Back to school: Community college professors learn in Princeton classes

Tuesday, Dec 6, 2016
by jtalaric

by Ushma Patel, Office of Communications

Navigating a new campus, listening to lectures, going to office hours — community college professor Laura Sosa is experiencing being a student all over again.

Sosa, a professor and chair of business programs at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), is a participant in Princeton University's Community College Faculty Program, which allows faculty members from 19 New Jersey institutions to audit Princeton courses in their areas of expertise.

Sosa is taking the graduate course "The Comparative Political Economy of Development," taught by Atul Kohli, the David K.E. Bruce Professor of International Affairs

"I signed up for this class because the topics of political economy, national development and globalization are key components of the 'Global Environment of Business' course that I teach at MCCC," Sosa said. Kohli, she said, "is not only a renowned scholar in his field, but his engaging teaching style offers a model for me to improve my own teaching."

The program is open to faculty and administrators who have taught a minimum of four years at their home institution and who hold an advanced degree in a discipline taught at Princeton. The institution must grant permission and pay the participation fee. Participants continue to teach at their home institutions, and they do not receive a grade or credit for the Princeton courses. 

"The program offers New Jersey Community College faculty and administrators an opportunity to undertake advanced study in their area of expertise and to further their understanding of the subjects they teach," said Gina Mastro, the program coordinator in Princeton's Office of Community and Regional Affairs. "The community colleges get professional development for their teachers and administrators at a nominal fee from a world-class institution right in their backyard."

Lance Hemlow, an assistant professor of mathematics at Raritan Valley Community College, said that taking "Applied Algebra" at Princeton was his first opportunity to take a class that applied abstract algebra. He has been doing all the reading and homework assignments (though he does not submit them) to get the most out of the experience. 

"This course seemed to be a perfect fit. My intention was to learn applications of various algebraic structures and to share them with my classes," Hemlow said. "I am thoroughly enjoying the course."

When selecting a class, Kristen Callahan, professor and course coordinator for business and technology classes at Mercer County Community College, found one that paralleled a course she teaches. Her course is "Computer Concepts with Office Applications," and the Princeton course is "Computers in Our World," taught by David Dobkin, the Phillip Y. Goldman '86 Professor in Computer Science. She found that while her course focuses on using office applications and the implications of technology in careers and in society, the Princeton course is more technical, with units on programming and how hardware works. 

"This has been a wonderful, educational opportunity," Callahan said. "I've really enjoyed seeing Professor Dobkin's teaching style and how students respond. The course has given me ideas on how to tweak or do different things in my own classroom. … The whole experience has been extraordinary, and I will hate to see this course end." 

Princeton has offered courses to community college instructors for years. Begun in 1977 by professor of history, emeritus, Thomas Rabb, the program was previously called the Mid-Career Fellowship Program. Until this year, the instructors took courses for credit, had to write a research paper and were required to make a yearlong commitment. To make the program accessible to more faculty, participants can now register for one or two noncredit courses a semester. 

Sosa said that she plans to return to the Princeton campus for another class in the spring and for some of the University's many public lectures.

"Any educator who is given this opportunity needs to take advantage of it," Sosa said. "It not only rejuvenates your mind and refreshes the material you teach, but it also allows you to view learning through a different lens, one which may surface perspectives that can be missed from always being in the front of the classroom."