CLAS Acts November 2014

Monthly Newsletter of the TT Faculty of CLAS

October 2014 CLAS Acts

Halloween snapshots from CLAS


Newsletter for Tenure Track CLAS Faculty
October 2014
Vol. 8, issue 3

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.


Frederick J. Antczak, Dean

As summer gave way to fall last week, it was my privilege to open the bi-annual Shakespeare Festival Conference to twice as many participants as last time.  So it was easy to think of the newly begun academic year as a sort of cornucopia.  So far the harvest is looking bountiful. Last week we also had a chance to celebrate the Regional Math and Science Center on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.  That quarter century constitutes a distinguished history of service to schools and faculty of science and mathematics, with much more to come.  Congratulations are also due to chair of Writing Patricia Clark who was declared the September poet by the Atticus Review.  And do read about our colleague Ed Aboufadel who just had his idea selected by NASA. Jump on the opportunity to go see The Comedy of Errors which has one more weekend.  The Box Office can be contacted on 616-331-2300 .  The Fall Arts Celebration Lecture by NPR's Scott Simon is on Monday, October 6 (think about coming early to get a good seat).  While you are downtown for the lecture you might be able to squeeze in a little ArtPrize viewing.  October 6-11 is also Midterm Exam week.  October 9-10 is one of my favorite times of year and a true Homecoming because we bring back distinguished alumni to our campus to inspire our current crop of students.  On Saturday, October 11, CLAS will be a presence at the Expo with a table representing the college and one featuring our Classics Department.  Meanwhile, October 10 and 11 our historians will be hosting the Great Lakes History Conference. If you detect a festival atmosphere, you are not wrong.  This month sees the Undergrad Research Fair, Study Abroad Fair and before you know it the November 5  Majors Fair -all places to put your unit's best foot forward (send extroverts and engagement experts!). Plenty going on mid-month, too.  Let's have the best ever midterm grade reporting with all needed grades submitted before noon on October 14!  This helps students who may be at risk as well as sparing your support staff colleagues unnecessary work.  October 15 Facilities Request Forms are due.  Friday, October 17, 2014 is your next opportunity to attend a CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium which is an excellent opportunity to recharge with a glass of wine and modes of thinking from outside your own discipline.  And for those who choose to be observant, October 18 and 19 are the Fall Breather. Around this point we hope that you will be receiving an email informing you of the new online annual schedule.  On October 25, hard to believe but true, your textbook orders for Winter term are due at UBS.  When you get your orders in on time, the bookstore is able to acquire more used copies, and so our students save money. After a month that packed we will appreciate some comic relief.  This year, as on average happens once every seven years, Halloween falls on a Friday and as is our CLAS tradition (okay, we did it once before), I am declaring Friday, October 31 Casual Costume Friday.  You may choose to participate only to the degree your courage and degree of whimsy allow.  Feel free to visit the college office where you will find strangely attired kindred spirits (and candy).  Oh-and send us your selfies!  Nate Barrows, can you possibly top your last costume?  

CLAS Faculty Research Colloquia The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is sponsoring a series of six CLAS research colloquia again this year. To try to accommodate more schedules, the colloquia will be held on Fridays in the Fall semester and Thursdays in the Winter semester. They will all be held in PAD 308 and will begin at 2:30 pm with refreshments followed by four or five 20-minute presentations (15 min plus 5 min for discussion). We especially encourage new faculty and faculty who have been on sabbatical recently to make presentations. Dates for next academic year's CLAS Faculty Research Colloquia Friday, October 17, 2014 Friday, November 14, 2014 Thurs., January 22, 2015 Thurs., February 19, 2015 Thurs., March 19, 2015 Each event will take place in 308 Padnos Hall. Contact Mark Staves.    

Dean Antczak will hold his Fall 2014 Open Office Hours  Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014 1:00-3:00pm 1121 ASH If you are interested in a 15 minute time slot, please contact me via email with available times and your agenda topic for discussion.  This invitation is extended to all faculty and staff. Tracy McLenithan CLAS Dean's Office Assistant              


Delivering Substantial Content and the On-going Pursuit of Pedagogy

Even as Assistant Professor of planning Patricia Houser (GPY) begins talking about teaching, any presumed model of a solitary "sage on stage" explodes.  From the outset, Houser is talking about narrative and a community of colleagues from whom ideas are appropriated (she says, "stolen and tweaked to suit"), books and articles that inform her practice, and conversations with her similarly pedagogically-minded husband.  Her sources of teaching ideas percolate from her experience teaching high school for seven years, teaching at the Columbia Teaching College during graduate school, and wide reading such as the New York Times article by Peter Kugel of Boston College, "Why Johnny Can't Think" , Bailey White's Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living which reflects on teaching first grade, and The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills by Jon Saphier.  You quickly get the sense that she sees her teaching as a work in progress in a community of teachers whose pedagogy is also under construction but who all have insights that she'd very much like to hear.  After describing her approach to grabbing students' interest with narrative as gripping as the story of the Titanic, she immediately couples that with the necessity for providing substantive content.  "You could collect stories of teaching practice," she suggests and is happy to hear about Robert Rozema and  Lindsay Ellis having recently published a book on the experiences of early career English teachers.  "What's the recipe?  What makes it work?  Narratives help student teachers." Houser poses the question, to herself and any willing  to engage, "How do people learn best?"  Part of her answer involves writing down what you just learned.  She also likes the technique of having students work in two-person teams to recommend to each other good answers to a question she has posed.  She can then ask the students what good answer they heard which allows even a student with a weaker initial suggestion to take on the empowering mantle of a smart answer that arose from their brief collaboration. She also acknowledges that in the crucible of high school teaching she learned classroom management skills that allow her to minimize downtime.  This has made her a tight planner of her class time using "little tricks" to keep students working while she returns assignments or performs other necessary tasks. She also checks in with students frequently with techniques as direct as soliciting from them a thumbs up or down on their understanding mid-lesson.  Conveying the content is critical, and Houser is a seeker after the best way to accomplish it. In her Intro to Planning course (GPY 309, soon to be 209 to attract students a year sooner in their academic journey) the content in question is planning history and theory.  They look at what is happening in towns and cities and the effects of shaping the physical future of those cities in a way that ensures success.  They look at human settlements at every scale and review trends such as American main streets in decline when all the important functions (such as a place to buy milk) have been drawn out of the center. The students learn that gimmicky redevelopments often don't work but that authenticity sells-identifiable, distinct, unique personality.  In the intro course, students reflect on the history focusing on the effects of the two primary crises of our cities:  the crisis of concentration in the 1800s with people flooding in to unprepared cities, followed by a crisis brought on by urban sprawl that emptied the urban centers.  We are now in a time of rediscovering the center "post sprawl".  And in that, perhaps cities are like teachers.  Patricia Houser's own research has a relationship to these phenomena.  She looks at how deconcentration has an impact on water quality.  She notes, "We know how to protect watersheds, but getting people to adopt policies can be hard." She thinks her mother's curiosity as a reporter helps to fuel her own approach to a field of study that looks at how we shape our surroundings sustainably and to promote social vigor.  She sees Grand Rapids as a city doing many interesting things in this regard and considers our town planners "top notch." Always conscious that she is an academic, she wants her students to understand the field as it is practiced by professional planners who work in government, non-profits and even for profit enterprises.  She likes to bring in successful examples such as Bryant Park in New York City that successfully took a place riddled with drug dealing and turned it into a place that the public seeks out.  She notes that environmental justice is part of planning and -- when done right-- makes places better to live.  Houser emphasizes to her students that planners make a difference in three major ways-as urban designers, making policy (such as zoning), and through education. She notes that interestingly, measuring the number of women who visit a public place such as Bryant Park can be an indicator of its success.  She recommends the book Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte which shows how watching how people use a plaza indicates how to create lively public spaces that are then good for surrounding businesses and raise the prestige of an area.  Something as simple as providing moveable seating that can be shifted as shaded areas move during the day can increase the number of people who take their lunch there.  Her students soon start turning this lens of our campus and provide critiques of its spaces. Houser is also looking at our campus as part of the Facilities and Planning Committee.  She enjoys working with Assistant Vice President James Moyer, examining the master plan and being part of GVSU's conversation with the city of Grand Rapids.  She knows that we make it a safer place by encouraging the longer-hours business that give additional "eyes on the street" at night, encourages mixed residential neighborhoods, and walkable places. She also enjoys the multidisciplinary discussions to which her discipline lends itself.  She swaps classes with Rick Rediske of AWRI and has been in contact with Matt Daley in History to discuss urban history.  She also finds it very fruitful to attend meetings of the GR city planning commission, meetings of the East Hills tree planting group, parks talks held at the GRAM, or even to discuss Allendale sewage treatment.  These contacts help her students to secure good jobs.  "I'm an academic and haven't been a professional planner-and I'm up front about that with my classes," she states, and then goes on to encourage the planning alumni network in ways such as bringing into her class the transportation planner from  Kalamazoo and the environmental impact analyst for the 48th Avenue project.  Alumna Amanda Moore works for the city of GR and will be leading a kayak tour on the weekend to her environmental planning class as background to their discussions of whitewater restoration and other river-based plans.  She also brought in a representative of the bicycle coalition to take her intro class on a tour of Grand Rapids so that they learned to spot good and poor bike racks and how to load a bike on a bus rack. "I'll talk to anybody," she smiles.  With the planning club, the next stop is Detroit and future plans include an overnight architectural tour of Chicago. Houser is clearly helping to put the discovery in this discovery major.  This takes time and sometimes odd hours.  With her students and an interested Allendale social science teacher, a conference on global cities' practice is taking shape.  The students are making a proposal to the EPA in hope of their stormwater /rainworks prize. Meetings for that effort have been scheduled for 7am  to accommodate the variety of participants' schedules. Even in family time, the topic is often teaching.  Patricia's husband teaches in History and her son is a high school teacher.  They all have high aspirations for their pedagogy, see their conversations as cross pollination, and hold each other's teaching in high regard.  There is little doubt that Houser is walking the walk.  She has taken out professional certification in her field to stay in touch with the requirements her students face, including the continuing educational credits required to maintain certification.  She received the advice to keep working, network and belong to a community.  It resonated with her. "I want to be a continuing resource to our alumni and know this is a two-way street," Houser says.  She also knows that the program's profile is raised by the success of our currents students such as one whose presentation was recently recognized for its quality.  Planning may seem from the outside to be about places and buildings and various kinds of infrastructure, but even a short time with Patricia Houser will infuse you with an appreciation for its vibrant human dimension.