How did your journey start with the Psychology Department?
I have held a couple different roles in the Psychology Department. I came to the University of Michigan in 2006 to start the PhD program in Developmental Psychology, with Cathy Lord and Chris Monk as my advisors. I was a GSI in the department for five years, and also taught Intro Psych as the lead instructor in my final year as a graduate student. During my post-doc at the Center for Human Growth and Development, I continued lecturing in the department on a part-time basis. After my post-doc, I transitioned to lecturing full-time. I have been a lecturer in the department for about 5 years now.
What does teaching in the Psychology Department mean to you?
I adore being in this department! I am grateful every day that I get to work in a place with such kind, thoughtful, brilliant, and accomplished people. The support and collaboration between students, staff, and faculty are incomparable. One of my favorite parts of my job is working with Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs). These students are at the forefront of their fields and they always have amazing things to teach me, as I am working to mentor them about teaching and working with students. I love that I never have to stop learning! This continual education is also supported by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) where I regularly attend workshops and conferences to improve my teaching. This emphasis on lifetime learning is part of the driving force of this department, and I strive to inspire my students to do the same.
Beyond teaching, what are some other ways you are involved in the Department? What inspired you to get involved in these ways?
I cherish the opportunities to mentor and connect with students, and I am constantly impressed by their ambitions and accomplishments. As such, I have been a faculty mentor for independent studies and honors conversions. I meet regularly with students to discuss research opportunities, graduate school choices, general career planning, and work-life balance. Having come from a small liberal arts college (Beloit College) where I knew my professors by their first names and still maintain contact to this day, one-on-one connections with students are so important to me. I love getting to know students and witnessing them grow over the course of their years at the University of Michigan and beyond.
Recently, I have been taking a lead on organizing materials related to remote teaching and integrating anti-racism into the curricula and syllabi of the large lecture courses in Psychology. I coordinate meetings with faculty about DEI issues often in consultation with CRLT. I take great pride in my teaching career and I am constantly striving to improve by learning about the current pedagogical best practices. Actively collaborating with my colleagues is one of my favorite things about working in this department.
Describe how the pandemic has affected your approach to teaching. The change to online classes has no doubt brought challenges, but has it brought any surprising or unexpected benefits as well?
I spent a lot of time working to improve asynchronous student engagement with the course material by creating interactive discussion posts and worksheets that students would complete while watching lectures and supplemental videos/films. I changed my assessment strategy and moved away from three larger high stakes exams, focusing instead on short weekly chapter tests that included more complex and applied questions. This gave students more time to engage with the material and really learn it (the ultimate goal!), rather than being tempted to just memorize and regurgitate it for an exam. In the end, the crisis teaching helped me narrow down what was most important and to streamline the course expectations to encourage and support students’ engagement and learning. I look forward to applying these lessons, and more, in the Fall term.
This transition has further opened my eyes to inequities that exist in academia, and I have been motivated to spend time educating myself, not only relating to pedagogical strategies but also about racism and how to be more proactively anti-racist in my life and in the classroom. This work will be continuous, but I am engaged and ready to work to hold space for all students who enter my (virtual) classrooms.
What advice would you give to aspiring Psychology students or to people who recently graduated with Psychology degrees and may be wondering where to go from here?
For those who have just graduated, I hope for them to follow their passion and pursue a graduate program or career that excites them and with which they have a good fit. Before they graduate, I recommend that they take time to talk with faculty, graduate students, and alumni about career paths to really understand the vast opportunities available. For aspiring Psychology students, I would suggest that they take a range of classes across the different areas of Psychology to find that spark of excitement, and then follow it! Make connections with GSIs and instructors and get involved with research labs. Michigan is a big place, but it can be made smaller by getting involved. Don’t be afraid to go to your GSI’s or instructor’s office hours—we all love getting to know you!