(No puns intended for Gabriel Marquez's 1988 novel.)
Please spend a few minutes and read the College's announcement about current coronavirus situation. (The College sent it to you through MplsConnect email channel on 3/4.)
In 2019, the ITEC Team and I made a plan to improve our KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). My summary of the ITEC 2019 KPI plan can be found HERE.
For 2020, I would like to propose the following initiatives. I am also inviting the team to propose additional initiatives that we should work on.
Closing Achievement Gaps
Dear Colleagues of SciMath and ITEC:
I am writing to you to sound a rally call. Minn State is launching a campaign called Equity 2030, which aims at eliminating the achievement gap at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities by 2030.
This is no easy task. For example, suppose there is a course with a passing rate of 80% for the white students and 60% for the student of color. Using an exponential growth model, to bring the 60% passing rate up to 80% in 10 years, the students of color need to perform 3% better than the previous year for 10 straight years, assuming that the passing rate is fixed at 80% for the white students.
On the other hand, Minnesota has had little/no success at closing the gap: the State has worked on it for the last two and half decades only to see the gap grow to one of the largest in the nation. Let's face it: despite all the great effort, Minnesota educators are not very good at teaching students of color, or the underprepared students in general. I am no exception: I have much to learn in the area, as a teacher and as an administrator.
Here are what I think we should do as individuals and as a team.
Keep searching for ways to teach underprepared students. Emergency room doctors don't refuse to treat smokers or alcohol/drug abusers, who are the most vulnerable and who need help most. As educators we also cannot abandon our weakest students. When students and their challenges evolve, so should we the educators. Let's continue to ask:
Continue to innovate. Let's look into new ideas as well as older but good ones that were not given a chance in the past. Let's try out good practices you learn from colleagues elsewhere or from professional associations. I will reach out not just to the Minn State System but also to successful inner-city colleges and HBCU around the nation for their best practices in educating students of color.
Take on the challenge and seize the opportunity. In the Chinese language, crises are called risky opportunities "危機". The achievement gap is a risky opportunity for our school. It is a risk because of its severe negative impact on an important portion of our students, but we also have an opportunity to turn things around. With a systemwide initiative, we might be able to get additional support or help. And if some of our peers in the College or the System choose to act passively or not at all, we would also seize the opportunity to take the lead in doing something great for our students.
Everyone in SciMath and ITEC has a great deal of professional and intellectual excellence, and we did not come this far in our careers just to be an ordinary college that can't handle students of color. The Minneapolis College is Minnesota's most diverse higher education institution, and we fulfill a unique role in serving a unique student body. Please join me in this important initiative for our students and for our college.
September 28 is Confucius' birthday, and Taiwan's National Teacher's Day. A philosopher, a political activist and an academic leader of 3000+ followers, Confucius himself was most proud of being a scholar and an educator (學而不厭，誨人不倦). Though not a religious figure, Confucius had the greatest and the most dominant influence on the entire Chinese culture and society as well as most of east and southeast Asia.
Happy Teacher's Day, esteemed colleagues! Thank you for being great educators for our students, as instructors, advisors and CLA's. May your work continue to enlighten our world and our time, like Confucius' work did to his.
One of my favorite podcast channels is Sticky Notes Podcast by conductor Joshua Weilerstein. In the episode What Does the Conductor Really Do, he describes a conductor as the silent member of the ensemble who does "nothing, and everything".
According to Weilerstein, professional orchestras can play pretty well without conductors because the musicians play their own parts capably, listen to each other and have no difficulty performing coherently together. However, a good conductor provides the kind of artistic leadership that may elevate music making to "the celestial level".
As the dean of the Schools of SciMath and ITEC, I feel the same way about what I do: nothing, and everything. No, I do not teach classes, advise students or maintain labs. But yes, I am involved in every aspect of our mission, and I do everything to support you and to maintain the key functions of our schools, from teaching to advising and from hardware to software.
In my first annual performance self-evaluation, I was asked about three points of pride about my programs. Instead of selecting three from the many things our team accomplished in 2018/19, my response is:
My schools made a great deal of accomplishments this year because (1) the faculty is student-centered, (2) most of them are open to my new ideas and proactive leadership, and (3) many actions and discussions are faculty-driven.
No, none of our success in AY 18/19 was about me or by me. They were the results of great individual or team work. I just did my part in this ensemble.
Going into AY 19/20, we have great opportunities in many things we do. Let's work together towards the celestial level!
All is welcome. Ben buys coffee/beverage for the first 2 visitors. Please stop by and talk about anything you wish.
Location: Dunn Bros Coffee on the T-Building 2nd Floor
Dear Colleagues of SciMath and ITEC:
Happy December! As we march into the grand finale of the semester, I want to thank you for a successful Fall 2018. A lot of exciting things happened because of your great effort and stellar work, such as
- The awesome Student Success Day and ITEC Career Fair (SciMath and ITEC)
- Advisory board meeting (ITEC)
- Visiting Augburg University to explore opportunities for our students (SciMath)
- Multiple projects to promote student success in dev and college math (Math)
- Many more.
I have yet to know everyone well enough, but many of you surprise me on a daily basis: your wealth in knowledge, your passion for teaching, your commitment to student success, to name a few. SciMath and ITEC are blessed to have strong members in you.
It feels like yesterday, but I have been your dean at SciMath and ITEC for more than 3 months! (Does that disqualify me from being the shortest-lived dean on this position?) I have much to learn, and I ask that you keep advising, helping and pushing me to be a worthy leader of yours.
I cannot thank my coordinators enough. I wouldn't be able to manage all the things going on within our schools without the great leadership and fantastic work by Maire and Andy.
As usual, many end-of-semester emails and information will be coming your way. Please at least pay attention to (a) grading deadlines, (b) other deadline-related stuff, and (c) messages from your coordinator or your dean. (Especially (c), in my humble opinion.) I wish you a wonderful December!
When in doubt, check with ARC (Accessibility Resources Center).
Sometimes it makes little/no sense to accommodate students in situations like missing homework without an excuse or skipping a class to take care hairball (sorry cat lovers.) However, there is one situation when we shall NOT deny accommodation: when a student has a legally protected status that grants him/her accommodation at no fault, such as documented accessibility needs, pregnancy, etc.
(1) No rule by instructors, labs or departments shall be used to deny student's right to accommodation.
For example, none of the following can be used to deny accommodation:
- The syllabus says to drop the lowest of the 5 exams.
- The instructor says no late homework is accepted.
- The department says no makeup for lab-related exams.
If an assignment or test has little or no impact on the grade, the instructor may try to persuade the student to ignore it, but the student still has the right to make it up if he/she so chooses.
(2) The College works with the instructor on providing accommodations.
Generally ARC tells faculty to either (a) do it for all students or (b) only exactly what is approved by the ARC. In the case of (b), ARC will coordinate the effort for the student to receive the accommodation, and the instructor should not turn the student down unilaterally.
(3) How do I know when a student MUST be accommodated for having a legally protected status?
Refer the case to ARC for assistance and cooperate with ARC. When in doubt, check with ARC.
Has one of these happened to you in the last 12 months?
- Your daily function was affected because you had an illness or an emergency.
- Your daily function was affected because a loved one had an illness or an emergency.
- Your daily function was affected because someone you rely on had an illness or an emergency.
- You felt so stressed out and took a day off or wish you could have taken a day off.
Most people have had such experiences.
Now, imagine overcoming the situation and trying to catch up with school work (usually in multiple courses) at the same time. That's what your students do when life happens to them.
Cheryl Neudauer led a discussion on effective syllabi at our November SciMath school meeting. (Thank you Cheryl!) We can all use more knowledge about creating syllabi that help students in times of hardship. Of all things, this topic should be regularly discussed amongst us, and should be in the heart of every educator who truly cares about his/her students.
At the end of Cheryl's session, I challenged everyone to find ways to help, not to punish, the students in the following two scenarios:
(1) Student was ill for a week and then in recovery for another week.
(2) Student does not have a textbook for the first two weeks of semester, due to financial hardship.
Yes, life happens. When it happens to your students, how would you help them? Or, would you choose to help them at all?
Dr. Ben Weng