Faculty Focus 2019: Excellence at the Intersection of Teaching and Scholarship
Scholarship starts with a question — a pressing puzzle that awakens inquiry. That inquiry — the pursuit of insight and answers to central questions — is the foundation of the liberal arts education at Stonehill College, where classroom teaching and scholarly research are inextricable.
Here, professors remain equally committed to the merits of multidisciplinary undergraduate education and their own desire to answer their disciplines’ most compelling questions through rigorous research. The synergy of these forces enhances teaching and learning alike. The coexistence of each — and their equal institutional emphasis — supports both knowledge transfer and the cultivation of lifelong curiosity.
An Intentional Emphasis
That approach to deep learning is essential to the Stonehill mission and curriculum, which embody education of the whole person, with an emphasis on cross-disciplinary skills such as critical thinking. In the classroom of Anna Ohanyan, the Richard B. Finnegan Distinguished Professor of Political Science and International Relations, that means a democratic approach to learning — one that gives students significant control over shaping discourse in the classroom and developing the research skills essential for them to do so.
“I treat them as student-scholars. They’re expected to develop research capacity by asking questions, designing research and finding material to answer those questions,” she says. “It’s that ability to transfer research into knowledge that builds critical thinking.”
In the classroom, Ohanyan applies a problembased approach that challenges students to use the same tools she uses in her own research, which spans Russian foreign policy, security studies and conflict management in post- Communist Eurasia, and social movements in the developing world. To that end, she integrates firsthand interviews with leaders of international organizations and businesses as well as diplomats into her lectures, which gives immediacy and significance to the seemingly abstract theories in international relations. “Students may not see that we’re scholars until we actually integrate our own scholarship into the classroom,” Ohanyan observes.
Beyond the classroom, Ohanyan helps students develop capacity as global citizens — another core tenet of the Stonehill pedagogy — through immersive learning experiences. In one, the Learning Inside Out Network (LION) program on global development and security studies that she runs with Associate Professor of History Todd Gernes, students travel to Armenia for a threeweek internship at a leading nongovernmental organization. There, they apply research methods and gain new research skills from their LION program internships, allowing them to uncover global trends and patterns, which they share in a presentation at a conference in the country.
“The key word is integration — between our faculty members’ commitment to teaching and the exploration of research questions in their fields,” adds Favazza. “We don’t want our students to learn in boxes. We want them to learn that a key question in one area can be informed by knowledge in another.” One example of this multidisciplinary ethos is the SURE (Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience) program, in which faculty members in all disciplines partner with students in research projects highlighting the many forms that scholarship takes at the College.
A Virtuous Cycle
Teaching and scholarship create their own continuum for members of the faculty, with classroom insights informing research — and vice versa. When Jungyun Gill, associate professor of sociology, found her students deflated by the weight of social problems discussed in the classroom, she set out to write the book — literally — on more hopeful teaching methods. She found that an emphasis on social movements that address society’s problems empowered her students, and her body of research on the topic gave way to “Social Problems and Social Movements,” her forthcoming co-authored book.
At times, faculty research also informs the Stonehill experience far beyond the classroom. When Gill surveyed the Stonehill community to uncover people’s perceptions of the adjacent town of Brockton, Massachusetts, her work yielded compelling findings concerning bias. These findings led to further research, alongside SURE students, comprising in-depth interviews of Stonehill students from Brockton. That collective research, in turn, now has real-world applications, as Gill shares it with students to enhance their awareness of stereotypes before they visit Brockton for community-based learning.
“Students receive a fuller understanding of sociology when their teacher is both a conveyor of existing knowledge in the field and a scholar involved in the creation of new knowledge,” notes Gill. “And students learn about research most effectively when they are actually involved in doing it themselves.”
The benefits flow both ways. Peter Mahoney, associate professor of Spanish, says his classroom often serves as a serendipitous proving ground for his own research theories. “Students are a barometer of where I am with my work — they tell me where I can refine my ideas or present them more convincingly,” he explains. “The students are learning, but as professors, we got into this work because we never wanted to stop being students, and we, too, continue to learn.”
For Mahoney, whose research into legendary epic texts and their confluence with medieval law and politics is a largely independent venture, the classroom presents a daily opportunity for discussion — even debate. “There, I get 15 other sets of eyes on the same 3,000-verse narrative poem, trying to interpret it and find supporting evidence just as I do,” he says. “It’s the same reason we go to conferences: to have scholarly debates. Sometimes my ideas get reinforced, while other times, students help me find weak spots to work on.”
Keeping on the Cutting Edge
Mahoney notes that research and teaching are two links in a chain, requiring faculty members to stay abreast of advances in their disciplines. It’s a particularly relevant truism for Lee McGinnis, professor of marketing, whose research rests on rapidly evolving dynamics at the intersection of business, sports and society. A former PGA golf professional and marketer, McGinnis draws on real-world experience to examine forces at play in sports and society — such as fan behavior and underdogs in sports — that have business and marketing implications.
That same experience and research also holds relevance in the classroom, where students lead McGinnis toward important questions he could be exploring. “In my Sports Marketing classes, I can talk about research I’ve done in the golf industry,” he says. “It’s a way to be more economical about your time when you’re gathering data that both benefits the classroom and maintains your disciplinary currency.”
McGinnis says his goal is to exceed his department’s official scholarship requirements — advice he received from a mentor while earning his doctorate. “He said, ‘Get tenured in the discipline, not just within your school.’ And at Stonehill, it helps that a lot of faculty members share that mindset,” says McGinnis. “You’re encouraged to maintain a strong research stream and a forward-looking scholarly agenda.”
That currency maintained by faculty likewise ensures that the College’s curriculum reflects the most relevant ideas of the day. McGinnis’ multifaceted background and body of research provides rich nuance for students in Stonehill’s Master’s Degree Program in Integrated Marketing Communications, launched in 2017 and directed by McGinnis. Across campus, a relatively new line of research by Professor of Physics David Simon is being opened to Stonehill students through a new program under development in the field of photonics, the science of light generation and manipulation.
A theoretical researcher with a longtime emphasis on quantum optics — essentially, the investigation of phenomena involving light and matter — Simon’s latest research, and related collaboration with Boston University, will inform the emerging photonics program at the College. A rapidly evolving field, photonics holds applications across a range of disciplines, from health care to telecommunications. The Stonehill program, which will offer both a major oriented toward scientific applications and a certificate geared toward industry professions, is a testament to the value placed on emerging research at Stonehill. “Many of our professors work the results of their research into their classes, and as a small department with small class sizes, our students get to know us well,” notes Simon. “So they always have a good idea of what we’re working on outside of the classroom.”
Scholars Cultivating Scholars
Beyond its utility in conveying topical insights, the individual scholarship of Stonehill faculty also supports students on their broader path toward lifelong learning, instilling a thirst for knowledge that provides lasting benefits, regardless of their chosen professions. “I tell my students that research is just a quest to understand something better,” notes Mahoney. “In that way, the classroom is just a meeting place where we can talk about where we are with our understanding.”
The benefits of the approach are myriad. For students interested in graduate school, independent research experience such as that gained through the SURE program provides a ready curriculum vitae of presentations and publications. Skills gained through Ohanyan’s Conflict Resolution course, she says, tend to draw both ROTC students and those who later choose careers in international development and government.
At times, the benefits can be personal. An expert in Asian adoption, Gill worked closely with Emma Lorusso ’16, an adoptee from China, to study racial identity among Asian adoptees through the SURE program. Their tandem research mutually benefitted Gill, who at the time was writing her book “Unequal Motherhoods and the Adoption of Asian Children.”
Faculty and student scholarship need not be career prescriptive, Mahoney points out, to further Stonehill’s holistic-learning mission. “Medieval Spain was this incredibly unique melting pot of Christians, Jews and Muslims, and that is reflected in the period’s literature that I teach,” he says. “I’m able to help my students see how much relevance this study holds today, how much it can show us about ourselves and our humanity.”
Supporting the Teacher-Scholar Model
An active research agenda, combined with a full classroom course load, can be a tall order for faculty members — and Stonehill maintains a host of campus resources designed to support them as they seek balance. It starts with the simple time and flexibility faculty need to both pursue their scholarly interests and adapt creative teaching methods to keep pace with their subject matter as it evolves. “Stonehill provides faculty with the unusual freedom to follow their interests of the moment — whether emphasizing their research or their pedagogy — as they strive to be better teachers through experimentation,” explains Peter Mahoney, associate professor of Spanish.
Within and beyond campus limits, that scholastic support includes professional development opportunities as well as research, conference and publication grants that help ease the path toward these professional pursuits. The Office of Academic Development (OAD) serves as an incubator for the pursuit of faculty grants with an academic component. In contrast to larger, researchbased universities, the OAD partners closely with faculty on the entire grant application continuum, from idea incubation to implementation logistics.
“The pursuit of external grants is quite an undertaking, with a great deal of preplanning requirements and no guarantee of funding on the other side,” says Bonnie Troupe, OAD director. “We recognize the additional effort required to seek funding, so we strive to help them realize their ideas by finding funding sources and work with them to develop and submit competitive grant proposals.” Those funding awards take several shapes, from an internal professional development grant that will send Mahoney to Spain’s National Library to examine 13th-century texts this summer to external support from the Office of Naval Research in collaboration with MIT for the photonics initiative physics professor David Simon and colleagues Guiru (Ruby) Gu and Cheryl Schnitzer are implementing.
Separately, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is a focused resource for travel and conference opportunities on that axis point between scholarship and teaching. Grants provided by the CTL ultimately help faculty translate their scholarship into the classroom in disciplinarily relevant ways. “We work to help faculty put the full range of their intellectual gifts to use in the classroom,” notes Phyllis Thompson, director of the center.
Though there is risk inherent in the time investment such funding opportunities and professional development pursuits require, the potential rewards are great — for faculty and students alike — in and beyond the classroom. The SURE (Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience) program, also managed by Troupe, encapsulates the ways in which learning outcomes are advanced by the dual forces of teaching and scholarship at the College. “It’s an ideal way to advance both of those outcomes by creating a community of scholars,” she observes.
With these supports in place, faculty note that they feel empowered to pursue their own professional goals without restriction. “The philosophy and approach here keep me intellectually interested,” says Lee McGinnis, marketing professor. “The College appreciates what you do and gives you the flexibility to do it, so the sky’s the limit.”