Approximately 100 math, science and engineering faculty members from across the state gathered on the Lincroft campus July 31 for the Brookdale Mathematics Department’s fifth annual Professional Development Day.
The conference, traditionally open to Brookdale instructors and professors, was expanded to faculty from all New Jersey community colleges this year with the aid of a New Jersey Community College Consortium (NJCCC) grant.
“We are all facing many of the same challenges, and we want to be able to start sharing resources and knowledge with other county colleges,” said associate math professor and event coordinator Olga Malpica Proctor.
“The key goal is to come together and talk about teaching. We often talk about the latest tool or piece of technology, but we rarely have time to really sit down and talk about what we are here for.”
Following welcome addresses by Brookdale Math Department Chair Brian McKeon and Brookdale STEM Dean Anoop Ahluwalia, the conference began with a keynote address by renowned writer and academic Dr. J Barry Mascari.
Mascari, who serves as chair of the Counselor Education Department at Kean University, spoke about his unlikely road to scholastic success in a talk titled “Confessions of a First Generation College Student: From High School to Gratitude.”
Once a mill worker and a trash collector for New Jersey Transit, Mascari spoke of the pain and humiliation he often felt in school, where he routinely received below average grades and saw little to no future for himself.
Like many other first generation college students, Mascari said he finally found purpose and hope in a college classroom, and in the professors who would ultimately serve as his role models.
Breaking the audience up into groups, he encouraged his fellow faculty members to think back to their own classroom experiences, and to those teachers who made a real difference in their lives. He followed up with a simple question: what qualities did those teachers possess that made such a difference?
“Patience. Encouragement. Care. Accessibility,” came the responses. “Understanding.”
While agreeing with all of the responses, Mascari said the final one – understanding – may be the most important. Rather than focusing on the best and brightest, colleges should seek out faculty members who have struggled with the same issues and fought through the same socioeconomic or personal limitations, he said.
At the very least, faculty members should understand that students need to “learn how to struggle.”
“Things don’t always come easy to us. But if Edison gave up on the light bulb after the first couple of failures, we would still be in the dark,” Mascari said. “Persistence is an excellent quality to teach and reinforce. Not giving up. We treat failure as a permanent condition, and it’s not.”
Mascari also gave some more personal advice – including tips for stress relief and relaxation – before concluding with some general strategies for encouraging students from all backgrounds and walks of life.
“Praise effort, not ability. Treat failure as a natural part of the learning process. Focus on the importance of study skills … and tell them that hard work pays off,” he said. “Because it does.”
Conference attendees were also able to take part in three of six available breakout sessions, covering topics such as the use of group work in the classroom, best testing practices, dealing with exam anxiety and the benefits and drawbacks of “flipping the classroom.”
Following lunch, the faculty members were also able to meet with a panel of Brookdale students and get an honest appraisal of the 21st century college environment.
Learn more about the Brookdale mathematics department by visiting their website.
Check out more photos of the 2015 Professional Development Day here.