Teaching Science Fellows program supports students in STEM fields

by Noah Goldstein | 11/4/15 8:43pm

The Teaching Science Fellows program — created to make difficult introductory science courses accessible to a wider range of students — is now in its second year. The two current fellows, Therese Kienemund ’15 and Joshua Prickel ’15, work with the professors and students of large science courses in a variety of capacities, including holding office hours and conducting course surveys.

Biology professor and program creator Lee Witters said he thought of the idea after realizing that the people best suited to help students in introductory science courses were those who had succeeded both in those courses and at Dartmouth.

Witters then wrote a proposal, in conjunction with a few other faculty members in the biology and chemistry departments, and submitted it to the dean of the faculty office. The dean of the faculty office then worked with the Office of the Provost to approve the program.

The fellows attend every class session and take notes, submitting summaries on Canvas at the end of the week. Students in the course can attend review sessions run by the fellows, either one-on-one or in groups, during convenient times such evenings or weekends.

The fellows also run surveys for their classes, including a pre-class survey to learn why students are taking the course and to identify potential issues and a midterm survey. Then, the fellows collate the results and send them to the faculty members.

Witters said he hopes the fellows will encourage students to continue on in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — commonly referred to as STEM — fields.

He said the program was looking for applicants who had just graduated from the College, had prior success in those classes and could be both a role model and peer advisor for the students. Kienemund is working with sections of “Cell Structure and Function” and “Gene Expression and Inheritance.” Prickel is working with Chemistry 5.

The classes with which the fellows are assisting are the ones most frequently taken by biology majors and pre-health students.

Kienemund said she has noticed improvement in some of the students that she worked with and that she offers help outside of just going over material.

“It is important to me to take a holistic approach to student success where the A is not the only thing that matters,” she said.

The fellows reach out campus-wide to people who may be interested in the sciences and will be preparing videos with the Jones Media Center on how to study, among other non-class related activities, Witters said.

Kienemund said her position allows her to act as a resource for faculty members where she can provide input and give feedback that she hears from students, such as whether a particular subject was especially difficult. She said the sessions can get tight around midterms, but that she was committed to making sure students get the resources they need.

Kienemund heard about the position from an email that Witters sent with a short description of the program. She then talked with a prior fellow, Natalia Vecerek ’14, and Witters before deciding to apply for the position as it would allow her to explore teaching.

Prickel said he decided to apply to the program because he wanted to take a gap year before going to medical school and wanted to try teaching. He said he serves as both academic and social support for the students with whom he works.

He said he has seen about half of the 80 “General Chemistry” students in his office hours or in his one-on-one sessions, which is just as much, if not more, than the amount that go to teaching assistant hours or professor office hours.

Kienemund and Prickel went through a training program in the summer designed by Witters, which included meeting with faculty members.

“General Chemistry” professor John Winn said he got involved in the program after its creation by Witters and helped choose the fellows.

He said that he only looked at potential chemistry fellows this year, of which there were six applicants.

Winn said he meets with Prickel at least once a week to get updates on the class. The difference between a fellow and a graduate or undergraduate teaching assistant is that the fellows are much more involved with the class, he said.

Witters oversees the fellows during the term and meets with them and the professors periodically to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Witters said he could see the program being expanded in science, social science and the humanities courses. Witters said he is looking for funding to expand the program along with having discussions about affiliating the fellows with the residential communities by placing them in each one.

The formal application process for next year’s fellows will start in the winter, he said.