Friday, September 16, 2011

Former FFTF Fellow Keith Erekson Receives Prestigious ‘Outstanding Teaching Award’ from the University of Texas

Dr. Keith Erekson

The IU Future Faculty Teaching Fellowships Program is run through the The University Graduate School at Indiana University. Deadline for the next round of fellowships is October 14, 2011.

Once an IU Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship (FFTF) recipient, Keith Erekson is now a faculty member in the history department at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He recently received the prestigious Outstanding Teaching Award given to only 72 faculty out of a UT system of nearly 19,000.

After receiving his Ph.D. from IU in 2008, Erekson joined the UTEP faculty and founded the Center for History Teaching & Learning (, which is devoted to improving history teaching in his department and among current and future secondary-level history teachers.

He credits his experiences in the IU FFTF Program with getting him to this point.

“I don’t remember when I first heard about the program,” he said. “I think it was early on, but I remember thinking I wanted to do that. [FFTF] was always on my radar as I was going through coursework and exams.”

In 2007-08, Erekson was accepted into the FFTF program and three campuses contacted him, but two regarded him as inexpensive labor, he said.

“I would have been teaching an introductory survey history class and had a 2-2 load. One campus said straight out that’s all they expected. The other said, well, if you’re good we might let you teach an upper level class in the second semester,” he said. “Contrast that to the offer I got from IU Kokomo where I met students, took a campus tour, talked with faculty. They were really collegial. They treated me like one of their faculty members.”

At IUK, Erekson taught two upper-level history courses, attended faculty meetings, and worked in his own office space complete with printing resources. He was essentially faculty.

“It was huge, I don’t know if I can begin to quantify all the ways that helped,” he said. “The big things were that I was on campus and coded as a visiting professor even though I was in the last year of my PhD program, and also that they let me teach and design my own classes.”

“At the time IUK was pushing hybrid courses offered half in the classroom and half online. It was really enjoyable. In the History department at IUB, I had worked for the Journal of Indiana History, so I knew a lot about the topic, so I taught Indiana history as a hybrid upper-level course. The students were also really excited because although [the Indiana History course] had been listed in the catalogue, it had never been taught at IUK.”

At the end of his FFTF year, Erekson was able to say he had taught survey courses, upper-level courses, online courses and courses he had designed himself. “I had taught all these different things. So, in job interviews when they asked ‘have you taught an upper-level course?’ I could say yes.”

IUK also supported the fact that he was on the job market. He wrote his dissertation that year while teaching, but he also spent time applying for positions. “How do you prepare for sending out 55 job applications? That year I typed them up on the computer they gave me to use and printed them out on university letterhead. They really supported me in sending them out.”

In March of 2008, Erekson received an offer for his position at UTEP, he defended his dissertation in April, graduated in May, and moved to El Paso in July at which point he started fulltime without a hitch.

“I really felt like I had a lot of help when I was starting to teach and that was huge. It’s funny. After I got here, we hired a hotshot postdoc from Yale. He came into my office the second week of the semester and said 'I don’t know how to teach, please help me.' My experience was just the opposite. I felt the FFTF summer retreat and FFTF Kokomo Program was a real advantage. I had gone to the SOTL workshops at IUB, but that summer retreat was really important.”

The FFTF Program not only gave him needed experiences, Erekson said, but the edge needed to land his first position.

“I really think this fellowship gave me the ability to make the leap [into the professoriate] before the economy crashed—it was a real turning point. Instead of one more paper, one more postdoc, I was able to find a tenure-track position and get started with my career,” he said.

Erekson’s new position came with an advising component because UTEP had discovered that nearly half the students in history wanted to be high school teachers.

“They had all these pre-law and pre-grad school workshops, but then realized that many wanted to teach. So the position was designed with an open specialty, and along the way it seemed to make sense to make it a more formal path,” he said.

That’s when he started the Center for History Teaching & Learning at UTEP to help students become teachers and help the faculty become better teachers.

“Teaching was something I wanted to do. I knew it was part of the job of academic life, but I look forward to teaching. I’d worked for the auto industry before and I knew that didn’t make me feel better, but working with people did,” Erekson said. “When I was a grad student, I thought I would do things [in the classroom] differently, so it’s good to be able to put my ideas into practice and see what happens. Those classes you teach again and again are never the same, always a little different; it’s always exciting.”

Erekson offers this advice to graduate students at IU Bloomington. “Pay attention to teaching,” he said. “In every campus interview I had, and I did 12 campus interviews, teaching came up and it came up not just as what do you do in your classroom, but in a ‘our university is up for accreditation this year and we have to demonstrate outcomes, or our dean is asking us to create a senior level rubric.’ It wasn’t the questions I’d heard before. Faculty are now accountable for teaching in many ways. So in each campus visit, faculty were talking about teaching in a ‘oh boy, we-have-this-problem-we have-to-solve’ way.”

“If you know how to design a learning outcome and show students accomplished it or made an improvement in a course and showed it worked, that’s a valuable skill in the industry,” he said. “It’s not just about teaching a course. The students have to learn something and you have to prove they learned something and prove to their parents they learned something. Every time tuition is raised, the more clarity is expected about what a university is teaching. Is it specific and concrete and can you show me what it looks like if they can’t do that or better if they can?”

“It’s a myth that we do teaching by ourselves,” he said. “Teaching requires students, good timing, administration, the right course offering—all of these factors that come into play—it’s really a community activity. And it feels really good to be part of a responsive community.”

 More Information on the Teaching Award 

Wimbush Selected for New Commission to Study Graduate Student Pathways

James C. Wimbush, Dean of the Indiana University Graduate School
Dean of the University Graduate School, James C. Wimbush, has been selected for a new commission to study the educational and career pathways graduate students take and recommend ways to help students move more easily from their studies into careers.

The Commission on Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers, is being created by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Educational Testing Service. In addition to Dean Wimbush, the commission includes leadership from academia and business. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the commission is tasked with examining how much graduate students know about their career options once they obtain their degrees, and how students learn about their professional opportunities after graduation and the role of graduate programs in guiding students in their transition to a career.

The findings will be disclosed in a report next spring.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

McNair Director Cathi Eagan Retires After 34 Years of Service to IU

In August of 2011, Cathi Eagan, long-time Director of Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and Assistant Dean at the University Graduate School, retired from IU, but from what we hear she will continue to be busy! The staff at the University Graduate School would like to wish her the best. Here is her story of the time spent with us and a peak into her new endeavors. 

When Cathi Eagan joined the University Graduate School staff in 1993 as an Assistant Dean, the first thing she noticed was that there weren’t a lot of programs at IU to groom undergraduates for graduate school.

Eagan at her retirement party in August 2011.
 “I became interested in finding funds,” Eagan said, “an external grant, to be able to create a program. One year I went to the CGS (Council of Graduate Schools) meeting and sat next to someone who had a McNair Grant. It was the first competition that McNair had had and she had had her program for a couple of years. It was Vicki Kirby from the University of Missouri in Columbia.”

Inspired by that conversation, Cathi arranged to go to a grant writing session in Washington D.C., spoke with a lot of the McNair programs that existed at that time, and then wrote a proposal to create a McNair Scholars program at IU. The purpose of the program would be to help prepare students from diverse backgrounds for doctoral programs.

“So I took what I learned from the other McNair programs and what I knew from the Biology program (where she had worked previously on The Hughes Grant) and I wrote the grant,” Eagan said. “We were funding in 1995 and I’ve been working with the program ever since.”

“I think the strength of the program is that it’s an academic year program where we can get to know 25 undergraduate students very well—their personal, financial and academic background—and we can groom them into mini graduate students by the time they reach their senior year,” she said. “At that point, the students have had an undergraduate research experience, and they’ve had teaching training and teaching internships, so when they apply for graduate school their funding comes from either an AI or TA, or a fellowship of some type.”

“Over the years, perhaps the first eight years of the program, we had difficulty in learning how exactly we could prepare these students for graduate school so it didn’t interfere with their senior year. What we used to do was hold a lot of the workshops that we now hold in the summer in the fall—workshops to get them ready to apply to graduate programs. It was really getting in the middle of their academic work,” Eagan said.

“One day I was driving into work—and I still remember it—I thought what if we took one week in the summertime and we just compiled everything to help the students learn about fellowships, write the draft of their personal statements, get GRE training? And what if to pay for this, we had programs from around the country come and we could bring in the best and the brightest lecturers for these students—that’s how the senior summer camp was born,” she said. “It’s a very effective tool—we can prep our students in the summertime and they can have everything done so in the fall so they’re ready to submit applications for fellowships and graduate school.”

The senior summer camp is now in its eleventh year and it’s been duplicated in California, Chicago and by several institutions in the South. The camp lasts five days and is held in a remote location to limit distractions. Students learn about life as a graduate student, from how to be successful in their programs, to what to do if they run into complications within their departments and how to solve these situations, to how to strategically take the GRE. There is also a push to develop grant and fellowship writing skills.

Eagan is an integral part of the The Canine Express,
a group that transports shelter dogs from Indiana
to areas of the country where spay and neuter laws
have limited the number of animals for adoption,
giving the Indiana dogs a better chance at being adopted.
“They learn about fellowships, where the money is and that they need to apply for these things,” Eagan said. “Last year we had the Rhodes Scholarship recipient and the runner-up, we’ve had people who’ve gotten a Mellon Fellowship, Jacob Javits Fellowship, and so on. And I think it’s because we’ve forced them to apply to these fellowships. Even if they’re turned down, the student now has a better understanding for how to write a grant proposal and they can apply to other grants even as a graduate student.”

Even before the idea for the senior summer camp, Eagan had been invited to be part of the Penn State TRIO training team.

“I would go around the country; I did this each month for 5 years. At first I was doing GRE training and then it got so I was preparing staff for how to write fellowships and identify where the money was,” Eagan said. “And that’s where I met Orlando Taylor, Don Asher, so many of the TRIO people who are really heavy hitters. Those are the people that I invited to come to the senior summer camp. And that’s how we have so many dynamos who help us prepare our students.”

Eagan said she is looking forward to retirement, and although she’ll miss the students greatly, “it’s time to move on after 34 years.”

Over the last 25 years, when she wasn’t on campus working with students, Eagan has been working on issues of animal welfare. For the last seven years, she has taken her vacation days once a month to drive to New England with the CanINE Express; an organization that has transported more than 7100 shelter dogs to partner shelters in New England. 

“In New England, the spay-and-neuter message has been heard. So the shelters there are sitting virtually empty of well-socialized, healthy dogs ready to be adopted,” she said. 

Eagan is currently working to introduce better spay-and-neuter legislation in Indiana, writing grants for shelters, and taking care of her 88-year-old mother and her home. “For me, as long as I’m in Indiana, I’ll be devoted to stopping the killing of companion animals. It’s atrocious what’s happening, not only in IN, but also the Midwest and the South.”