Faculty Academy embarks on research projects to enhance academic environment

December 11, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A select cohort of faculty members at Penn State are in pursuit of dynamic models for student engagement, breaking through traditional classroom instruction and redefining the meaning of transformative education.

The Faculty Academy, which is housed under the newly formed Student Engagement Network, draws on diverse academic experiences to develop new research and curriculum that spurs sustainable opportunities. Selected by a committee comprised of faculty, staff and students, the 2017-18 Faculty Academy fellows and scholars are focused on expanding the scholarship of engagement and broadening the discourse, conversations, and assessment of such efforts.

While the Faculty Academy may only be less than one semester underway, its current areas of inquiry hold the promise of successful results. “We’re excited to watch and work with each faculty member as they create meaningful impact in local, regional and national communities,” said Michael Zeman, director of the Student Engagement Network.

The Student Engagement Network plans to launch the next round of applications in January of 2018. Faculty can apply online and should expect the review and award process to be complete by mid-semester.

The fellows currently serving one-year appointments include: Chris Bopp, associate professor of kinesiology; Sascha Meinrath, Palmer Chair in Telecommunications and director of X-Lab; Kira Hamman, lecturer in mathematics at Penn State Mont Alto; and John M. Carroll, distinguished professor of information sciences and technology. A team of faculty from the College of Arts and Architecture is also participating in the program and includes: Ann Clements, associate professor of music education; B. Stephen Carpenter II, associate professor of music education and African studies; Aaron Knochel, assistant professor of art education; Susan Russell, associate professor of theatre and 2014-15 Penn State laureate; and Barton Pursel, manager of faculty programs, teaching, and learning with technology.

Bopp, who has brought together a number of teams over the last four years, is on a mission to improve the health of the local community while providing students with real-world skills. “Our students lack clinical experience and practical hands-on training,” he said. “The opportunities for them to practice on community members will allow them to expand their skill set and gain a greater breadth of experience that they need to be successful after they graduate.”

Meinrath, with the long-term goal of building an alumni network in Washington, D.C., hopes to solidify connections and increase the University’s impact and reputation. “By curating the students and the organizations that host them, I'm seeking to ensure that the time invested from both parties yields tangible outcomes — providing on-the-job experience for students and critical staffing on policy interventions that are currently pending in the Capitol,” he explained.

Hamman, who envisions making student research readily available to the general public, believes that creating an online forum is the answer. “Students will benefit from this by being part of the bigger picture with real results and consequences,” she said. “In the digital age, there’s no reason for high-quality student scholarship to molder in the dark at the end of the term. It can, and should, be made available to anyone who’s interested.”

Carroll, with the end goal of enhancing civic engagement in mind, is trying to bridge the gap between the University and the local community through information technologies and applications. “My goal is to help everyone reflect on their roles as citizens. I think we should reconceive of community as a supportive context for human innovation. We need to keep inventing human community — it’s fun to do and no one else can do it for us,” he explained.

Scholars serving two-year appointments include Nicholas Rowland, associate professor of sociology and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, and Peter Aeschbacher, associate professor of landscape architecture and architecture.

Rowland, who wants to transform undergraduate research fairs into inclusive environments for various types of student engagement, wishes to establish fundamental standards across the University. “Student engagement experiences are often the emerald of an education,” he said. “If these are experiences of a lifetime, then we should start treating them — all of them — that way.”

Aeschbacher, with the right blend of design thinking and creative activity, hopes to create a framework for strengthening the objectives and effectiveness of student engagement projects. “The process of inventing, refining and applying new forms of knowledge builds civic responsibility, public purpose, personal capacity, and a confidence in one's ability to realize meaningful, substantive change,” he explained.

Alan Rieck, assistant vice president and assistant dean for the College of Undergraduate Education, emphasized the importance of student engagement as a longtime staple of the University. “The Faculty Academy is intended to be an incubator where meaningful engagement experiences can be developed, and the impact of those experiences can be explored, assessed and understood so that Penn State can continue to grow as a national and global leader in student engagement,” he said.

“Faculty who are interested in getting involved should start small,” said Bopp in reference those who are looking to start their own outreach efforts. “One day could make the difference in the life of one of your students.”

The Student Engagement Network is a joint initiative between Undergraduate EducationStudent Affairs, and Outreach and Online Education. The mission of the Student Engagement Network is to advance the power of participation by connecting students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact as citizens and leaders of the world.

For more information about the Student Engagement Network, visit engage.psu.edu or email engage@psu.edu.

Last Updated December 11, 2017