Maria Brito has taught business marketing and communications courses at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador for the past 10 years.
But she never learned how to be a teacher.
Her university’s partnership with the Graduate School at Virginia Tech, now in its third year, is giving professors like Brito a whole new look at their profession from the lens of a teacher.
“Sometimes you are an expert in your field, but you are not an expert on teaching,” Brito said, who previously worked in the marketing and sales industry.
Brito and 10 of her colleagues spent last week at Virginia Tech as part of the 21st Century Faculty Initiative. In 2016, the first group of faculty from USFQ visited Blacksburg for a week of workshops taught by Virginia Tech professors on everything from communicating science to digital teaching methods. USFQ is a private liberal arts university with about 8,000 students.
The workshops are based on the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education Initiative, which offers students across disciplines a range of programs, courses, and activities to help them succeed and prepare for any profession, not only academia. Karen DePauw, vice president and dean for graduate education, launched the program.
In 2015, USFQ president Carlos Montufar decided to create a model of the Virginia Tech program at his university. The partnership between the two universities was born.
Since then, USFQ created its own center, named Shift, which offers many of these same courses for faculty.
DePauw said she is excited that USFQ has embraced the program.
“We have benefitted by seeing how they are doing things and how this kind of program can be implemented in other cultures,” she said. “I believe very much in transforming higher ed. Graduate education should not be what it has been in the past.”
In November, DePauw plans to visit USFQ with a group of Virginia Tech graduate students to see the Shift center and other work at the university.
Even so, last week’s trip to Blacksburg gave many Quito faculty in-depth training and a chance to discuss questions and ideas directly with Virginia Tech faculty through a series of sessions that covered implicit bias, technology in higher education, communicating science, teaching tips, and more.
Take one workshop on mentoring students. Four Virginia Tech professors — Uwe Tauber, a professor in the Department of Physics; Glenda Gillaspy, professor and head of the Department of Biochemistry; Max Stephenson, professor of public and international affairs and director of the Institute for Policy and Governance; and Birgit Scharf, associate professor of biological sciences — talked about tips and strategies. Quito faculty chimed in with their own challenges and questions.
As the sole female faculty member who teaches law at USFQ, Daniela Salazar said female students often come to her for personal advice. What boundaries should professors set, she asked the panel.
Though faculty should work closely with their students, “boundaries are important” in social relationships, Gillaspy said.
In building appropriate relationships, Tauber told the group, he takes his graduate students to lunch, “so they see me as a human being, not just a professor,” he said.
Ricardo Lopez, who teaches math and statistics at USFQ, spends a lot of time mentoring his math students, which can be challenging and at times, frustrating. He said he hoped to glean new ideas from the workshop. “They need to feel that someone is with them,” he said of his students.
Though Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is more than 4,000 miles from Blacksburg, Salazar said she felt a connection with many Hokie professors while on campus last week.
“We all have the same challenges,” she said.
Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone