Ideas are endowed with a latent transformative power; an ideational shift can set into motion new actions and ways of being that have the potential to solve problems, build community, and improve the world around us. As a scholar-practitioner, I am continuously navigating the space between theory and praxis, searching for opportunities to cultivate new insights and collaborations that can serve as launch points for applicable knowledge.
In my teaching, I work to provide students with a strong understanding of the key debates and concepts that undergird the political science discipline. While covering a canon of literature, I also encourage my students to understand the theoretical concepts in terms of contemporary politics by weaving in relevant examples. For example, when teaching federalism in “State and Local Politics” I asked students to investigate immigration policy and marijuana legalization in order to highlight the fact that issues can have interesting, conflicting dimensions with ambiguous political consequences. I’ve also been able to utilize my own experiences as a City Councilor in a neighboring community to help flesh out the course material. In a recent “Controversies in Public Policy” class I asked students to reflect on a real-time, controversial debate around whether the Cities of Holyoke and Springfield should pursue large-scale casino development as a means for economic revitalization. This issue was particularly interesting because the cities’ two mayors took opposing stances on the issue and contributed substantive arguments for students to consider on both sides of the debate. The tangibility and higher stakes related to a live issue provides scaffolding for the theoretical components and helps students engage with course material more deeply. I see this as a powerful tool for teaching because it demonstrates that politics is not something that happens “out there,” but is instead something that we are all engaged in and shaping to a greater or lesser extent.
I aspire to have students to feel empowered by their learning, so that they will think of themselves as efficacious agents involved in creating the world around them. I designed my “First Year Seminar” (FYS) courses in Political Science/Legal Studies with a significant experiential learning component in order to facilitate students’ understanding that the knowledge they gain in the classroom is more meaningful when it can be applied to their lived experience. As a first generation college student, I want my students to not only know about the myriad resources available to them on a college campus, but also participate in extracurricular activities, a college internship, or a semester abroad. My FYS syllabus includes numerous low-stakes assignments that task students with activities for overcoming the initial anxiety and inertia related to engaging in new experiences in the college environment. As a result, students must interview faculty members, visit the writing center, plan out their academic requirements in advance of an advising meeting, and attend a meeting for a campus organization that is relevant to their interests. By bringing in a series of outside speakers, I also helped my students make introductory connections to important contacts related to the department and throughout the campus.
As an instructor, I’ve developed a range of pedagogical techniques for reaching students of varying demographics and abilities. I work to establish norms for classroom conduct that cultivate an environment of respect and tolerance, so that together with the students we create a space that is comfortable for them to express themselves. I make a point to know all of my students by name and develop amicable relationships with each of them. This serves as a model for how I expect students to treat and address one another while also opening the door to students to come talk to me with wherever they are at in their academic development. I want students to feel that they can approach me whether it’s in regard to a sensitive issue such as needing disability services or to discuss some crisis that’s presented itself, or whether it’s in regard to identifying enrichment opportunities such as internships in the field or a research fellowship. Students also often write in on the teaching evaluations that they felt that I was particularly invested in their learning and progress in class. Additionally, my teaching evaluations demonstrate that I excel in the areas of course preparedness and explaining the course material clearly. I attribute this to my ability to convey the course material using a variety of mediums and also to the fact that my syllabi contain an assortment of assignments such as reflective essays, presentations, and research papers through which students with different strengths can demonstrate their grasp of the course content.
I see the classroom as a space in which students can play an active and generative role in the co-production of knowledge. This is an important foundation as my intention as an instructor is always to provide students with opportunities to see themselves as active learners and as ideational agents who can make use of and apply course concepts in the world beyond the classroom. The experiential component of learning is a key feature of my own identity as a scholar-practitioner that has served both my scholarship and professional development. I aim to share this model of learning with my students, so that they can develop a stronger sense of efficacy as citizens of the world.