Work Hard & Be Nice to People

All of the GPP18 folks were reunited at the Switzerland Embassy in Washington, D.C., along with guests and GPP alumni. This event took place about two weeks after the majority of our group had returned back to the states. Some GPP18-ers even traveled directly from Europe after continuing personal travel once our group meeting had subsided. I couldn’t fathom that!

My plus one and I, another PhD student in Food Science, chose to ride with a group in the university van. On the way to D.C., we stopped for lunch at a very cozy coffee shop at James Madison University, where a GPP alum is currently employed as faculty. This individual actually used to be my teaching assistant, although it was a few years ago. It was great to get to chat with him about his experiences as faculty at JMU, and to visit the campus, which I find to be quaint. The coffee shop egg and cheese biscuits weren’t so bad either!

At the Embassy, we presented in our groups that each represented a topic associated with evolving higher education. I was a member of the open access/open movement group. Originally the group name was “open access,” but we soon realized the open movement encompassed so much more than just open access journal publications. It seems like forever ago when we brainstormed presentation topics on the white board walls located in the Steger Center in Rita San Vitale, Switzerland and even more distant when we first chose when group topic we would like to further study.

From our conversations at the Steger Center, I learned that Virginia Tech has an open access fund that helps to cover fees associated with open access publishing. Virginia Tech also participates in International Open Access Week, which I did not realize was an internationally recognized initiative. I’m impressed by the Swiss National Science Foundation’s aim to publish in all open access journals/have open access articles by 2020 as well as Germany’s boycott of Elsevier’s journals.

During our group presentation, audience members did pose difficult questions that I’ve continued to dwell on.

*With all of the resources available (such as MOOCs, robots, etc.), why would a student need to attend college in person anyway?

*How do we get the word out to faculty about archiving and other resources available in relation to open access/science?

Post group presentations, we all enjoyed a wonderful cocktail hour and dinner together, where we were able to catch up with one another, as well as meet other individuals attending the event. Despite how quick of a meeting this was,   it was nice to have a reunion with everyone (although we missed a few folks) – definitely a feeling of nostalgia. 

BBFLs – GPP Return

Nobody ever told me that making friends as an adult wasn’t as easy as when we were younger. But if you think about it, it makes sense.

“Hey mom, can I go spend the night at Serena’s house?”

We no longer have slumber parties with our friends (well I guess you could if you really wanted to), accompanied with snacks, late night chats, and allowing someone to see you in your most vulnerable of states (i.e. brushing your teeth, your early morning grumpies, etc.).

In my opinion, traveling with folks is the best way to achieve an accelerated friendship. You spend ample amounts of time together. Traveling can stir up different emotions and the people you are with are typically, at the time, the only individuals you have to talk to about them. There is also a lot of what I would call down time – as in car rides, train rides, plane rides, and walking. Usually conversation fills up the empty space. If anything, traveling with a group is like one large slumber party in a way, with everyone getting to see you at both your best and worst.

[This is Cortney as my roommate when we didn’t really know one another. She stole all of the covers. ALL of the covers.]

When Missie and Erika picked me up at my house to drive to the Dulles airport, I didn’t even introduce them to my boyfriend as he said his goodbyes since to be honest, I didn’t feel like I knew them. Upon returning, as cliché as it sounds, I really do feel like I have a new group of people that I have a special bond with.

PhD life can be isolating. The majority of people our age are not at the library. It can be difficult to relate to others outside of the academic bubble. When I applied to the GPP Program, I wrote about wanting to participate in the trip because although I had recently completed the Future Professoriate Graduate Certificate, I wanted to continue to find opportunities to stay connected with students, outside of my own discipline, that had interest in higher education as an institution and theory + practice of teaching. I think it is important that universities continue to facilitate cross-disciplinary interactions among PhD students. We don’t get out much! A since of community, especially with people that understand what we are going through at PhD students, can sometimes mean everything.

Upon returning, I’m definitely missing the views, espresso breaks, and most of all the GPP folks.

An Ode to Charlie Cat – Eve of GPP Departure

We were asked to write a blog post on the eve of our departure for the Global Perspectives Program (GPP). Although I want to say that I have all the warm fuzzy feelings before embarking on a big journey, I don’t (I love blogging because I feel that I can “keep it real”). This past week my hot water heater broke, my childhood cat died, and my research proposal is due tonight. I foresee an all-nighter in the near future.

With all that being said, I almost feel a sense of relief; that once I get on that plane tomorrow, I will not be looking back. One of my personal learning objectives was to simply “let go.” I do often struggle with letting things go (i.e. all the research and studying that I should be tending to) in order to “be” in the moment. Maybe these events have occurred so that I’m in a much better place to just be like BYE.

After having recently finished up my first semester of collegiate teaching (100 students at that), I’m looking forward to reframing my thoughts, feelings, and stances on higher education. I’m seeking new perspectives and maybe some inspiration too, if I’m being completely honest. I think we tend to emotionally wear our teachers out -in all levels of education. And by “we,” I’m not necessarily sure whom I’m referring to. Students? The general public? The university institution itself? I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to give instructors the tools and support they need. The individuals accompanying me on this trip also have a high regard for education, for both themselves and for others. I think that’s why it is important to band together. Not all PhD students have acquired the knowledge, training, and/or experiences that our group members have had and it can sometimes feel isolating for other students not to posses this understanding of education/contemporary pedagogy. Sticking together and sharing ideas is key.

I feel encouraged by the fact that my previous teachers through the years, along with my teacher-friends that are similar in age to me, recently rallied for more education funding in my home state of North Carolina. Although just a small step, a movement is beginning!

And now, an ode to Charlie Cat because we can’t forget about him!

Charlie Cat,

You were kind of fat

But I know that

If we were to have a chat

Right off the bat

You would understand that

I chose Switzerland over saying farewell to you

GPP: First Thoughts

For those that have taken the Preparing the Professoriate and Cotemporary Pedagogy courses, I’m sure you can agree that no longer getting together on a regularly basis with classmates is a bit sad. Although we may adore the folks in our own distinctive departments, getting out of our own “box” can be refreshing. Those of us that have aspired to fulfill the Future Professoriate Graduate Certificate have ended up seeing familiar faces throughout taking these courses. I remember exchanging contact information with a few students on the last day of last semester’s Contemporary Pedagogy course as we came to the realization that we probably would no longer have any classes together. However, also on the last day of class, we were charged with the mission of continuing to participate in learning communities supporting various aspects of pedagogy and/or higher education.

Since finding out I was accepted into the 2018 cohort of the Global Perspectives Program, I have been most excited for the opportunity to continue to get to know others from various disciplines. Although our 8am Global Perspectives meetings come at the expense of not sleeping in (may have forgotten my quarters to park in the Squires lot this past week), I very much enjoy the notion of getting together with these students again. And who are “these students?” They are individuals that, despite our many differences, share a similar passion for teaching, learning, and higher education. While there are a few familiar faces in the group, there are many others I am just meeting for the first time. I can already tell this experience will be unique in the fact that it is an accelerated means of getting to know people. We are already utilizing one another for travel plans/help and company and some of these individuals are practically still strangers!

Dean DePauw let us know that she’s confident that our learning objectives and research project topics will change over time, but here is my first shot at them.

Learning objectives:

  1. Explore different perceptions and viewpoints about the United States and its higher education system, especially in the current political climate
  2. Compare the value to which Europeans place on education versus how Americans value education (right vs. privilege).
  3. Determine what value is placed upon teachers/instructors within higher education and education in general.
  4. Exemplify a “go with the flow” mentality.

Research topic:

My research topic stems from the fact that I have a good friend who studied abroad in Copenhagen and pretty much never came back (seriously – she has been there for 5 years now). She would tell me that instead of being required to go to class, there was the freedom of learning material on their own. She had made it seem as though class was a free-for-all, except for the exam taking place at the end of the semester.

How do European universities assess their students?

-Assign grades?

-Numerical vs. P/F


In but Not Of the (Academic) World

While Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach was an assigned reading for another class of mine, I still find it to be a good reminder of why we’re all doing what we’re doing. Especially towards the end of the semester, experiencing some burnout, I really needed the reminder. This is the time where the undergraduate students have sent about a million emails about their grades and how everything will be determined. And although it makes me want to scream, I’m sympathetic towards them (in some ways) as I don’t think I’ve received a single grade in any of my graduate courses. Parker Palmer always gives us a good reminder that we’re all human and that feelings matter. Why we try to tuck them away in academia is still puzzling and yet we’re so conditioned to do it. I love the description in Parker Palmer’s A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited – “in but not of” the academic world (or world in general). Personally, I’ve always heard this phrase used from a religious standpoint but feel that it is very fitting in this context as well.


I met with the professor I co-teach with this past week and this week’s readings/videos, along with the course in general, helped to guide some of the conversation that took place. Since I’ll be teaching 50% of the course next semester, I feel that I have a lot more say-so this time around. I offered my opinion that I thought the students needed to be encouraged to engage themselves more rather than answering multiple choice questions that come straight from the textbook – cue the lecture by night, homework by day comment from “What is School For?”. We both agreed that grading 120 short answer questions on a regular basis just wasn’t feasible so we took some time to brainstorm other options.

Our class conversations and this week’s readings/videos have helped me to shift my thinking about the purpose of my class. As an entry-level course, what do we want them to know? What do we want them to be able to do? This is a question I’ve held close to me the entire semester. I think it is most important for students to realize by way of this class that most things in the food world are not black and white. It is essential that students are able to see both sides of an argument and to be able to acknowledge (and be sympathetic to) opinions that to not align with their own. This could mean incorporating debates, small group discussions, opinion papers, etc. into the course. I also want this class to serve as a means of general interest in Food Science. There are numerous topics related to food that are equally controversial as interesting (GMOs, plant based meat products, organic versus conventional farming). Plus, food is part of everyone’s daily life so each person has to make food choices on a regular basis. This may mean changing some of the current course curriculum. Right now a textbook defines which topics we will be focusing on each week. The textbook isn’t bad, but it does leave out more current topics that are probably more relatable to this generation of students. Lastly, I want this course to serve as a means of connection. While we did have a few graduates students come in to talk about their research this semester, I would like students to be introduced to more opportunities outside of the classroom. I’m thinking this could be attendance to defenses or research seminars within the Food Science department. Attendance at Food Science Club meetings could also fill this void. Most importantly, I want the students in the classroom to get to know one another better. Right now there is little interaction between them all. I’m realizing more and more that learning communities are beneficial for all; that getting to know peers both inside and outside of your own major is invaluable on both a personal and academic level.



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Like Deer in Headlights

I am a teaching assistant for a professor that travels frequently. This has proven to have both pros and cons; this creates much more work than the average TA, however I have had the opportunity to hop right into teaching at the collegiate level. As I have begun to regularly sub for the professor, there have been challenges along the way. Especially as the students transition from one teaching style to the next, they tend to frequently have a “deer in headlights” look, especially when discussion is expected or questions are posed. Recently, there was such a lack of response when I asked the group as a whole if they understood the material that I literally had to say, “Are we shaking our heads yes or no”? In this course, students are able to bring their laptops and phones to class. Sometimes it seems as though students are much more engaged in what is being displayed on their laptops versus what is taking place in the classroom. The Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom article really resonated with me. Through my undergraduate career, I rarely brought my laptop to class because of how I knew I would be distracted by it.

I do see the argument that typing notes on laptops can be done much more quickly than taking notes by hand and can also be much more legible for both the student taking them and for others. This also serves as an easy way to consolidate notes, update them, and save them for later. Personally, I am an advocate for taking notes by hand, however I do not think it is my place to “choose” that for students as everyone learns differently. My stance at this point in time is that whatever route is chosen, it is essential that expectations be communicated the first day of class.


The Smarter Than You Think reading by Clive Thompson adds to this conversation by shining light on the fact that we don’t have to rely solely on humans or technology; there can be a healthy combination of both. In fact, the integration of the two is often the most beneficial option. Therefore, maybe allowing students to use their computers and phones to perform certain tasks, but asking them to put them away otherwise could be a way to accomplish this. This article brought up a good point that being aware of how technology affects our daily lives (sometimes inhibiting us) is key. As instructors, we can help students to reflect on this concept and be more mindful about technology being a distraction/how technology is a distraction from a personal standpoint. When I peer reviewed Debjit’s course syllabus in class, his statement about the usage of technology in the classroom impressed me. It was like a friendly forewarning about how technology can serve as both a beneficial tool in the classroom or a distraction. He stressed that it was important for students to be able to recognize the role it played for them personally, putting the responsibility on the students, but still allowing freedom of choice.



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The Authentic Teaching Self – Always a Work in Progress

It is almost absurd to think that the majority of teachers teaching below the collegiate level typically have years of training, whereas some collegiate teachers merely have a class handed over to them even though they may have zero teaching qualifications. Similar to what was said in Finding My Teaching Voice, I feel that many collegiate professors only know about teaching what they have experienced themselves. This can be both a good thing and bad thing. Some of the practices used by my teachers and professors throughout the years have really stuck with me and are applied into my own teaching. However, I would say with confidence that we have all had what I would consider to be bad teachers, or at least ones that implemented bad teaching practices.

The whole “being a well-liked female professor while still maintaining authority” thing really resonated with me. Especially being fairly close in age to the students, I find it important that they respect me as an authoritative figure, while still feeling comfortable enough to have authentic conversations with me. After all, I feel like I’m there to help them in whatever academic capacity I can. This is what I told my students the other day when I subbed my professor’s class – that I am here to talk with them about internships, graduate school, etc. in addition to the class itself.

For my Graduate Teaching Scholars class, one assignment required students to read Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. Although at times a bit monotonous, this book did a great job at discussing one’s authentic self and the importance of this in the scope of teaching and shares a few ideas with Sarah Deel’s article. How cool is it that while our students are trying to figure out who they are, we, as teachers, are also doing the same? The past couple of years I have become more reflective as I read more and more about authenticity in teaching. I think that authenticity requires vulnerability. Lately, I’ve been more ok with being vulnerable in academic life and life in general. Sometimes it is seen as such a bad thing when I’m beginning to learn that it is actually very powerful.

Although some of these points may seem self-explanatory, The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills document provides concrete examples of how to improve teaching. Through the years I’ve begun to appreciate and become more tuned in to the physical aspects of good teaching. I find myself “hiding” behind the podium sometimes when giving presentations. I’ve worked my way up to walking around a bit. It helps me to relax and typically contributes to having better rapport with students. This is not something I’ve been able to achieve over night. I have been both figuratively and literally taking baby steps. But I promise that practice helps. Good teaching truly is a process where you’re always re-evaluating yourself. It is easy to be hard on oneself through this continuous process, but you just have to be ok with the fact that doing something wrong is fine; you’ll try to do better the next time.

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I hope I get a good grade on this post

Within my teaching program, we have talked a lot about the differences in assessment versus grades. Typically, they are generally thought of as being interchangeable, but they actually mean two very different things. I believe that we should use assessment as a means of seeing where people are at with the material and the concepts being taught. Maybe that is complimented with a grade and maybe it isn’t. However, I don’t think that assessment should always have a grade attached to it. Assessment also may look a lot of different ways. It could be as simple as “write down two things you learned today” or as casual as walking by student groups and listening to what they are discussing.

When it comes to grades, we get into this conversation of what is fair and what is not? I have had classes where the professor curved the class and just as many students got curved down as those that benefited from the curve. Should a student’s grade ever suffer because of how others in the class perform? It can especially be difficult to not incorporate generality into grading when you have a larger class. It isn’t possible to get to know each of the students and to witness their efforts (or lack thereof). When grades are involved, you also take away a person’s ability to freely make mistakes. And that is disappointing when we often learn the very most from our mistakes.

My favorite point made in The Case Against Grades is “grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.” I find myself experiencing this on a regular basis. If the assignment says, “write five pages,” there may be times when I literally write five pages because that is merely what I need to do to get the assignment done. I have to admit that although I wasn’t too keen on blogging for this class, Dr. Nelson has kept her promise that we have freedom within the assignment. This has made it a lot more enjoyable and I find myself not dreading my homework Sundays.

The What Motivates Us video was very interesting. The statement about treating people like people rather than machines and horses really stuck with me. I feel like that is how to be a successful teacher in the classroom. Students typically want to be seen as humans rather than just another body in a seat. Although students have responsibilities they need to be held accountable for, it is still important that a professor recognizes that students have real lives outside of the classroom. Exploring one’s purpose is not an easy feat. The word “purpose” goes so far beyond the classroom.


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There is Nothing Permanent Except Change

When I first heard we would be focusing on mindfulness this week, I was pretty stoked. During the CIDER Conference held at Virginia Tech this past year, I was able to attend a “Mindfulness in the Classroom” session. While I thought we would only be learning about how the presenters implemented mindfulness in their classrooms, attendees actually got to participate in a mindfulness activity themselves. It is amazing what closing your eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and refocusing can do. We, especially as graduate students, are continuously in a state of chaos trying to run around and do all of the things that we do. Sometimes it is even stressful just making it to a class on time. You’ve powerwalked carrying multiple textbooks from one side of campus to the next, hustled up multiple flights of stairs, and then weaseled your way through the aisles of students to find a seat. As soon as you sit down, you’re scrambling to dig through your stuff to find a pen and paper to begin taking notes. Its been an ordeal just to get to class, let alone begin to take in all of the material that is being thrown at you at light speed. Its like we’re programmed to go through the motions rather than genuinely think about and dwell on the information coming our way. Ellen Langer’s Mindful Learning article describes being mindless as when we are governed by rule and routine. I like how she says that if you are aware that you’re mindless, and then you’re no longer being mindless and instead practicing mindfulness. I appreciate professors who spend the first five minutes of class sort of regrouping; reiterating assignment due dates, recapping previous material, or just talking about what is in the news related to the class. This way, it gives students a few moments to wind down and get themselves focused for what is to come.

A New Culture of Learning made me think about change related to knowledge and technology in a completely different way. I never put thought into the fact that there was a period of time where “stability, continuity, and maintaining the status quo” was what was sought after. Nowadays we almost don’t have a choice but to change continuously. Its sink or swim. This article was both enlightening and inspiring. Just because something doesn’t seem cool or novel right now, doesn’t mean that it can’t be in the future. If you have an idea, you should run with it. I’ve also never recognized just how essential learning communities are. Not everything is black and white and I just loved how the authors went into detail about how in an encyclopedia, we don’t get to see the thought behind why something got chosen and something else didn’t’. My previous PI and I would often talk about how published journal articles are such a small snapshot of the entire process of a study. We don’t get to see the details and sometimes they help to tell a much more thorough story. There are both pros and cons to having open information sites. Although Wikipedia tends to sometimes have a negative reputation, when you compare it to a textbook that may be decades old, it actually becomes a lot more appealing. The statement from the article “Making knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game” really stood out to me. If the world is continuously changing, then knowledge must do the same.

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Digital Learning – What was I doing again?

As a student in the CALS Graduate Teaching Scholar program, I have been assigned many readings about the dependency on lecturing within higher education. Us teaching scholars are taught that the attention span of adults is only somewhere between fifteen to twenty minutes. Therefore transitions must be made after this amount of time goes by. These transitions can be minor such as switching to a different topic or performing in-class questions. Even a short break can do the trick.

What I dislike about the Four Things Lecture is Good For article is that it does not provide alternative suggestions for lecturing. While I do agree that “covering material” is not an excuse for lecturing, it can be often be difficult to get students to go through material on their own. I believe it is an instructor’s job to make sure that students are set up to at least have the chance to be successful. For introductory level classes there should be plenty of materials discussed in the class itself so that students pretty much don’t have a choice but to be introduced to concepts for the first time. I was also not keen on the drastic distinction between being inspired versus being taught. In my opinion the two go hand in hand. If students are not feeling inspired then they may be less likely to be open to learning. Moral of the story – I am not much of a Robert Talbert fan.

It is refreshing to hear that former president, Barack Obama, experienced a season of life where he “went through the motions” in school. Although I’m now in the second year of a PhD program (I’m going to assume that you must like school if you have endured it for that long) I still remember a time in undergrad where I was much less interested in and dedicated to Food Science. I was filled with the excitement of being a freshman and had just recently joined a sorority. Food engineering was not my first priority to say the least. It took time for me to become passionate about my field of work. It is important that we don’t give up on students that do not seem as engaged as we would like them to be. Maybe it just hasn’t “clicked” for them yet. While I did like the concept behind getting students more involved, I also believe that school in general was not designed to be fun. For instance graduate school is rewarding and I enjoy it very much, but I would be lying if I said every aspect of it is fun. However, I think that’s ok.

The New Learners of the 21st Century video changed my perspective on a few things. I’m not much of a video game person. In fact, I sort of dislike them and find them to be a waste of time. With that being said, a wonderful point was made in regards to negative perceptions about addiction and video games. The point was that a child who stays up all night to read a book is praised, whereas a kid that stays up to play video games may not be. Similarly if a child puts in an extensive amount of work related to sports, that is seen as dedication. These conflicting ideals highlight what is deemed as valued to the population. I found these comments to be very convicting. How true!