Princeton Graduate Students Prepare for Teaching in Partnership with Mercer County Community College

By Wendy Humphrey

In an exciting and innovative new partnership that promises major benefits for both institutions, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) and Princeton University (PU) have launched a Community College Teaching Partnership program this spring.  Under the agreement, four MCCC faculty members are mentoring four PU doctoral students with a comprehensive orientation to the community college environment this spring. Then, the PU students will teach in their disciplines as MCCC adjunct instructors in the fall.

According to Dr. David Edwards, MCCC Vice President for Academic Affairs, this semester, the Princeton doctoral students are spending time in the classroom with their faculty mentors, attending college events and committee meetings, and taking advantage of professional development opportunities through the college’s Division of Innovation, Online Learning and Student Success. The MCCC faculty mentors include Laura Sosa (Business Administration), Diane Rizzo (English), Dr. Daniel Schermond (Sociology) and Holly-Katharine Johnson (English).

Cole Crittenden, Deputy Dean of the Princeton University Graduate School, believes the Mercer-Princeton program will provide an excellent introduction into the teaching field for the university’s graduate students. “They will be mentored by master teachers at Mercer and learn more about approaches to teaching in the community college context. The program will also introduce our students to online and hybrid teaching models that are used in community colleges,” he said.

Dr. Edwards notes that many MCCC courses are structured as hybrids that combine in-class sessions with online activities. Other courses are taught fully online. “Mercer faculty members routinely utilize either a hybrid or fully online instructional modality for their teaching. We look forward to helping our Princeton graduate students become more adept at using these teaching tools,” he said, adding that Princeton approached MCCC with the proposal last fall.
 
Sarah Schwarz, PU’s Associate Director of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, was instrumental in conceptualizing and designing the teaching partnership program. “I’m thrilled to see a structured program in place for Princeton graduate students to gain mentored teaching experience and expand their teaching skills in the diverse community college environment,” Schwarz said.

Amy Pszczolkowski, PU’s Assistant Dean for Professional Development in the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School, adds, “The Office of the Dean of the Graduate School fully supports this pilot initiative and looks forward to learning how the program enhances the graduate students’ development as teachers.”

Dr. Edwards describes the multiple benefits to both institutions. “This will be an intellectual exchange between faculty members at Mercer who have expertise in teaching in today’s community college classrooms and doctoral candidates interested in teaching in the community college setting. MCCC students will benefit from the exchange through the expertise these doctoral students will share in the classroom on their dissertation topics.”

PU student Sarah Islam, who is now several weeks into the program, says the experience has been extraordinarily fulfilling so far and the guidance of her MCCC faculty mentor, Professor Daniel Schermond, has been extremely helpful.

“Not only do I have the opportunity to meet with Professor Schermond weekly to discuss productive teaching methods and inclusive teaching approaches, but I am also shadowing him as he attends departmental meetings and teaches courses," Islam said. "All four of us are receiving personalized training in teaching a diverse student body in the classroom, and getting the opportunity to be trained and certified as instructors proficient in teaching online and hybrid courses. I look toward to teaching my own course next semester and I cannot think of a better way to solidly prepare myself for the next stage of my career."