Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University
For the last three years, at Illinois State University, we have had a program called the “SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program.” I have served as the facilitator of these scholar-mentors. This program overlaps somewhat with scholar programs at other institutions that either fund SoTL researchers/grants or use faculty members as SoTL faculty developers. We also fund a variety of faculty/staff SoTL grants and research. We also use paid and volunteer faculty to assist others with learning about SoTL or SoTL projects. We believe our additional SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program, however, is somewhat unique. In this blog post, I summarize the goals and features of the program, share links to some scholar-mentor reflections, and reflect on the program from my point of view.
The ISU SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program
There are two main goals of the SoTL Scholar-Mentor program. The first goal is to nurture faculty members who are interested in SoTL– but who also have SoTL experience– in terms of furthering their own SoTL work, strengthening their experience as SoTL mentors and faculty developers, and connecting them to the SoTL field beyond campus. The second goal is to provide additional and valuable ‘personnel’ to the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL so that we can achieve our goals of SoTL support, research, and advocacy.
All tenured or tenure-track Illinois State University faculty members with experience in the scholarship of teaching and learning are eligible to apply to be a SoTL scholar-mentor. Scholar-Mentors receive a course reassignment to the Office of the Cross Chair for the semester(s) for which they are accepted and $3,000 in travel and/or research funds for the fiscal year they are a scholar-mentor. Scholar-mentors were eligible for other SoTL funds open to any faculty/staff member as well. SoTL Scholar-Mentors work directly with the Cross Chair in SoTL and any other scholar-mentors. They have some time to work on their own SoTL project and to travel to SoTL conferences. In addition, they take responsibility for certain SoTL support and mentoring services depending on their expertise, interest, and initiative.
Reflections from Scholar-Mentors
Over the course of the three years, we have had six different SoTL Scholar-Mentors; four of whom served more than one semester. The scholar-mentors represented three colleges and six departments or schools within our university. Several of the scholar-mentors made brief reflective comments about their experiences (Dr. Erin Mikulec of the School of Teaching and Learning, is still serving as a scholar-mentor). I share these below.
A reflection by Politics and Government Professor, Dr. Michaelene Cox can be found at http://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/newsletter/September2015.pdf. She summarizes some of her work as a scholar-mentor and notes that “…the less tangible, but no less important, result of serving as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor is that I met a host of smart and delightful colleagues from diverse disciplines that I might not have run across otherwise. The position gave me practice and greater appreciation for teamwork and collaborative problem solving. It broadened my understanding of SoTL, and boosted my confidence and experience in mentoring others about this work. And lastly, the past year in service as a Scholar-Mentor provided a unique perspective on the spirit of teaching and learning that forms the foundation of ISU’s mission. “
Dr. Maria Moore, a professor in our School of Communication, offers a brief reflection of her SoTL Scholar-Mentor experience at http://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/newsletter/September2014.pdf. She explains what she brought to our SoTL support efforts and some of the tasks she performed. She also said that “One of the best parts of the SoTL Scholar-Mentor experience was the collaborative nature of working with the other mentors and with Kathleen McKinney as our leader. As the other scholars came from different disciplines, I was able to learn a great deal from them and through their own mentor activities. There was such a wonderful creative spirit to our collaborative work, and it was deeply rewarding to see the success they had in their own initiatives.”
Drs. Jen Friberg (CSD) and Anu Gokhale (Tech) share summaries of their Scholar-Mentor work in a joint brief article at http://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/newsletter/January2014.pdf . Similar to other scholar-mentors they highlighted benefits of their experience including the chance to learn new things, form new networks and partnerships, and collaborate with others. Dr. Friberg, in a personal communication to me, indicated that “her experiences as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor have been instrumental in developing a ever deepening interest in SoTL, peer mentoring, and advocacy for SoTL at and beyond ISU. Work in this capacity allowed me to develop the skills and knowledge I will need to be successful in my role as the Cross Endowed Chair in the coming years.”
Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, professor in Educational Administration and Foundations, in a personal communication to me, wrote “Some of my best experiences doing research relate to SoTL. Helping others design their projects or offering feedback on how they have written their findings was a very rewarding part of my role as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor. I find that SoTL researchers tend to be a lot like my disciplinary colleagues, collaborative and interested in students and their learning, so I enjoyed talking with “SoTL people” about effective teaching and incorporating suggestions from their research into my own classes. Working with Kathleen McKinney and the other SoTL Scholar-Mentors was never work, but always good quality time spent designing programs and services in support of SoTL on our campus with wonderful, thoughtful people from whom I learned a great deal.”
Reflections from the Cross Chair in SoTL
As I look back on the three-year program, several anecdotal conclusions occur to me.
- All the Scholar-Mentors and all the applicants were women.
- Scholars indicated several positive outcomes from their experience including learning new things related to SoTL and/or faculty development, meeting new people including in other disciplines and institutions, forming new partnerships sometimes with students, and having new opportunities for collaboration and team-work.
- Though not mentioned in the above brief reflections, scholar-mentors also worked on their own SoTL research or writing, and traveled and presented their work. All the scholar-mentors attended international SoTL conferences. All the scholars also had previous, current, and/or later funding for SoTL research or travel through this office.
- Most SoTL Scholar-Mentors became more involved in SoTL in their disciplinary association and/or in the international, multi-disciplinary SoTL field in terms of joining new organizations or professional service.
- I tried to ‘match’ scholar-mentors with their interests, strengths, or desire to learn new things when negotiating the SoTL support/development tasks on which they would each take the lead or assist. This seemed to work out well for everyone in terms of motivation and success at task completion.
- I, the Office of the Cross Chair, and those doing SoTL on campus benefited greatly from this program as the Scholar-Mentors often had strengths I did not (e.g., making video documentaries, using social media to promote SoTL and the office; working with external grant agencies…). In fact, most of the scholars came up with new and/or innovative programs or initiatives on which they took the lead and that I most likely would not have accomplished alone.
- Scholar-mentors generally seemed to be very busy, possibly over-committed, professionally, yet most often were able to complete the support/development work on time and with quality. A few tasks were not completed to the extent I may have had in mind but this occurred rarely and not, necessarily, as the result of any scholar-mentor ‘failures’.
- I enjoyed my interactions with these women tremendously. We had many successes and accomplishments as well as enjoyed some social time.