This September, twelve Wilkes University faculty and staff members were recognized for their achievements as advisers and educators by the Teaching Recognition & Effectiveness Committee. Four award-winners were available to explain the reasons for their success.
Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate professor and chair of the division of engineering and physics, teaches the engineering capstone course, in which students work on real-world projects with the division’s industrial partners. Ridley said one of the goals of the problem is to make students “job-ready,” or able to enter the work force with the necessary skills without much job training. However, he acknowledged that the meaning of “job-ready” has changed over the years.
“Engineers used to be the kind of people who would go off into labs by themselves and come up with some really neat idea and then toss it over the fence to some marketing person, and then that person would sell it,” Ridley said. “Well, those days are over. Now ‘job-ready’ means engineers need to have some kind of business awareness.”
Ridley said he and his colleague, Dr. Jeff Alves, interim dean of the Sidhu School of Business, used to have frequent discussions about skills their students were lacking.
“I would say that my engineering students needed more business skills,” Ridley said. “He would always comment that he needed better ideas for his business students to utilize when they were off doing their market research.”
To remedy this problem, the two combined their courses, assigning a business major to each engineering team. Business students are responsible for the marketing and sale of the product, giving them real-world experience with the kinds of diverse ideas they will be working with later on in life. Engineering majors learn about project management and teaming and are given practice expressing their ideas to businessmen, who have not been trained like engineers.
Last year – the first year they successfully an the project – project output dramatically improved.
“The faculty who knew it as it was before were astonished by how much better it was, just based on teaming up and adding that business sense to the project,” Ridley said. “We also had a lot of positive input from the outside, from our industrial advisory board and our industrial partners. For them it went from being some esoteric project to a business plan they could actually use.”
Ridley said he was most pleased with the change in his engineering students’ ability to express themselves without speaking over the heads of others. “Our students are now able to articulate [their ideas] much better than they previously could,” he reported.
This success – for which they were honored with the Interdisciplinary Teaching Award – has led Ridley and Alves to further develop their project in the hopes that even better results will follow.
Jennifer Edmonds, associate professor of the Sidhu School of Business and one of the recipients of the Outstanding Advisor Award, described her relationship with her advisees as “friendly, sometimes invasive.” She said she makes an effort to be highly involved in their decision making process when it comes to choosing courses and advises them to make the responsible decisions, not the easy ones. Her attitude toward advising is not to tell students how they should think but to talk in depth with them about what interests them and would benefit them the most.
“I don’t think that when you’re a junior or so… that you know why you’re taking the classes or what you’re going to do when you get out. You just take whatever. And that doesn’t normally lead to good decisions,” Edmonds said. “So you have to get a little invasive to see if that’s what they’re doing. …They’ve all realized that they can’t come in and get their PIN and walk out. They have to talk. It’s not ‘Here’s what you should think.’ It’s ‘Let’s talk about what you’re taking.’”
Edmonds said she typically handles a larger-than-normal load of advisees but enjoys it. “I have a lower load right now. Right now I have 20. But a year ago, and the year before that, and the year before that, I think I had 40,” she said, adding that the average for most advisers is 20. “Right now I feel like I don’t have any. When I had 40 or 50, that was fun, because then I had about 10 in every year that you could really get to know.”
Another faculty member who received the “Outstanding Adviser Award” is Deborah Tindell, associate professor of psychology. Tindell found the award to be a “particularly meaningful one because it requires a student to take the extra time to make the nomination, and that is quite touching.”
Tindell, like Edmonds, also has a larger load of advisees with an average of 25 to 35 per academic year.
She described herself as a very careful academic adviser, who is not only willing to help with curricular issues, but willing to offer advice and guidance related to career goals or personal growth and development.
“As instructors in the classroom, we work with students to understand course content. As an adviser, we are given greater opportunity to work with the whole person, and I find this aspect of my job very rewarding,” she said. “I truly enjoy meeting with students one-on-one and I think my advisees know that I am an advocate for them, and that I am there as a resource should they need it.”
“Mentoring of a student eventually turns into mentoring of alumni,” Dr. Steven Thomas, associate professor of performing arts and coordinator of music and director of choral activities, said. “It‘s rewarding for me to get to continue to work with my students that way.”
He believes that in his case, the Alumni Mentor Award recognizes the number of students who have sung for him at Wilkes that continue to sing, both outside of the area and in the area under his direction.
Thomas said that one alumna, Mary Simmons, who nominated both Thomas and his wife Susan Minsavage for the award, sang for Thomas at Wilkes during her years as a student and continues to sing for him now in the Robert Dale Chorale, a community organization that Thomas directs.
In other instances, Thomas said, he guides students who leave the area toward more opportunities to sing.
“I try to be very aware of my students and stay connected with them after they graduate, even if they don‘t stick around and sing for me, and I try to be a resource for them,” Thomas explained. “What I do here is trto train singers who will then graduate and have a life… most of the time not as professional singers but as people who get enjoyment out of singing as adults and do it all their lives.”
Thomas said he knows that many others faculty members care deeply about mentoring and do it successfully, and he feels honored to have received the award, since he is just one of many who do what he does.
In addition to Ridley, Alves, Edmonds, Thomas, Tindell and Minsavage, seven others were recognized. Debra Chapman, biology education specialist, Coordinator of Student Affairs Mary Beth Mullen received the Outstanding Adviser Award. Mischelle Anthony, associate professor of English, received the Innovative Teaching Award. Learning Center coordinator Karen Riley and Student Development coordinator Megan A. Boone received the Academic Support Award. Meridith P. Selden, assistant professor of psychology, received the Outstanding New Faculty Award.