Launching pad for professors
Visiting scholars build teaching skills during a fellowship year
Janie McClurkin had research experience and scholarly publications to her credit. She was finishing her doctorate and headed toward a career as a university faculty member. But she needed to check one more box.
“I was looking for a position that would give me teaching experience, because my Ph.D. program was a research assistantship. I knew that if I wanted to be in academia and work at a larger school, I’d need that experience,” McClurkin says.
She sharpened her skills at Cal U, where she spent the 2015-2016 academic year teaching science courses as a Frederick Douglass Institute scholar.
The FDI fellowship is a component of the Frederick Douglass Institute Collaborative, a network of scholars at each of the 14 schools in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
Named for the renowned African-American orator and statesman, the Frederick Douglass Collaborative focuses on making each campus inclusive and establishing connections among historically underrepresented students and faculty.
Since 2003, California University’s fellowship program has brought 16 FDI scholars to campus, where they share their talents and receive professional support from experienced faculty as they prepare for academic careers.
Cal U’s FDI director, Dr. Ayanna Lyles, also works with faculty to bring in speakers and organize activities such as the Douglass Debate Society tournament and roundtable discussions of diversity, inclusivity and social justice issues.
McClurkin’s year in Cal U’s biology department gave her the classroom experience she needed. She now holds a tenure-track position at Texas A&M University.
“We recruit top-notch scholars,” Lyles says. “They are well published before they get here, so the opportunity at Cal U is to hone their teaching skills and bring new perspectives and insights to the University.
”Some of Cal U’s visiting scholars are invited to fill openings at the University. Here are the experiences of three faculty members who first came to California
as FDI scholars.
Edmonds, a professor in the Department of History, Politics, Society and Law, created the event when he came to California as an FDI scholar, in 2005-2006.
Students love the conference because “it meets them where they are,” Edmonds says.
“Hip-hop is probably the most pervasive genre of music, so the idea was to intellectualize that, pull back the layers, look at the impact on society. The idea is always to bring artists or a DJ — like Common, or KRS-One or Mobb Deep — and pair them up with scholars to tackle a subject from a variety of angles.”
He also helps to coordinate Black History Month programming each February.
“It all falls under diversity programming,” says Edmonds, whose research pertains to black student activism in the 1960s. “Students need it. They need to be exposed to (different) subcultures and regions and mindsets and gender diversity.”
To that end, Edmonds has coordinated a new minor in African American studies, working with faculty in other departments to teach courses in literature, media, psychology, music and history.
“Students wanted it,” he says. “It’s good to see them embracing the value and benefits.” This spring, the interaction between a social media star and a social activist galvanized students at Cal U’s 13th annual Hip-hop Conference. It was precisely the mix that historian Dr. Kelton Edmonds strives for — a fresh, engaging way to foster dialogue about much deeper subjects.
For 26 years, Dr. Michelle Torregano was a teacher, principal and district administrator in the New Orleans (La.) Public Schools. In 2010-2011 she was an FDI scholar. Now she’s an associate professor in Cal U’s Department of Childhood Education.
Torregano lived in New Orleans in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina — an experience that influenced her personally, of course, but also professionally, as the school system was rebuilt after the disaster.
Her dissertation, “Clean Slate: Making Sense of Public Education in the ‘NEW’ New Orleans,” addresses multicultural education, educational policy and equity for underrepresented groups, and preparing pre-service teachers to engage with diverse populations.
“I explain to my students what my research deals with, and that what I’m passionate about is going to come through in my teaching,” she says.
She wants to prepare future teachers for challenges they’re likely to face in a 21st-century classroom.
“I bring up issues of inequality to my students, keep my opinions out of it, and let them discuss it. I want them to have a sense of empathy for the students they may teach. And when they encounter disparity in their classroom, what are they going to do about it?”
Her desire to impact the future of teaching led Torregano to shift her career focus to higher education.
“This is my bliss,” she says. “I like the idea of putting my imprint on what future teaching is going to look like.”
Dr. Randy Tillmutt aced his shot.
“As an FDI scholar, you are a faculty member — but you’re not,” says Tillmutt, a music educator, pianist and conductor who grew up in Kingston, Jamaica.
“I saw it as a one-year audition. It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to keep that position. But you could. So, is there anything I can do to make that happen?”
How about writing, directing and producing a musical?
Working with Cal U’s Young and Gifted Gospel Choir, an extracurricular group that did not have a faculty director, Tillmutt brought Transformed — The Musical: The Story of African-American Gospel Music to the stage.
Music Department chair Dr. Yugo Ikach was in the audience.
“’What do you think about turning this into a class?’” Tillmutt recalls Ikach asking. “Of course I told him yes.”
University Gospel Choir is now a for-credit course, and Tillmutt continues to direct the Young and Gifted choir. This fall, in addition to teaching courses in the commercial music technology major and music minor, he also will direct the University Choir.
“The opportunity to conduct a university ensemble was always attractive to me, because I had been in an ensemble myself in college,” says Tillmutt, a former elementary school music teacher.
“With a college choir, you can perform more complex music, so that was exciting and attractive for me.”
Cal U FDI Scholars
By Wendy Mackall, communications director at Cal U