This is the third in a series of faculty profiles in recognition of the fifth anniversary of the MT Engage Quality Enhancement Program.
It isn’t enough for Carmelita Dotson to make sure her students are engaged. She also engages her fellow professors.
Dotson, a lecturer in the Department of Social Work, teaches courses in the MT Engage program, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. The program employs specific strategies involving technology and experiential learning to get students more involved in their educational careers.
“We saw MT Engage as an added bonus to help our students … to get the material integrated more smoothly throughout their journey,” Dotson said.
MT Engage is the university’s latest Quality Enhancement Program, or QEP, which is a requirement for reaccreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. MT Engage builds on the work of the previous QEP known Experiential Learning, or EXL, by engaging freshman and sophomore students as well.
A hallmark of MT Engage is the practical application of classroom learning, which is nothing new to Dotson and her departmental colleagues.
“In one of my courses … the students have the opportunity to go out in the community of Murfreesboro and do a community needs assessment,” Dotson said.
Dotson also brings together professors from other disciplines for a faculty learning community that provides a safe space for the educators to develop research questions and workshop ideas. One characteristic that the committee members mention frequently is the freedom they have to design their courses and make students part of that process.
“I will always have a plan …, but I’m also asking my students to give me some input on how I should be developing such a class in terms of topics that I will be teaching,” said Soraya Nogueira, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese.
One of the issues that is paramount to these academics is inclusive teaching, an approach that focuses on connecting students with the classwork through strategies that respect various ethnicities, genders and learning modalities.
“One of the main reasons that I was so excited to join this group was because I think there is a general perception that, when you teach a discipline like German, everybody’s going to be blonde and blue-eyed … and that’s not true,” said Michael Rice, an associate professor of German.
Real changes that are being implemented have grown out of a concern to reach all kinds of students from all kinds of backgrounds.
“We’ve talked about making sure that our syllabi are more inclusive, showing that we’re not just focusing on Eurocentric, male-centric, heterocentric expectations of the world,” said Donna Dopwell, an assistant professor of social work.
Since communication is at the heart of both MT Engage and the faculty learning community, the group is a natural step for Roberta Chevrette, an assistant professor of communication studies.
“I had founded a communications studies department committee focused on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, or the JEDI committee, as we called ourselves,” Chevrette said. “And so I was very interested in getting to know others on campus working in these areas.”
“I’m primarily interested, as a linguist, in how language, which is a fundamental aspect of our identity, can be integrated in our understanding of how to create inclusive classrooms,” said Aleka Blackwell, an associate professor of English.
Instead of singling out particular students for additional help, Renee Jones, an assistant professor of university studies, pushes all of her students to use the James E. Walker Library and the University Writing Center.
“Once they do it, maybe it removes some of the stigma of going over there to seek help,” Jones said.
Social Work associate professor John Sanborn, who joined Dotson at a 2017 summer institute on MT Engage, is sold on the value of the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and its impact on their classes.
“Getting different minds together and sharing in a trusting way can really bring about good results,” Sanborn said. “I think we’ve really seen that with this group.”
For more information on the faculty learning community, contact Dotson at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about MT Engage, contact program director Julie Myatt at email@example.com or go to https://www.mtsu.edu/mtengage/index.php.
— Gina K. Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)