Earlier this month, five WPI graduate students took their education one step further and completed the Certificate in College Teaching program from the Higher Education Consortium of Central Massachusetts (HECCMA).
Khalid Alzahrani (Foisie Business School), Jake Hughes, Jessica Rosewitz, and Xiaokong Yu (Civil & Environmental Engineering), and Alex Norton (Interactive Media & Game Development) joined the ranks of more than 60 WPI graduate students who have completed the program, which has its roots right here on campus.
The six-credit program originated in the mid-1990s with a seminar and practicum in college teaching for graduate students and, occasionally, faculty members. With grant funding from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education through the University of New Hampshire, the program became a project of the Colleges of Worcester Consortium, HECCMA’s predecessor organization. Once the original funding expired, WPI and Clark University stepped in to help support and expand the program until it was fully transferred to the consortium.
The program, hosted at Worcester State University, consists of classes held online and in person taught by professors from WPI, Clark, Worcester State University, Tufts University, College of the Holy Cross, and others, and is open to anyone who has earned an undergraduate degree. WPI students and faculty interested in participating in the program also receive full tuition reimbursement from the Class of ‘57 Excellence in Teaching Fund and the dean of graduate studies.
This aspect of the program was particularly appealing to Alzahrani. “I couldn’t see an opportunity like this without utilizing it,” he says. “...after finishing the first course, I realized that I should take all the courses I can, even if they’re not covered by WPI. It was extremely helpful, and [was] one of the best preparations for my upcoming career in academia.”
Chrysanthe Demetry, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Morgan Teaching and Learning Center, believes that the program is invaluable, both for students who want to teach college courses and those who are undecided but have an interest in exploring their options.
“Anyone interested in a career in academia should have some formal education about college teaching and how people learn,” Demetry explains. “The assumption has been that if you earn a PhD in your field, you have the expertise to be able to teach … but without formal training, we tend to teach as we were taught, with methods that worked reasonably well for us but may not work well for a large portion of learners.”
“Now that I am a full-time faculty member, I still find myself drawing on the lessons I learned and the experiences I gained as part of the [Certificate in College Teaching] program.” -Emily Evans
For Norton, the idea of teaching had been something he knew he wanted to pursue even before he entered the IMGD graduate program. “I started teaching at STEM and video game camps the summer after my freshman year of college,” he says. “Not only was it rewarding to share subjects I’m passionate about, but I was just as thrilled as my campers when they created a game or animation.”
Norton, who is currently a high school media arts teacher, credits his WPI education for helping him become an expert in his subject matter, and the teaching certificate program with providing instruction on how to actually teach a course, with topics such as making lessons engaging, motivating students, handling discipline or cheating issues, or designing an online course.
Emily Evans, who earned her PhD in mathematics from WPI in 2011, is now an assistant math professor at Brigham Young University in Utah. “Now that I am a full-time faculty member, I still find myself drawing on the lessons I learned and the experiences I gained as part of the program,” she says.
Hughes and Rosewitz found that the program had an invaluable impact on their future careers as civil and environmental engineering professors.
“I see future classrooms as rich learning experiences for both instructor and student, and full of potential for educational research,” says Rosewitz. “I’m ready for this next part of my career to begin.”
- By Allison Racicot