Assisting faculty members in their professional and personal growth is a priority at most universities. Those of us working in faculty development create and facilitate activities and opportunities that help them improve their teaching performance, career satisfaction and stature within a scholarly community.
Yet universities today are challenged with meeting the career development needs of an increasingly diverse group of faculty members. At Rochester Institute of Technology, those of us who work in faculty career development are taking a flexible approach. Recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all faculty career plans, we’ve created different types of development programs and activities for different types of faculty members with a wide variety of needs. We will provide some examples in hopes other institutions might find them helpful.
Tailored Faculty Orientations
New faculty. Our university’s two-and-a-half-day orientation for all new full-time faculty members, including non-tenure-track faculty, is a crucial part of their onboarding experience. The events scheduled during those first days are intended to foster connection and convey vital information that will ensure each faculty member’s successful assimilation into the university community. Campus experts present on topics as wide-ranging as the role of the teacher/scholar, teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and using campus teaching technologies. Faculty members meet with representatives of other campus units that provide support services in a setting similar to a vendor show.
We also offer follow-on sessions where new faculty members can socialize and meet the university’s administration, as well as lunchtime sessions on teaching strategies for new faculty and other relevant topics -- many of which faculty members have suggested and campus faculty experts deliver. And we offer numerous opportunities for new faculty members to continue building their networks, working with mentors and participating in personal and professional development activities.
Adjunct faculty. We have also created an orientation designed specifically for adjunct faculty that provides a high-level overview of institutional resources and support for professional development. While we offer an in-person orientation every semester, most of the sessions are also available online. And, since 2015, we’ve organized special events each semester to provide networking opportunities for adjuncts to build their own mutual mentoring community and supportive environment. We also host lunches or casual dinners at which faculty and staff members with expertise speak on topics that the adjuncts have expressed a particular interest in.
International faculty. Faculty members at the university’s four international campuses also have varying needs. While delivering quality orientation programs and resources from a world away can be challenging, we had success with a pilot program in 2017 that aimed at increasing faculty connection to the home campus. Through a virtual orientation and various other efforts, we share early and consistent information with our international faculty on each campus to ensure they are aware of the tools and resources available to help them succeed and know they are a welcome part of the university’s academic community.
Beyond Workshops: Mini Grants
We recently saw that attendance at large-scale faculty development workshops and events was dwindling, so we considered alternatives. We’ve redirected the money previously devoted to some workshops and events towards the creation of a mini grant program instead.
The original purpose of the grants was to provide mentoring for individuals and peer groups to help them acclimate to the academic rigors of being tenure-track faculty. But we remodeled the program to become more inclusive, adding non-tenure-track mentoring groups as eligible participants. Soon after that, our team set up a similar grant program to support the professional development needs of individual non-tenure-track faculty members and a similar grant for the adjunct faculty population.
A committee of faculty peers vets the proposals, and the mini grant program provides grants for five types of activities each academic year, including:
- Faculty mentoring projects.
- Lecturers’ professional development.
- Adjuncts' professional development.
- A faculty “stretch” grant that any faculty member can apply for to augment work in their respective college.
- The Provost’s Leadership Opportunity Grant, designed for faculty members who are in or aspire to be in a leadership position at the university.
Faculty members are doing great things in their discipline and for the campus community with the use of these small grants. For example, mentoring grants have enabled a group of women in the psychology department to form a community that has improved the climate for female and gender-minority faculty, while another grant focused on excellence in teaching has allowed faculty members to observe classes and provide feedback to improve student and faculty experiences immediately, rather than waiting until the next course offering. One faculty member’s experience with her grant-funded project, “Bringing Together Media and STEM Scholars,” even resulted in an invited book chapter.
Wanting to recognize their work, we organized a new faculty showcase that enables them to share their research and professional development projects, as well as to make connections with future collaborators and get ideas for new grant applications.
Topic-Specific Guest Presentations
We’ve also offered sessions by faculty members from other universities on specific topics, such as career growth for teachers, teaching evaluations and mentoring. Collaborative events among several colleges within the university to bring guest speakers to our campus have also been successful, with themes on master teaching, peer observation and evaluations, leadership skills, non-tenure-track mentoring, successful publishing, and securing outside funding.
We continue to poll faculty for ideas on what to add to their professional development curriculum. For example, the annual midtenure review panel presentation continues to grow in popularity for our tenure-track faculty members, and plans are under way for a similar session for non-tenure-track faculty to help them gear up for promotion opportunities.
Ramping Up Research and Publishing
New requirements for tenure-track faculty regarding scholarship and publishing required a revised development focus, as well. Efforts to increase and promote scholarship on campus have led us to create new events. In conjunction with the RIT Press, in 2015 we worked with the press director to help organize a symposium, Publishing Without Perishing, designed as a primer for academics wanting to get their research into print. More than 100 faculty and staff members participated with others from regional colleges and businesses. As a result of the positive feedback from the faculty, we’re offering a similar event on publishing strategies again this academic year.
Balancing Work and Life
One of the biggest challenges for all faculty is the need to dedicate time to writing while balancing teaching, advising and other service commitments. To help meet this challenge, the university allocated funds for scholarships for faculty members to attend the 12-week intensive Faculty Success Program that the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity administers. The program is designed to improve research productivity and work-life balance, and it includes coaching and peer support to propel personal growth to a whole new level. Over the past four years, we’ve sponsored close to 30 faculty members.
Faculty returning from the program have been energized and begun forming a campus accountability group for maintaining writing momentum. Although still small, the enthusiasm for peer coaching and motivating each other’s research and writing is evident.
Scholarly Writing Support
Faculty members have also requested help with writing. As a result of a partnership with the University Writing Program director, writing retreats were started and two new faculty writing groups have been formed. In the accountability group, faculty members have been meeting regularly, face-to-face and virtually, to keep each other motivated, engaged and productive in their writing projects. In the response group, faculty members who represent different subject fields meet to share drafts and provide feedback on each other’s drafts.
We’ve also recognized the need for leadership development at the university and began offering scholarships to leadership development programs. Those have included a 360-Degree Leadership Skills Inventory in collaboration with the State University of New York, which includes a free private coaching session and a department chair peer-mentoring program. And we’ve designed a robust “Academic Leadership” portal with the goal of offering just-in-time resources for department chairs and unit heads on all matters related to leading their departments -- including student issues, staff development and budgeting, to mention just a few.
In conclusion, the value of faculty development for our universities cannot be taken for granted in these changing times. One of our hallmarks should be a safe, nonjudgmental, supportive, instructive and confidential environment that gives faculty support in areas where they and their chairs and deans have identified such support is needed. For example, the mini grants, while a small investment, have brought significant benefits to faculty members -- often serving as a reward for their work.
What makes RIT programming successful is the ability to be flexible and to try new ventures that collaborate with other campus partners and universities, such as the State University of New York and Cornell University. If there is anything certain about today’s academic climate, it’s that it is ever changing and resources are not guaranteed. Faculty development needs to be resourceful in the use of funds that enable the broadest impact for faculty success.
In fact, the key lessons we’ve learned are that those of us in the field of faculty development must be flexible and collaborative in how we use our often limited funding and time to support our faculty -- always being mindful of strategic plans and using evidence-based data to design new, creative programming.