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Course Improvement Grant spotlight: “Applying Developmental Understanding to Student Initiatives for Underserved Populations”

Posted by on Thursday, April 7, 2022 in News.

Brenda McKenzie, Associate Professor of the Practice in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, recently told us about her Course Improvement Grant aimed at enhancing her masters students skills in gathering and analyzing qualitative information about the students they will serve.





Can you tell us about your project and what inspired you to do it?

My project is tied to a master’s level course I teach called Theories of Student Affairs. Conceptually, it’s around student development theory: how do our college students grow, learn, develop during their college time, as well as pre-college and post-college. As a part of this course, the students do a semester long project where they identify a population of students that they want to understand more about, and they interview them as part of the project. This means that we’re in sort of a quasi -qualitative process, not research per se, but utilizing some of the skills that go along with qualitative research. These masters students are in their first year in their program, so this is a relatively new concept for them. Trying to prepare them—particularly as one person for an entire class—has always been a bit of a challenge.

I therefore wanted to use this grant to bring in an EdD student who had some interest in teaching. I thought this person could serve in a coaching role with some of the students in the course and help them as they navigate through the development of interview questions, identification of themes from their interviews, and ultimately development of an initiative that they would propose would best serve this population based on what they learned from the students they interviewed.

I also thought this EdD student could develop some resources that would be available to students throughout the project, not just for this semester, but for semesters moving forward. I have had some resources, but they have been pretty scant. I just haven’t had capacity to develop more resources, such as written materials, videos, or websites that would be useful.

I also saw this as an opportunity for the masters students to connect with someone who’s in practice that they could engage with and learn from as well as an opportunity for an EdD student who might have interest in teaching to see a snapshot of how you create a learning assessment and guide students through that process

What is the anticipated impact of this project on students and the Vanderbilt community in general?

For the individual students, I think the impact of the project is their own learning and thinking about how they can apply what they’ve learned to their broader practice. More specifically, I think they’ll better understand how to learn more about students who they haven’t interacted with as much or whose experiences they don’t know as much about. Learning these skills will help these masters students understand how to learn more about a variety of student populations and how to contribute to enhancing the students’ experiences while they’re in college, work that is important for these masters students’ current and future professional lives.

There are also benefits for the EdD students; I actually have three involved now, one funded by this grant, one volunteer, one that I’m funding.  The EdD students have the opportunity to connect with rising new professionals and provide advice and guidance, in a coaching approach, to these emerging professionals. I think it could be a two way street in terms of learning for the masters and the EdD students.

In general, I encourage the students to think about how they can take what they’re learning from this project to their workplace and how they can share what they’re learning. I think it’s really important for them to expand their understanding in this way, applying theory and learning to practice.

Do you have any thoughts to share with others who might be thinking about applying for one of these teaching grants?

Do it! I think it can be potentially intimidating at the front end, asking yourself, “Do I have something that’s worthwhile for applying for the course improvement grant? Can I actually accomplish what I say that I want to do in the time period that the grant falls within? Do I know enough to put the proposal together?” I would say yes. You can do those things.

In one or two sentences, how would you capture your teaching philosophy?

There are two important tenets of my teaching philosophy. One important piece: How do we, as a class, create our knowledge and learning together based on our experiences, our interpretation of the literature and our engagement in classroom activity and discussion?

The other piece is trying to prompt application to practice, through assignments like the one the grant is supporting.  That application to practice is important to me, particularly coming in as a faculty member who had over 20 years of practice experience. So, in a nutshell, I would say those two things: co-creating with students, and fostering opportunities for students to practice application.

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