different from PFF in that we’re trying to link a whole region, with more than one doctoral institution, and we’re trying to focus on the needs of the teaching-intensive institutions themselves. I want to make clear that we are focusing very specifically on what the research universities have to learn from the teaching-intensive colleges and universities. I think research universities can learn about who we are, of course—community colleges, private local colleges with heavy teaching loads, regional comprehensives that offer no doctorates (probably some of you in this room). But the doctoral schools might be able to learn some things from us about pedagogy as well.

In our first event, we offered a plenary on culturally inclusive pedagogy, for example, that set the room abuzz. I heard grad students from math talking about how they had never considered the ways that the choices they made in their teaching, on their own syllabi, could make learning easier or could make it more difficult for students from different backgrounds. They were excited to revise their syllabi on universal design principles—so that changes they made so as to reach out to students for whom English is a second language, for example, might be changes that would benefit students from all kinds of other situations as well.

We want to create real connections among our sectors; we want doctoral faculty to know who we are, what we do, and how we serve our students and our communities, so they can better advise their students and postdocs about the values we represent. I hope we can talk in our discussion time about ways you may already be connecting doctoral faculty and programs to community colleges and regional teaching universities and ways that regional programs like ours can build those connections, for the sake of our students and yours. One area that we have not fully explored is how master’s programs might fit into our structure. If doctoral students are conducting workshops for undergrads at regional comprehensives, to help them to understand what it’s like to pursue a doctorate, wouldn’t master’s students benefit just as much? Where do the master’s programs at our institutions fit in the big picture of linking teaching-intensive schools with doctoral institutions?

I hope we can explore some of these questions together, in this room and afterwards. I will leave you with this image for what we’re trying to do.

At our first Teaching at Teaching-Intensive Institutions workshop, I stood at the back of the room with Matt Reed, who writes the Confessions of a Community College Administrator column in Inside Higher Ed and who was then provost of a Massachusetts community colleges. Matt’s a big guy, and I watched him survey the room as a panel of community college and public regional faculty members discussed some aspect of life in the teaching-intensive sector in front of a rapt crowd of students and graduate deans. I thought he was going to make a comment on the topic they were discussing, but instead Matt turned to me and said, “Look at that. I never thought I’d see it: they’re in the audience, listening to us.”



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