Futures Initiative Spring Symposium

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On April 3rd I attended and participated in the Futures Initiative’s Spring Symposium: Pedagogy, Research and Social Change. During the 2:10 to 3:00 session, the talk entitled “Fostering Connection, Renewal, and Leadership through Peer Mentoring” offered an indepth look at the Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring program. This panel talk featured directors Lauren Melendez and Mike Rifino. The directors introduced the program and then discussed some of the program’s features and benefits with a panel of undergraduate peer mentors.

This peer mentorship program brings together undergraduates across the CUNY system and helps them hone leadership and communication skills. Graduate students offer guidance and show students how to connect undergraduate education to the complex world they live in. This program seems to have been successful in fostering leadership and providing support for undergraduate students and the panel of peer mentors participating in the talk felt that this program irrevocably changed how they engage with peers and how they viewed education. Many of the students talked about going on to graduate school or investigating different career paths because of what they have learned through this program. They have developed ways to navigate college more effectively and, through becoming peer mentors themselves, are able to help other students along the way.

This program also benefits the graduate student mentors. It offers a chance for graduate students to hone their teaching skills and develop ways to engage students in course material by connecting it to their lived experiences. I think this is a program with the potential to change how core curriculums are taught and promote more effective ways to empower students in the classroom.

Following this talk, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Student-Centered and Active Learning” session, along with two fellow students, led by Patricia Brooks and Jill Grose-Fifer. We began by presenting a video of work done by students in our Teaching of Psychology Seminar. The video was a collection of PowerPoint slides on various aspects of student-centered teaching and how it is a departure from the traditional teacher-centered paradigm. Each slide was narrated by the student who created it and demonstrated the unique ways we understand and implement student-centered learning techniques. I think it was a great example of the importance of groupwork, collaboration and creativity, all of which are essential in a student-centered classroom.

After the video, we discussed the structure of our Teaching of Psychology Seminar and what a student-centered class should look like. One of the most important things we do in class is present mini-lessons. These are interactive activities we create (or borrow/adapt from fellow professors) to teach a particular topic in an undergraduate psychology course. By doing these activities with our fellow graduate students we have the opportunity not only to practice teaching but also to get feedback and advice on how to improve the activity or make it more appropriate for the undergraduate level.

Because mini-lessons are integral for an active, student-centered classroom, we next asked the audience to participate in two mini-lessons led by myself and a fellow student. It was a great experience watching our peers, advisors and colleagues take part in these activities. They seemed to really enjoy the lessons and I feel that we effectively showed how much can be learned through games and activities. Through these demonstrations, we showed that active learning techniques can be implemented in any classroom and mini-lessons are a wonderful way to get students engaged with course material.    

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