STEPP Fall 2020

By Nandeeta Bala ’22

Grand Challenges and EPI co-sponsored the continuation of STEPP in the Fall-2020 semester. As Student Coordinator of the STEPP Spring-2020 pilot and a Grand Challenges Student Catalyst, Nandeeta Bala ’22 coordinated with Jonathon Kahn and Jodi Schwarz over the summer to plan for the Fall-2020 semester and develop forms and applications for students and faculty. Henry Molina was invited to facilitate student partner meetings. Faculty from Grand Challenges and EPI, and students from Transitions, Grand Challenges, and EPI were invited — a total of 11 student-faculty pairs participated. The STEPP Team (Nandeeta, Jonathon, Jodi, & Henry) met a couple of times over the semester to reflect and plan. Over the semester, Nandeeta organized the STEPP Team meetings, developed a form to gather ongoing feedback, shared biweekly STEPP emails to keep everyone in the loop, and created this website.

To organize the student partner meetings, Henry tackled the tedious task of navigating 11 schedules on a whenisgood. There wasn’t much overlap among the schedules, so student partner meetings were held once or twice a week to try to accommodate all student partners. In the future, we’ll determine times for student partner meetings before classes start, hopefully before student schedules become packed.

To facilitate the student partner meetings, Henry and Nandeeta first took a more structured approach using a pre-planned format with prompts and then transitioned to a more open-ended approach guided by student questions, concerns, and interests.

Some of our happy faces:

Jonathon facilitated the opt-in faculty partner meetings: one at the beginning of the semester to discuss initial reactions and experiences in STEPP and one after midterms to discuss midterm evaluations and any changes made to classes. At the end of the semester, the STEPP Team facilitated a meeting with all participants to reflect and conclude STEPP Fall-2020.

As Vassar experimented with hybrid and remote models of teaching and learning, faculty found that their student partners provided invaluable inputs regarding their class format and progress. In an end-of-semester feedback form created by Jodi, faculty shared that STEPP helped them reflect on their teaching and supported them in experimenting with pedagogical practices. They also appreciated the faculty partner meetings. For the future, faculty suggested adding another layer of experimentation and collaboration with the student partner, which we’d love to incorporate next semester.

Here’s what faculty shared anonymously about STEPP:

Having a student partner meant that I reflected a lot more on my teaching as it was happening. Also, it was very helpful to have outside feedback on what was and was not working during the semester. Finally, my student partner gave me some great suggestions about ideas to implement in my next course.
My student partner and I worked together on course design, student feedback forms, and responses to the feedback for students.
Really provided essential contact for me during Covid. A source of human connection in an isolating fall.
It was very helpful to get outside feedback during this difficult semester.
My STEPP experience was very positive, and I believe it really benefited all my teaching this semester (not just for the course it targeted). Going forward, it might be useful to have a slightly more structured program – the observational feedback was great, but I think another layer of reflection and collaboration with the student partner would be useful.
I’m an enthusiastic supporter and participant in STEPP. I plan on participating in regular ways–to keep an eye on my teaching but also to develop a special relationship with my student partner. I found that relationship to be very rewarding.

Students felt empowered developing their relationship with their faculty partner and enhancing the experience of students in their classroom. They overwhelmingly shared that their experience in STEPP made them more comfortable interacting with faculty.

Here’s what participants appreciate about STEPP:

What do you appreciate about STEPP?

Nia Smith ’22, Student Partner:

“I appreciate the ability to build relationships with faculty and be a bridge between the students in the classroom and the professor.”

Colin Echeverría Aitken, Faculty Partner:

“I appreciate my student partner: they prompt me to think continually about my teaching from a student perspective.”

Amanda Eng ’21, Student Partner:

“I appreciate being able to interact and meet new people outside of classes, and getting to know educators outside of my major.”

Jonathon Kahn, Faculty Partner:

“I appreciate the time I get to reflect, consider, experiment and explore with my student partner. Ideas that I had long considered but hadn’t talked about, as well as ideas that I hadn’t even considered, all emerge during our conversations. The experience has been freeing as a teacher. It’s allowed me to feel as though I’m speaking more clearly and honestly to my students.”

Alison Spodek Keimowitz, Faculty Partner:

“I appreciate getting a fresh perspective on my teaching and honest feedback every week so I can make changes as the semester progresses.”

Haru Sugishita ’21, Student Partner:

“I appreciate STEPP because I feel Vassar is empowering and supporting all the community members.”

The STEPP Team

Nandeeta Bala ’22, STEPP Student Coordinator and Website Creator

Jonathon Kahn, Professor of Religion, Incoming Director of EPI

Jodi Schwarz, Associate Professor of Biology, Grand Challenges Program director

Henry Molina, Engaged Pluralism Initiative, Research and Program Administrator