STEPP Fall 2021

By Nandeeta Bala ’22

Grand Challenges (GC) and the Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI) co-sponsored the continuation of STEPP in the first fully in-person semester. Nandeeta Bala ’22, Student Coordinator, and Mark Fossesca ’23, STEPP’s first Student Coordinator in Training, worked together with José Perillán, the new faculty director of Grand Challenges, Jonathan Kahn, and Felicity Martin to plan and coordinate the Fall-2021 semester. All faculty at Vassar, and students from Transitions, GC, EPI, GiSTEM, and the Education Department were invited — a total of 19 student-teacher pairs participated. Over the semester, Nandeeta organized and facilitated the STEPP Team meetings, where Nandeeta, Mark, Jonathon, José, & Felicity met to reflect and plan.

Fall-2021 Faculty/Admin and Student Partners

In previous semesters, some students expressed interest in partnering for courses in which they have subject knowledge or interest, and due to the large participant pool we were able to allow this as a possibility in the pairing process, which Mark organized.

Upon suggestion from multiple participants last semester, Mark created a STEPP Slack as a space to share and expand ideas and conversations. Students especially used it to exchange questions and thoughts and communicate with their weekly meeting groups, but faculty less so, so updates were also sent over email. 

To organize the student partner meetings, Mark shared a WhenIsGood with students. To encourage experienced student partners (who participated in STEPP in previous semesters) to share their leadership experience, Nandeeta invited Maya Pelletier and Nywel Cheaye to co-facilitate the meetings. There were three student partner meetings each week; Nandeeta and Nywel co-facilitated the Monday meetings, Maya and Felicity co-facilitated the Tuesday meetings, and Mark and Felicity facilitated the Wednesday meetings. Nandeeta created and sent agendas for the meetings based on the previous semesters’ agendas. The Monday groups chose to meet weekly and the Tuesday and Wednesday groups chose to meet biweekly for the second half of the semester.

Student Partners from Orientation Fall 2021:

In many ways, this semester proved to be very exciting. There were formalized roles for student leadership:

Student Leadership Positions Summary:

Nandeeta Bala, STEPP Coordinator

Mark Fossesca, STEPP Coordinator in Training

Janus Wong, STEPP Media & Communications Coordinator

Yaser Pena, STEPP Researcher

Maya Pelletier, STEPP Co-facilitator

Nywel Cheaye, STEPP Co-facilitator

In his role as STEPP Student Researcher, Yaser offered office hours for student support, created mid-semester feedback forms to evaluate STEPP as a program, and drafted a template for mid-semester feedback forms for student partners. Janus, working with Nandeeta, developed and offered the intercollegiate program PSP for students around the world, met and interviewed participants to learn about their experiences and share them on the website, and organized an activity where students shared what STEPP meant to them (please see the Media tab). 

We followed up on several of the goals we set earlier in the semester. We further developed Slack and built the website with interview videos and photos of partner experiences. We attended department meetings to share STEPP with faculty in a setting that’s more accessible to them. Nandeeta and Candice Lowe Swift shared with the Africana Studies Department; Nandeeta, Nywel, and Leonisa Ardizzone shared with the Education Department; and Mark and Maya shared with the Environmental Studies Department. José and Jonathon reached out to first-year faculty to share STEPP with them.

This semester, we also had our first STEPP administrative partner, where Mark worked with Gretchen Lieb to provide feedback on library resources. We’re excited to continue to support student-teacher collaborations in and beyond traditional student-faculty partnerships.

Felicity and José co-facilitated an opt-in faculty partner meetings to discuss initial reactions and experiences in STEPP. Felicity took detailed notes from the meeting, which will be very helpful in planning upcoming semesters and the onboarding process. A common theme that has come up every semester is that while the pace in the first half of semester is really rich, it slows down later in the semester. How can we make the second half of the semester have as much purpose as the first half? As STEPP continues to develop, it’s important to find concrete ways to sustain student-teacher partnerships.

Nandeeta organized an informal conversation “Stepping into STEPP” for all faculty interested in learning more about the STEPP program. Nandeeta and Maya co-facilitated and José, Jonathon, and Felicity attended to share their experience. Prospective partners shared their questions and concerns. Perhaps due to this being a very busy time of the semester, attendance was low. Future discussions can be scheduled at the beginning of pre-registration to avoid the busy time around Thanksgiving.

To create an easily accessible guide to coordinating STEPP, Nandeeta reorganized Google Drive into folders, consolidating all important emails so they can be used for future semesters. She created a 11-page guide to document all important information in running STEPP, including roles and responsibilities of STEPP Team members, important links, guidelines and tips, and a timeline for what to do for each month each semester. This hopefully will contribute to the sustainability of the program.

Nandeeta is continuing to collaborate with Alison Cook-Sather, Editor of the journal Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, to create a STEPP issue for the May 2022 publication. We hope to share these publications next semester.

Following up on the previous semester, Yu Zhou, a faculty partner, mentioned that she’d like student partners involved in the CEQ (course evaluation questionnaire) revision process. Mark organized a meeting where he, Nandeeta, Nywel, Eriche Gonzalez, and Taylor Gee met with Yu Zhou and discussed a draft of CEQs for ~2 hours to provide feedback to the CEQ committee. 

At the end of the semester, Mark organized a meeting with all participants to reflect and conclude STEPP Fall-2021.

The STEPP Team:

Nandeeta Bala, Student Coordinator of STEPP

Mark Fossesca, Student Coordinator in Training of STEPP

Felicity Martin, Engaged Pluralism Initiative, Program Associate

Jonathon Kahn, Professor of Religion, Director of Engaged Pluralism Initiative

José Perillán, Associate Professor of Physics + STS, Faculty Director of Grand Challenges Program