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As readers of Mary Wright’s fantastic new book, Centers for Teaching and Learning: The New Landscape in Higher Education, know, the CTL community is tight-knit. One of the rock stars of the CTL world is Elizabeth Morse Luoma, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Sacred Heart University. Elizabeth graciously agreed to answer my questions about her work at SHU, her career path and her advice for colleagues looking to ascend to CTL leadership roles.

Q: Tell us about the Center for Teaching and Learning at Sacred Heart. What are the main services, projects and initiatives that describe the work of your CTL? And how has your CTL’s work been evolving over the past few years?

Elizabeth Morse Luoma, a light-skinned woman with straight brown hair that is longer than shoulder-length.

A: The Center for Teaching and Learning at Sacred Heart University was founded in 2022, guided by the vision of our provost, Robin Cautin, and associate provost for teaching and learning, Amanda Moras. Its founding brought together our university learning support services for students with our educational development support for instructors. As Mary Wright points out in Centers for Teaching and Learning: The New Landscape in Higher Education, this integration of university services within CTLs is a growing trend in higher education, and I find the opportunities for learning and teaching support services to mutually inform one another to be deeply beneficial.

Our teaching supports for SHU faculty, staff and graduate students include instructional consultations for individuals and departments, classroom observations, workshops, faculty learning communities, a faculty peer coaching program, teaching grants, and asynchronous teaching resources available via our internal resource site, newsletters and Blackboard modules. Our CTL on Sacred Heart’s West Campus is also home to the CTL Tech Studios, a podcast and lightboard studio that faculty, staff and students can use to create educational content.

Our learning supports for SHU undergraduate and graduate students include peer and professional tutoring (offered both in person and online), writing support, an Online Writing Lab where students can submit papers asynchronously for feedback, classroom learning assistants, and learning labs. Over the past year, we have centralized student access to these services through what we at SHU now fondly call the PASS Portal (Pioneer Academic Support Services Portal).

Though our center is only a year and a half old, I am immensely proud of the expanding impact of our work. With a team of four full-time staff, over 100 tutors and a handful of student workers and faculty partners, we worked with 250 unique instructors (including 49 percent of full-time faculty) and over 1,300 students during our first year. In October 2023, in collaboration with our Office for Inclusive Excellence, we hosted a universitywide symposium entitled Equity at the Heart of Teaching, which brought together almost 100 faculty, staff, students and administrators to explore ways to promote equity in teaching at the classroom, department, college and university levels.

We are increasingly sought out to provide guidance and programming on artificial intelligence, academic integrity, engaging students, inclusive teaching, curricular design, student well-being, universal design for learning and more. Our CTL team is also frequently called upon to contribute to the strategic work of the university, including service on universitywide committees such as the Teaching and Learning Council, University Assessment Committee, Graduate Council and Digital Accessibility Committee. I am excited for the ways we will continue to contribute to the strategic directions of Sacred Heart.

Q: Can you share the educational and career path that brought you to your current role as a CTL director? When did you decide to pursue a role as an educational development leader, and what were some of the formative opportunities that brought you to where you are today?

A: My educational and career path has been driven by two intersecting loves: science and teaching. After majoring in biology at the College of the Holy Cross, I worked as a researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and then earned my Ph.D. in cell biology at Yale University. Through each educational stage, I actively pursued opportunities to teach. As an undergraduate, I served as a teaching assistant for a biochemistry lab course and a summer science institute for Worcester Public School teachers. At Dana-Farber, I served as an English as a second language tutor. As a graduate student, I eagerly served as a teaching assistant and completed the Yale Certificate in College Teaching Preparation (CCTP).

It was at Yale that I was bitten by the educational development bug. As I attended teaching workshops to complete the CCTP, I came to really admire the graduate student teaching fellows who served as our facilitators. I applied for and became one of the Yale McDougal graduate teaching fellows and then served as co-coordinator of the McDougal teaching fellow team during my last year of graduate school. Graduation presented a fork in the road—do I pursue a faculty role or an educational developer role?

Jenny Frederick, now associate provost of academic initiatives and executive director of the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, answered that question for me. Having taken the Theory and Practice of Scientific Teaching course with her as a graduate student, I reached out to explore opportunities to seek a full-time role in educational development. Jenny alerted me to a position as STEM education program director at Yale, overseeing a national faculty development program called the Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching (now National Institute on Scientific Teaching) and leading a new teaching postdoc program.

I was thrilled, and I applied for and accepted the position. This role allowed me to leverage my identity as a scientist to promote evidence-based practice in STEM education and provided ample opportunity to develop key educational developer leadership skills: project management, strategic communication and budget management, all thanks to Jenny’s keen mentorship.

After a foray into research administration, I returned to the Poorvu Center in January 2020 as assistant director of the faculty teaching initiatives team. My arrival was perfectly timed to support the rapid transition to emergency remote teaching at Yale just two months later. Though an immensely challenging time, I am grateful for the meaningful relationships I formed with faculty and CTL colleagues and for the acceleration of my expertise as an educational developer.

I can’t say that I actively decided to explore becoming a CTL director. In the back of my mind, I thought it would be a possibility someday, but it wasn’t until multiple friends and colleagues all sent me the same CTL director job posting at Sacred Heart University that I considered applying. The opportunity to build a newly integrated center from the ground up was exciting, and the opportunity to return to a Catholic liberal arts institution felt like a homecoming as a Holy Cross alum. And now the rest is history!

Q: If you were to advise graduate students in a traditional academic discipline (as your Ph.D. from Yale is in cell biology) who are thinking about pursuing a nontraditional academic career, what would you say? What advice do you have for other nonfaculty educators and alternative academics thinking about the path to a CTL leadership role?

A: I often share with graduate students, postdocs and other professionals seeking a career path like mine that we in academia need to let go of terms like “traditional” and “nonfaculty.” I have trouble with terms that define people as what they aren’t, rather than by what they are. Educational development has a rich, decades-long history (dare I say tradition?) of its own, and for those who intentionally choose educational development as their path, being referred to as “nonfaculty” or “alternative” can be othering. In my role as CTL director at SHU, I am actively involved in teaching, research and service activities—the three tenets at the very heart of academia.

When I advise people interested in educational development, I pass on advice that was given to me at the start of my career: build a constellation of mentors. As we grow professionally and explore new career trajectories, we benefit immensely from the varied insights of people we know and trust. No one mentor can provide us with everything we need to excel, but each carries strengths and wisdom from which we can learn. (And by the luck of the universe, I have mentors who carry the grace and humility to say they learn from me, too.) Don’t be afraid to reach out to ask for that phone call, that brief Zoom chat, that informational interview over lunch. The relationships fostered can bring such meaning and light as we discern our career paths.

My last piece of advice is literally one I made up on the spot. At the 2023 POD Network conference, Kristi Rudenga (director of the Notre Dame Learning Kaneb Center) and I co-facilitated a roundtable session entitled “Am I Ready to Be a CTL Director?” We had a lively room of about 40 conference attendees who willingly engaged in discussion, drawing and brainstorming activities to reflect on their career paths.

One participant vulnerably shared with the room she was considering taking a career turn that would move her away from her disciplinary roots, and she was hesitant to take the step off that path. To that, I responded, “Our career paths can zigzag and take unexpected turns. We don’t need to think of them as linear. In fact, I prefer to think of career paths as braids. When I look back at my career thus far, I realize how frequently I reach back, pulling from previous identities and roles. We can pick up threads from our previous experiences and weave them into our current work in meaningful and substantive ways, making what we do fuller and stronger.”

To the graduate students, postdocs, faculty, staff, educators and professionals discerning roles in educational development—I hope you feel that pull and that invitation; our field will be stronger because of the diverse perspectives and experiences you will bring to it.

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