In Their Own Words
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs,
The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi’s student body is diverse, ranging from nontraditional, part-time students finishing their degrees to first-time freshmen eager for that on-campus “living and learning” experience. Many are first in their family to go to college, and half have significant financial need. Despite good high school grades, most do not bring all of the university-level study skills or habits of learning that would be ideal. Meanwhile, our research-intensive faculty typically have little formal training in teaching methodology or how to connect with students who are from a different generation and academic orientation than their own.
Through ACUE, we are bridging the gap between the faculty and our students and seeing dramatic payoff in both student success and faculty satisfaction. Faculty enroll in ACUE’s course in cohorts and are supported by a facilitator from Southern Miss that I select. This expert coaches faculty through the program. Although faculty can complete ACUE’s course entirely online, we’ve added face-to-face meetings. For many, this is the first time they’ve sat together—across ranks and disciplines—to talk about teaching. Whether they teach chemistry, math, sociology, or English, they discover they’re dealing with similar issues and that these common teaching approaches work.
One professor who teaches our anatomy and physiology course—which traditionally has a lot of attrition—pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” she confided with excitement, “I’ve been teaching my course for years, and the results of the first test are always terrible. This semester was different.” After participating in our ACUE Faculty Development Institute and adjusting her teaching approaches, the class average for the first test was 10 percentage points higher than ever before. At the end of the term, the percentage of students who completed her course with a C or higher also increased by 10%. We see similar results in our math and other classes, and the faculty are reinvigorated by their students’ growing success.
In another case, a second-year faculty member had a really tough time transitioning to our campus as an anthropologist dealing with sometimes controversial topics. She told me, “ACUE saved my life. You have no idea.” She gained skills to anticipate and defuse tough situations, maintaining a civil learning environment. Of more personal value to her are our group meetings, where she has found reassurance and support from colleagues. This community, grown through ACUE, has been critical.
Success breeds success. Our faculty are now emboldened to try more things, which has led to even greater classroom impact. It’s a welcome virtuous cycle, especially in a time of budget cuts when we’re looking for ways to boost morale. ACUE is helping to drive a culture of teaching excellence at Southern Miss and engender a sense of belonging among our faculty, advancing our dual commitments to student success and retaining high-quality faculty.
Reprinted with Permission from Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning