Kenyon professors mentor Ohio State graduate studentsGraduate students are the country's future college professors, but their Ph.D. programs often give them little preparation for the real world of teaching. Kenyon is playing a valuable role in remedying that situation.
Over the past six years, a large number of faculty members here have been active in a program of the Graduate School of the Ohio State University called Preparing Future Faculty (PFF). The program, modeled on a national initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in partnership with the Council of Graduate Schools, aims to "prepare graduate students for the challenges of an evolving professoriate which places increasing emphasis on teaching and service as well as research."
Each Kenyon faculty volunteer in the program serves as a mentor to an Ohio State graduate student with whom he or she has been matched. This year's faculty participants are Nuh Aydin and Bradley Hartlaub, mathematics; Robert Bennett, classics; Scott Cummings, chemistry; Laurie Finke, women's and gender studies; Raymond Heithaus, Harry Itagaki, and Karen Hicks, biology; John Macionis, sociology; Edward Schortman and Patricia Urban, anthropology; and Paula Turner, physics. Tom Hayes, who is serving as coordinator for the Kenyon end of the program, notes that the dual mentorship that Schortman and Urban are undertaking is the first of its kind.
"I think it speaks to the generosity of the College's faculty that so many professors have stepped forward," says Hayes, an American Council on Education Fellow working with President S. Georgia Nugent this year. "The willingness of the Kenyon faculty to be helpful to graduate students is also indicative of their commitment to good teaching. This year's numbers are the College's largest ever."
A new feature this year is a panel discussion for the graduate students, which will take place on Wednesday, March 2, followed by a reception and dinner. The panelists, who are expected to address about one hundred twenty graduate students, are Associate Professor of Chemistry Scott Cummings, Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Dana Krieg, John Crowe Ransom Professor of English Kim McMullen, and Assistant Professor of Art History Kristen Van Ausdall. A luncheon in Weaver Cottage on Wednesday, March 30, will mark the end of this year's program.
"With some exceptions, most graduate programs do little to train scientists how to teach and how to navigate the complex set of expectations we face when starting an academic career," says Cummings, who has served as a mentor in the program several times. "Because graduate school in science is almost completely focused on generating experimental results for a research advisor, thesis committee, and funding agencies, the transition from lab to classroom can be abrupt and quite awkward. PFF can make the transition smoother by sharing advice on applying for positions, working with students, preparing course materials, dealing with common challenges at the departmental or institutional level, and finding balance between teaching and research and between career and personal life."
According to Kathleen Hallihan, who coordinates the program for the university, many PFF students find the mentorship experience to be the most helpful and rewarding aspect of the program and often maintain lasting professional relationships with their mentors. She says Kenyon has been "far and away" the most sought-after institution among Ohio State graduate students, perhaps because it "fits their idea of an alternate educational universe." The other institutions cooperating with Ohio State in the program are Capital University, Denison University, John Carroll University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Otterbein College, the University of Dayton, Wittenberg University, the College of Wooster, and Wright State University.
PFF is offered by the graduate school as a one-credit course. In order to pass, students must meet with their mentor at least three times, usually at the mentor's institution; attend five professional-development workshops at Ohio State; and complete and submit a four- to five-page evaluation, designed to solicit feedback for further program development, near the end of the university's spring quarter.
Typical activities include observing classes in the mentor's department; discussing hiring, faculty review, and tenure processes; discussing teaching philosophies, methodologies, and practice; presenting a workshop or seminar based on the student's research; touring laboratory and computer facilities; speaking with undergraduate students about graduate-school life; visiting departmental and university governance meetings; designing a mock or new course for a liberal arts setting; discussing successful academic career development; delivering a practice job talk and participating in a mock interview process; and discussing the research culture of the institution as well as possibilities for collaborative research with undergraduates and other departments.