Student scholarship is central to my primary pedagogical commitments: engagement and analysis. Higher education should provide students opportunities and guidance to develop a sense of engagement: both with their work as well as with their college lives. It is not enough, though, for students to feel that they are a member of the classroom community or even these larger communities. Engagement is a start: engagement with their work, their classmates, academia, and the larger world. However, it is also necessary that they learn to be critical members of these communities in order to engage productively rather than observe passively. Key to critical engagement is learning analytical skills translatable to a number of disciplines, and a commitment to student scholarship is critical to developing these skills. Student scholarship success requires robust mentoring, a campus environment which encourages research, and access to resources necessary for their work. As an administrator, faculty member, and mentor, my role is to support, facilitate, and participate in work which furthers these goals.
For students to become critically engaged with their work, they need experienced mentors to help them make the transition from the classroom to more hands-on, “real world” applications of their education. As someone who has both mentored as well as set up mentoring programs, I realize how important mentoring is in student success—and how much this success is often owed to not only facilitating and encouraging these relationships, but also in making clear to mentors what their roles should be in these relationships. My own mentoring approach to students depends on their current needs. They may need guidance navigating the school system or understanding their field; they may need help finding a focus for a project; they may need guidance for the enthusiasm which has been sparked by their study; they may need support or suggestions when they reach road blocks or dead ends.
Research plays an important role in my academic life, but one which has a reciprocal relationship with my teaching. I seek out ways to introduce my own research methods and work to students, in order to model my work as well as share my enthusiasm with emerging scholars. For example, when I teach Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, students read copies of the various endings that Allison wrote for the novel, taken from my research as the recipient of the 2013 Mary Lily Research Grant at Duke University. Using such archival materials in the classroom is often an unusual experience for students, which can spark their interest in the material in a new way. Further, students see the complicated drafting and revision process behind the finished novel, emphasizing that even professional writers rely upon copious revision and re-writing, which reinforces the priority I give to the importance of process in composition in all of my teaching, whether I’m teaching multimodal composition, American literature, or women’s and gender studies.
Student scholarship success requires a campus community which encourages research and makes available the resources necessary for this research. Centers for research and entrepreneurship, library resources, program and institution commitment to undergraduate research, and visible interdisciplinary work are just a few ways that universities can emphasize the importance of student scholarship. There must be as much administration support and guidance for faculty as there is for students in order for such a culture to develop and take hold. For administrators and faculty, it can often be a dizzy balancing act of understanding program outcomes while allowing for the messy, unpredictable work necessary for creativity and innovation—and yet the results are worth it. Watching students make discoveries, construct their own knowledge, and feel as though their work matters is a primary reason why I am committed to higher education.