New Center Brings Professional Development Closer to the Edge

Marc Cox has spent the past several months settling into his role as director of the new Center for Faculty Leadership and Development (CFLD). Cox, Ph.D., UTEP associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, spends the majority of his day meeting with college deans, faculty and staff; seeking suggestions; and heightening synergy while building enthusiasm and anticipation among the campus community for the new center.

The CFLD was built on the foundation established by UTEP’s former Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETaL) over the last two decades. CETaL primarily focused on faculty development in teaching and learning; the new CFLD aims to take professional development to a new level by broadening the scope of the center’s initiatives.

The UTEP Edge – the University’s quality enhancement plan for the next 10 years – heavily drives the concept of the center. Faculty and staff play key roles in promoting student engagement and success both inside and outside of the classroom by encouraging their students to participate in two or more high-impact practices.

These practices include student employment and leadership, undergraduate research, learning communities, internships, study abroad and community engagement, which have been proven to help students recognize and value their personal assets and experiences while preparing them for lifelong success in learning, career and community.

Cox would like to see the center enhance the culture on campus so that it encourages more full and inclusive participation in experiential learning and high-impact practices found throughout campus. The CFLD can work with faculty who already foster these ideas to expand their methods and practices and integrate them inside and outside the classroom and as part of co-curricular activities.

“The ultimate goal of everything we do at this center is student success, even if we’re talking about the training of staff or professional development of faculty,” Cox said. “All these efforts at the end of the day are done to ensure our students’ success. Our primary goal is to educate.”

The CFLD is structured around four major focal areas: teaching and learning, scholarship and mentoring, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership.

“These initiatives, with organizational support from the center, will be collaborative, faculty-driven communities of practice that will work in close cooperation with appropriate offices, programs, departments and colleges on campus,” said David Ruiter, Ph.D., UTEP’s associate provost for student and faculty success. “The goal is to develop a shared repertoire of faculty, staff and student development aimed at quality enhancement at all levels within our institution.”

Under each faculty development area, the center hopes to develop a community of practice, or learning community, which will consist of groups of campus experts, community members and stakeholders who share a common interest within one of the focal areas who can lend support to faculty interested in incorporating experiential learning and high-impact practices.

The learning communities will be developed by advocates who are already leaders on campus. The selected advocates would then seek assistance through the Expertise Connector database managed by UTEP’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) to build the learning communities for each of the center’s focal areas.

Faculty and other campus members will be encouraged through an initiative to update their profiles on the Expertise Connector to include all their areas of expertise, not just the areas where they focus their research. Based on the individual’s areas of expertise, advocates can see in what focal areas they are best suited to contribute as part of a learning community.

“We have a lot of experts on campus, a lot of very smart people who have expertise in almost anything one can imagine, and they are more than happy to step up and help when asked to share their expertise,” Cox said. “I think in the past we haven’t taken full advantage of our campus community’s expertise for our professional development needs on campus.”

The advocates would work with ORSP and CFLD to facilitate each learning community. The members of each learning community would then help to identify priorities and initiatives for the center to pursue. The goal is to eventually expand the learning communities to include larger groups of community members and other stakeholders who share common interests and who have expertise in the various focal areas and can contribute to the learning communities.

In the future, the learning communities will become the driving force of the center by providing support and tools to any college or department across campus interested in incorporating experiential learning and high-impact practices into their classrooms.

“It is all about the success of our students,” Cox reiterated. “Anybody we put in that classroom in front of our students, whether it be a teaching assistant, Ph.D. student, or a senior faculty member, we want to help them incorporate these high-impact practices.”

Another task Cox has been tackling in his new role is identifying programs and resources already in place throughout the campus. Currently, some colleges, divisions and departments offer professional development opportunities within their units, but these opportunities are not being advertised campuswide. The CFLD hopes to change this practice by serving as a one-stop-shop for all professional development opportunities.

“In many cases, the center will not be the leading provider of a lot of programming, but will serve in a more supportive role to programs already available and can help co-sponsor, supplement funding, assist in ensuring sustainability and help incentivize participation,” Cox explained.

It is Cox’s hope to see the center evolve into the central location on campus that connects the community and campus: a place where any individual, not just faculty, can visit the center’s website or walk in and be able to identify professional development opportunities in which they can participate.

“Often the relevance of professional development opportunities and programming crosses many experience levels,” Cox said. “If you have an opportunity that’s highly relevant to grad students, postdoctoral students, junior faculty, or senior faculty, why restrict it to just faculty?

“I don’t see this center as a place that only focuses on the professional development of faculty, but a center that provides programming that’s relevant at all experience levels.”

Author:  Christina Rodriguez – UTEP Communications