NSU faculty take part in Bridging the Divide program

In a time when many university faculty have less contact with their students and colleagues, Mirla Enriquez found a way to keep from feeling alone professionally.

Enriquez, an associate professor of art at Northwestern State University, along with fellow faculty Professor of Radiologic Sciences Dr. Laura Aaron and Assistant Professor of Nursing Shaun Wheat, participated in the University of Louisiana System’s initial “Bridging the Divide” program” recently. The three earned badges for participating in six or more sessions in one track. More than 30 NSU faculty and staff took part in some of the sessions.

The professional development series presented new learning opportunities for UL System faculty and staff each week. Time to complete the interactive professional development courses ranged from 45 minutes to 10 or more hours depending on the topic.

The program had four fundamental tracks: “Technology and Tools for Online Learning,” “Quality Matters,” “Innovative and Engaging Course Content” and “Student Success.” NSU Director of Student Activities Dr. Yonna Pasch was the Track Lead for “Innovative and Engaging Course Content.”

“With Covid-19 changing everything we do in the classroom, from meeting with students to canceling physical extracurricular activities, I wanted to get ready for a new format of teaching and forms of interaction with my students,” said Enriquez. “To be honest, I wanted to see if I was up to the level to do this. I told my nine-year-old son, you are going to study your fourth grade math and science and be ready for the future, while I learn and focus on these courses. It was hard, but very interesting.”

Wheat said the program has helped her as a teacher.

“My master’s degree is in clinical nursing and what I have learned about education has been self taught,” said Wheat. “I thought the programs would be valuable for me. Also, my knowledge about online courses is limited. I thought the courses would help. The course increased my knowledge especially in the area of quality matters.”

Both Aaron and Enriquez said it was helpful to gain the perspective of a student.

“Since the courses were online, it helped me remember what it is like to be an online student, which helps me to relate to what my students experience,” said Aaron. “The program helped me professionally by providing excellent material that I was able to easily implement in my courses. I got lots of new ideas and was able to make revisions to my courses that will hopefully help students to be more engaged.”

Enriquez enjoyed the process of learning.

“It helped me to understand the social momentum we were and still are facing from the perspective of the instructor. I enjoyed the process of learning… it was like being a student again, and I actually was the student in the program, as well as many others.”

Enriquez said the program helped her see the difficulties her students face during classes and remind her she was once was a student.

“I was there finding my place in the class and looking for help to shape my courses,” she said. “I hope we can have more programs like this one available more often. It is a great initiative.”

According to Enriquez, the program let her see other forms of course delivery that she could adapt to her area.

“It’s important for someone who teaches to explore and adapt to new technologies, and to understand students’ perception of higher education at this specific moment,” said Enriquez. “There is a lot of information out there that is very instructive, but having the opportunity to start a conversation about things that worried me with people who are doing the same, teaching, and people who are experiencing the same difficulties, frustrations during class gave me peace of mind. It was good to see that as a professor, I was not alone.”

NSU faculty and staff who participated in some sessions were Jack Atherton, Kathy Autrey, Susan Barnett, Kerri Christopher, Tammy Curtis, Ann Deshotels, Cynthia Doffitt, Sarah (Lise) DuBois, Anna Dugas, Wanda Goleman, Charles Hamilton, Keicia Hawkins, Joel Hicks, Jennifer Hodges-Crowder, Rebecca Macijeski, Terri Marshall, Stephanie Masson, Sarah McFarland, Cindy McGuire, Vianka Miranda, Anna Morris, Laura Mott, Emily Perritt, Debbie Porter, Jason Powell, Elizabeth Prejean, Jarrod Sanson, Michael Scanlan, Jodi Shirley, Kathleen Tate, Sherri Voebel, Mariann Wilson, Sheri Wilson and Mary Zapczynski.