UNM-LA Faculty Initiative Award A Win-Win-Win For Faculty, Students And Community

Thomas Beach, Ph.D., left, presents Patrick Harris with the 2015 Faculty Initiative Award during the UNM-LA graduation ceremony in May. Courtesy/UNM-LA

UNM-LA News:

For a small university with a limited amount of funding available, UNM-LA has to dig deep to find resources to maintainitshigh level of teaching and variety of class offerings. The Faculty Initiative Award is one way the professors have been able to fund their academic dreams.

In 2005, a retired English instructor with the assistance ofthe UNM-LA Foundation started the Bobbye Straight Endowment Fund(now called the Faculty Initiative Award) to encourage creativity and initiative within the faculty by funding an approved activity that benefits the applicant, UNM-LA, and/or its students.

Some of these scholarly, professional, technical, or artistic activities include curriculum development, generation of grant proposals, support for submission of articles to professional journals, and enrichment of the faculty member. (For more information, visit: http://losalamos.unm.edu/instruction/faculty-initiative-award/background.html.)

“UNM-LA has a small faculty who are asked to do a lot of work with a minimal amount of financial support,” said Thomas E. Beach, Ph.D., President of the UNM-LA Faculty Assembly and a member of the award selection committee. “Besides giving a faculty member recognition for their efforts, the Faculty Initiative Award grants them some compensation for projects that they might have done without reimbursement, or allows them the chance to do additional projects of benefit to themselves, UNM-LA, and our students.”

The award recipient can choose between a three credit hour course load reduction or $3,500,which is funded by Straight, who is also on the judging committee every year. Current and off-site UNM-LA faculty who have taught for eight or more semesters are eligible to apply, and a faculty teammay propose a group project.

In past years, when there has been a specific need presented to Straight, she has been willing to give even more to UNM-LA.

“We are, of course, very grateful for her sponsorship of the award,” Beach said. “It’s important to note that although the award is set up to go to one applicant or team per year, Bobbye has actually funded multiple awards on several years.”

Applicants must provide a “project narrative” that illustrates their originality, creativity, and initiative, with background history, and a comprehensive description of the activity, the final product, and its benefits.

The deadline for application submissions is mid-March, and awards are presented during commencement in May. Initiation of the project activities is required within one academic year of public acceptance of the award, and within two years, the activities should be completed. Documentation and a presentation or display of the completed project is expected from the recipient during Spring Faculty Orientation.

A selection committee, chaired by the UNM-LA Executive Director, comprises a non-applicant faculty member, a representative of student interests, and the award’s sponsor.

Library Director Dennis Davies-Wilson earned a Faculty Initiative Award in 2009 for his “Online Information Literacy Project” in which he created instructional videos and handouts presenting the fundamentals of how to find and evaluate information from the library.

Previously, librarians had only one classroom visit to teach these concepts to students; this project has enabled the online delivery of the fundamentals, including tutorials that introduce some of the most essential research databases. 

The realization of this project has enabled more time to be dedicated to crucial information literacy instruction, allowing librarians to offer more in-depth instruction specific to course research projects. 

Besides supporting faculty and students, the award at times also has a positive affect on the greater Los Alamos community. The 2005 winner, Mickey Marsee, Ph.D., won the Faculty Initiative Award for herproposal, “Using Service Learning in English 219”, which involved students collaborating with various non-profit organizations to develop documentation and work with real clients.

With a goal of teaching students effective communication and project management while working with actual clients, the project also served the local businesses, which received volunteer labor and manuals written by the students.

The project “added a level of critical thinking for the students, and established a rapport between UNM-LA and the community,” according to Marsee’s end-of-activity presentation.Nine years later, Marsee is still using this approach in her online English 219; this summer student projects include brochures for area camps and business, websites for small start-ups, and workplace manuals. 

Marsee’s 2014 project, “Creating Instructor Training for Active Learning Classrooms,”continues to progress. Marsee has attended a national conference on active learning and is currently developing materials for short training presentations on various strategies to move instructors from a lecture-centered classroom to a student-centered one that engages students in active participation in the classroom through presentation, problem-solving, and seminars. 

The 2015 award winner Patrick Harris, Fine Arts Department Chair, has taught art courses with UNM-LA since 2005. While teaching History of Art I and II and Modern Art classes, Harris found he was using online resources from many of the world’s best museums and universities to demonstrate architecture, history, and technique, and felt this subject matter might translate well to an online course.

“These are incredible online platforms that serve the art discipline that are not available in textbooks and which allow access to anybody who has a PC,” Harris said, mentioning a UCLA project that mapped the building phases of an Egyptian temple with 3-D modeling. “You can wander through a cemetery in ancient Egypt, and the visuals are supported by a lot of descriptive narrative and documentation from experts in the field.”

Furthermore, the innovative professor wanted to make his courses available to more students than he was reaching in the face-to-face classes that he teaches on campus, so in 2013 he began using UNM-LA’s online teaching platform, UNM Blackboard Learn, and he developed a virtual classroom curriculum.

“I saw the need for online art classes, but I didn’t know if I could make it work or if there’d be any response,” Harris said. “So I took the backdoor approach and said, ‘Let’s do this and see if it works, and if it seems to be a worthy project.’”

In May, Harris was awarded the latest Faculty Initiative Award for his “Art on the Web” proposal, and he could not be more justified in his thinking that there was a need: He’s now teaching five online courses (two in spring, two in fall, and one in summer), and the enrollment in his art classes doubled in the past year. Harris also re-designed a history course, “Experiencing the Arts,” that he had offered once before and that is now part of the UNM-LA online course offerings for this fall.

“It’s about having a wider net so that everybody has access. That’s the cornerstone of education: to bring down barriers to access,” Harris said. “In my experience, online education does that.”

The award money helped compensate Harris for his countless hours learning the educational tools and developing new coursework.

“I’m hooked on it and I’m going to just keep building, refining, and adding new information,” Harris said. “This award gives me a lot of incentive. Through this award, I realize the school is invested in this idea as well. And without Bobbye Straight, there would be no award.”

Cindy Rooney, Ph.D., UNM-LA Interim Executive Director, shared a comment that a former colleague had made about Straight: “The most important things to note about Bobbye Straight are her generosity, her humor, and her motivation. She has amazing vision, but prefers to be behind the scenes.”

Rooney noted that Bobbye has been supportive of UNM-LA in ways beyond the Faculty Initiative Award providing financial support for various initiatives and encouragement to many individuals.

Straight was hired by UNM-LA in 1985 as an English instructor, became Curriculum Coordinator of the Communications Department in 1990, and served as Division Head of Arts and Social Sciences from 2000–2003.

After leaving the institution that she saw do so much good for students and the Los Alamos community, Straight wanted to give back. Coming from the perspective of a longtime educator, it made sense to create a fund to support the endeavors of the faculty.

“I want the faculty to have the time and money to do their projects,” Straight said, “and to be rewarded for their initiative and hard work.”

UNM-LA offers 21 Associate Degree programs and six Certificate programs. For more information or to enroll, visit losalamos.unm.edu or call UNM-LA Student Services, 505.662.0332.

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