Monday, August 3, 2015

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Faculty Orientation Gives Warm Welcome to New Members of U.Va. Community

Being a professor is a triple-threat job, according to one of the guest speakers at the New Faculty Orientation, a three-day workshop to help prepare the newest professors in the University of Virginia community for their lives here.

Teaching, research and service make up the triad of academic professional duties, and often there’s a fourth area, such as clinical care or arts performance. Getting off to a strong start can go a long way toward building a meaningful career, speakers said several times over the three days.

Of the 96 new teaching and research faculty members hired, 71 participated in the event, which was organized by the Executive Vice President and Provost Office, with Teaching Resource Center staff also leading several sessions.

The participants listened to and participated in discussions about U.Va.’s culture, especially the Honor System, and focused on key elements of good teaching and learning. They also tried out a system of getting organized and pursuing their professional development in a workbook called a “Dream Book,” in which they could spell out their vision and plot their goals over time.

President Teresa A. Sullivan welcomed the faculty members Monday at the opening session, held in the auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture /Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Wednesday afternoon, she welcomed them to her home at Carr’s Hill, capping off the orientation. Fall semester classes begin Tuesday.

“A lot of faculty came up to me at the end of the three days and thanked me for putting this together,” said Margaret Harden, director of the Institute for Faculty Advancement that is part of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development office . “They expressed their appreciation for this orientation as an introduction to the University and to each other.

“What makes this event so special,” she added, “is the University community more broadly – current students, faculty and staff – taking the time to share their knowledge, come together and welcome new faculty.”

Sullivan pointed out that founder Thomas Jefferson’s physical design of the Academical Village still provides a working template for interdisciplinary work and life among faculty and students. She suggested that U.Va. faculty and students could devote themselves to research on the big problems in the world, despite U.Va.’s smaller size compared to other state flagship universities. That size lends itself to more opportunities in the student experience, as well as in cross-disciplinary work in areas such as managing big data.

She also mentioned that faculty play a role in the student-run Honor System. The new faculty focused on the Honor System in a separate session and walked through a case study.

This year’s new faculty members are part of a generational shift that will carry U.Va. into the future, Sullivan said, as the University expects to replace 50 percent of the faculty over the next seven years.

“We believe you fit in,” she said. “Our aspirations are no lower than Jefferson’s 200 years ago. We want you to become a leader in your discipline and among the faculty. In this small world, we can have a worldwide impact, and we welcome you to be part of that.”

Dr. Sharon L. Hostler, vice provost for faculty development,
McLemore Birdsong Professor of Pediatrics and
senior associate dean in the School of Medicine, echoed the president’s emphasis on the importance of the faculty.

“The ambitious goals of the University of Virginia are driven by the superb quality of our faculty,” she said. “The appointment of each new faculty member is a strategic decision in alignment with those goals.”

The orientation was intended to “facilitate their connection to the existing community of scholars, enhance their teaching excellence in the classroom and their research success in the library and the laboratory,” she said. “Their success is the University’s success.” 

The new faculty members spanned the breadth of schools and disciplines. New tenure-track and tenured professors number at least 18 in the College of Arts & Sciences, two in the School of Architecture, three in the Curry School of Education, two in the Darden School of Business, eight in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, two in the School of Law, six in the McIntire School of Commerce, 14 in the School of Medicine and four in the School of Nursing. That doesn’t include about 60 tenure-ineligible faculty members who might be teaching, conducting research or performing clinical duties.

At one table, a group comprising a nursing professor who began in January, a civil engineering professor who graduated from U.Va. 12 years ago, a Commerce School professor and a Japanese instructor filling in for a year for another professor on leave discussed why they came to the University and what they need to be successful here.

Susan Bauer-Wu, who joined the Nursing School’s faculty in January, has already become involved in interdisciplinary work on stress and health, especially in health care leadership. She teaches an introductory class on mindfulness for nursing undergraduates.

Beside appreciating the beautiful location, she said she feels a sense of community and encouragement to think outside the box.

Jennifer Winchel said that in addition to teaching accounting to great students in the Commerce School, she’s looking forward to working with Darden MBA students.

Jonathan Goodall, a 2001 alumnus who said he always wanted to return to the Grounds and has joined the civil and environmental engineering department, said he’s excited about collaborating with computer scientists.

When people from several of the tables shared what they felt was necessary to be successful and supported, they listed mentoring and collegiality; technology and other resources; excellent students, both undergraduate and graduate; knowledgeable staff and administration. In addition to opportunities for collaboration, new faculty members need a good contact person to reach out to for the nitty-gritty – from details of policies to opportunities for activities in and around Charlottesville.

In another workshop on what consultant Susan Robison calls “peak performance,” she showed an image of a two-sided scale that usually depicts work-life balance. But, she said, that’s not an accurate picture in light of a professor’s three (or more)-part job description. One suggestion: doing everything well all of the time is not the answer, she said.

The participants went through exercises to identify effective work habits, break big goals into doable tasks and set reasonable priorities.

Robison said research shows that it’s more productive to write every day or several times a week in shorter time periods than only once a week for a longer stretch of time. When one new professor offered her 40-page book chapter project as an example, Robison advised setting up a looking-backward plan. Starting from the deadline, when it should be finished? What will need to be done three-quarters of the way to the deadline? What stage should the written piece be at, say, a week ahead of that? When should you make an outline?

Since a pyramid is the most stable structure in architecture, Robison said she uses a pyramid to describe a long-term model for building a satisfying life professionally and personally. It starts with a base of working and living from a sense of meaning and purpose, includes a “big-picture” mission, a results-oriented vision and goals made up of smaller steps – all of which serve to align one’s activities with that meaning and purpose.

After sessions that covered aspects of teaching from the first days through assessments of student learning, and others that highlighted helpful resources and useful skills, several participants said they’d gotten information they could use immediately in becoming a better teacher and planning their courses, as well as a view of the big picture on living and working effectively and a resounding welcome to the U.Va. family.

Sullivan suggested the new members further experience their sense of community by not only meeting their colleagues at the orientation, but also by making a date to have a cup of coffee a month from now with one of them.

(Note: If anyone would like to talk about their meeting a month later for a possible follow-up article on what it means to be part of the U.Va. community, please contact Anne Bromley at anneb@virginia.edu.)

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