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December 2019

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In chapter 3 of Pedagogical Partnerships: A How-To Guide for Faculty, Students, and Academic Developers in Higher Education, we posed the question: What [temporary] positions might you create to help launch or develop a partnership program? In this resource we focus on one such position: a post-baccalaureate fellow position.

Sophia Abbot was the first to occupy a post-bac fellow position, a position she assumed after graduating from Bryn Mawr College and that she invented largely on her own as she occupied it. Berea College was the second to create a post-bac fellow position. Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Director of Faculty Development at Berea College, was the second to create a post-bac position. Below Leslie narrates her experience of working with Khadijah Seay, the first person to hold the post-bac fellow position at Berea, and then we expand upon the qualities, qualifications, challenges, and opportunities of the role.  Finally, we include a sample position description. You might also find the “Three Stages of Backward Design for Creating Post-baccalaureate Pathways to Educational Development” resource useful if you are interested in creating a post-bac fellow position.

Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Director of Faculty Development at Berea College, describes the opportunity as a kind of partnership that she, herself, experienced in working with a recent Bryn Mawr graduate as a new staff member in a small CTL with multiple focuses (faculty development; TA and tutor development; writing center):

In the pilot phase of Berea’s pedagogical partnership program, I collaborated with a fellow faculty member, Anne Bruder, who had, herself, participated in Bryn Mawr’s SaLT program and worked with a student partner many years ago when she was a postdoc there. We developed and led the program throughout the spring term of 2017, doing what we could to adapt the model to Berea’s context. We were faculty peers and we were experienced in teaching as well as in designing and providing faculty development, but the development and running of precisely such a program was new to both of us, and, despite drawing heavily on Alison Cook Sather’s rich supporting materials, we often felt we were making it up as we went along.

When the Center for Teaching and Learning applied for a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to allow us to institutionalize the program on a larger scale, we were encouraged by Alison to consider integrating a post-baccalaureate fellow position into the proposal in order to secure expertise from a recent graduate who had actually been a partner. Alison helped me see that doing so would bring us closer to a student perspective in the building process, and it would also ensure that someone who had experienced the program as a student played a major role envisioning possibilities for our own institution. Furthermore, I was already stretched in my job, and didn’t have the time or energy to devote to effective program building, so having a post-bac would allow us to do much more high quality work in establishing the program. We wrote the position into the proposal, and with a generous grant from Mellon, we secured funding to hire a post-bac fellow for two years to help establish and anchor the program in Berea’s culture.

There was little in the way of a roadmap for me as the program director, as I embarked on the work with a post-bac fellow. Working with a post-bac fellow was going to be neither the same as working with a TA, which I had done in the past, nor was it the same as supervising other new staff members emerging from graduate studies in their fields of expertise. Determining what job responsibilities and professional opportunities the fellow might engage in besides helping us deepen and institutionalize the partnership program (which, in itself, was not a full-time role) was a first priority. I decided to write into the job description two things: 1) that the post-bac fellow would work closely with a new director of undergraduate teaching assistant and tutoring programs, and 2) that the fellow would be encouraged to help the Center for Teaching and Learning understand more about how students experience teaching and learning at the College. The fellow would have a voice in how and what the latter of these two additional components looked like. The primary role, however, would be to help us strengthen and institutionalize a program.

When we were joined in August by our first fellow, Khadijah Seay, it became clear to me very quickly that she and I were embarking on an adventure, one that would challenge me, delight me, stretch me, and teach me more than I had anticipated. It was clear: our major shared task for the year involved building and improving the partnership work that had been piloted in the spring. Khadijah took the lead and set her mind to shaping the program, in consultation with me. We met weekly to plan classes, debrief, and look ahead. In working with the student partners in the course we co-taught, I learned to turn off my faculty autopilot in teaching, and, instead of relying on years of experience and pet approaches (or resting in my expertise and positional power), I instead practiced getting out of the way, looking to Khadijah’s insight, wisdom, prior knowledge, and guidance as a recent college graduate who had also had deep experience serving as a student partner. I saw that she made markedly different decisions than I would have made, leaving, for example, much more “space” for students to lead, explore, and wonder while I would have felt tempted to shape and structure the class more fully. Most of these choices were essential for establishing the ethos we sought to create for the consultants. Her lead helped us create a space for the students / consultants to ask questions, share insights with each other, air their concerns about navigating the challenges of sharing a difficult observation with their partners, celebrate joys involved in seeing some of their ideas put into place by their faculty partners, gain confidence in consulting with one another, and reflect on the readings and overall experience. It hit me during Alison’s consultation visit to the College that we—Khadijah and I—were partners, and I was learning.

In some ways, we engaged in a kind of “team teaching,” and, at its best, team teaching can be a powerful development opportunity. But in other ways, and possibly because of the focus of the work on partnership in the course, I was keenly aware of how our relationship was different from a team teaching one with a faculty peer, as our positions of power were different and our areas of expertise were as well. It was important for me to enter this shared work mindfully and to remain open and receptive to learning and trying new things, to receiving feedback from her as my partner, as I, in some ways, served as an apprentice, even as I was the faculty member of record for the course.” – Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Director of Faculty Development at Berea College

Below we help program directors and potential post-bac fellows consider the qualities and qualifications recent graduates need to bring to flourish in the role; we outline challenges post-bac fellow may experience as they transition between roles or institutions; and we share guidance for supervisors who will be working closely with new colleagues in this unusual role. These recommendations are based on our own experiences and perspectives; they were also informed by input from Sophia Abbot, Post-Bac Fellow at Trinity University, Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, quoted above, and Khadijah Seay, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for Student-Faculty Partnership Programs at Berea College.

What qualities and qualifications should a post-bac fellow bring and be prepared to further develop?

As in any new role, but particularly in unusual or anomalous roles, adaptability, flexibility, and responsiveness to context and culture of the new institution are key. Many student partners describe having developed or deepened these capacities through their pedagogical partnerships with faculty in established pedagogical partnership programs, and the same qualities are of immense benefit in the post-bac fellow role. The capacities to listen, empathize, constructively challenge, and facilitate dialogue and reflection are critical to both. The post-bac fellow engages in these from within a different position and from a different angle, but the same skills are critical to supporting and facilitating, as well as engaging in, pedagogical partnership.

In addition to deepening such established competencies, post-bac fellows develop new skills, such as analyzing and diagnosing institutional context and needs to help build or deepen a program; composing and submitting program reports (what you have done and what you have accomplished; number of partnerships; departments represented; description of program); and engaging in or seeking out other relevant professional projects in their roles as collaborators in developing and documenting the work of pedagogical partnership.

Finally, fellows (and their new colleagues at the hosting institution) will be well served by bringing to the work or developing a combination of curiosity, eagerness, and drive about exploring the work and the new culture, on the one hand, and patience, humility, and political savvy, on the other. In other words, all the qualities Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten (2014) have argued for in pedagogical partnership—respect, responsibility, and reciprocity—are fundamental to a successful post-bac in a new role.

Program directors should seize opportunities early and often to learn about and foster a post-bac fellow’s already strong capacities and areas of interest, as these colleagues will arrive having developed an array of impressive professional skills and aptitudes, and directors should be open to ways to foster and support their agency. As her narrative above illustrates, Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens did all those things—welcoming, supporting, and learning from Khadijah Seay as they both embraced their new form of pedagogical partnership. Others in the post-bac role have had to make their way more independently or in the face of greater adversity—challenges that at first were daunting and sometimes disheartening but ultimately empowering and transformative for the individuals and the institution involved.

For example, Sophia Abbot, the first person to take on a post-bac fellow role, discusses the wide range of opportunities she pursued and the accomplishments she achieved that far surpassed her work developing the Tigers as Partners program:

“I came into my fellowship expecting to focus exclusively on student-faculty partnerships, and after a year and a half in my work was able to launch a six-pair pilot of what is now known as Tigers as Partners. Since then, we have supported ten partnerships per semester for a total of 26 partnerships thus far. This upcoming semester, we have a waiting-list of faculty and are over-applied by students who wish to participate.

In addition to launching Tigers as Partners, as my role in Trinity’s Collaborative for Learning and Teaching has expanded, I’ve been able to bring student perspectives into other aspects of my work within our teaching and learning center: I organize a student panel and facilitate an interactive student-faculty workshop on transparency in assignment design as a part of our new faculty orientation; I have hosted workshops on pedagogy, specifically focused on assignment design and on end-of-semester feedback; I launched a thank-you program to recognize strong educators on our campus; and I connect with international colleagues to conduct research on partnership.

As a result of internal staffing changes during my tenure as a fellow, I’ve also been able to learn more about educational development more broadly as I fill in around the office: I run our signature teaching speaker series; I collaborate on visionary planning towards our center’s offerings; I lead our center assessment; I consult with faculty, especially around mid-semester feedback; and I direct our center marketing.

Through all of this work, I’ve connected with faculty, staff, and students across campus in my own informal partnerships, and I’ve relied on the co-mentoring that happens in partnerships to inform my own learning and sharing in this role. My position will continue to be a permanent fixture of our department, even as I leave this role: starting this year, it will be filled by an immediate graduate of Trinity and Tigers as Partners, who will continue to lead the partnership program.” – Sophia Abbot, former student partner in SaLT, Fellow for Collaborative Programs, the Collaborative for Learning and Teaching at Trinity University, Texas

The experiences of post-bac fellows and the program directors with whom they collaborate will necessarily, like all pedagogical partnerships, vary by context and according to who the partners are. Whether a post-bac fellow is welcomed as partner as Khadijah Seay and Mia Rybeck were at Berea, whether structures for and approaches to supporting explorations of teaching and learning already exist at an institution or do not, and may other variables will influence the post-bac experience.

What unexpected challenges and opportunities may a fellow experience in the transitions involved in becoming a post-bac fellow, and what advice might help ease the way and ensure success?

The following recommendations are based on our own experiences and perspectives and were informed as well by input from Sophia Abbot, Post-Bac Fellow at Trinity University, and by Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens and Khadijah Seay, Director of and Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for Student-Faculty Partnership Programs at Berea College, respectively.

Be intentional about moving from student partner role/identity to staff role/identity

Undergraduates who have participated in pedagogical partnerships where they have felt especially strongly valued and supported or who have come from institutions that foster high levels of independence and agency, may experience a striking contrast as they become staff members, even with the most supportive of supervisors. As they move into a full-time professional staff position, they may miss a sense of a former supervisor’s or instructor’s deep and familiar attention and affirmation; they may find it disorienting that they are expected to get their work done with less support and assume more administrative responsibilities than they had as students; and they may find, as members of units that operate within the complex organizational structure of a college or university, they experience a diminished sense of agency and authority than they experienced as undergraduates in a partnership with a faculty member.  It’s important to recognize that, to some extent, these are common experiences for people entering into their first jobs after college. But, what’s different for those who have participated in partnership programs is that they have experienced what it is to have their experiences and perspectives valued, and they have worked to develop awareness of the unexamined status quo, with an eye toward possibilities for constructive change. For these individuals and their new supervisors, it is important to be mindful and thoughtful about the developmental challenge represented by such shifts in role and identity from student partner to staff member. It’s also important to explore where and when to push the envelope in the new role and context and where, as a newcomer, some patience and greater familiarity with the culture are prerequisites to effective change agency.

Be aware of place and the assumptions you bring to it

The challenge involved in this shift from student partner to staff member is salient whether a post-bac fellow was previously a student at the same institution or is a graduate of a different institution. If the fellow graduated from the same institution, people may still know them and treat them as students or bring prior expectations to bear. What’s more, they will have developed particular ways of being that may no longer jibe with the new role. As discussed above, their experience in a staff position might contrast relatively sharply with their experience as an undergraduate in the same institution, and that can be jarring and frustrating. If the person graduated from a different institution, they will likely bring assumptions and expectations developed at their alma mater, which may not align with the new organization and may lead to frustrations, confusion, or disorientation. The post-bac fellow and director of the program should spend time talking together about what it means and requires to shift into a new role in the same context or into a new role in a new context.

Prepare for others’ uncertainty about the role and your level of expertise

Because it is an unusual role, most people will not understand what the post-bac fellow role entails nor how the newcomer is qualified to engage in it. In any institution there are unspoken professional expectations regarding qualifications and expertise, and these will affect and inform what the post-bac fellow might do and certainly how the person in the role will feel. Because the person filling the role is typically relatively young, people might mistake them for a student as they move around campus. This can be frustrating and can undermine confidence.  Furthermore, people might be hesitant about investing them with authority and responsibility. This challenge is also something that the program director and the post-bac fellow should discuss: How does one establish credibility? How does one carefully navigate while also challenging assumptions? How can the director help the fellow build networks and gain visibility?

Come in ready to manage frustration and tolerate ambiguity as well as to seize and pursue unexpected, exciting opportunities

The post-bac fellow will likely have unspoken expectations and hopes for the role, as well as discover unpredictable and exciting opportunities, and it would be helpful to identify and articulate those ahead of time and as they become clear. The person in the role may assume that they will have the same kind of voice they had as a student partner and be surprised when that is not the case. Conversely, they may have flexibility to form connections and engage in research projects that were not options when they were undergraduate student partners.

One way to manage these circumstances is to adopt an approach that combines ethnography and reform. On the one hand, a post-bac fellow needs to be a participant-observer whose job is to learn the culture of the “country” and be both respectful of and responsive to it. At the same time, pedagogical partnership work aims to shift or transform culture, and so the post-bac fellow needs to find ways to help effect such a shift that are both attentive to and respectful of context and culture while working toward fostering greater respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility in teaching and learning. The fellow and the program director should stay in close contact about opportunities as well as questions and frustrations, approaching them as opportunities to learn more about the organization and the program as well as imagining where, when, and how changes might be effected. We encourage directors to remember that the post-bac fellow position has been created, and the fellow themselves selected, for the unique experience and expertise they bring, and to therefore trust their insight as they navigate their new role. Likewise, we encourage fellows, as partner to program directors, to recognize the deep experience, history, and expertise, especially about the culture and context, its history and politics, a director is likely to bring to bear, and to listen well and respect their perspectives and insights as well.

Be systematic and intentional about reflecting and document your work

Adaptation, change, opportunity, challenge—these all happen fast and sometimes simultaneously. They will blur together if not captured and analyzed as they happen. So a final recommendation we have for post-bac fellows is to keep a reflective journal for processing, as well as for possible writing up of experiences and insights for publication. There is a growing number of venues that are receptive to reflective essays on and case studies of partnership, and, having occupied two different positions in pedagogical partnership programs, post-bac fellows have unique perspectives to contribute to the evolving understanding of pedagogical partnership work.

What support should program directors provide for post-bac fellows?

As with all partnership work, much will depend on context, purpose, and participants. We encourage program directors to use a backwards design template Melanie created to help people think through what they are looking for in a possible post-bac fellow role and what will be needed to support such a person. We include that template in the “Three Stages of Backward Design for Creating Post-Baccalaureate Pathways to Educational Development” resource. Here we list a few general approaches that have proven helpful to both program directors and post-bac fellows.

Talk candidly about what it means and what is required to shift into a new role

Depending on whether the post-bac was an undergraduate at the same institution or a graduate of a different institution, program directors can talk with them about what it means and what is required to shift into a new position in the same context or into a new position in a new context. Program directors have a sense of the culture of the institution, the various personalities of the people the post-bac fellow might encounter and need to work with, what is possible and what is not advisable within the context, and much more. Since the post-bac fellow is likely to be there for only a short time, learning up front about the program director’s take on these things can help them navigate the institution and their role.

Discuss feedback styles and needs

It is helpful for program directors to get to know how the post-bac fellow likes to work and what they need to function, as well as to share their own styles and assumptions, as it is equally important for program directors to be open and clear with post-bac fellows about how they need to work. In particular, we recommend that program directors and post-bac fellows discuss the best ways to offer and receive feedback, and consider planning regular, semi-structured opportunities for exchanging feedback. This kind of communication is key to functional pedagogical partnerships, and it is equally important in facilitating pedagogical partnerships. How program directors and post-bac fellows work together will have an effect on how faculty and student partners in their program work together and with the leaders and facilitators of pedagogical partnership programs.

Be clear about level of responsibility and independence

Discuss and clarify how the post-bac fellow will collaborate with and work independently from the program director and others (e.g., assistant directors, experienced student partners). In particular clarify how much “ownership” the post-bac has over the partnership program or other aspects of their work, and places where the post-bac can make decisions independently versus places where they should be running things by the program director as their supervisor. The ambiguity regarding what choices they can make on their own can be frustrating, and because these positions are often somewhat ad hoc, there isn’t always great clarity about scope of decision-making in the job description or elsewhere. In the same way student and faculty partners need to work hard to establish trust, the program director and post-bac fellow will need to spend time establishing trust, boundaries, and patterns of communication; but while a student-faculty partnership aims at reducing hierarchy, that reduction of hierarchy may not be possible or desirable in your staff context. Be open from the start about what level of hierarchy must exist for your program to function smoothly so that the post-bac fellow does not unintentionally cross boundaries.

Hold regular meetings

All of the points made above require regular conversation. We recommend holding regular meetings to check in about immediate work and to keep in conversation about longer-term projects, discuss program-related (student-faculty partnership work) or extra-program (interacting with people in other programs and roles on campus) challenges and celebrations.

Specifically, program directors and post-bac fellows will want to meet weekly to co-plan weekly meetings of student partners, whether in a class format or less structured spaces. You will likely bring different ideas about how best to structure these meetings. Program directors bring expertise in various forms of facilitation of academic development as well as knowledge of the institutional culture and its members, and post-bac fellows bring experience of having been a student partner in their own undergraduate context.

Support opportunities for the post-bac to connect beyond your center

A one- or two-year staff position at an institution both has limitations and offers unique opportunities. A post-bac fellow does not have the time that someone in a longer-term position would have to figure out cultural norms and expectations, but also, being in what may be a temporary role, can take advantage of “piloting” things.

One helpful bit of orientation and guidance is for program directors to share a list of faculty members that the post-bac fellow can connect with and possibly observe. Perhaps you can generate a list of such faculty collaboratively, guided by what the post-bac wants to see, learn about, or focus on and by the program director’s knowledge of the faculty, their strengths and interests, and their receptivity.

In addition to making connections between the post-bac fellow and faculty at the institution, program directors can share a list of other people on campus who have access to students, can assure them of the legitimacy of any particular opportunity or invitation, and who might be able to recommend student participants in the partnership program. In the same spirit, the program director can facilitate meetings with other center directors so that the post-bac fellow can identify or propose possible collaborations.

Make space for the post-bac to bring new ideas or projects

Again, because the post-bac fellow is at the institution for only one or two years, they can take up or create unusual opportunities that continuing staff members might not have the time or energy to undertake. Program directors can make space for and invite the post-bac to imagine, develop, and pursue projects that would be of use to the institution, the center, faculty, or students.

Consider intentionally structuring such opportunities and projects. For example, in her role as post-bac fellow at Berea College, Khadijah Seay worked with the program director and Berea’s director of institutional research and assessment to develop a research project that would involve surveying and interviewing black women students about their educational experiences. She began with two items from a Student Satisfaction Survey the institution had conducted: “faculty members take individual students and their differences into account in the course,” and “faculty members care about individual student learning.” In addition, with Leslie and Alison, Khadijah has embarked on a research project to explore the impact of participation as a student consultant in a partnership program on black women students’ sense of belonging.  This working relationship will continue even after she moves on to a graduate program in higher education. A project for a different post-bac fellow might focus on retention, affirmation, recognition, and support of students of color in STEM.

Post-bac fellows can also engage in various forms of consultation. They can facilitate midterm feedback for interested faculty, assist peer tutors and TAs in courses with interested faculty, and lead mid-semester feedback sessions themselves.

What do post-bac fellows take forward from having been in this position?

Post-bacs gain a range of insights and capacities in this role. We discuss these under the several interrelated subheadings of communication and facilitation skills, confidence and agency, and capacity for reflection and revision.

Communication and facilitation skills

  • mediating between several perspectives, e.g., professor/student, student/staff
  • deepening listening and feedback/advice-giving skills, observation, empathy and compassion
  • developing ability to affirm and frame constructive critique, to seek a shared understanding as an entry-point for deeper learning
  • learning how to navigate the institution

Organization and leadership skills

  • For those supporting existing partnership programs, learning how to develop a syllabus or lesson plan to lead weekly reflective meetings of student partners and developing an awareness of how they facilitate or what works best for them as facilitators
  • For those launching new programs, a great deal of insight in how to manage programmatic logistics, such as proposing and securing a budget, identifying spaces for meetings, and writing position applications and hiring (if finding participants from scratch)

Confidence and agency

  • using their own experience to ground the stances they choose to take
  • strengthening integrity and ability/willingness to trust and advocate for their own views and provide justification, especially in communication with someone with more institutional power (e.g., a boss)—these skills build on those that emerge from some more challenging conversations in pedagogical partnerships post-bacs experience as undergraduates
  • developing confidence to speak up in spite of status as a young, non-PhD-holding person; not allowing assumptions about “how things are done” to dictate actions, but also recognizing that too much challenging without understanding a supervisor’s reasoning can come across as insubordinate; open and regular communication about intent in sharing alternative perspectives (as offering a new idea, not a defensive tactic) is key
  • figuring out how to manage the assumptions people make about them since, while they have extensive experience, they have no formal certification, and so most likely faculty, students, and staff alike will not quite know what to make of their role or how to treat them

Capacity for reflection and revision

  • thinking both about the skills gained from positive parts of partnerships (connection, empathy, listening, observation, feedback, constructive suggestion) as well as from more challenging parts (strengthening their integrity and voice, confidence in sticking with their own views/insights and explaining the rationale behind that)

Sample Position Description

Title: Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for Pedagogical Partnerships
Department:
Supervisor:
Start Date: 

Summary

The Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for Pedagogical Partnerships is an external consultant who is graduate of a four-year liberal arts college or university and will have experience participating in and facilitating student-faculty collaborations that link to classroom practice and potentially to the curriculum. The Fellow will be responsible for developing opportunities for student-faculty collaboration with the goal of promoting student learning and engaged teaching. The Fellow will collaborate with other campus partners to investigate and articulate students’ views on learning as a component of their academic experiences, expectations, and backgrounds. Familiarity with methods of appreciative inquiry and a track record of scholarly publication are highly desirable. Excellent oral and written communications skills are expected. The Fellow works closely with the director of the teaching and learning center to highlight faculty excellence in teaching and to support inclusive and equitable learning environments. This is a salaried one-year position and may require extended hours and occasional travel to accomplish the goals and objectives of the project.

Duties:

Educational Development

  • Engage in pedagogical consultations with the director of the teaching and learning center.
  • Co-plan workshops and orientation sessions with the director of the teaching and learning center and other center staff.
  • Assemble resources and scholarly materials to advance faculty development around student partnership work.
  • Work closely with the director of the teaching and learning center on initiatives that target student-faculty collaboration.

Research

  • Support teaching and learning center staff in collecting program evaluation data and producing reports to document the effectiveness and impact of pedagogical partnerships.
  • Conduct interviews with faculty and students about their partnership experiences or teaching and learning experiences they hope to have.
  • Design and support projects for student-faculty collaboration as appropriate to the goals of the college and the faculty.

Mentorship

  • Support students in the pedagogical partners program by facilitating weekly meetings of student partners.
  • Engage in ongoing conceptualizing and development of students’ roles as consultants/partners/collaborators.
  • Facilitate opportunities to incorporate student perspectives and participation in programs and communications.
  • Assess opportunities to assist current pedagogical partnerships and avenues for student-faculty collaboration that affirm faculty teaching practice.

Other

  • Create opportunities for students and faculty to learn about principles and practices of pedagogical collaboration in this college context.
  • Engage in campus outreach to raise awareness for and encourage participation in student-faculty collaborations.
  • Collaborate productively with college staff, faculty, and students.
  • Comply with all college policies and guidelines.

Desirable Qualities:

  • Initiative
  • Flexibility
  • Independence
  • People skills
  • Willingness to teach/willingness to learn
  • Creative; can shape initiatives
  • Confident