From the Desk of the Dean - September 2019

Without the familiar markers of the fall season that occur in other parts of the country like the changing colors of the leaves and the gradual cooling of the air, in Miami, we must mark the new season in other ways. We settle into the fall semester, we welcome new students and faculty, we unhappily bear the continued heat, and we get serious about preparing for hurricane threats.

While Hurricane Dorian spared South Florida, it is imperative that our collective relief turn to collective relief efforts for those who were not spared from nature’s wrath. We stand with the hard hit areas of the Bahama Islands. The School of Education and Human Development has nearly 500 alumni with an address in the Bahamas – and if you are one of them – please know that our thoughts, our hearts and our efforts are focused on recovery. Whether a collection of supplies organized by our student groups, donations to relief organizations, and the efforts of EPS Faculty member Dr. Guerda Nicolas, who has traveled to the Bahamas to help mobilize teams of psychologists to assist with trauma in the aftermath – we are doing what we can to help.

The School of Education and Human Development excitedly welcomes new faculty members –two gifted scholars have joined us this fall. Dr. Stephani Burt is in the Department of Teaching and Learning and Dr. Joseph Kitchen is in the Department of Educational and Psychological Studies. Please click on the names (linked to their bio) to read about their expertise and what they bring to our School.

The School is busy with new initiatives. We are working to help improve the experiences of University of Miami students by taking the lead on two aspects of UM’s Strategic Roadmap that focus on educational innovation and enhanced learning. First, throughout the summer with colleagues from the Division of Continuing Education and the Office of Academic Technology – and with the help of SEHD faculty and faculty across the U, we developed the Institutional Academy for Teaching Excellence (I-ATE). This effort is designed to help faculty become excellent teachers. Unfortunately, it is often the case that graduate degree programs do not teach students how to teach. Yet, at UM we expect our faculty to be excellent in both research and teaching – as fundamentally mutual aspects of outstanding scholarship. This fall we started the academy with new tenure-track faculty who have teaching responsibilities across the 11 Schools and Colleges at UM. We are providing intensive, interactive workshops focused on themes like “UM Student Context”, “Active Learning” and “Integrating Technology in the Classroom”. Next semester we will continue the Academy by opening it up to all faculty, for additional workshops related to excellence in subject matter teaching and specific course-related pedagogical assistance.

Second, in addition to helping faculty we are concerned that first year students often struggle with the transition to college and can suffer when they aren’t able to immediately connect or find a sense of community on campus. While ‘student persistence’ has become a buzzy term in higher education, we have long recognized that students’ difficulties with negotiating their first weeks at the university can impact their trajectory and result in poor academic outcomes including decreased or delayed rates of graduation. Rather than solely focusing individual students and their lack of ‘grit’ or coping skills, as a community psychologist, I also believe contextual changes are necessary for optimal interventions. Therefore, the School is piloting a new “First Year Directions” course for our Elementary Education and Human and Social Development majors, designed to cover the skills and resources needed to navigate college, but also to help build a sense of community among new students and connect them, early on, with faculty and staff who can assist with individual issues before they become trajectory altering outcomes. If successful, we will begin offering this new course as a standard curricular feature for all first year students – and hopefully make a major impact in students’ lives, at the very beginning of their college careers.

Finally, I am thrilled to share with you that one of the events we are planning as part of our 90th anniversary of the School of Education and Human Development will be held later this fall. The anniversary theme “Looking Back, Moving Forward” will be brought into sharp relief with a panel discussion among several experts who will highlight critical issues in the history and, importantly, the future of education – including the acute teacher shortage. Please be on the look out – additional details are forthcoming. And, whatever your indicators of the changing season – please feel free to reach out, share your thoughts, check in on our progress and enjoy your Fall!

Laura Kohn Wood