Program prepares new faculty for NAU

Jennifer Spensieri
Productive Beginnings organizers Alex Alvarez, Astrid Klocke and Larry Gallagher
Productive Beginnings organizers Alex Alvarez, Astrid Klocke and Larry Gallagher

New NAU faculty members are benefiting from a program called Productive Beginnings, expanded this past fall. In addition to attending a one-day orientation, new faculty also can sign up for more in-depth trainings and workshops throughout the school year.

“Many people come right out of graduate school and have never had any training in their disciplines in teaching methodology,” said Astrid Klocke, a humanities professor and president of the Faculty Senate. “Even for people with teaching experience, we want to instill in them the wish to learn more about what they do in the classroom, what the students need and what works best,” added Klocke, who is a Productive Beginnings organizer, along with professor Alexander Alvarez and faculty development director Larry Gallagher.

“We want people to feel like they are part of NAU, that they understand the university, and that they are supported during that first year,” Gallagher said. In addition to being better prepared to teach students, participants also make connections and share ideas with a new faculty cohort.

“Making the switch from a network television producer to an assistant professor was overwhelming, said Toni DeAztlan-Smith, who joined the School of Communication this past year. “The faculty and staff of Productive Beginnings were always willing to provide guidance and that contributed to a successful first semester for me.”

Jennifer Spensieri, new faculty member in the Academic Transition Programs
Jennifer Spensieri, new faculty member in the Academic Transition Programs

Jennifer Spensieri has a teaching background but discovered she had a lot to learn after moving to the university. “NAU is a large institution, and this program helped me have a better understanding when directing students to services and I had people I could contact directly for support.” Spensieri said she appreciated Productive Beginnings presenters, who instead of teaching with PowerPoint presentations, modeled practices they espouse for student engagement, including small group breakout sessions.

At the start of the current school year, about 155 people attended the single day Productive Beginnings faculty orientation. Approximately 35 of those attendees joined the ongoing Productive Beginnings program, a number expected to grow for the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Faculty in this day and age have a lot of different expectations and we want them to be doing things that reflect NAU’s culture of best practices and that meet the needs of our students,” said Alvarez, a longtime professor of criminology and criminal justice. “By the end of their first year, they would have all the knowledge, skills and resources, and they would feel they are part of the NAU community,” Alvarez said.

Facilitators for the program are provided by University College, a relatively new department on campus, which supports high levels of faculty and student engagement. “Productive Beginnings has been positive for the entire campus,” said University College Dean Cyndi Banks, whose college oversees numerous programs and resources for faculty.

Other members of the Productive Beginnings team include: John Doherty, Rosalinda Haddon, Rosemary Logan, Chris Lanterman and John Tingerthal.

Topics for the spring meetings include working with diverse students, universal design, scholarly planning and participating in service on campus.