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As part of a new program created by the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence, four of the University’s most innovative and dedicated educators will develop resources and programming for their peers over the next year that will offer support in areas such as student engagement, teaching technology, and fostering diversity and inclusion.
March 16, 2021
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
When Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., was pursuing his advanced degrees in Canada, he saw firsthand that it can be challenging to be an international student. Dr. Mekni, who hails from Tunisia, later faced similar challenges in the workplace, and he is eager to leverage his experiences and what he has learned to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment at the University of New Haven.
An associate professor of computer science, Dr. Mekni, who began teaching at the University at the start of the academic year, will share with the University community his strategies for cultivating a positive learning and teaching environment as part of the inaugural cohort of the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence’s (CTE) Faculty Fellows.
Dr. Mekni’s work as a Fellow will focus on developing and assessing teaching methods focused on diversity and inclusion, particularly in the field of engineering, and he will draw on his background in engineering, online course design, and coordinating undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.
“I would like to create positive student-centered virtual, experiential teaching, and learning environments in engineering that foster student engagement and success,” he said. “I am committed to making a difference at the University of New Haven in ensuring that everyone is given opportunities to excel.”
‘A vibrant hub for conversation and reflection’
Dr. Mekni is one of four Faculty Fellows selected as part of the inaugural program to develop programming and resources for their fellow faculty members in areas such as increasing student engagement, teaching technology, and diversity and inclusion during their yearlong fellowships.
Simon Hutchinson, Ph.D., an associate professor of music, teaches classes on a variety of musical topics, including composition, music theory, and music technology. He will draw on his experience to offer workshops that will cover strategies for personalizing online learning and teaching technology to students from diverse backgrounds.
Excited to share his insight on online and hybrid instruction, Dr. Hutchinson hopes to develop more online materials and open educational resources that will enhance students’ and faculty members’ experiences.
“I think the Center for Teaching Excellence will be an excellent resource for all of us to share ideas about strategies that work well for us and our students,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of that. I believe we have a great number of excellent and thoughtful educators on the faculty, and I hope the CTE offers a place for everyone to share ideas and ‘look for the bright spots’ in our teaching, to enhance those, and to share them with others across the University.”
The Faculty Fellows program endeavors to expand the areas of teaching expertise that the CTE offers to faculty members. Over the next year, Fellows will create workshops for their peers, create online modules, and offer their fellow faculty members innovative teaching ideas and encouragement. Programming will begin this fall. Fellows will also expand the CTE’s reach and offer support, such as teaching consultations and observations.
“Effective teaching improves student success, and, ultimately, we hope that the CTE becomes a vibrant hub for conversation and reflection around quality teaching,” said Jenna Sheffield, Ph.D., assistant provost for curricular innovation and interim director of the CTE. “I’m excited to learn more from this group of faculty members who have diverse experiences and perspectives on teaching to share with the University community.”
‘I have a love of learning’
Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminal justice and director of research for the University’s Tow Youth Justice Institute, has extensive experience working with community and nonprofit organizations as a prevention trainer and evaluation consultant. She has worked with communities in New Haven and West Haven, as well as a variety of entities and communities across Connecticut.
A member of the University’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Council and the IDEA Council’s assessment team co-chair, Dr. Cooper is looking forward to sharing her experiences with her peers to enhance student engagement and critical thinking, and to foster education that focuses on real-world and global topics.
“I have a love of learning—both as a student and a teacher—and I hope that through this position I will be able to learn more and help others at the same time,” she said. “The professional development areas that I would most like to focus workshops and deliverables on are building community partnerships, engaging through restorative practices, challenging mindsets with mindfulness activities, and expanding in-class discussions about diversity and inclusion using IDEA Council data.”
Houssein El Turkey, Ph.D., an associate professor of mathematics, is also excited to share what he has learned with his fellow educators – particularly, his multi-institutional work with Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (RUME). Dedicated to fostering engaging and “active” classroom experiences for students, Dr. El Turkey endeavors to organize programs such as interactive workshops, panel discussions, webinars, and guest lectures, as well as recommendation reports with research-based readings.
“Every small change should be celebrated, so I am hoping for small but meaningful impacts,” he said. “I hope to inspire faculty to practice reflective teaching, which will encourage them to start with feasible changes such as pausing and giving students enough time to play with ideas. These changes, even if minimal, in our instructional practices will have a huge impact on the classroom environment as it gives students ownership of their learning. I am very excited to have fruitful discussions with our faculty, and I look forward to learning from them too.”