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Currents: welcome to your new world

New Faculty Get Oriented

(ôr′ē en tā′shən, ōr′-) noun. familiarization with and adaptation to a situation or environment; specif.,

  1. psychological awareness of one's environment as to time, space, objects, and persons
  2. a period or process of introduction and adjustment

While going away to college is an exhilarating time of life, it's also stressful for many first-year students to leave home and adapt to a new lifestyle and environment. Similarly, new faculty experience anxiety, along with excitement, as they move to a new area, often with families and pets in tow, to begin teaching and establish themselves in a different academic community.

Each fall, just days before classes begin, Colby-Sawyer hosts orientation programs for new faculty and first-year students to ease their transitions and increase their likelihood of success at the college. The programs, which last several days, seek to connect both faculty and students to the college community and orient them to their new roles within an unfamiliar college culture.

Part one of this two-part series focuses on New Faculty Orientation. Part Two, which will be published in Currents on Monday, Oct. 6, will focus on New Student Orientation.

Getting to Know You

As facilitator of the “New Faculty Learning Community: Orientation Program,” Jean Eckrich set an informal tone on the first day with her choice of apparel: T-shirt and shorts. Before long, Eckrich, professor and chair of the Exercise and Sport Sciences Department, and the new faculty members knew a few key facts about each other.

One faculty member had lived in the jungle in Hawaii and had delivered all three of his children. Another professor alerted everyone that he was “on call,” as his wife was about to deliver their baby at any moment. Some new faculty have taught at Colby-Sawyer previously as adjuncts, while others arrived with teaching experience at the graduate school level and freshly stamped doctorates. Many came from large universities and were intrigued by the college's promise of close faculty and student relationships and the primacy of its teaching mission.

Over the course of three days, the new faculty received handy advice from “newer” faculty who have taught here a few years, discussed “Teaching and Learning” at length, and heard about the college's policies, procedures and its distinctive Liberal Education Program. They chatted with a panel of students and learned the nuts and bolts of developing syllabi and grading students.

The group was also trained in the use of “Smart” (computer-equipped) classrooms and Blackboard, the college's electronic course management system, and other information technology resources. Each faculty member was also paired with a faculty mentor whom they will continue to meet with and learn from in the next year. The new faculty members will attend monthly seminars with experienced faculty and staff members for discussion of specific topics related to teaching and learning.

High Expectations and Visibility

The new faculty orientation program, initiated by Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculty Deborah Taylor in 2006, began as a response to common issues that sometimes created stress for new faculty. Vice President Taylor believed that before they began creating their class syllabi and teaching, new faculty needed a formal introduction to the college's culture, policies, procedures and resources, as well as a deeper understanding of its distinctive approach to teaching and learning.

“The small size of our classes and the level of interaction between faculty and students is very different from larger universities, where many of our new faculty are coming out of graduate school,” says Professor Eckrich. “We want them to understand the possibilities and the expectation for accessibility and close interaction with students, and be able to respond, within reason, to our students' needs. The faculty generally has a high presence on campus, and it sometimes requires another level of adjustment for new faculty members.”

The original program has evolved since then 2006, according to Professor Eckrich, in response to faculty members' feedback over the years. The newest additions—ongoing monthly seminars and faculty mentors—aim to provide ongoing support and development for new faculty.

Professor Eckrich facilitates the program, yet she notes that its success depends on many other faculty and staff who are involved in sessions and demonstrate a strong commitment to the college. The program's goals include the following:

To promote pedagogical strategies that enhance student learning; to develop teaching skills, particularly in relation to the use of active learning techniques, testing and assessment of student learning; to introduce the Liberal Education Program and the use of Liberal Education Portfolios for student work; to orient new faculty to the college and its teaching and learning resources; to provide new faculty with an early opportunity to interact with other new faculty, faculty mentors and other experienced faculty; and to respond to the professional needs of new faculty as they make their transition to this community.

Professor Eckrich finds her work with new faculty “extremely rewarding” in part because it allows her to engage in so many conversations on teaching and learning that spur her own growth and development as a teacher. “I know what it's like moving to a new job and community as a brand new professor and as an experienced professor,” she explains. “It's exhilarating but there are trepidations. Because the new faculty are experiencing all of these emotions, our sessions are generally quite dynamic, which make the work special.”

It's also challenging, Professor Eckrich says, and similar to teaching in that she has to be ready to adjust, adapt and respond to the group. “There are some key things we must cover, and there are other discussions that go in the direction of the needs of the group, as long as they relate to the program's outcomes,” she says. “Creating an environment which allows those needs to be expressed and shared is essential to the success of the program.”

Pre-Semester Jitters Happen

Like many teachers, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Education Dianna Terrell often has “anxiety dreams” before school starts in which she fails to wake up for class, the copy machine acts up, or students get into a fist fight. “Pre-semester jitters…happen to the best of us,” she says. When asked whether the orientation eased her transition into the college community, she says “absolutely.” Meeting new faculty first is reassuring, she explains, because they're going through many of the same things you are experiencing.

“Some of our new faculty came from across the country, and some are starting new families with very, very young infants—some are doing both,” she adds. “I realized how easy I had it since I am already living in New Hampshire with a husband and daughter.”

She found it interesting to hear how the college's size both aids learning and presents challenges. “The people at Colby-Sawyer seem pretty industrious and creative in terms of what they can do with the resources available to them,” she says. “Every campus has a unique culture, with different hot topics, different ways of doing things and lots of special acronyms. Orientation helped me get used to the Colby-Sawyer way of things.”

Professor Terrell is teaching courses in Foundations of Education (EDU201) and Methods of Instruction (EDU305) and finds her students genuine and thoughtful. “I'm looking forward to teaching about multiple intelligences and demonstrating for students how you can teach your own students about a concept through music, art and other kinesthetic activities,” she says.

On her first day, she made it to class on time, with all her copies made, and was surprised to find most of her students were already in their seats. “Yea for promptness! Another advantage of a small campus,” she says.

Make Expectations Clear to Students

William Spear, assistant professor in Business Administration, picked up some good advice from the student panel.

“The student talked about why they like Colby-Sawyer—small community environment and faculty access were top reasons. They also gave advice: Don't waste time reading the syllabus during our first class—just hit the highlights,” he says. “Try to work with other faculty members to schedule major projects and exams so they don't all fall on the same week. And it's OK to take a hard stand on deadlines; flexibility is not necessarily a good thing, and make sure expectations are clear from the beginning.”

The overall program made his transition “both comfortable and exciting,” he says, and the chance to meet with newer faculty and the college's leadership gave him a chance to “witness the spirit of collaboration, friendship and the strength of commitment to education excellence.” He also had a good meeting with his faculty mentor, Cheryl Coolidge, who openly shared her experiences as a professor and faculty member with him.

Moreover, Professor Spear made professional as well as personal connections through the Orientation Program. “Everyone we met was open and helpful. It's nice to have such a supportive environment in which to work, but I also sense that these people will become personal friends.”

This semester he is teaching Operations Management, Marketing and Business Applications of the Computer, all topics he enjoys. “What I look forward to most is making a difference,” he says. “My vision for teaching these courses is that I want students to leave class…with a strong understanding of the subject. I want them to be able to apply their new knowledge in extraordinary ways and to stand out in the workplace.”

Oddly Overwhelmed and In Control

Chris LaBarbera is a new assistant professor in the Humanities Department who is teaching Intoductory Logic, Ethics, and Biomedical Ethics this semester. He was attracted to Colby-Sawyer's Liberal Arts Program, its focus on undergraduate education, and its size and location, and the orientation program affirmed his overall expectations.

“Colby-Sawyer is similar to one institution where I adjunct taught before, but is very different from my graduate school teaching assistantship and my former position,” he says.”Colby-Sawyer's focus on advising and undergraduate competency is much more extensive that the larger, graduate program and research-oriented university systems that I've worked for.”

Professor LaBarbera found the training on BlackBoard and other college-specific technologies most helpful. The recently hired faculty also gave him insights into their pedagogy and the quality of Colby-Sawyer students, which he says encouraged him to emphasize writing and to hold high expectations for their academic performance.

In the first week of classes, the professor sounds rather upbeat. “I think I'm most excited about the possibility of working with (Professor) Craig Greenman to develop a Philosophy major at Colby-Sawyer, and heightening its focus on post-graduate planning, in particular Pre-Law advising,” he says. “And after a few days I feel oddly both overwhelmed and in control. The student advising component and the extensive use of Blackboard is relatively new to me, but the course material, the collegiality of my department and the passion of the best of my students is familiar and welcoming."

-Kimberly Swick Slover