“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday
and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson
Like renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, I am motivated by two primary goals, not only as a researcher but as a teacher and advisor: one should help others learn more about the world and inspire others to do good. My own experiences with professors have mirrored this philosophy: the best professors I have ever had both knew a lot and were primarily motivated by leaving their communities a better place than when they arrived. I found myself taking courses I had little initial interest in—business ethics, computing for the behavioral scientist—simply to learn more from these individuals. I came out of these classes not only more well-informed on the content, but also more motivated to do science well and make a positive impact on those around me, especially those with experiences different from my own.
Know More about the World
My focus as an instructor is on applied learning experiences; that is, I believe material covered in class should be applicable to students’ lives outside the classroom. I encourage students to develop their own theories and perspectives about how the world works, and to intentionally check their own assumptions against those of others. True knowledge necessitates awareness of one’s own values and principles. As such, my classes allow students ample opportunities to increase that awareness.
I have experience—through being a teaching assistant, active lab member, and research and evaluation coordinator—preparing and presenting on a variety of topics, including but not limited to measurement, community psychology, diversity-related topics, social change strategies, research methods, statistics, and data visualization and presentation. Through my teaching assistant assignments in a wide swath of courses, I have also learned about discussion facilitation, fair grading practices, flexibility, and project management.
I have utilized a variety of activities to apply content knowledge to the real world, including discussions, activities, journals, and application papers. For example, in an introductory psychology course, students were assigned to read about Stanley Milgram. I came to class ten minutes late, enlisting the help of a friend who was “replacing the teacher for the day.” He was able to get the students to do a variety of odd tasks, such as placing one of their shoes on the front desk. I rushed into the classroom, pretending to be out of breath. I pretended not to know him, asking why he was there as he rushed out of the room. I then “noticed” the shoes on the desk. We launched into our discussion on why people listen to authority figures, starting off on a lighthearted note (“Why would you put your shoes on the desk just because someone asked you to?”). We then eased into more serious examples, both from a historical perspective and in their own lives. This allowed students to develop opinions and apply the material to their own lives and current and historical events. A few students told me it made them seriously reconsider who they consider an authority figure and why.
To assess learning, I use multiple choice and essay tests when content knowledge is particularly important. I assign recently published research articles from psychology, sociology, and other related disciplines. Students discuss strengths and weaknesses of the article and how the material relates to the class, their majors, and their own lives. Again, the material works to reinforce or challenge their personal experiences. I completed an Assessment Certificate Program through DePaul University’s Office for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. This will enhance my ability to appropriately create and assess learning outcomes.
I have been mentoring students on academic matters since my junior year as an undergraduate, starting as a writing consultant at the University of Southern Indiana. I have also served as a mentor to younger graduate students in virtually every lab I have been a part in, particularly at DePaul University, where we worked in a highly collaborative environment. I also served as a research mentor to an undergraduate, Liz Guidi, through our unique Doctoral & Undergraduate Opportunities for Scholarships (DUOS) program. The research project we completed together, which focused on exercise motivations among younger and older adults, won Best Poster at the Society for Community Research and Action portion of the Midwestern Psychological Association Annual Meeting in 2016. Working with Liz enabled me to practice not only my ability to pass on research methods, statistics, and content knowledge, but also how to build up the confidence of developing researcher. This year, I served as a DUOS mentor to another talented undergraduate, Ahmed AlSamaani, who joined the Online Technologies Lab.
Lessen the Suffering of Others
This particular goal has two parts. The first is that I should lessen the suffering of my students, who are often balancing jobs, families, and other obligations. They may also have different learning preferences or needs, or may have had experiences that make certain subject matter difficult. To this end, I aim to be flexible with my teaching methods to accommodate as many students as possible. I place particular importance on creating a safe learning environment. I have taken Safe Zone training at least once at every university I have attended. I also completed both Levels I and II of the DePaul University Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity’s BUILD Diversity Certificate Program. This program builds participants’ cultural humility, inclusive excellence, and leadership. I emphasize creating a safe learning environment so that students can feel free to express their beliefs and experiences in a respectful manner that encourages thoughtful reflection and discussion.
My students should also feel inspired and empowered to do good, and to do it well. I have presented at the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology on creating opportunities for students to empower themselves with regard to social justice and civic engagement. I have also mentored undergraduate and graduate students in their journey to becoming advocates for issues they care about. When I was a teaching assistant for Psychology and Social Justice, I often highlighted the efforts of influential psychologists such as Mary Whiton Calkins, Mamie and Kenneth Clark, and Wolfgang Köhler, who advocated for the better treatment of their fellow human beings. As the Psi Chi graduate student advisor, I organized a viewing and discussion of Sophie Scholl – The Final Days to show students that their voices, even as young adults, are important. Sophie Scholl was a 21-year-old anti-Nazi advocate who gave up her life to fight the increasing power of Nazi Germany through distributing anti-war manifestos in the early 1940s. The pamphlets she and other students created were later dropped on German cities by the Allies. I share these stories so that students may find themselves in these advocates and feel empowered to stand up for the things in which they believe.