With the ACM-Mellon Post-doctoral Fellowship Program entering its final year, the nine current Fellows and their mentors gathered in Chicago for their fall workshop to focus on pedagogy and planning for the year ahead.
“Part of the workshop was stock-taking – looking at what they were able to accomplish during the past year of their fellowships and what they plan to do in the coming year,” said David Schodt, ACM Senior Program Officer, who oversees the program and organized the workshop held in Chicago on September 20-21.
ACM-Mellon Post-doctoral Fellows – front (l-r): Burcu Bakioglu (Lawrence), Kristian Lorenzo (Monmouth), David Hutson (Ripon); back: Evgenia Fotiou (Luther), Michael O’Brien (Luther), Aaron Hagler (Cornell), Catherine Bronson (Beloit), Stephen Campbell (Coe), Jeremy Pool (Monmouth).
“This is also the final year of the program for all of them, as it is for the ACM,” he added. “The Fellows are very focused on the job market and what they will do next, and at ACM we’re looking closely at the impact the program has had for our colleges.”
Supported by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program has funded 26 two-year faculty positions at ACM colleges since fall 2009 in the humanities, humanistic social sciences, and interdisciplinary environmental studies. The fellowships, designed to encourage recent PhDs from top graduate programs to consider teaching careers at liberal arts colleges, combine a half-time teaching load with on-campus mentoring, support for research, and workshops organized by ACM.
In a series of discussions at the workshop, both in small groups and with all the participants together, the Fellows outlined their goals for this academic year – teaching schedules, course syllabi, plans for their scholarly research – and talked about the challenges involved in applying for teaching positions.
Writing assignments show teaching as art and skill
Pedagogy was the focus for about half of the workshop as ACM Senior Program Officer Elizabeth Ciner led a two-part session on designing effective writing assignments. Ciner gave the group an assignment to write about why they ask their students to write, and Fellows and mentors shared writing assignments they’ve used with their classes.
“Writing is a very important tool, not just for evaluation and communication, but for learning, as well,” said Ciner. “When you put something down on paper, you’ve created a distance between you and your thinking that makes it possible for you to analyze your truth claims, see connections, and synthesize.”
The session was aimed at generating discussions among the Fellows and mentors about the thought process that goes into creating writing assignments. According to Ciner, that boils down to asking yourself: What are the goals of the class? What skills am I trying to develop in my students? What do I hope my students will learn as the result of this assignment? What do my students have difficulty with in doing this assignment?
“The mentors were very enthusiastic in discussing how to create effective assignments,” Ciner said, “and having the Fellows see that enthusiasm helped them understand that teaching is as much an art as it is a skill. If we could give someone a set of instructions on how to give students a perfect assignment every time, we would have done it. As teachers, it remains a challenge for all of us, and it’s a challenge well worth working on.”
Benefits of the Post-doctoral Fellowships
As part of wrapping up the program this year, Schodt is engaged in evaluating the effect of the Post-doctoral Fellowships on ACM campuses. Based on what he’s seen and heard from the colleges, Schodt said, there have been definite benefits.
“Mentors have mentioned that the Fellows bring in new ideas that help enliven the intellectual life on campus,” Schodt noted. “They’ve just come out of graduate schools and are at the forefront of their disciplines. They may also have experience with particular types of instructional technology that are not be widely used on the campus.”
“The colleges also have been able to bring in Post-doctoral Fellows who could offer courses in areas that the institutions might be interested in, but haven’t offered before,” Schodt continued. “So they’ve been able to offer courses in East Asian religions or film studies or anthropology, for example, and ascertain the level of student interest and help build the case for hiring permanent faculty in that area. I think the colleges have been able to use the program very effectively for building curriculum.”
ACM-Mellon Post-doctoral Fellows in 2013-14
- Burcu Bakioglu, New Media Studies, Lawrence University
- Catherine Bronson, Arabic & Islamic Studies, Beloit College
- Stephen Campbell, Environmental Ethics, Coe College
- Evgenia Fotiou, Indigenous Religious Traditions, Luther College
- Aaron Hagler, Modern Middle Eastern History, Cornell College
- David Hutson, Sociology/Gender Studies, Ripon College
- Kristian Lorenzo, Classical Archaeology, Monmouth College
- Michael O’Brien, Ethnomusicology, Luther College
- Jeremy Pool, African History, Monmouth College