My approach and goals as an educator
Teaching in the environmental sciences is inherently multidisciplinary. Not only does the field build on knowledge developed within the physical, biological, and information sciences, it focuses on problems that result from ecological, social, and policy interactions. Students pursuing an education in this field, then, must first learn from each of these disciplines and subsequently how to make connections among them. Along the way, students must also develop the critical thinking and effective communication skills that underlie a successful trajectory in any scientific discipline. As an educator, I see my role as facilitating students’ cultivation of their individual academic interests while simultaneously conveying the tools needed to pursue those interests professionally.
In the courses I teach, my aim is to foster students' individual interests using class-wide discussions of relevant current events and reflection papers with which they can more fully explore the course topics that peak their interest. Students also conduct critical analyses of the primary literature in order to (1) learn how researchers engage the scientific method and (2) realize that they can contribute to these fields by identifying knowledge gaps and which next research questions might address them. Writing skills are consistently emphasized in these courses and assessments include structured feedback and revision processes. By combining these activities and approaches within courses, students are empowered with the intelligent inquiry mentality and communication proficiency that they can carry into any scientific career they may work toward.
As an outgrowth of my research interests and experience, I developed a course on the Food-Energy-Water Nexus that was offered to Duke University undergraduates in the fall 2016 semester. In this discussion-based (8 students) course, students cultivated a more holistic understanding of environmental phenomena through integrated study of their causes and consequences, and the feedbacks among them. To start, students developed the conceptual frameworks they need throughout the semester, and they subsequently built on these in discussions of ongoing public health, sustainability, and climate change challenges. For exposure to the variety of science writing styles and perspectives on environmental issues, students gathered their information from a combination of scientific manuscripts, government policy reports, and well-researched articles intended for educated lay audiences.
In this class, assessments included an opinion-editorial and a policy memo with which students formed reasoned arguments and translated complex scientific principles for the purposes of public education and policy change. Both of these assignments involved a revision process; first drafts were peer-reviewed by classmates and myself according to an evaluation rubric and subsequently revised. The final assignment grade was then a measure of improvement as well as the quality of the final product. In the first rendition of this course, student writing greatly benefited from the revision process – a claim I make based on my own observations as well as student evaluations. Based on their feedback, I would modify future offerings of the course to incorporate more revision-centered writing assignments in place of the take-home final exam.
As a graduate student scholar at Duke University, I have taken advantage of numerous opportunities to improve as an instructor and broaden my pedagogical perspectives. I am currently working towards my Certificate in College Teaching - a program that has directly enriched my teaching through instructional observations, evaluations, reflection, and revision, as well as trainings in teaching controversial topics and effectively teaching diverse student populations. I am also a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow and have developed a mentoring relationship with a professor at a small, teaching-focused institution that has expanded my understanding of undergraduate-inclusive research opportunities and learning approaches.
future teaching goals
Going forward, I hope to continue teaching multidisciplinary environmental science courses. Based on my research and disciplinary interests, these could include:
- Introduction to Environmental Science & Policy
- Environmental Politics
Grant and Fellowship Writing
Science Writing and Communication
I also look forward to developing and leading courses on science writing which could include graduate-level seminars on scientific manuscript and/or grant and fellowship writing.