Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Letter #93--More Amazing Colleagues


Dear Governor Ducey,

            A few weeks ago, I wrote you about how my creative writing are amazing writers and teachers. Lasti Friday, I attended a breakfast with the Board of Regents with a few invited faculty members from NAU to talk about how faculty research impacts undergraduate students. Faculty don’t have many opportunities to hear what their fellow faculty work on—which is too bad because these people are as amazing as my English Department colleagues. To wit:
            Nancy Johnson, NAU’s newest Regent’s Professor in the School of Earth Science and Environmental Sustainability, talked about mycorrhizae—the symbiotic relationship between fungi and plants. Underground, microscopic tubes of mycelium (mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mycelia) bring nutrients to plants. In her environmental science class, she wanted to research fungi on farms but there aren’t many farms in Flagstaff. One of her Navajo students told her he planned to begin farming his grandfather’s plot on the reservation. Together, they applied for grants and hope to begin research on this farm to study mycorrhizal relationships together.
            Jani Ingram, Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor, noted how one of her Navajo students was particularly good at calibrating equipment because he worked as a jeweler, making him indispensible in the field. Michael Rulon, a 19th century French Literature professor, brings his scholarship to teach students in global engineering how to develop international communication. Chrissina Burke, a lecturer in anthropology, took a contingent of undergraduates to uncover Mayan ruins, teaching them archaeological practices from lab work to fieldwork to grant writing.
            Ethnic Studies Professor Mark Montoya talked about the STAR program, which prepares at-risk students for college, and how writing from one’s cultural point of view empowers students. Professor Laura Gray-Rosendale, who directs the English portion of the STAR program, noted that NAU’s online English graduate programs were ranked #1 in the country by GradSource. Dr. Gray-Rosendale, who is working on a book about teaching personal writing in the digital age, also wrote College Girl, a memoir that explores her college experiences and how she became interested in rhetoric as a way of talking about those college experiences. Daniel Eadens’ new book, Social Justice Instruction: Empowerment on the Chalkboard, offers strategies for teaching social justice concepts across subject areas from kindergarten through college. Because I write, edit, and publish my students know how to write, edit, and publish. We can also host big cultural events. My students attended the international NonfictioNOW conference at NAU last year. This year, students who were part of that conference will help host the Northern Arizona Book Festival October 10-16 and attend the next conference in Reykjavik.
            David Wagner, Professor of Biological Sciences and table-host extraordinaire, works with microorganisms and bacteria like anthrax and plague. His facility is run like a business. The benefit to undergraduates? They who work in the lab most write letters, create resumes, and interview to get a job at the lab. These students go on to great graduate research universities, having had such professional research experience.
            Forestry Professor Bruce Fox told us about how, after a forest fire on the Peaks, aspen trees tried to regenerate but elk snacked on the baby aspen trees as though at a deli. His students tried protecting the baby trees by strewing the area with fallen logs to stave off elk. It didn’t work but those students keep trying to find ways to help forests regenerate in their now-graduate programs. Rachel Koch teaches international students English quickly to prepare them for the two years of study they will spend at NAU. Professor of Educational Leadership, Ishmael Munene noted that we teach these students the subtle art of organizing committees and preparing presentations. Theater Professor Kate Ellis teaches costume design. She takes students to the Utah Shakespeare festival for hands-on set and design work. Statistics Professor Roy St. Laurent said that on Friday Afternoon Math Undergraduate Seminar (FAMUS) from 3 to 4, there’s not an open seat in the classroom.
            Sociology and Social Work professor Natalie Cawood, when asked by a Regent if when we were in college, did we had any undergraduate research opportunities, said that one of the things NAU does best is marry what private liberal arts schools provide—small class sizes, close-relationships with faculty, with what a large university provides—big research.
            President Cheng underscored that faculty at the breakfast were just a few of the hundreds of professors at NAU invested in undergraduate research. She invited each of the Regents to next April’s symposium where the entire Skydome is filled with poster presentations showcasing undergraduate research. I hope you can come too.



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