New faculty return from conference with new ideas, techniques for teaching first-year students

by Brandon Ortale

A recent four-day trip to Atlanta, Ga., provided new ideas for three new faculty members.

Simpson sends a group to this conference, the First Year Experience, every year.

Professor of English Nancy St. Clair has been in charge of Simpson’s Language Arts Seminar program since January. She invited three first-year faculty members to attend the conference with her: Chad Roberts, instructor of communication studies and student media specialist; Tracy Rutledge, instructor of Spanish; and Kedron Bardwell, assistant professor of political science. These faculty members will be teaching LAS for the first time next year.

According to Bardwell, the conference gave him a chance to learn about other colleges and what they do in their first-year program.

“I learned about some new ideas to engage students coming to college,” Bardwell said. “There were interesting ideas other colleges had to integrate new students and academics.”

According to St. Clair there were 1,700 people at the meeting from as far away as South Africa, so those who attended were able to see a wide variety of teaching styles. The conference consisted of sessions throughout the day from 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and included presentations on all aspects of teaching first-year students. The Simpson attendees learned how to use summer reading, how to mentor students and seminar assistants and help students adjust to college life and to orient themselves on campus.

Rutledge found the conference to be the most valuable she has attended.

“I learned something new at nearly every session,” Rutledge said. “The contacts with faculty and administrators from other institutions of all sizes was very beneficial for me, particularly as a new faculty member participating in the LAS for the first time.”

While the faculty who attended the conference learned a great deal, their absence created opportunities for others.

Rutledge had her Spanish student assistant, Viviana Cimbaro Canella, cover the material while she was gone. Canella is part of the Fulbright program and a high school English teacher in Argentina.

“I attend classes with her, help with grading, and get to teach one class a week,” Canella said. “I was amazed how similar it is teaching here, but I have never taught my own language, Spanish, before or worked with college students.”

Rutledge said what she learned at the conference could help in all of her classes as well as outside the classroom.

“I learned ways to promote self-reflection, responsibility and humor in and out of the classroom,” Rutledge said.

Jan Everhart, the director of the Lilly Initiative for Vocational Exploration, and Jeff Martens, the area coordinator for Barker Hall, Kresge Hall and first-year programs, also attended the conference. According to St. Clair the group who went on the trip still needs to get together to discuss what they learned.

“We need to figure out the ideas that are applicable and share with the other faculty,” St. Clair said.

Rutledge is looking forward to sharing her ideas with other faculty and talking with her students about what she learned and finding new ways to incorporate what interests them into the curriculum.

“My goal is to be a better motivator and resource for my students at all levels,” Rutledge said.