Last summer, APSCUF went behind the scenes to show how faculty members and coaches continue to devote themselves to affordable, quality education even when class is not in session. This post is a continuation of that series.
I knew since third grade that I wanted to be a teacher. After teaching high school special education for eight years and elementary English for Speakers of Other Languages for two years, I decided to expand my skills by teaching future teachers. West Chester University was founded as a teacher’s college in 1871, so to be selected to teach here was an honor. I love my job, especially the moments when I see students’ eyes light up because they made the connection between theory and practice, or because an idea came to their head. Whether the students are 8, 18, or 48, it is my job to work with them to promote their success.
This semester, I’m teaching a graduate student off campus at a Panera Bread on Saturday mornings because he took an online class and did not do well. Online classes are not for everyone; this student needs the face-to-face connection. While this is not within most professors’ job descriptions, I agreed to do an independent study with the student because it is important that we try everything we can to promote every student’s success.
People often ask what I do besides teach. In addition to teaching four classes each semester, I enjoy meeting with students one-on-one for advising during office hours. This is not just advising students on the classes they should take. There are times when I have to console a student because a mother is dying of cancer or a father is withering away from AIDS. One student had just witnessed her father meeting a woman who was not her mother in a bar; another student had just had her father announce that he was cutting her off from all financial aid and she could not return to her childhood home, ever. Two students came to talk to me about their recently learned pregnancy and how it would affect their future career paths. These are emotional meetings in which I try to listen and provide guidance — but not to provide the answer.
Another activity I find valuable is informal consultations with families who have children with special needs. Families in the surrounding community get my name from groups I belong to (i.e. moms groups, Facebook groups), from WCU students I’ve taught, from other families I’ve helped, or from seeing my biography on the department’s website. Some families ask me for advice on a child’s behavior, some ask for help in reading documents in special education, some ask for ideas on supporting their child’s academic development, and some ask for help finding babysitters or tutors. All of this is pro bono. It is more important to me to help the families than to seek financial gain.
I also help out the local schools when time permits. I’ve helped a local private school find their afterschool tutor for the past six years. It’s a win-win situation: The school gets a tutor, and the WCU student gains valuable experience. Sometimes I go into an elementary school to conduct a lesson as a volunteer or to read as a guest for “Read Across America” day. I’ve helped find a mentor for a young child, advised teachers in private conferences, and provided feedback on curriculum. The reward I get is an intrinsic feeling of happiness due to the contact with the students when I visit these schools or due to helping others.
I am also the adviser to an on-campus club called Best Buddies. It is a national organization with the goal to match people with disabilities with those without disabilities for one-to-one friendships. There are clubs on campuses at the middle school, high school, and college levels. The WCU-Best Buddies club is run by the student officers, but I lend support where I can. The support can be in the form of meeting with the club officers to hash out activities for the 90+ club members, or attending an event off campus to make an appearance and to meet the parents of the buddies with disabilities. These events are fun and have included trips to bowling alleys, local orchards for hay rides, ice cream socials, and picnics in the park. I don’t always stay the entire three to four hours, but it’s important to me to show up and lend my support when I can. The club activities allow our WCU students to develop their leadership potential, which is a great to watch.
The activities above describe about three-fifths of my hours. I also sit on committees, read journals to stay abreast of the information in my field and to conduct research, visit school sites, meet with colleagues for professional discussions of research, plan for presentations at conferences, attend conferences, and write manuscripts for publications. The activities I enjoy the most are the activities with the WCU students and the direct contact with the families and children in the community. I am very grateful to have a job that allows me to engage in so many tasks that I love.
Kim Doan is an associate professor of special education at West Chester University.
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Chairwoman Shapira, governors, Chancellor Brogan, university presidents,
My name is Kenneth Mash, and I am president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
There are many methods of evaluating universities. In this system, we have certainly had our experience with performance indicators of every kind, and it seems that we constantly are flooded with comparative data from a variety of sources.
However, writing in The New York Times on Jan. 18, 2017, David Leonhardt points out an alternative means by which to judge America’s universities. He writes that despite ongoing budget, enrollment issues, and other issues, America’s public universities “remain deeply impressive institutions that continue to push many Americans into the middle class and beyond.”
This is not merely Leonhardt’s opinion; he bases it on a major study by the Equal Opportunity Project that was released last week. The study compares upward mobility rates, and as Leonhardt points out, America’s public universities fare far better that elite and private universities. In short, they are the engines of the American dream.
Online, the article is accompanied by a search engine that allows one to plug in universities to see how they fare in comparison with other universities in the country. I took the time to plug our universities into the charts, and what I found is that we certainly have room for improvement. Looking at who we are serving, the data says that 13 of our universities enroll between 9 and 25 percent of our students from the bottom 40 percent in terms of income.
Looking at mobility rates, that is graduates who move from the bottom 40 percent to the top 40 percent, 13 or 14 of our universities rank between 599th in the country and 1,807th. Our universities do fair better in comparison with other Pennsylvania universities; but relatively speaking to the universities across the country, our universities are rather low.
I would hypothesize that the explanation for this lies in the costs of attending college in our Commonwealth. I would further suggest that this is good reason, on top of all the other good reasons why we must advocate for further funding. I would also suggest that we collectively must pay attention to the costs to the students, not just in terms of tuition, but of total college costs. Are we shutting students out of attending our universities? We must do a better job overall of servicing Pennsylvania’s citizens and especially those who need it the most. How much do we even take this information into account? Are we even considering the impact on upward mobility when we discuss per-credit tuition or variable-tuition rates?
You will notice that in the data I just relayed I said 13 out of our 14 universities. I left one university out, and that was Cheyney University. For all of the negative things said about our HBCU and all of the problems it confronts, Cheyney enrolled nearly 54 percent of its students from the bottom 40 percent, and its mobility rate of 21.2 ranked it 87th in the nation, which is far superior to any of our other universities.
It is clear that when it comes to upward mobility, Cheyney is in a class by itself among our universities. Cheyney University has always played an important part in our system. And this data shows that it does for the Commonwealth’s students what no other of our universities do.
And here we are in a very bad situation with regard to that university. I have spoken much about Cheyney. I have been concerned that throughout this crisis that austerity and cutting budgets was not sufficient. That Cheyney could not survive without an alternative revenue stream. Bold thinking is what was required. How could we bring what Cheyney offers to underserved populations?
Cheyney’s immediate challenge is severe. Our Cheyney faculty have been clamoring for a permanent leadership team that would provide the necessary vision to lift the university out of the abyss. Our Cheyney faculty have been clamoring to be a part of the decision-making process. But their calls for participation have gone generally unheeded.
We need Cheyney University. Pennsylvania needs Cheyney University. I have made this point before: We all bear responsibility for that university’s circumstances, and we continue to bear it. For decades, things were allowed to happen there that would never have been tolerated by this board at any other university.
To get out of this mess, we will require joint effort in a very short time. The entire campus must be immediately engaged. This entire board must be engaged. Each of our universities ought to be helping. My association needs to know what it can do to help. To do otherwise is unacceptable. To give up is unacceptable. To throw up our arms, to scale Cheyney back, is likewise unacceptable. Anything other than working diligently to create a sustainable path is to give up — not just on Cheyney University, but on the dreams of upward mobility of the Pennsylvania students and families who rely on our university.