The way we make sense of the world is shaped by our own experiences and our interactions with others. As an educator and scholar of public policy, I believe that the university classroom is one of the only remaining places in American society where pressing issues can be discussed, analyzed, and debated. 

In each course I teach, I provide information that is relevant for students with general and specialized knowledge, those for whom policy has deeply and tangibly affected their life and those who have yet to see the many ways policy permeates their lived experience. Students with previous exposure to public policy and sociology will gain a richer picture of the policy context we share, while those without this exposure will be introduced to topics that they have dealt with in other courses and throughout their life – health, financial security, aging – but through the unique, interdisciplinary lens of public policy. Regardless of prior exposure, students will gain awareness of the policy landscape that has, likely, shaped the experiences they will bring into my classroom. Adapting to students’ particular interests, goals, and knowledge is critical to providing a course experience that will benefit students and promote learning.

I actively pursued pedagogical training during my graduate studies and postdoctoral position. While at Duke, I completed the Certificate in College Teaching program, which includes rigorous coursework as well as an observational component. In the latter, I observed two other PhD students teach and they both observed my teaching. In my career, I intend to include this observational aspect both by observing other faculty in my field, but also by actively soliciting feedback from faculty in my department. I also applied for and was awarded the Bass Instructional Fellowship, which enabled me to teach a course of my own design as instructor of record during my final year of graduate study. As a postdoc, I completed an 8-week Center for the Integration of Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) course, “Mindset to Mastery: The Inclusive Teaching Course.” As a student and a future faculty member teaching is a skill that I will practice, improve upon, and develop as new technologies and ideas diffuse.

Learning takes place in interactions; it is an iterative process that continues across the life span. Given this philosophy, in the classroom I provide students opportunities to interact with each other and to learn through collaboration. For example, in a course I designed taught at Duke during Spring 2023, “Health Inequity: Policies & Pathways”, the first class period each week consists of a general lecture, while the second class period is set aside for discussion. I gave students the opportunity to learn from another, not just from my lectures or the course materials. Outside of the classroom, students engaged in projects throughout the semester that required them to communicate with others and incorporate materials from class, as well as from their own unique area of interest within the broader subject. As two student reported: 

“I loved the small, discussion aspect of the class. The instructor Sarah Petry made it a very comfortable environment for students to share their thoughts and opinions, allowing me to learn from and collaborate with my peers.” (Undergraduate student in PPS 290 SP2023)

"This structure helped me strive because I was able to express my ideas openly and constantly learn something new from my classmates.” (Undergraduate student in PPS 290 SP2023)

To evaluate students’ learning outcomes, I provide students with assignments designed to foster critical thinking and problem solving. In my course, “Health Inequity: Policies & Pathways”, students work together to create policy infographics on a topic of their own choosing. I worked directly with students to select a topic and provided feedback on early drafts to help guide their progress. In addition, I ask students to conduct an interview, playing an active role in creating knowledge. This assignment, again, is interactive: the student creates an interview guide, I provide feedback and assistance, then the student interviews participants outside the class to gain other perspectives on the topic. This collaboration embodies my fundamental belief that we learn through our interactions, which was echoed by students: “I think the policy memo and final interview project really contributed to my public policy analysis skills because I had the opportunity to learn from doing.”

To improve student experiences in my classroom, I solicit and incorporate student feedback to better the course. As a teaching assistant and guest lecturer in qualitative methods, graduate students reported that I was very accessible (100%), professional (100%), and responsive (100%). Students in my “Health Inequities” course provided thoughtful, constructive feedback. When asked directly how students might improve the course, several suggested clarifying grading metrics for course assignments as well as providing some examples of successful assignments. In reflecting on this, I revised all rubrics based on student performance and feedback, and I intend to iteratively refine these metrics as I teach this course again. I also asked permission from students to share their assignments with future classes so that I will have (and can continue to build) a bank of diverse examples for each assignment.

One of the main themes that emerged across different course evaluations was that I made myself highly available to students outside of class time and that, both in class and outside it, I show genuine interest in the students. These together demonstrate my commitment to mentorship. As an undergraduate I spent many hours at professor’s office hours, meeting after class, or working with professors to develop projects. One professor stands out: I sat in her office for more than an hour every day for a week while I tried to determine a new major. She helped me explore options and set up appointments for me with department chairs from programs across campus. In my own mentorship, I give students the same unparalleled attention while they are in my office as she gave me. As I report in my syllabi, my office hours and any scheduled appointments with students represent time devoted to those students and their needs, even if they are not related to the course in question.

Undergraduate education, in both the general and specialized courses I teach, creates opportunities for student growth, exploration, and interaction. As a teacher and a researcher, I bring together specialized knowledge and a passion for mentorship. I incorporate student and peer feedback, and continue to engage in professional, pedagogical development by participating in trainings, asking questions, and embracing teaching as learning in my everyday life.