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. I will complete 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 enables me to teach a course of my own design as instructor of record during my final year of graduate study. As a student and 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 and will teach during Spring 2023, “Health Inequity: Policies & Pathways”, I constructed the weekly schedule such that the first class period each week consists of a general lecture, while the second class period is set aside for discussion. These discussions provide students with time to think critically about the material, learn from their peers, and ask questions. In addition, students have projects throughout the semester that require them to communicate with others and incorporate materials from class, as well as from their own unique area of interest within the broader subject.
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 write memos describing a phenomenon, but they are given the freedom to apply that to a topic of their choice. I work directly with students to select a topic and provide feedback on early drafts to help guide their progress. In addition, I ask students to conduct an interview so that they play 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 someone outside the class to gain another perspective on the topic. This collaboration embodies my fundamental belief that we learn through our interactions.
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%). One significant piece of advice I gleaned from these evaluations was to be confident in my presentation and knowledge of the subject matter. I have reflected on this and now prepare lectures with that in mind, highlighting components that I are related to my own work and therefore concrete and allow me to demonstrate my mastery of the material, but also to be humble when I do not know all the answers. Knowledge is co-created during my classes, and I aspire to foster a learning environment where students can be comfortable not knowing everything and working together to come to conclusions.
One of the main themes that emerged from their 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.
It is this aspect of mentorship that drives me to teach undergraduates. At the undergraduate level, students are still exploring the world, learning as they interact with new places, new people, and new ideas. In introductory courses, such as “Political Analysis of Public Policy”, students gain general knowledge that can either supplement what they already know about the world or can propel them to dig deeper and seek further specialization in that area. As the lead teaching assistant for “Political Analysis of Public Policy” I coordinated a team of five teaching assistants, developed materials in collaboration with the professor, and worked both one-on-one and in small groups with students. In each of these interactions I sought to broaden how students applied what they learned to their own experiences.
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.