Post-doctoral Fellows Bring New Specialties and Perspectives to ACM Campuses
Published: March 8, 2012
When he was a first-year student at St. Olaf College in the 1990s, Andrew Hageman took a January interim course that fired his imagination about ecological literature and criticism. This year, as an ACM-Mellon Post-doctoral Fellow, he did the same for Luther College students by encouraging them to cross the disciplinary boundaries of English and environmental studies in his J-term seminar called "EcoMedia."
At Coe College, Julie Fairbanks has hit the ground running in her first year as an assistant professor. Following a two-year ACM-Mellon Fellowship there, Fairbanks is taking a central role in building the college’s new minor in anthropology.
Midway through the second year of his fellowship at Cornell College, Anton Daughters recently returned from southern Chile, where he led a group of students for three weeks on an off-campus course examining the impact of globalization on rural parts of the world.
Across the consortium, the ACM-Mellon Post-doctoral Fellowship Program has enabled colleges to broaden their curricula, both within departments and in interdisciplinary areas. Coming from top graduate schools, the fellows have brought new specializations, different perspectives, and fresh approaches to teaching and learning that have benefitted both students and faculty.
Started in 2009 with a generous $4 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the fellowship program aims to make a compelling case to new PhD's that they should consider a professional career engaged in undergraduate teaching and scholarship at a liberal arts institution.
Fellowships are set up as two-year appointments, providing a half-time teaching load and support for each fellow’s research. With on-campus mentoring and a series of three ACM-led workshops throughout the year, the fellows have found a supportive home in the ACM colleges in the midst of a job crisis for academics with newly-minted doctorates in the humanities and social sciences.
In a competitive process, the colleges submit proposals for fellowships. If chosen for funding, they advertise the positions and hire the fellows. Along with the positions already mentioned in English, anthropology, and environmental studies, Post-doc Fellows have been hired to teach philosophy, Islamic studies, religion, ethnomusicology, film studies, classics, history, gender studies, art, communication, archaeology, and comparative literature.
Currently, 16 program fellows are teaching at ACM colleges. The final cohort of five two-year fellowships will begin this fall in the following areas:
- Beloit College – Arabic & Islamic Studies;
- Coe College – Philosophy/Environmental Ethics;
- Lawrence University – Creativity;
- Luther College – Indigenous Religious Traditions; and
- Ripon College – Sociology/Gender Studies.
Fairbanks was the first of the fellows to be hired by an ACM college for a tenure-track position; Hageman is the second and will join the Luther faculty this fall. Both are examples of the program's complementary aims of strengthening the colleges' curricula while preparing the fellows for their careers.
Participants in the ACM-Mellon Post-doctoral Fellowship Program workshop last fall in Chicago.
"My research and teaching fit together like happy cogs in a machine," according to Hageman, and the Post-doctoral Fellowship has supported and encouraged both. His dissertation on "The Hour of the Machine," completed for his PhD in English at the University of California-Davis, focused on intersections of machines, ideology, and ecology in literature and film.
"The shape of the ACM-Mellon post-doc has largely enabled and encouraged this synthesis of teaching and research," Hageman noted. "One of the aims of the program, particularly with my joint appointment to English and Environmental Studies, was to develop new courses for the curriculum – to expand on the environmental literature offerings the English Department has and to inject new humanities vectors into the Environmental Studies Program."
In the classroom, he's been using blogs and other digital media resources as part of his teaching. For example, in his "EcoMedia" seminar, Hageman shaped his research into an accessible and engaging introduction to film, transmedia texts, and iPad apps that engage with ecological issues and crises. "Indeed, it is not the easiest task to pull back from publication-level research and thinking so as to get first-year students thinking about material and concerns," he said, "but observing their growing interest and understanding was extremely rewarding."
Hageman will share some of his expertise with colleagues when he joins music professor Brooke Joyce in presenting a Teaching and Technology session in April for other Luther faculty. The session will show how social media tools, such as blogs, can be used in the classroom in concert with other teaching strategies.
While Hageman's undergraduate experience at St. Olaf has made Luther feel like "home" for him, Fairbanks was stepping into a much different academic world than she was accustomed to when she arrived at Coe. As a student, she attended Georgetown (BA), Harvard (MA), and Indiana (PhD) Universities, and then taught for two years at the University of Akron. "I had no experience in a small liberal arts college," she said. "With the fellowship, I got a chance to explore this institution and think about whether liberal arts was something that I wanted."
Coe structured the fellowship position to be the entry point to a newly-created tenure-track position in anthropology, and the fit was good for both the college and Fairbanks. In essence, she created and taught courses as a fellow that are part of the curriculum for the anthropology minor that she now leads.
Starting the minor is a great opportunity, Fairbanks said. It's also a great challenge, as it means continuing to build a repertoire of courses while integrating anthropology into the Coe curriculum. "The trick now is trying to figure out how to create a pipeline [of students into the anthropology minor]," she noted. "That's one of the big jobs now, so I'm teaching a program and not just a collection of classes."
Fairbanks' work is aided by faculty in other disciplines who have lobbied for anthropology courses in the college's curriculum to support the offerings in their departments. "My job in building a program is made much easier by the fact that people came ready to see where anthropology would fit into what they're doing," she said.
"I think that the post-doc was really, really wonderful for me," Fairbanks concluded. "Certainly [it provided] encouragement to understand what the liberal arts is like and the experience of Coe is, but also to continue to be active as a researcher. That's the sort of thing that I'm not sure I would have gotten in any other sort of a job or any other opportunity."
Like Fairbanks, Daughters was educated on large campuses – graduate school at the University of Arizona and college at the University of New Mexico. While Cornell's size was a big change to adjust to, he welcomed the personal touch he found there.
"I had more interactions with faculty members from other disciplines, greater sharing of interests, curiosities, and knowledge, and simply a richer relationship with colleagues," he said. "I also had to adjust to the fact that my teaching was actually evaluated and critiqued, not just by my mentor and other college officials, but also by students, who expected top level instruction. I've learned that teaching really DOES matter at liberal arts colleges."
In Chile, Anton Daughters (front, at left) and his students posed with the town's librarian, in whose house they lodged during their stay.
Daughters has bolstered the curricular offerings of the small anthropology department. Along with teaching introductory courses, he has offered several courses in his specialties, including "From Village to Factory – Culture Change in Southern Chile," the off-campus course he created based on his dissertation research.
"Taking students to this part of the world was without a doubt the highlight of my time at Cornell," he noted, "and quite frankly the best teaching experience I’ve had in my brief career."
When the fellowship ends this spring, Daughters and his family will pack up and move to Kirksville, MO, where he's landed a tenure-track position at Truman State University, a public institution known for its emphasis on the liberal arts. He credits the post-doc program for making this next step possible.
"In my case, the Mellon fellowship saved my career," said Daughters. "Job prospects were utterly bleak the year I was awarded the fellowship. Since then, I've had the time and institutional backing to strengthen my professional credentials. I've also gained experience in a liberal arts setting, something I didn't have coming out of graduate school, despite my interest in ultimately teaching at a liberal arts college."
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