Like their students, Mitchell College faculty went “back to school” on Friday, August 27, for its 2021 Fall Conference, a professional development opportunity for full-time and adjunct faculty. There, as in the classroom, knowledge was shared, ideas were exchanged and community was strengthened, as faculty prepared for a stellar academic year.
Traditionally held annually in May, the conference is now biannual, in both fall and spring. Fall conference topics focused on accessibility and universal design issues, along with Ability Based Education. Depending on the topic, presenters are in-house or hired from outside of Mitchell.
Criminal justice professor Jenna Curren, current chair of the Professional Development Committee and one of the organizers (along with behavioral sciences professors Dr. Nancy Parent and Dr. Tara Broccoli and ACE Fellow Dr. Hilton Kelly), said, “Topics for the conference are based on where we are now as a college community. We look at what would be most beneficial for our faculty. With the academic program assessment coming up, plus new leadership at Mitchell, we thought it was a good time to also have a refresher on accessibility for students. This and Ability Based Education are part of the fabric of who we are, so these things will likely always be embedded in our programs going forward. We want to be purposeful and intentional about it.”
Presenter Antaya Lee, accessibility services coordinator at Mitchell, said, “The most important information I try to convey when speaking about accessibility and universal design to Mitchell faculty is that accessibility is our shared responsibility. Think about the impact on a student’s learning when extra steps need to be taken in order to access the same materials as their classmates. The student’s disability isn’t the problem; the lack of access is.”
Lee said, “Putting some thought into accessibility when building and planning our courses take a little extra effort up front but save both time and frustration for all parties later. Often, the things to be aware of in order to foster accessibility are not complicated or complex, but simply need our awareness in order to select, build, and share accessible course materials. Awareness allows for accessibility in the physical sense as well – in how classrooms spaces are set up and how activities are planned. And, most importantly, having an accessible attitude makes the biggest difference so that we can hear and learn about the experiences of our students and colleagues so that we can continue to make our environments inclusive.”
Curren said that 20 adjuncts and 15 full-time faculty participated in the conference. The two groups met separately, allowing the time and space to ask and address questions unique to each group.
“There was great conversation among the full-time faculty. It was open and honest, informational and conversational. The new dean [Dr. Betsy Beaulieu, vice president for academic affairs] was there, and the faculty felt energized. There was also great food at lunch provided by Chartwells, Mitchell’s dining services provider.”
The adjunct faculty experienced something similar.
“I was very excited to see the addition of professional development for adjunct instructors at Mitchell College. For me, the sessions provided a better understanding of the school’s mission and culture. It also increased my sense of belonging and helped decrease my feelings of isolation associated with being a part-time instructor,” said Linda Shields, adjunct instructor in hospitality.
Business adjunct Linda Buhr said that she found learning about LibGuides, a content management and information sharing system for libraries, most helpful and looks forward to being back in the classroom with her students.
Katie Nazarian, interim library director and a conference co-facilitator, said, “What we noticed most was the networking among adjuncts. They seemed to really enjoy getting to know one another, sharing experiences, and learning about the tools together. We observed a number of them sharing contact information, helping each other, and talking about connecting again later.”
According to Curren, in addition to the biannual professional development conferences, faculty have other opportunities to connect with each other, including its Faculty Learning Community, offering a guided discussion on a designated topic, taking place six to seven times per year, and a faculty portal where papers and articles of interest can be posted.
Curren said, “In order to foster an inclusive environment in the classroom and help students of all levels learn to their highest potential, faculty professional development enables instructors to adjust their pedagogical style so they are able to engage students and help prepare them for life after college.”