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MCTL’s inaugural recognition awards to celebrate teaching at Muhlenberg

We have heard many colleagues emphasize the importance of making our work more visible and formally recognizing our deep commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. Which is why MCTL wanted to take a moment to recognize some amazing work that is currently happening across our campus. These inaugural recognition awards aim to bring to light some of the many wonderful initiatives and innovations on our campus and to let our colleagues join in celebrating this work. So please, join us in recognizing the following colleagues for what they bring to our community, and continue to send us your nominations so that our work here at Muhlenberg can be seen and celebrated. As another way to uplift and recognize a colleague, you can always submit a note of gratitude

The Innovative Teaching Assignment

We want to recognize and celebrate the following creative and innovative assignments or classroom activities:

Gabriel Jason Dean: Dean introduced a new assignment, “A Conversation with the Other Side”, for his Politics On Stage course. The course asks students to unpack how the plays they study excavate experiences and themes that exist beyond the binary of liberal/conservative. Throughout the semester, students develop a conversation around how empathy, politics, theatre, and democracy are inextricably linked and then are asked to have a conversation with someone with whom they disagree with politically. The conversation assignment provides a practical opportunity for students to employ deep listening and empathy in a safe, but challenging environment. At the end of a semester of discourse around theatre’s conversation with and capacity to shape politics, students can reach the fundamental conclusion that sitting in the theatre together is a unifying, community building event.

Emanuela Kucik: Spanning numerous courses, Kucik’s assignments create unique and thought-provoking ways for students to both further develop the skill-sets taught in these courses and think about how to apply the lessons of the courses to their own lives as they strive to create a more just world. Dr. Kucik’s assignments include a range of modalities and topics. In Holocaust Literature and Literature of Genocide, for example, Kucik asks students to craft potential interview questions for genocide survivors as part of a larger project in which students describe a book they would like to write that raises awareness about a particular genocide. This assignment aims to help students  think deeply about the ethics of producing literature about genocide, which often relies heavily on survivor stories, and to ensure that students  are engaging with survivors’ narratives in ethical, empathetic ways. In Literature, Social Justice, and Current Events, Kucik’s students create proposals for their own grassroots organizations or awareness-raising events that address current social justice issues. By encouraging students to brainstorm grassroots solutions to the problems they are studying, these proposals help students realize the power they hold to create effective change. Similarly, in Literature of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Kucik asks students to create a social media initiative that raises awareness about the impact of the 1994 genocide on Rwandans today. As a whole, Kucik’s assignments allow students to engage in meaningful ways with the texts they study throughout the semester and to recognize and embrace  the power they hold to improve the world.

Roland Kushner: For his Arts Administration course, Kushner has introduced a class simulation called The Inner Impresario. This assignment builds on analytic methods such as constrained optimization, weighted average decision-making, and probabilistic payoff estimates of different future scenarios. The simulation is part of a multi-class module on artistic programming including readings, empirical observation, and discussion. Students learn to recognize artistic programming as an envisioning and decision-making process, articulate and specify preference criteria used in artistic programming and to examine the tradeoffs between criteria and constraints in artistic programming.

Dawn Lonsinger: In her Advanced Speculative Fiction workshop, Lonsinger asked students to create a trailer for a speculative novel of their imagining. Students had to brainstorm, develop, imagine, invent, connect, collaborate, produce, and edit – all crucial aspects of creative writing, and especially the kind that involves world-building – as well as reflect on their process by workshopping their initial ideas and later presenting the development of their work. The assignment asked them to apply what they’ve learned about speculative fiction, to research the form, to translate the textual into the visual, and to consider how books are marketed and thus how they’d like to pitch/present their own ideas. This visual assignment allowed students to experience art-making & writing as collaborative, utilize both their imaginations and their lived experience, and write fiction that builds worlds, ventures weirdness, and has deep psychic and political subtext.

Grant Scott: Scott’s Literature & the Visual Arts course explores the multiple relationships between word and image in a variety of literary and visual texts from different historical periods. He assigned students to produce an object that was inspired by several of the works they had studied and place the object in conversation with those works. Their artwork created a temporary museum created and curated by the class and included presentations and critiques. The assignment tasked students with critical thinking, analytical writing and content recall, but it also drew on creative expression, manual dexterity and real world problem-solving in addition to oral presentation and argument.

Jordanna Sprayberry: For the Neuroscience CUE, students are tasked with writing a grant proposal, but before they can synthesize across studies they need to be adept at understanding, synthesizing and contextualizing ideas within a single study. The Science Blog assignment tasks students to write about a study for a non-disciplinary audience, something that requires a deep understanding of the study, and is thus a good vehicle for both helping students develop their expertise and gaining confidence in that expertise. The scaffolded assignment requires collaboration, communally drafted language and iterative drafts.  

In reviewing these submissions we looked at how the assignment’s goals fit into the overall course objectives, how effective it is at achieving the objectives and how it might differ from previous assignments. This year’s Innovative Teaching Assignment Awards go to: Gabriel Jason Dean, Emanuela Kucik and Dawn Lonsinger.

Recognition of Excellence in Teaching Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

This recognition honors the work of the following colleagues who are committed to promoting a more diverse community, one in which everyone experiences a true sense of inclusion and belonging and enjoys equitable access to all of the opportunities for learning and growth:

Gabriel Jason Dean: Dean’s goal for Dramaturgy Centering Plays by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color is to create a wider exposure to and hunger for contemporary plays by BIPOC artists, but more importantly to empower Muhlenberg students with the necessary antiracist, non-supremacist lenses to effectively engage with these plays. Knowing BIPOC writers is a start, but being able to engage with their work on its own terms rather than the historically supremacist lenses we’ve institutionalized is how we can start to change the culture of the American Theatre (and the program at Muhlenberg). 

Amy Hark: Hark’s biology courses examine how social identities impact both course-based learning and our work as scientists, including how one’s identity impacts the scientific questions one chooses to ask and address. She invites students to consider how biochemistry (and other fields) connect to their own interests based on their identities and communities and seeks to ensure that different approaches to learning and using biochemistry are seen and valued. This is part of a broader effort to raise awareness of diversity considerations in the practice of science and to help herself, colleagues and students consider the importance of inclusion and ways to support equity within the biochemistry program. 

Emanuela Kucik: Kucik’s courses — including, among others, Literature of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Global Black Literature, Black Women Writers, Holocaust Literature, and Literature of Genocide — center diversity, equity, and inclusion in a multitude of ways. Kucik selects diverse material for all of her classes, and her syllabi focus on under-examined writings (e.g., her Holocaust Literature course includes units with writings by and about disabled, Black, Romani, and LGBTQIA+ victims of the Holocaust). Kucik’s syllabi include inclusivity statements and assignments that encourage students to think about how they can contribute to creating an inclusive, equitable world.

Christa Warda: Warda presented “A Celebration of Sisterhood: Songs for and About Women” in Egner Chapel, involving fifteen students from voice studio who were accompanied by Vincent Trovato to perform the 4 part concert with a total of 14 pieces including “O Ignis Spiritus” by Hildegard von Bingen. Born in 1098, and considered to be the first composer, male or female, this remarkable woman was a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages. The piece, which ended the concert, was in plainchant, and was sung a cappella, by the entire ensemble, in Latin. 

Liran Yadgar: In Yadgar’s Crossing Borders: Images of Jews and Arabs in Modern Hebrew Literature course, he asks students to consider multiculturalism within and between the continental U.S and Israel/Palestine. This IL-linked course connects to Multicultural Psychology and engages shared topics such as race, religion, citizenship, immigration, and intercultural relationships. Students examine interviews with Jews and Arabs, music videos, political cartoons, and materials from social media, with the goal of making the conflict in Israel/Palestine and the relations between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East relevant to the experience of undergraduates in this country and in discussing the themes of multiculturalism, diversity, prejudice and discrimination, and national conflict.

We reviewed submissions based on the extent to which it effectively describes relevant context and the ways the work aligns with the College’s commitment to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This could include a summary of a course, description of pedagogical revisions, curricular innovations, or co-curricular partnerships. We also wanted to see an articulation of how the work centers issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how it has had an impact on students, the faculty member, the community and the campus climate. This year’s Teaching Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awards go to: Gabriel Jason Dean and Amy Hark.

Recognition of Excellence in Community-Engaged Teaching 

Community-engaged educational experiences are centered in concepts of equity and justice and consider questions of access, resources and power. We want to recognize courses that consider community context, value myriad ways of knowing, and directly connect communities to learning goals:

Jess Denke (with collaborator Kate Richmond): The Muhlenberg College “Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program” allows traditional Muhlenberg students to learn alongside individuals who are currently experiencing incarceration. The syllabus facilitates learning about mass incarceration through an understanding of the race, mental health, the school-to-prison pipeline, media representation, and the prison industrial complex. This pedagogical model emphasizes that individuals within the class have developed knowledge and authority not just through study, but also through personal experience, and so the dialogic model facilitates sharing this authority and knowledge. Muhlenberg students find this course to be life-changing because they begin to understand the harm perpetuated through systemic violence. Students who are incarcerated experience the challenge of college-level course work and their stories gain visibility, both of which allow for them to experience pride, meaningful connection, and increasing awareness of the systemic forces at play that influence their experiences in prison. 

Kimberly Heiman: In Local Sustainability, students are presented with real conservation challenges in Allentown’s Park system. Heiman works with Karen El-Chaar to identify Parks Department priorities that can help students gain a real world understanding of conservation and sustainability content from the course. The projects involve field work, data analysis, and literature searches, culminating with recommendations presented in oral and written form to key members of the Allentown Parks Department. Over the course of the last ten years of this collaboration, Local Sustainability students have designed conservations planting for three different Parks (two of which have been implemented), an interpretive center that doubles as bird conservation habitat, educational modules on topics such as invasive species that have been used repeatedly by the Parks department over the years, and outreach materials and field guides about invasive plant species that were an important part of a 3000 person park clean-up event that students participated in. 

We reviewed submissions based on the extent to which the submission effectively describes the course/experience and the ways in which community-work is integrated in the course/experience, the ways in which mutual goals are addressed through the collective work and the impact on students, yourself, and/or the community. The Community-Engaged Teaching award goes to: Jess Denke and Kate Richmond.

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