Liberal Education

Faculty Fellows Internship Program—Three Views

An Introduction
Leaving lecterns and laboratories, campus politics and preoccupations, faculty can engage in a semester-long renewal, both professional and personal. During the 2003-2004 academic year, the Faculty Fellows Internship Program of the Institute for Experiential Learning (IEL) welcomed its first Fellows. Designed to enable mid-career faculty to apply their professional expertise in a broader marketplace than a department or campus, the program's location in Washington, DC offers an array of work sites to suit their preferences. Offered in cooperation with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the program combines the mission of the Associations' promotion of undergraduate liberal education with the experiential learning mission of IEL.

The Fellows are supported by their home institution with the expectation that their professional development will enhance their teaching and advising capabilities with students. To this end, the Fellows' week is organized to include both collegial internship activities on site and interactive sessions at IEL with a senior administrator about timely issues in higher education. Supplementary opportunities for enrichment are tailored to the Fellows' interests, the relevant cultural resources of the nation's capital, and the resources of the area's many higher education associations.

Three perspectives on their experience by Fellows in the program's first year serve as the candid camera for the picture of a faculty internship.--Editor

Renewal on Sabbatical
By Devonna Sue Morra

One of the complexities of biology at present is that, by training, a biologist necessarily becomes a specialist. Keeping abreast of the changes in one's area of specialization along with completing research can more than fill one's time. If the biologist opts for employment at a small liberal arts institution, she is expected to be both a specialist in the area of her Ph.D. research and a generalist for teaching a broad spectrum of courses. And there are faculty committee responsibilities to fulfill. This is how my career at Saint Francis University (SFU) started.

I spent the first seven years at SFU building the marine biology concentration within the biology department. This involved restructuring the program, promoting it in order to increase the number of participants, and establishing undergraduate research, while supporting the other biology programs and the general education program.

As a consequence, I became involved with new general education initiatives including teaching core courses, integration of service learning into my courses and laptops into freshman laboratories, and incorporating experiential learning in many of my classes. In developing the new marine biology concentration, I placed emphasis on experiential learning, and now 90 percent of my students complete either summer or semester-long internships and complete "hands-on" learning at The Marine Science Consortium where I teach during the summers.

Taking time

No surprise, then, that I decided a sabbatical was definitely needed--and overdue. However, the decision on what to do for sabbatical was not an easy one. I didn't want to travel too far from home because of family commitments. But, I also needed a sabbatical experience that would be beneficial for both SFU and myself. I have watched many of my students complete internships and frequently felt a bit jealous of their opportunities; that helped me decide that the Faculty Fellows Internship Program was a perfect fit for my sabbatical experience, not the least because Washington, DC provided a long list of opportunities for internships in the marine biology/environmental science field.

I established several goals for my internship that included resting, broadening my marine biology knowledge and professional network, and learning more about liberal education initiatives. An internship at the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE) fulfilled a major goal by involving me in "cutting-edge" initiatives in marine biology. That was central, but there was much more. At CORE, I learned a great deal about government and science initiatives. I helped with writing and giving Senate briefings. I participated in several government functions. I helped in setting up the U.S. Committee for the Census of Marine Life and participated in its first meeting and a Known, Unknown, and Unknowable Conference on Marine Life. I learned immeasurable amounts and significantly extended my professional network.

Much of what I learned has already been integrated into my courses back at SFU. For instance, my students and I will be traveling to Washington, DC, in fall 2003 to participate in the Census for Marine Life Ocean Life Symposium. How students learn is one of those areas of interest beyond my specialization that has always intrigued me. I know that personally much of my own learning has been achieved during a wide range of life experiences. Thus, I build experiential learning into my classes to strengthen student learning.

Extended learning

Dr. Mary Ryan at the Institute for Experiential Learning furthered my own learning by coordinating Friday activities that took my internship beyond the experiences at CORE. In Friday enrichment activities, I met with other marine biologists in Washington, DC, such as Dr. Carole Baldwin at the Smithsonian Institute who gave me a tour of its extensive fish collection. At the Ocean Conservancy I met with Dr. David Guggenheim and discussed several of its programs. Each of these experiences not only broadened my disciplinary knowledge but also increased internship possibilities for my future students.

Besides biologists, I interacted with professionals in higher education. In a meeting with Dr. Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), I learned about new initiatives at the Association. (What I learned about Greater Expectations was shared with the SFU dean of general education the week after my meeting with Dr. Schneider!) I will be further involved with sharing Greater Expectations on the SFU campus in the new academic year.

A highlight during my internship was the AAC&U conference, Faculty Work and Student Learning: Meeting New Challenges of a World in Transition, held at Butler University in Indianapolis. Listening to presentations on research into how students learn and engaging in round-table discussions on the application of models of learning has motivated me to make further changes in my style of teaching. I have also initiated discussion within the biology department on ways to motivate learning in the freshman biology classes in hopes of decreasing the biology dropout rate between the freshman and sophomore years. I look forward to continuing to share these models of student learning with many of my colleagues.

My sabbatical internship in Washington, DC was one of the best decisions I could have made at this point in my career. It definitely met most of my goals for my sabbatical. It did not give me much rest, but this is probably because I didn't allow myself to rest. By revitalizing me, it made me eager to come back to teaching at SFU. My marine biology knowledge and professional network have expanded, along with my increased contacts for student internships. I gained ideas on ways to improve my teaching techniques that will allow me to become more involved on my campus. So, for a scientist considering a sabbatical that's not pure research, the Faculty Fellows Internship Program is a tremendous opportunity.

Turning the Tables
By John W. Flohr

When my fellowship at the Institute for Experiential Learning (IEL) was about to end in the spring of 2003, I was asked, "What will be your short answer to tell your colleagues back home about your experience?" At that time, I found it difficult to distill the experiences of more than four months into a sentence or two. The fellowship was rich with experiences beginning with the announcement of the program, the faculty awards committee granting me nomination to the Faculty Fellows Internship Program, and ending several months later, after a semester in Washington, DC (familiarly called the District).

Today, with a few months time for reflection, three general ideas stand out to characterize the rich experiences of the faculty fellowship. The first, which I loosely call "other side of the table," was most pronounced on arrival in the District. Academics like me are usually more or less nurtured throughout graduate school as future advisors and professors to help promote student learning and growth. After the doctorate, there may be for the new faculty member some mentoring and short periods of faculty development activities, but the tables are turned, and the academic community expects and demands various academic products. For example, the students expect professors to help them learn, colleagues expect comrades to assist in recruitment and support, and the administration rewards faculty producing research, teaching, and service.

Turning the tables

With the fellowship, the tables were turned. The fellowship emphasis was on my development rather than production. I was taken a bit off guard with this reversal, since my university teaching career (my usual side of the table) spans over twenty years. In contrast, everyone connected with the fellowship was intent on helping, nurturing, and making sure the fellowship was a good experience. One might expect a few niceties at the beginning from the fellowship staff at IEL, but the nurturing attitude, support, and practical helpfulness from fellowship staff, Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) personnel, and the work location, the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), continued throughout the semester. For example, a typical offer was, "If you need to go to the mega-store to pick up some needed items, it is very difficult by Metro. I can pick you up in my car and take you to the store on Saturday." Or, "You really might like to talk with--." Such offers and the nurturing attitude helped create a paradigm shift from academia's "produce or perish" to a "How can we make this experience more valuable?" of the fellowship.

Opportunities

The second standout idea was the wide array of opportunities in the District, the land of associations, government agencies, diplomats, and acronyms. The opportunities included the AEP work location and responsibilities, opportunities to watch and learn about public policy at professional meetings of organizations such as the Council of Chief State School Officers or National Association of State Boards of Education, and enrichment activities such as touring the facilities of the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap.

Perhaps the most important opportunity was networking--making personal contacts with varied agencies and individuals and establishing connections through meeting with association personnel. For example, during the semester a partnership with the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association for Music Education resulted in a new initiative in early childhood education and a federal grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts for formulating principles of best practice in music for early childhood. The District, combined with the faculty fellowship program, provides a fertile ground for establishing and developing valuable networks in any field.

The District

The third standout point was the District itself --the pulse of the city. Perhaps the District's pulse is related to the audible and rhythmic rumbling of the Metro under one's feet, or the sirens and taxicab horns blaring on every street, or the wheel and spoke layout of the city. Whatever the case, it was a great pleasure and thoroughly rejuvenating to live, work, and play in the District for a semester. The land of politics and policy provides many opportunities for experiential learning with the great diversity of people, the District perspective of education, and the way conversations in restaurants or coffee shops are often about policy or politics. In addition, I began thinking I was learning a new language from the District's abundant use of acronyms. The acronyms are so plentiful that I often felt a Kafka-like impulse to morph my full name in e-mail closings with 'JWF.'

After four months the fellowship ended, but the experiences continue to affect my work, teaching, and thinking. I carry with me and to my work new perspectives, contacts, and knowledge. I am grateful to my university, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Institute for Experiential Learning for the semester-long faculty development opportunity of the fellowship.
And the short answer to tell colleagues about the experience is that the fellowship was 1) a time for personal and professional development, with ample help from the fellowship staff; 2) an opportunity in the District to develop contacts, learn about national policy and more; and 3) an opportunity to experience the District's unique character.

A Mid-Career Renewal
By Jean Eckrich

Sabbatical leaves are talked about with reverence on my campus. They are coveted and appreciated. Faculty often bounce ideas off each other about potential sabbatical plans, and I certainly was no different in planning mine. I had bookmarked various Web sites, and for several years kept a folder of different ideas and programs that seemed intriguing. My anticipation was further heightened because this would be my first sabbatical leave.
The IEL Faculty Fellows Internship Program sparked my interest because of the three components of the program and its location in Washington, DC: placement in a professional work environment, enrichment activities designed around my academic interests in exercise and sport sciences, and a seminar on issues surrounding higher education. These seemed geared to my professional development.

What I planned

The decision to request a placement with one of the higher education organizations was based on my goal: to examine issues surrounding teaching and learning and to think about ways to come back to campus with new ideas and new perspectives that would create additional professional opportunities. The enrichment activities would allow me to seek expertise from individuals with specialties specific to my teaching and research areas. The seminar would provide for the exploration of higher education issues in ways that the hectic pace of the academic year does not allow. Another attractive aspect of the Faculty Fellows program was its goal of encouraging mid-career faculty to reflect on and shape the next stage of their professional lives.

While many professional development programs address new and future faculty, and more programs are beginning to identify the needs of end-of-career faculty, little emphasis has been given to the needs and development of mid-career faculty. Enhancing the development of mid-career faculty was important for me to explore as a department chair working with colleagues, as a member of the campus community who works on professional development activities, and from a personal perspective since I am at that stage of my career. When I returned to campus, I would be completing a post-tenure review, and it was valuable for me to take time during my sabbatical to identify key directions for my teaching, scholarship, and service over the next few years.

What I experienced

The Faculty Fellows Program exceeded all of my expectations. My placement with the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) enabled me to interact with colleagues exploring issues related to teaching and learning. AAHE's current initiatives focus on learning about learning, organizing for learning, assessing for learning, and partners in learning. It was a good match because these initiatives encompass many of the ideas that I addressed in my application as areas that I wanted to explore. I had abundant opportunities to participate in conversations and delve into the research in all four areas. I also was provided the opportunity to take leadership responsibilities on projects such as Communities of Practice and identifying potential granting agencies. My activities at AAHE, in addition to AAHE's Learning to Change conference, significantly contributed to the achievement of my goals.

Teaching and learning issues were the key focus of my sabbatical. Thus, I met with people at various educational associations. However, I also wanted to identify enrichment activities that would provide additional perspectives and ideas related to the disciplines within exercise and sport sciences. The graciousness, knowledge, and expertise of the people who met with me, answered questions, and provided resources were more than I could have imagined. Each interaction contributed insights for courses that I teach, including case laws, advocacy strategies, research agendas, public health policies, government relations, and new movement analysis technologies. I interacted with individuals at the National Institutes of Health, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association of Girls and Women in Sports, the Department of Education, the Office of Research and Analysis for the District of Columbia, and the National Women's Law Center.

The seminar in higher education focused on four themes: a) teaching and learning, b) contemporary issues in higher education, c) the professoriate, and d) Washington and policy. There were spirited discussions with seminar colleagues: another faculty fellow from a large university, a former college president, the director of IEL, and myself as a faculty member of a small liberal arts college.

When I returned

Intellectual and creative renewal is the stated goal of Colby-Sawyer's sabbatical program, and it is a goal I achieved during my leave. I have returned to campus enlivened by a sense of professional renewal, and I have developed course syllabi, assignments, and activities that incorporate many ideas from my fellowship experiences. I have met with my academic vice president to discuss opportunities that will enable me to contribute in new ways to campus initiatives. The professionals in higher education and in my discipline that I met and worked with during my sabbatical continue to serve as resources and provide me with new and additional opportunities for collaboration on scholarship and service projects. The biggest challenge for me right now is identifying my priorities since there are so many directions to pursue as a result of the Faculty Fellows Program.


Devonna Sue Morra is professor of biology at Saint Francis University (PA).

John W. Flohr is professor of music at Texas Woman's University.

Jean Eckrich is professor and chair of the exercise and sport sciences department at Colby-Sawyer College.


To respond to this article, e-mail: liberaled@aacu.org, with author's name on the subject line.

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