Professors learn from experienced peers

Brody Kenny, Reporter

The college of education is all about teaching. Professors equip students with the necessary skills for their futures, but faculty themselves are learning from more experienced peers.

Patricia Bills is an assistant professor in science education who recently began her fourth semester teaching at NKU. When faculty members are hired on, they are assigned a mentor by a chairperson. Under the mentorship of Chris Cook, a professor with 11 years of experience at NKU, Bills says she appreciates the valuable safety net the mentoring program provides.

“I know for sure there’s somebody who I can go to, to ask questions about typical things that faculty members have to worry about,” Bills said.

Cook, her mentor and a professor of middle grades education, describes his main role as helping Bills “get acclimated to life in our college and our department.” He himself was mentored when he first came to campus, but believes the program itself has evolved greatly over the years.

“I think the program today is much more involved than it was when I started,” Cook said.

As they have spent more time working together, Cook says he and Bills have formed a valuable work relationship.

“There is the opportunity to interact with each other on a regular basis; that’s sort of a nice feature,” Cook said. “It creates a really collegial sort of atmosphere and one where it’s always enjoyable to come to work.”

Nothing is quite set in stone for mentoring protocol. Bills says the process with Cook was a bit more formal at first, with discussions about things like the annual review process. As of late, there has been a decrease in “formal meetings.”

“We’ve been kind of a little more relaxed about that and want to take it as I need things,” Bills said.

Part of tracking a professor’s progress is seeing how they operate in the classroom. According to Bills, “a formal observation cycle” occurs once every three years, where her peers will observe Bills in her classes while she teaches.

Missy Jones and Porsha Robinson-Ervin make up another mentoring team. Jones, with 14 years of experience at NKU, has helped guide Robinson-Ervin, now in her second year at the university, through the special education program.

“Anybody’s who been here longer than the other person can provide some mentorship,” Jones said. “And that’s anything from ‘who do you call when you need this?’ and ‘how do you deal with this technology?’”

Robinson-Ervin asked if there was a formal mentoring program before being hired at NKU. She is particularly enthusiastic about the career advancement ideas that her mentor, Jones, has given her, such as applying for summer fellowships and writing for certain academic journals.

“You can have opportunities that really help you grow and evolve professionally,” Robinson-Ervin said.

Emphasis is especially placed on getting mentored professors on the tenure track. Professors are tenured after their sixth year and formal mentoring ends at that point. Bills appreciates having Cook’s experience in that department, among others.

“It is a really nice thing to know that I’ve got someone who’s been tenured already in this system who understands how our committees do that work,” Bills said.

According to Jones, one of the most important aspects of the mentoring program is not only getting professors acclimated to teaching, but to teaching at NKU.
“The culture here at NKU is different than the culture of students at other campuses, so people come from other campuses they have to understand what our students expect,” Jones said.