Graduate students hone their teaching skills at local community colleges

Natalka Pavlovsky *01, right, mentored Princeton graduate student Sophie Brady, who taught a music appreciation course at Rowan College in South Jersey last fall.

Natalka Pavlovsky *01, right, mentored Princeton graduate student Sophie Brady, who taught a music appreciation course at Rowan College in South Jersey last fall.

“If you are truly interested in becoming a leader in higher education, there is no better place to start than community colleges”

By her own admission, fifth-year musicology graduate student Sophie Brady didn’t go to a rigorous high school. Growing up in a small town in Ohio where most of his peers hadn’t gone to college, Brady wanted extra support before applying to four-year institutions. So she started taking classes at her local community college while still in high school.

“It was really essential to fill in some of the gaps that my high school education just couldn’t fill,” she said.

A decade later, it came full circle when Brady was accepted into Princeton’s Community College Teaching Partnership, in which college graduate students spend a semester shadowing a faculty member from Mercer County Community College, Camden County College or from Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ). before teaching their own course.

This academic year, 20 Princeton students are participating, the largest group since the program was reinstated in the 2016-2017 academic year. The late Professor Theodore Rabb *61 designed a previous iteration in 1974, but over the decades it has changed and participation has dwindled. In the new version, Princeton provides a stipend for students while they shadow community college professors, and then community colleges pay students to teach.

It’s a win-win, according to Natalka Pavlovsky *01, a music teacher at RCSJ who serves as a faculty mentor. Not only do Princeton students benefit from guidance and real-life teaching experience, but their mentors can discuss teaching methodologies with promising scholars. And community college students “get fantastic instructors out of it,” Pavlovsky said.

Cathy Carsley *93, who participated when she was at Princeton, has been a faculty member at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania since 2008. She is happy to see Princeton reviving and expanding the program, particularly because there are a perception of a gap in higher education between two- and four-year schools. But Carsley doesn’t want that to deter graduate students.

“If you’re really interested in becoming a leader in higher education, there’s no better place to start than at community colleges because there are so many opportunities,” Carsley said. She encourages graduate students to “keep an open mind about their career paths.”

Since the program was revamped, 35 Princeton students have participated, and of those, 10 have completed graduate school. All 10 have worked in the education sector, including one who teaches at a community college.

For Brady, who followed Pavlovsky in the spring 2021 semester before leading his own “Music Appreciation” class for about 20 students last fall, teaching at RCSJ was different from his previous experiences teaching at Princeton. She realized that community college students often don’t get the same kind of support as Princeton students.

“I think it made me appreciate how much we take for granted at an institution like Princeton, because there are so many resources for students,” Brady said. “In terms of my own teaching, it’s really helped me become more aware of that and really think, ‘What do students need me to thrive on? “”

For example, she learned to schedule emails to be delivered when students were most likely to read them, usually late at night. It was just one of the methods she used to reach a diverse group of students who often face a different set of challenges, including a lack of financial resources, family obligations and competing priorities, such as jobs.

Although Brady did not anticipate the amount of time and effort required, she enjoyed her time at RCJS and found the work meaningful and important. She thinks programs like this are essential for Princeton to “give back to the wider community and share resources, because we have grad students who really want to teach, who love to teach, and we have those opportunities. to participate and access to know members of our community that we might not otherwise meet.

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