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Boot Camp Bolsters Skills of MSI Faculty

PHILADELPHIA — Early career faculty from minority-serving institutions across the nation converged on the University of Pennsylvania recently for a three-day boot camp focused on professional development.

ELEVATE (Enriching Learning, Enhancing Visibility, & Training Educators), a new initiative of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI), attracted 18 participants who teach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.


Participants came from a diversity of MSIs such as Fayetteville State University (an HBCU), Diné College (a Tribal College), and California State University, Fresno (both an AANAPISI and HSI).


Faculty members engaged in interactive seminar-style workshops that focused on a wide range of issues, including balancing faculty work and personal life, developing research programs, grant writing and the publication process. The workshops were facilitated by CMSI researchers and senior faculty mentors who have firsthand experience working at or with MSIs,

“You learn a lot in graduate school, but you don’t learn everything,” said Dr. Langston Clark, an assistant professor of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition at the University of Texas, San Antonio who participated in the first cohort of what will be an annual program. “From being here, I’ve learned a lot from people who do similar research.”

Clark, who is a graduate of an HBCU, now teaches at an HSI and is interested in how to better address the issues that impact this demographic of students.

Dr. Ken Berthel, an assistant professor of Chinese at Whittier College located in a suburb outside Los Angeles, is considered both an HIS and an AANAPISI.

“I want to find ways to have a conduit for sharing information with other colleagues at MSIs,” said Berthel. “We can examine what’s working, what’s not working and learn from each other.”

At many minority-serving institutions where teaching loads are heavy and resources are scarce, junior faculty members often do not get the opportunity to collaborate with other MSI faculty from across the country on best practices.

“The biggest focus is that we wanted to create an environment where participants can network and collaborate with each other,” said Paola “Lola” Esmieu, assistant director for programs at the CMSI. “We want to create a community of like-minded scholars across disciplines who are about elevating MSIs and their students.”

That idea is what attracted Dr. Erica R. Russell, an assistant professor of psychology at Norfolk State University, to participate. Russell, a licensed psychologist and a National Certified Counselor, just completed her first year at Norfolk.

“I’m at a place in my career, where I am looking forward to the opportunity to define myself professionally and to connect with individuals who share the same passion,” she said. “Over the past few days, we covered so much that I now feel ready to go.”

Dr. Ignacio Martinez, an assistant professor of history at University of Texas, El Paso, said he was unaware that there were so many schools that are classified with the federal designation of being an MSI.

“I’m extremely excited to gain skills to help advance my students,” said Martinez. “I’ve made contacts that will be valuable.”

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education and director of CMSI at UPenn, said that programs such as ELEVATE are necessary to provide junior faculty with the resources to be successful at their institutions.

“By elevating these faculty, we’re also elevating their ability to have an impact on their home institutions and students. We’re preparing them for a lifetime of service at MSIs,” said Gasman. “Fostering faculty collaboration between various MSIs is one pathway to mutual success, and ELEVATE will unlock that door.”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson

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