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Preparing the Faculty of the Future

by Heidi Bright Parales

Photo of Linda Worley"The Preparing Future Faculty program helps graduate students learn about the variety of institutions available and to think about their own value systems and talents in terms of what might be the best match," says Linda Worley.

Leslee Gilbert, who just completed her doctorate in history at UK, credits getting her first faculty position to the knowledge and experience she gained through UK's Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program.

"I would not have gotten the job that I did without the PFF initiative," she says. "The knowledge I received in both courses -- College Teaching and Preparing Future Faculty -- helped me secure the position at Prescott College (in Arizona). I consider myself lucky to have participated in such a valuable program."

PFF's goal is to prepare future faculty in a comprehensive way. The program introduces graduate students to the broad and complex realities of scholarly life and to the wide range of post-secondary institutions. PFF also helps graduate students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to compete more effectively in the academic job market.

There are about 3,600 post-secondary institutions in the United States, and fewer than 90 of them are Research I universities, according to Linda Kraus Worley, director of UK's Teaching and Learning Center and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies. PFF seeks to assist those graduate students who want to become faculty members, recognizing that many will probably seek positions at institutions quite different from UK, which is a Research I university.

These diverse institutions, such as community colleges, liberal arts and religiously affiliated colleges, along with regional and research universities, have different missions, values and cultures. Graduate students need further preparation beyond the traditional graduate courses to prepare for faculty life at one of these sister institutions, says Worley. More than one-third of the UK graduates who recently became faculty members responded to a survey by saying they had obtained their first faculty positions at liberal arts colleges.

Gilbert's first faculty position is at a liberal arts college. During the interview process, she was asked to share her thoughts on teaching. "Since I had participated in the PFF initiative, I was ready and able to articulate my goals and teach a practice class," she says.

Her interest in teaching at a liberal arts school developed through participation in PFF. Having always attended large research universities, Gilbert says she did not have a really good idea of what college life was like at other post-secondary institutions.

During her first semester in the PFF initiative, she learned about the practices and norms of faculty life at all of the major types of colleges and universities. She attended panel discussions made up of representatives from each major type of school and learned from their experiences, advice, and expectations for future faculty. "As I listened to their stories, I realized what I liked and did not like, and I emerged with a clearer idea of what I wanted to do," she says.

Gilbert also participated in a PFF practicum, during which she visited a host institution. This practicum is an extended version of visits which are an integral part of the PFF course itself. On-campus visits vary, depending on the institution visited. Visits can include an individual shadowing a faculty member for half a day, or a group of graduate students on a one-day tour that would include attending faculty meetings.

According to Worley, "PFF helps graduate students reflect on their own value systems and talents. PFF helps them recognize the kind of institution that would be the best match."

After Gilbert visited Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, she says, "I began to think about how I could prepare myself to get a job at a liberal arts college."

Gilbert says one of the most valuable aspects of the program was the construction of a teaching portfolio. "As a graduate student in history at UK, I did not have independent teaching experience," she says. She learned how to use her experiences leading discussion sections to her advantage, with the assistance of Worley, Jeff Bieber, associate professor in educational policy studies and evaluation, and Bill Burke, associate director of the Teaching and Learning Center.

"After collecting paper assignments, in-class exercises, and test questions that I had amassed over the past four years, I was better able to articulate a teaching philosophy, complete with goals, applications, and assessment techniques. This portfolio proved invaluable on the job market since I was able to clearly and confidently express my teaching philosophy and provide concrete examples to support my position. Although I lacked independent teaching experience, I appeared knowledgeable and thoughtful to interviewers."

Gilbert also learned about current teaching strategies through PFF. "By reading articles and listening to discussions on various teaching techniques, I was better able to understand the dynamics of a classroom and construct my own innovative assignments to meet those conditions. The PFF professors helped me learn and think about my teaching as not something one just does, but rather as something that one experiments with and cultivates over a lifetime."

Through PFF, Gilbert learned how to research schools, evaluate their mission statements, and write a cover letter that wedded their needs with her qualifications. "I am confident that knowing that information helped me to the next step of the interview process," she says. "Since I had listened to the guest panelists from the PFF course, I also knew what to expect from an on-campus interview. Additionally, I knew what to ask during the interview."

These job-search strategies were not part of graduate education at UK in the early 1990s. When Louis Swift, dean of Undergraduate Studies, saw a notice in 1993 about a grant that addressed the need to better prepare graduate students for a diverse array of faculty positions, he immediately recognized the necessity of such a program. "Applying for the grant simply seemed so obvious and the right thing to do," he recalls. "It was almost automatic."

Swift met with Dan Reedy, then dean of the Graduate School, and they developed a proposal. By 1994, UK was one of 17 research universities awarded a two-year grant. The $10,000, combined with money contributed by Swift and Reedy, led to a course and subsequent positive response from the students who took it.

Swift recalls, "That first class was a real pleasure to teach. They were like youngsters hearing ideas for the first time, and they were very enthusiastic. In a sense, we knew we had a winner of a program because we were obviously meeting a need that had been around for a long time and never addressed."

After the first two years of this program, UK was awarded one of 15 $60,000, three-year grants to continue the project. The current Phase II grant is under the direction of the Teaching and Learning Center, the Graduate School and Undergraduate Studies. PFF now consists of two seminars on teaching, a course on the roles and responsibilities of faculty, and a practicum, along with various research projects and area-specific mini-conferences.

The program has grown from 10 students in one course in 1994 to 40 in each course this past year. "We have filled every available space," says Worley of the voluntary program.

PFF has only just begun, according to Swift. "The real power of the program is in the students who are beginning to demand this kind of assistance," he says. "They know the job markets and want to be competitive."

"In one PFF class, about one-third of the participants came to realize they had to write more papers and publish more to prepare themselves. Another group realized they needed more teaching experience," says Worley. "The response becomes very individualized."

Gilbert says PFF now is an essential part of what makes UK a great place to do graduate work. "The Teaching and Learning Center has been a boon to my graduate career," she adds.

And the program will continue to help prepare more graduate students each year. The practicum side of PFF will expand to include working with teaching mentors, says Worley.

The future direction of PFF also includes integrating the PFF principles into academic programs throughout the university. "The next step is to make the principles of PFF part of the culture of the disciplines," says Worley. "We want the departments to take ownership."