Teaching Philosophy

As a faculty member and director of an interdisciplinary program, my responsibility to my students is not simply to teach my discipline; it is also to encourage their intellectual independence, to foster flexible and creative thinking, to support their career development, to encourage them to become engaged citizens and lifelong learners. Above all, I give my students sustained opportunities to actively participate in their own learning. 

 

In the classroom, my overarching goal is to stir my students’ curiosity and to support their journey towards intellectual independence. To encourage students to move in this direction, I regularly incorporate engaged learning activities, service-learning projects, and self-directed assignments into my pedagogy. During my time at USM I have cultivated partnerships with several local organizations including Portland Housing Authority (PHA), Partners for World Health, Cultivating Community, and Preble Street Resource Center. I also integrate experiential learning into my courses: my students and I walk the Portland Freedom Trail with artist/creator Daniel Minter, we explore Malaga Island with Drs. Nate Hamilton and Rob Sanford, the archaeologists who led the effort to preserve the material culture of the island. I also regularly partner with the Portland Museum of Art, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, SPACE Gallery, Portland Stage and the Portland Symphony Orchestra to integrate cultural productions into my coursework and ensure that these opportunities are accessible for my students.

In both my teaching and my research, I privilege interdisciplinary approaches and pedagogies because they give me and my students the freedom and flexibility to let our curiosity lead us to new areas of inquiry. Some of the projects highlighted in my teaching portfolio include: curating memorabilia exhibits for the SPACE Gallery and the Special Collections, digitizing historic issues of the Wabanaki Alliance newspaper, and creating collaborative graphic novels and memoirs in partnership with the United Way. My experimentation with different engaged, experiential, and service learning pedagogies has taught me that sometimes the deepest learning experiences happen outside the classroom. I have come to find that the best learning is organic, and it happens in the messy interplay between theory and practice. Community-based learning is deeply collaborative, but it is also complex and complicated. My community-based collaborations benefit students and community partners: my students serve the academic community by supporting the publication of previously inaccessible work, and they gain valuable digital literacy skills that will serve them well in college and in the workforce. Situating learning in real-world settings and applications empowers my students to make meaning rather than simply access, deduce, and represent it.

 

During my tenure at USM, I have invested significant energy towards providing better support for Honors students completing advanced independent work (thesis, capstone, etc.). In the past two years, I led the expansion of the Honors Program curriculum from a 5-course general education sequence to an integrative, interdisciplinary Honors Minor that fosters intellectual engagement and independence from freshman to senior year. This change has made the Honors Program curriculum accessible to high-achieving students across the university, regardless of their major. To support our curricular expansion, I designed a required mid-level course, HON 215: Thinking in Honors, which I now teach. HON 215 introduces students to interdisciplinary approaches to research and scholarship and prepares them for the independent and applied learning opportunities that comprise their upper-division coursework in Honors. I also significantly re-designed the Honors Program’s Thesis course sequence, and I teach the first course in this sequence, HON 410, a three-credit “Thesis Writing Workshop.” HON 410 is offered regularly in Honors, and the Women and Gender Studies program has adapted a version of it, as well. I have taught this course every semester since I started at USM, and I am proud that our enrollments in this course have grown from 1 to 5, and include students who have joined the Honors Program specifically for the purpose of writing a thesis. Many of my thesis students won prestigious Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program fellowships to further support their thesis work. With the creation of HON 215, we are beginning to see more students undertaking and completing Honors theses at USM. 

 

As the sole faculty member of the Honors Program, the Assistant Professor/Director will have significant advising responsibilities. To my mind, advising and teaching are inextricably connected, and I advise as I teach: I encourage my students take the lead in articulating their goals and dreams; together we work to create a substantive academic plan; and I support their success with regular meetings. As Honors Director, my advising responsibilities: orienting and familiarizing incoming first-year and transfer students (and their parents) with our program curriculum and goals; helping students chart their individual paths through our program by selecting courses that make sense for their major and career interests and goals, and supporting advanced students interested in pursuing signature opportunities such as an Honors thesis and/or Honors internship. Because Honors partners with the Core Curriculum and academic majors across the campus, Honors advising is a collaborative endeavor. As much as I can, I connect with professional and faculty advisors in support of individual student goals and needs. This is important to ensure that students receive unified messages and unified support; it is also emotionally important for students to see and feel that they have a network of support during their time at USM. 

 

My vision for Honors education at our university is that it augments and deepens student learning. Honors learning is engaged, collaborative, and holistic. We do not just support student learners, we support students as they become engaged citizens who embrace the responsibility that comes with their privileged status as college graduates. This pedagogical approach does not simply prepare students for future success in graduate school and careers; it also prepares them to become lifelong learners who are productive members of their communities with enriching careers and the ability to make a difference in their world. 
 

© 2020 by Rebecca Nisetich.