Campus News

Academy aims to enhance success of new faculty members

A class taking place in the Center for Educational Innovation.

Participants attend a session of the New Faculty Academy in UB's Center for Educational Innovation. Photo: Douglas Levere

By SUE WUETCHER

Published October 28, 2019

Photo of UB pharmacy assistant professor Jason Sprowl.
“It was also nice to meet up with other new faculty who were having similar struggles with a new position.”
Jason Sprowl, assistant professor
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

For Jason Sprowl, UB’s New Faculty Academy offered an opportunity to get to know other new faculty members and learn about services at the university that he was not familiar with.

“I did appreciate some tips on items I was not familiar with,” says Sprowl, who joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in fall 2018 as an assistant professor, “and it was nice to have feedback on the research project I generated during my semester (in the academy). It was also nice to meet up with other new faculty who were having similar struggles with a new position.”

Andrew Lison, who joined the Department of Media Study last fall as an assistant professor, says he wanted to take part in the New Faculty Academy to “continue his pedagogical training” and to “learn the ins and outs of conducting research here at UB and what resources were available to help me in that regard.”

And that’s exactly the idea behind the New Faculty Academy, notes Robert Granfield, vice provost for faculty affairs.

Granfield explains that the typical model for new faculty has been that “they finish their degrees and they come in (to a faculty position at UB) and that’s the end of structured learning. We really wanted to build this idea of an ‘academy within the academy,’ so that the university could support their continued education to enhance their success,” he says.

UB had offered more opportunities to engage new faculty during the past several years — including orientation sessions and brown bag sessions on a variety of topics — but those opportunities were limited, Granfield says.

“They were useful, but they were not tied together in any way,” and attendance was spotty, he says.

The New Faculty Academy, now in its second year, offers a unified, two-track curriculum developed and presented with the help of two collaborators: the Center for Educational Innovation for the teaching track and the UB Libraries for the scholarship track.

Participants — nontenure-track as well as tenure-track faculty — can take part in one or both tracks, each of which runs a full semester. Granfield says the program follows a fellowship model, with participants, or fellows, expected to fully commit to attending monthly workshop sessions in the classroom, as well as follow-up sessions.

Each fellow also is expected to work on a project over the course of the semester — and ideally over an entire year — applying what they’ve learned in class to the project.

The projects can range from developing a module for a course or revamping curriculum for those on the teaching track, to developing a grant proposal or writing a research paper for those on the scholarship track. The tracks culminate with a “celebratory showcase” in which participants present their projects.

“You commit to a semester of working on this; you walk away with a tangible product — not just a good idea, but something in hand,” says Tilman M. Baumstark, associate vice provost for faculty affairs.

Granfield points out that the program sessions — held in the CEI, which has some of the latest technology available — are very interactive. “It’s not like they (fellows) go in, like a workshop, and listen to people talk. They’re actually participating in it. So they come out the other end with a module in their course, or an entire course developed, or an article that they’ve finished, or part of a grant proposal that they’re working on. It really is project-focused and individualized.”

Baumstark says faculty in particular value “the sense of building community.”

In many cases, faculty go to a workshop and never see the other attendees again, he says. “Here, you keep meeting the same people in small groups for the semester. It really helps them to get their first network on campus.”

“Ultimately, it’s to try to enhance the success of the faculty who participate in these areas in both scholarship and teaching, and also make contributions to our students,” Granfield says. “We certainly want exceptional teachers in the classroom teaching students with the latest, up-to-date teaching modalities and teaching skills.

“What we’re really trying to do,” he says, “is to engage faculty at multiple levels — in this case new faculty — to really try to enhance their success as researchers and educators.”

Faculty Affairs reaches out to new faculty to invite them to take part in the program, and the deans and chairs of those who do are notified of their participation. This creates “accountability” and lets faculty know “that your dean and your chair specifically endorsed you to do this,” Baumstark says, adding that the administrators are invited to the final showcase so they can see what their faculty have done in the program.

“The idea is for faculty to eventually put this in their dossiers for tenure and promotion,” he says, noting that the UB Libraries and CEI also are working to create badges for the New Faculty Academy to make it part of a broader microcredentialing program.

Granfield says the New Faculty Academy is just one element in a larger effort by Faculty Affairs to expand its traditional function of coordinating the promotion and tenure process, and move more broadly into faculty development and engagement.

Other activities include new faculty orientation, an annual two-day retreat and monthly follow-up sessions for new department chairs, workshops for mid-career faculty and Presidential Review Board workshops designed to help faculty navigate the promotion and tenure process.