By Jennifer Krisch
Starting any new job can be daunting. Add to that a new community, a large campus and hundreds of new colleagues and students, and it can be downright frightening.
Just ask Lynn Eun Kwak, assistant professor of retail merchandising, who arrived at Ohio University a little more than a year ago. Eager to begin, but apprehensive about her role, Kwak took immediate interest in the Interdisciplinary New Faculty Mentorship Program described during the university's orientation for new faculty members.
The program, designed by Center for Teaching and Learning Director Laurie Hatch, matches new faculty members with senior colleagues from other departments. Mentoring can encompass a variety of assistance, from a short meeting over coffee or lunch once a quarter to reviewing course outlines and materials -- none of which requires extensive time commitments.
Last year, in the program's pilot year, 12 pairs participated in the mentoring program, and Hatch currently is accepting applications for this year.
"The purpose is to expand the mentoring networks available to new faculty," Hatch said.
While the program does not replace formal mentoring offered by a new faculty member's own department, Hatch said having an additional colleague from another area can offer beneficial dialogue, impartial advice and valuable insights about the role of an educator.
Kwak experiences all of these benefits and more in her relationship with her mentor, Associate Professor of Marketing Jane Sojka, for whom mentoring is as natural as breathing.
"I have been teaching for 22 years and I love it," she said. "I am passionate about teaching, and it's fun to do something you love for so many years. So the interdisciplinary mentoring program seemed like a natural evolution to take what I've learned in the classroom and share it with those just starting out."
Kwak is not new to the teaching profession, however. Originally from South Korea, she moved to the United States 15 years ago and has spent much of her time since teaching at a small private college near Chicago. Institution and class sizes are vastly different at Ohio University, and she welcomed guidance on effective teaching methods.
"Jane is an excellent teacher," Kwak said. "And after watching her and listening to her, I modeled my own teaching methods after hers."
The value of observation
Traditionally, mentors attend a handful of the new faculty members' classes and observe techniques and effectiveness in engaging students in the lesson. Breaking with tradition, Kwak attended Sojka's classes.
"It can be so intimidating to have someone observing your classroom, especially if you are a junior faculty member just starting out. So we flipped it to make it less threatening an experience," Sojka said. "I never thought of using myself as an example before, but it really worked. In retrospect, it really makes much more sense to do it that way.
"Lynn was able to see how I teach and imitate the things she liked or she saw work," she said. "She would say, 'I liked how you did this' or 'I would like to incorporate that into my classroom,' even down to which side I stand on at the board or how I move about the room. I wouldn't have thought to tell her those things."
Both women credit Hatch with the foresight to pair faculty with similar, though not the same, backgrounds. In this instance, that led Sojka and Kwak to roll their similar interests into collaborative research. They received a grant from the university's Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre to study the consumer behavior of Hispanics and Asians, and the resulting article is under journal review.
They are awaiting word on an additional grant and plan to continue their combined research, though their official mentoring relationship concluded with the end of last school year.
"One of the core values of Vision Ohio is interdisciplinary research," Sojka said, adding, however, that becoming aware of others whose research can dovetail with yours isn't always easy. Offerings such as the mentoring program can lead to these relationships.
"Lynn and I come from similar but different disciplines but have enough overlap that we had a commonality," she said. "It just really made sense."
Focusing on students' needs
Though Kwak said she has learned valuable teaching techniques from Sojka, it is her mentor's devotion to students that she found most inspiring. In addition to class time and office hours, Sojka hosts "Java with Jane." She announces certain days and times she will be having coffee in the Front Room and welcomes students to join her.
"I want to always be accessible to my students," she said. "They have a lot going on in their lives. They are far from home, taking on new responsibilities, and I want them to know I am approachable and can act as a sounding board for them about anything."
So inspired, Kwak spent a portion of her summer teaching students at the LeaderShape Institute, a six-day leadership development experience offered through Campus Life.
"Jane showed me it is good to spend my personal time with students outside of class as well, to listen to them, to help them succeed," Kwak said. "I am so thankful to have Jane as my mentor."
Sojka downplays her role, saying Kwak's genuine interest and poignant questions made her job easier.
"I learned so much from Lynn," she said. "She taught me about Asian culture and how to better understand my Asian students, which has been priceless."
Sojka encourages other senior faculty to participate in the program, which she said is a more rewarding experience than she thought it would be.
"Other faculty may be hesitant because they may think it is a large time commitment," she said. "I found it to be very efficient and not at all an overwhelming time commitment.
"I'm not sure who benefitted more," Sojka added. "We have become lifelong friends."
How to get involved
Senior faculty are still needed for this year's Interdisciplinary New Faculty Mentoring Program. For more information, contact Center for Teaching and Learning Director Laurie Hatch at 740-597-2700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.