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June 2011 Volume 4, Issue 11

Our Mission: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.

CLAS College Office Monthly Newsletter for Faculty


Frederick J. Antczak, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences  

We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.                

~Marie Curie ( Lecture at Vassar College, May 14, 1921)

At this time of year, it's fun to think about the dazzling variety of things that the faculty is doing in places near and far.  I'm running into many of you in the hallways, hard at work on your teaching or your research or both, but with a spring in your step that comes with the time of year.  Some of you have done us the extraordinary favor of giving your service to the college on the AD search committee.  Others have already flown off to Maastricht in the Netherlands, Schwaebisch Gmuend in Germany and many other places to teach our students and international friends.  Just as Marie Curie points out, work done for the purist of reasons nevertheless often has unforeseen wider benefits.  It's also a good time to celebrate entire careers that have had these wider impacts.  The trustees have announced the latest professors honored with emeritus status.  Those from CLAS are James Scott (MOV), Jill VanAntwerp (ENG), and Betty McGhee (PSY).  Well done!

Those of you who have looked at our newest graduates' plans I'm sure sensed that we had a banner year for helping students get into medical school, vet school, law school, PT and other professional programs.  Thank you for all the letters of recommendation, the strong preparation you have them in your classes, in mentored research, and in your office hours. And it is little wonder that a Student Life Recognition Award for the Outstanding Educational Program for 2010-11 was given to the Pre-Professional Day Planning Team. This is the group of students and staff who produced last fall with a professional school fair for admissions representatives, workshops for students on such topics as writing your personal statement and interviewing techniques as well as a keynote speaker on medical tourism.  Keeping our students on the path to their aspirations is a huge team effort.  And thanks to their exposure to you, it seems their aspirations are arching higher.

Should you be curious as to what I said at the Traverse City Commencement, my remarks are available.

Back at the ranch, work is well underway on the new library.  Step one is to dig.  Our Assistant Vice President for facilities planning, James Moyer, when recently congratulated on the impressive hole in the ground, was heard to quip, "We will stick a building in it very soon."  Work is also going on to improve the intersection near Alumni House and to improve the terracing near the Zumberge pond (should stop the path icing up, fix drainage, etc.).  Summer will be a little tricky for getting around, but we will live with the benefits for many years to come. Speaking of the library and posterity, did you know that library donors will have their name included on a wall of the new building?  Anyone wishing for relative immortality and to help GVSU complete the library campaign can conveniently join me in doing so at . The completion of that project leads us to the next one, a long anticipated building which will give us more labs.  When our new Associate Dean is on board, one of his or her jobs will be to build on the foundation, as it were, than Jann has laid in making that project a well planned reality.  Again, that's a very big team effort, and I'm grateful to all the representatives from the many relevant units who have been thinking cooperatively and creatively about this project for some time. 

A big round of thanks to more than a dozen faculty who have so generously given of their time to be interviewed or who have opened their classes for visits  toward our upcoming annual report on teaching and learning in the College.  Your work is inspirational and will help us tell the story to many constituencies about the vital role we play in the university and beyond.  Thanks to the members of our Associate Dean search committee.  Public events will be held on June 1 and 3, and each and every faculty and staff member is encouraged to participate. I think that Madame Curie would agree with me when I say that though you came here to teach students, your work has applications we may not always foresee and depends on more than we often ponder.  An excellent learning environment has complex dependencies.  While the learning and talent of the faculty are utterly critical, so are the top notch students we recruit now and into the foreseeably more competitive future.  So too are the talented and expert support staff who keep our labs, studios, and even our paychecks rolling along; the facilities for which  we sometimes have to lobby and cajole and financially support to provide; the donors and grants we cultivate to finance our efforts; and the alumni and other friends who are critical to our relationship with the public we ultimately serve. Let me worry about most of that.  It is summer, a time for you to recharge and reflect and get your groove back (in the unlikely event you have temporarily misplaced it).

What the Deans Are Doing in June

Dean Antczak describes his month ahead, "In early June I'll be focused on the Associate Dean search and prioritizing requests to search. In the latter half of the month I'll have my first goal setting meetings with some of our unit heads.  Across the month I'll also be in meetings about the Woodrow Wilson grant, with our Emeritus Advisory Committee, with Perrigo folks about internships for our students, deans' council, with MSU folks about sharing plastination facilities, with the Deans' Academic Advisory committee, the transfer committee, the sustainability committee, and some summer orientations." Events Dean Antczak will attend include the Enrichment Dinner (GVSU donors), and hosting the Michigan Arts and Sciences deans in their annual conference. AD Mary Schutten will participate in the Michigan Council for Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) as a co-host of the event. She will continue to coordinate the alignment process of units' existing strategic plan objectives with the CLAS strategic plan  and implement Dean's Office review of this year's self-studies. She will also interview and hire a special projects GA to assist with data management related to assessment and alignment processes in CLAS. She will also continue to implement and assess degree cognate substitution requests; support the timely reporting of final grades for the first six week courses; continue to develop processes that will support transfer student's progress at GVSU through participation in the Transfer Research Committee; facilitate the curricular fast track process for study abroad course designations, and serve as an academic advisor in the exercise science program. AD Gary Stark will be organizing and hosting the 2011 meeting of Michigan Deans of Arts & Sciences; monitoring enrollments in second summer session, Fall, and Winter; assisting units with recruitment of visiting and adjunct faculty; and working with freshman registration and units to ensure availability of Fall & Winter classes.

On July 1 will be starting a new position as the Dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University. I am excited to begin a new phase of my career but will miss colleagues and friends at GVSU.  I would like to extend my gratitude to the Biology department and to colleagues and friends across the college who have been supporters of my work and advocates for my success. I am especially grateful for the excellent opportunity to serve as Associate Dean in CLAS.  I cherish the wonderful colleagues in the office, the work we did together, and the chance to support and serve my fellow faculty. I know that my successor will be joining an excellent and supportive team led by a Dean who has been my generous advocate and mentor.

~Jann Joseph, Associate Dean for Professional Development and Administration


Burning the Midnight Candle: Felix Ngassa

When asked about his teaching, Chemistry's Felix Ngassa begins with his own core competencies.  He knows that his own traits are likely to dictate the techniques that will work for him in his teaching.  Accessibility, organization, and a gift for names help Felix to build "an experience in the class."  He gets to know his students and provides them with clear expectations.  "With reminders," he adds with a smile. 

He also knows that outstanding grading work weighs heavily on him so he returns student work very quickly.  So that he can relax, he is willing to, as he says, "burn the midnight candle."

In addition to his strengths, he is aware of his foibles such as a tendency to talk more quickly when excited about a concept.  He consciously slows down and makes himself write on the board.  Seeing to it that students can capture the content is so important in his Organic Chemistry classes that he provides detailed class notes, chapter outlines, chapter expectations, and chapter notes. Felix was persuaded to the importance of retained learning when teaching high school for two years in his native Cameroon.  "There they take an exam before being admitted to college-not just high school graduation."  This practice created in Felix a mindset that guides him even today.  He sees covering everything on the syllabus as his responsibility, his share. That mental image of an ultimate examination has also led Felix to give many quizzes so that students can keep in touch with the material and he can keep in touch with their learning.  No one could deny that his students have ample examination preparation.  Students are also provided worksheets so that they approach the chapter in a productive way.  "Lots of resources," Felix summarizes. With that structure in place, Felix can turn groups of three students loose on problem solving using whatever resources they wish.  So while Felix brings many resources for staying on track to the equation, most of students' learning is ultimately self-directed.  In the group work, weaker students see how the stronger students operate, that "they know their stuff." Perhaps not an obvious strategy for an Organic Chemistry class, Felix has all of his student present to the class in the first two weeks of the term on a famous scientist.  Not only do they find it inspiring, it helps him to get to know them and to prepare the ground for the group work to come. Organic Chemistry for Life Sciences is a two term class with 98% of students staying together for the whole year.  By the end, the cohort is tightly knit so Felix saves a little time at the end for a prize ceremony.  Some prizes are serious such as textbooks for the next courses in the sequence; some are more modest such as pencils and pens.  He even admits that some are goofy such as fanciful certificates of excellence.  Clearly the camaraderie runs high-recently his students organized a soccer game in the turf building and had pizza and drinks together. Most of all, what he hopes his students will take away is that there are multiple ways of doing something.  He wants them to be confident in what they propose as a solution-even if they aren't 100% correct.  Something can be learned from the work they did. Felix concludes, "That's the creativity that takes us places.  You've got to let it out!"  

Article of Interest on Academe Van Der Werf, M., & Sabatier, G. (2009). The College of 2020-Students. Washington, D.C.: Chronicle Research Services.