While the college experience may seem like a given, innovations in learning, teaching, and leadership in higher education are hard-won through the experiences of faculty, staff, and students.
For 40 years, NISOD (National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development) has offered community and technical colleges a venue for promoting, sharing and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership. NISOD creates a space and an environment where educators can ask questions like:
- How do you improve the quality of experiences in the classroom?
- How do you optimize student learning in different environments?
- Why use research in 100-level and 200-level classrooms?
- Why bring the community into the student experience?
The annual conference, held at the University of Texas at Austin, hosts a series of workshops, roundtable discussions, and an awards ceremony. The conference, which is happening May 26–29, has been named “the country’s leading provider of professional development for community college, staff and administrators” by the American Association of Community Colleges. With 300+ members, the event promotes and celebrates excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership at community colleges.
TMCC is unique in its approach to participating in the NISOD conference because, in addition to its award recipients, President Dr. Karin Hilgersom, Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Marie Murgolo, and Professional Development Manager Cathy Brewster also attend the conference. “As a group, we get together and talk about what we learned, and what we will bring back to the college,” said Brewster. “It’s an opportunity for us to engage with each other.”
This year, TMCC awarded five faculty with a NISOD Excellence Award: Marynia Giren-Navarro, Dr. Laura Briggs, Kreg Mebust, Aimee Kelly and Lee Raubolt.
Re-envisioning Classroom Time and Spaces
A community college classroom is no longer just one thing. From the single room with rows of desks and a whiteboard it has evolved into a laboratory, an online spaceless space, or even a meeting place where students, community members, administrators, and mentors can create holistic and unique environments that make learning memorable.
TMCC Sociology Professor Marynia Giren-Navarro, who was awarded a NISOD Excellence Award, will be presenting a break-out session on “You are Not Alone: The Importance of Social Presence and Increased Engagement in Online Classes” with Maureen Waters, Instructor of English and Instructional Designer at Vance-Granville Community College. “Teaching an online class is not at all like teaching an in-person class,” said Navarro, who will share what she has learned about connecting to students taking an online course.
“You have to appear human,” she said. The breakout session will highlight how instructors can increase their “Social Presence” for students—a combination of relatability, likeability, and competence—that demonstrate your mastery of a subject while at the same time showing that you, just like the students, are human (and not a faceless grading machine). This is important not only for student enjoyment of the class (although there certainly is that), but taking these extra steps makes a quantifiable difference in student retention and their understanding of the subject matter (which is often reflected in their grades).
Dr. Laura Briggs, another TMCC faculty member who was awarded a NISOD Excellence Award, will be hosting a roundtable discussion on how to bring research into the community college classroom. Briggs has witnessed firsthand what research can do for undergraduate students. Before coming to higher education, Briggs worked in the biotechnology industry where she noticed that newly hired employees (who had just received their Bachelor’s degrees) were well-versed in the theory of science, but “they didn’t know how to be scientists.” This disparity followed her to the classroom where Briggs sought to bring the inquiry-based methodology of research to the community college classroom in order to better prepare students for future careers in science.
Through Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE), Summer-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE), and opportunities through INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence), NASA Space Grants and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, research has become a part of science classes at TMCC. The latter sparked research involving bacteriophages—viruses that can infect bacteria. It’s a national project that now features the work of TMCC students on the Sea Phages website and a phage discovered by a TMCC student. It’s also a recent and relevant line of research (Nature magazine just published an article on the use of microphages to cure drug-resistant conditions).
Briggs has seen changes in her students since research has become a part of the TMCC biology classroom: “They’re more confident,” she said. “And it gets them to ask the right questions—mainly to the level of asking 'why'—which is key. And they learn to accept that science doesn't always work as you expect, and that is OK.”
Community Involvement and Service Learning
Interaction with real-life situations involving “clients” or community members is another way to innovate classroom time and spaces. TMCC Construction and Design Professor Kreg Mebust has implemented a “community service learning” model in his architecture classes that work in the opposite way that an internship does: instead of sending students one-by-one into the community, the community approaches the Architecture Department with projects that engage the entire class.
“We’re building a reputation in the community,” said Mebust. “And now, the community is coming to us because of the work our students do, which is contemporary, cool, hip—but that also answers their specific need with a unique solution.” Through community service learning, TMCC architecture students have designed several civic projects, including:
- Visitor’s Center for the V&T Railroad
- Cultural Arts Building in Minden
- Homeless/Transitional Housing for Youth (“Tiny Homes”)
These learning experiences move behind the typical classroom fare. “A current student who had lost his son in the war was a part of the ‘Tiny House’ project,” said Mebust. “His son had been about the age of the homeless youth who will benefit from the project. This student told me the other day that this project ‘has given me purpose and meaning’.”
Mebust will co-host a Breakout session on this topic with Don Spears from Tech Community College-Valparaiso that will help faculty move instruction from the classroom and into the community.
Aimee Kelly, TMCC Art Galleries Curator & Instructor and the first TMCC part-time faculty to be awarded a NISOD Excellence Award, also encourages her students to engage in service-learning. “It’s not like volunteering where the organization relies on skills the student already has,” she said. “Service-learning means they are getting a hands-on learning experience while networking with others in their field in the community.”
For Kelly, networking—making contacts in your community—is the key to success in any field, but especially the visual arts. Kelly, who has encouraged students to seek out opportunities with local art organizations such as Sierra Arts, Sparks Heritage Museum and the Holland Project has witnessed the importance of these kinds of experiences firsthand. “Art is a field where you can be in the world without a degree, and an education helps, but you have to gain that practical experience and make connections with your community.” Her roundtable discussion will focus on how to foster a culture of support, community and positive interaction between students, faculty and community partners.
Wearing Different Hats
Lee Raubolt is TMCC’s Assistant Director of Admissions and Records, so a math classroom isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find him. Yet, Raubolt has served as both academic and administrative faculty both at TMCC and Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. Nearly twenty years ago as an employee in Admissions and Records at Yavapai College, Raubolt remembers receiving an unusual request: a part-time instructor in the Math department at the college had quit unexpectedly a week before the semester began, and the class was full. There was a rumor that he wanted to teach—after reviewing his credentials, Raubolt was offered the class.
It’s a pattern that’s often been repeated in his career, but one that he has embraced despite the challenges of teaching outside of working a full-time, administrative position. “Math instructors are needed,” he said. “And I’m here for student success. But, what do you do when you see a student sitting in the hallway with that look on their face and you know they are struggling? Do you walk away because you have a meeting, or do you help them?"
These are the questions Raubolt has asked himself and will ask others in his roundtable discussion at the NISOD Conference. How do you balance everything? It’s not easy, but the struggle is worth it. “Teaching can help administrative faculty do their jobs better,” he said, citing a recent blog published in Inside Higher Ed that described some of the benefits that can be gleaned from occupying multiple roles inside and outside the classroom.
Get To Know Our 2019 NISOD Excellence Award Winners:
NISOD Nominees are selected by a committee of former NISOD winners and evaluated using a double-blind process—meaning each candidate is academic or administrative was selected based purely upon his/her/their merit. Here are some of the reasons our 2019 NISOD Excellence Award Winners were chosen:
Dr. Laura Briggs: “Dr. Briggs has been instrumental in engaging students in authentic undergraduate research at TMCC. She oversees many research projects and mentors numerous students and faculty. She is the leader of the EPSCoR funded Nevada Community of Practice project at TMCC and collaborates with faculty from across the state to improve the success of students pursuing STEM degrees. She oversees the research on bacteriophage in the INBRE supported BioResearch workshop for first-generation and low-income students interested in life science, and is part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) SEA Phages consortium and contributed to a recent publication. She is such an innovator that she has presented twice to the Board of Regents on her work with students in research and teaching.”
Marynia Giren-Navarro: “She serves as Coordinator to a very large department of psychology and sociology faculty. Marynia has completed and submitted CARs for all courses scheduled to be assessed, and has also completed her second year of chairing the PT Faculty Issues Committee and has been elected for another term. Marynia also serves on TMCC’s International Education Advisory Committee and was a panel speaker during TMCC’s International Education Week. Teaching is Marynia’s love and passion. It is what drives her to go above and beyond.”
Kreg Mebust: “Kreg is recently tenured and has worked very hard to keep his students in front of emerging concepts in the world of architectural design. He worked to create an event in which student built and showcased a homeless shelter concept for the City of Reno. Kreg has not only worked to bring new trends to the classroom but has put his students into the community working on real-world projects. He also worked with students from Peru for an impromptu lecture on design earlier this semester.”
Aimee Kelly: “Aimee has demonstrated excellence in experiences that have led to enhanced student learning in the Fine Arts degree program. She has updated the curriculum in gallery practices, including food and service safety for art receptions, a rubric for basic safety procedures in gallery installation, and vinyl cutting processes for signage. In addition to that, she is a TMCC Gateway Mentor/Advisor and collaborates with TMCC F.R.E.E. Learning Community each year to enhance student learning and visual assessment of the F.R.E.E. event projects in the galleries. In addition to this, she is a representative of TMCC out in the community. She sits on the board of Sierra Arts Foundation and has been an active volunteer at Sparks Museum. These connections have allowed her to help students find volunteer positions and have also given TMCC students access to other art opportunities in the community.”
Lee Raubolt: “Lee is a two-time winner of the Professional Employee of the Month and has served on various College committees, including the Part-time Issues Committee and the former Deans and Directors Council. Lee has been a valued member of the Gateway Task Force since 2016, helping to address this complex NSHE policy. When there are barriers or challenges related to Admissions and Records, Lee has helped to strategize and find innovative solutions. He is also an exceptional Math instructor who provides great feedback and is available for his students. Lee regularly develops class-specific video tutorials for his students, augmenting what they are learning in class, online, and through homework assignments.”