One of my tasks as a new dean is to work on the brand for the college. (This includes finding ways of motivating folks to think about how we can actively manage the college’s reputation without using “the B word” that many faculty members find distasteful!) A component of the overall U of Wisconsin-Parkside brand that we’ll also probably emphasize in the College of Social Sciences & Professional Studies is close student-faculty contact, with very few classes taught by graduate students. I wonder, though, if we should add graduate students to the brand? Many of these instructors are outstanding! Thinking back to my undergraduate days at Georgia Tech, for example, two of my three most memorable instructors were graduate students. The faculty member was unforgettable, in part, because every English literature course he taught was sure to involve discussions of sexual intrigue and violence…hence his nickname of “Sex and Death Corbin.” I did well in those and other humanities and social science courses without much effort, as I loved those areas for as long as I can remember. The two graduate students, on the other hand, really motivated me and helped me get through courses I didn’t like as much and typically struggled in: chemistry and calculus. Additionally, in an “It’s a Small World” development I reconnected last week with the Calculus graduate instructor after not being in contact since the class ended in 1987. Thanks for creating a great learning environment in which I earned my one and only A in calculus, Martha Abell! (She is now Interim Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Georgia Southern University.)
I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to teach as a graduate student in sociology at Indiana University. Some of my best classroom performances were in my first two years of graduate student teaching, as I was able to devote most of my waking hours to preparing for classes, whereas in the third year of graduate school teaching and in all of my years on the faculty at the U of Minnesota I also had research and service obligations that prevented an exclusive focus on teaching. Of course, advanced graduate students and faculty learn to balance the demands of teaching, research, and service, but I think that undergrad students can be well served in classes staffed by motivated young graduate students, who are typically mentored by award-winning faculty in a class on pedagogical strategies and/or in individual meetings. Let’s add these graduate students to university brands!