Last spring, two Princeton University doctoral students spent the semester at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) becoming acquainted with the college and its students as they prepared to teach there in the fall.
The two just complete the teaching portion of the innovative teaching partnership, saying the experience was stimulating and rewarding. Both New Jersey institutions are already preparing the next group of doctoral students for the same experience.
Last spring, Dan Berbecel and Merle Eisenberg were assigned to MCCC faculty mentors and over the semester observed classrooms, attended college events and committee meetings, and took advantage of professional development opportunities through Mercer’s Innovation, Online Learning and Student Success Division.
This fall, Berbecel taught Introduction to International Relations (POL 201), which covered timely topics that generated student engagement and a variety of opinions. Discussions cover topics such as political science methodology, nationalism, various theories of international relations, war, the role of organizations such as the United Nations, NATO, and the International Monetary Fund, colonialism and U.S. foreign policy.
“My interactions with my students were very positive, and it was a pleasure getting to know everyone in my class,” Berbecel said.
Bringing history to life
Meanwhile, Eisenberg taught Western Civilization to 1648 (HIS 101), and focused on ways to engage the current generation of young people in his subject matter.
“I aimed to make my class a student-centered learning experience through role playing of various historical groups, mock trials of controversial figures, group discussions, short movie clips, and interactive discussions,” he said, adding that he typically delivered short, targeted lectures and then divided each class into two or three segments in which students drove the narrative through varied activities.
Eisenberg noted that he learned as much as he taught.
“My students continually forced me to reconsider the structural elements and contents of the course,” he said. “The curriculum covered a substantial period of time – over 2,000 years – but I was surprised and gratified to see students making connections between ideas we had studied weeks and even months earlier.”
Next group of student teachers
A third Princeton doctoral student will teach English 102 in the spring. Five more Princeton grad students will head to Mercer this spring for their orientation semester in preparation for teaching, said Amy Pszczolkowski, assistant dean for professional development at the Graduate School at Princeton.
“We are expanding beyond the humanities and social sciences to include one in chemistry and one in electrical engineering. We think there are many benefits to the program and look forward to learning how this teaching experience may help our graduate students in the academic job market,” she said.
The initiative was designed to enrich students at both institutions, added MCCC Dean of Liberal Arts Robert Kleinschmidt.
“We wanted MCCC students to learn from these bright, motivated Princeton graduate students, who are deep into their fields as Ph.D. candidates,” he said. “We believe the program worked on many levels.”