New Kensington adjuncts do more than teach

Adjuncts instructors are the unsung heroes of academia. A staple of most colleges and universities, adjunct faculty supplement the teaching loads of full-time faculty.

At Penn State New Kensington, adjuncts do more than teach. The part-time instructors, who specialize in a variety of disciplines, are indispensable outside of the classroom as well as inside the classroom.

“We are very fortunate to have a group of adjunct faculty who are loyal to our campus and who serve in a wide variety of service roles,” said Donald Bruckner, assistant director of academic affairs. "The extra effort of these professionals helps the campus to be the locus of activity that it is, and not merely a place where learning takes place in classrooms and labs.”

Adjuncts at the campus are active in a variety of extra-curricular activities that serve the campus and the local community. Some work with students, some work with faculty and staff, and some work with the administration.

Jane Viti, adjunct instructor in biology, serves as a volunteer mentor for the campus’ annual Females Interested in Reaching for Science, Technology and Engineering (FIRSTE) program. The summer program targets ninth through 11th-grade girls considering careers in science, technology or engineering. The Fox Chapel resident joined the campus faculty in 2001. She teaches courses in anatomy, physiology and microbiology.

“The FIRSTE program provides an invaluable service by fostering young girls’ interest in science as a career choice and in exposing them to a college environment, said Viti, who holds a doctorate in neurobiology from the University of Pittsburgh. “The campus creates a very supportive environment.”

Adjunct instructors Frances Blanco-Yu (Chemistry), Tamanna Sultanna (Chemistry) and Dave Wohleber (Chemistry and Computer Science) serve as mentors in the Firste program.

Alumnus John Powell, adjunct instructor in engineering, played a pivotal role in reconfiguring the Engineering lab, including designing and building new programmable logic controller training modules. He also teamed with fellow engineering adjunct Mark Ripepi to lend their expertise to the Summer Preparation for Academics in the College of Engineering, or SPACE as it is known on campus. SPACE is a two-week academic session designed to strengthen the skills, knowledge, and experience of those seeking to major in engineering. The program includes classes in pre-calculus, chemistry, physics, and English, as well as workshops on study skills and course scheduling strategies. Peer mentoring and networking with current students helps ease the transition from high school to college.

Powell’s campus service isn’t limited to the academics. He was a member of the campus Advisory Board and served as the board’s president for two years. In the fall, he collaborated with Danielle DeStefano, assistant director of admissions, on organizing a Motorcycle Run for the campus annual Fall Festival.

Many adjuncts are asked to be faculty advisers to student clubs. Rebecca Mertz, adjunct instructor in English, is the adviser to the Anime Club. Anime is a Japanese animation style that is characterized by colorful graphics, characters and themes. Dave Nixon, adjunct instructor in radiological sciences, works with the X-ray club that is geared to students in the Radiological Sciences program. Nixon also sits on the program’s Assessment and Advisory committees that oversee the three-year accreditation cycle.

In addition to teaching, adjuncts are a vital part of campus committees. Carole Walcher, adjunct instructor in business administration, and Stewart Lewis, adjunct instructor in chemistry, serve on the campus’ Green Team. The Green Team takes specific actions to help the campus operate in a more efficient, innovative, and healthy way. The group operates under the Penn State Campus Sustainability Office that is charged with ensuring that Penn State is ecologically sound, socially responsible, and financially strong, while serving as a living laboratory for global sustainability to educate and serve our students. Leslie Wolf (Business) and David Jordan (Business) are adjunct faculty representatives to the Faculty Senate. The senate is the legislative body representing the campus academic unit in matters such as instructional programs, courses and programs of study, academic admissions standards, graduation requirements and scholarships and honors.

Bruckner, a former adjunct at the campus, emphasized that while full-time faculty are obligated to perform service activities such these as part of their faculty appointments, adjunct faculty contractual obligations extend only to the courses they are teaching. 

“That’s what makes this kind of service so impressive, so appreciated, and so clearly above and beyond the call of duty,” said Bruckner, who earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh.  “We have a ton of adjuncts who are volunteering for these and other service activities out of the kindness of their hearts, because they believe in what we’re doing here and want to be a part of it.”

Bruckner, who assumed his administrative position in 2003, continues with his teaching responsibilities as assistant professor of philosophy. He teaches courses on ethics, logic and environmental philosophy.

While adjuncts are part-time faculty, a majority of the campus group have enjoyed a long term relationship with the campus. Last August, thirty-seven adjunct faculty were honored for service of five years or more. Wohleber tops the list with 21 years of service followed by Carol Dilliott, adjunct instructor in nutrition, with 20 years of service.

Faculty receive public recognition in April at the campus’ Academic and Student Achievement Awards ceremony. A committee of students, previous award recipients, and the Director of Academic Affairs selects one full-time and one part-time faculty member to receive the “An “Excellence in Teaching” award. The award is given for excellent classroom performance including teaching methods, techniques or activities. Excellence in other activities such as advising, supervision of learning outside the classroom, and course development are also considered. James “Frank” Roach, adjunct instructor in physics, was the 2012 recipient.

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Last Updated February 20, 2013