Program in need of new funds

Tom Lopez

A University program dedicated to training students to be better teachers faces an uncertain future if it does not come up with new sources of revenue.
Preparing Future Faculty is a Graduate School program designed to equip students with the skills they need to succeed as educators. The program’s future, however, is not assured, as in 1999 the second of its two main sources of funding is scheduled to dry up.
The program evolved from the Teaching Opportunity Program last year after receiving a $170,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a national philanthropic foundation in Philadelphia that funds a variety of education programs. The opportunity program began four years ago, and was awarded $130,000 annually by the Bush Foundation last year.
But the Pew grant was a one-time gift, and when the Bush Foundation grants run out next year, administrators say the program will require money from other sources in order to continue.
The Preparing Future Faculty program also receives some overhead funding from the Graduate School.
The program offers graduate and post-doctoral students three courses to develop hands-on teaching skills that prepare them for future academia. This quarter, about 40 students have enrolled in the classes to develop their skills in teaching and communication in the classroom or other settings, although it is designed to accommodate about 60.
“If there is not a commitment by the University beyond the years that they assured the Bush Foundation that they would carry (the program), then there is a question as to the long-term viability of the program,” said Jan Smith, the program director. “We’re coming to a point where the University has to decide whether they want to have this program or not.”
Program administrators are currently discussing the possibilities for future funding with University officials.
One possibility pursued by program representatives is an attempt to receive a cut of tuition money from students enrolled in the class. Because the program is not technically a part of any college, it currently does not receive tuition dollars.
Smith would like to see that change. “We feel that if we pay the expenses, of course we should get funds for having paid those expenses and offering these programs to students,” she said.
Smith said the program would also need funding in addition to a percentage of tuition. She said she hoped the money will come from the administration.
The program is important, Smith said, because it prepares students with the means to teach effectively by pairing them with faculty mentors, or allowing them to teach classes.
“There’s a difference between becoming an expert in one’s field and being able to convey that expertise to others — a difference between knowing something and helping someone else know it,” she said. “I think graduate departments are very well-equipped to develop students’ knowledge and ability within a discipline, but only some departments cultivate graduate students’ ability to convey that information.”
Smith added that the program also offers mentorship programs that teach future teachers how to provide quality individualized attention. Some students teach at other institutions to help them decide what kind of schools best fit their needs.
“I think it’s an excellent program,” said Fran Lawrenz, an associate dean of the Graduate School who served as a mentor in the program three years ago. Lawrenz said the program offers students an opportunity for individualized attention and cooperative efforts, features she said she considers invaluable.
Students in the program come from a diversity of disciplines, but the majority come from the physical sciences, such as those in the Institute of Technology, Smith said.
She added that students come predominantly from those areas because they put a greater emphasis on research skills in class.
“There is a growing realization that scientists need teaching skills as well as research skills,” Smith said.
Also, she said competition for faculty positions in those areas are more competitive.
Jane Simon, a doctoral candidate in Latin American and French Caribbean literature, said she benefitted from the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of students outside her own department, as well as the emphasis on hands-on work. “There’s no substitute for experience — for actual teaching,” she said.
Whatever the fate of the program, Lawrenz said the possible financial problem isn’t limited to the future faculty program.
“I wouldn’t say anything in this University is secure,” she said.