What drew you to the position?
The CTL team is a great bunch that cares about providing the WashU community with a space to have meaningful conversations about teaching. The passion for excellence in undergraduate instruction that I developed as a graduate teaching assistant and adjunct instructor as well as a mentor to hundreds of undergraduate peer leaders over the years translates well to the work I am doing now. My goal is to meet each person where they are with respect to their teaching experience and help them to find ways to achieve their goals of improving as an instructor. I would also like to build some new programming that bridges various groups with the aim of improving their ability to contribute to the student experience here. For example, we have a growing number of undergraduate teaching assistants, postdocs who may be in research positions but are teaching-curious and new faculty who might be coming from CIRTL institutions and wish to continue that connection.
What is your education and work background? How did it prepare you for this role?
I came to St. Louis as a graduate student in mathematics. I studied commutative algebra and algebraic geometry initially but found it challenging to keep up my research with a very active newborn (I was extremely sleep-deprived) and took a break that ended up being more than just a semester or two. The department was very supportive and gave me many opportunities to continue to be involved with mathematics instruction. I wrote a lab manual for a HHMI grant project that incorporated natural science labs into an integral calculus course; I was a teaching assistant for a multidisciplinary introductory applied statistics course; I taught courses through University College. When I was ready to work more hours (I had two energetic, older kids by then), I was hired to manage the evening and summer courses for the department and then to pilot a Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) program for Calculus I, which led to a long-term position in those roles. I joined the General Education Assessment Committee at the university to assess numeracy in undergraduate students. I designed and administered a 24-item multiple-choice test to more than 5000 undergraduates and then analyzed the results as part of my dissertation research. This helped me to learn more about statistics, test design, critical thinking skills theory and, of course, the IRB process.
I now see that I have always been interested in how people teach, although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that early in my graduate student career. I took classes from many of the professors in the department and attended department colloquia regularly. This exposed me to many different presentation styles and gave me plenty to think about with respect to what works (and what doesn’t) when standing in front of a room full of people who want to learn something. In my evening courses, which had weekly three-hour class meetings, I designed classroom assessments that would now be called “active learning” (although I didn’t know the educational terminology then). I included components that turned out to be essential: students worked in small groups on problem sets with clear instructions, I walked around the room interacting with each group and then we went over the problems together.
More recently, I developed and directed the Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) program for Calculus I/II/III at WashU. This allowed me to get to know undergraduate students outside of the classroom, which further reinforced my belief that as instructors, the best thing we can do for our students is to help them learn how to learn, especially to be able to identify what it is they don’t know and how to work with others to build their knowledge. I found myself wanting to know more about how to effectively design problem sets as a vehicle for this effort. I started attending an online seminar Online Learning Seminar on Undergraduate Mathematics Education (OLSUME), joined the Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (RUME) group in the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and discovered the Educational Research Group (ERG) on campus. As coordinator for the mathematics and statistics course offered each summer, I developed a recruitment, training and evaluation process that provided support for graduate students as they taught as instructors of record (often for the first time). I consulted with them as they planned their courses and met with them to troubleshoot when issues came up as well as to discuss my observations of their instruction. This self-styled professional development exposed me to new ideas about learning and helped me to grow my knowledge base about undergraduate education and instructor development.
What is a fun fact about you?
I have moved three times in St Louis while staying within a two mile radius from my first apartment. My partner and I rented a U-Haul for one move and they laughed when we brought it back with less than ten miles on the truck. I enjoyed living in the Loop as a grad student. We helped to start the Syracuse Community Garden, for example. Being able to walk/bike/bus to campus every day has been great and our current neighborhood (just west of Heman Park) has a nice small-town vibe.
Where do you spend your time on campus?
I tend to be in my office (Eads 111D) about 50% of the time that I am on campus and welcome visits from graduate students and postdocs as well as campus partners. I don’t have it completely set up to my liking yet but it feels pretty comfortable and has everything I need to complete most tasks. The rest of the time, I try to be outside as much as possible. I’ve found that the space under the ginkgos to the north of Eads is a great place to read up on pedagogy. The tables outside Parkside (especially by one of the fountains) are good for getting some work done on my laptop while sipping a coffee. I used to really enjoy sitting in one of the hammock swings in the butterfly garden on Forsyth across from the DUC but they replaced them with tables. It’s still a beautiful place to eat your lunch or recharge for a bit. I will also be holding drop-in hours in the Grad Center to meet with grad students.