P3 Collaboratory Event Focuses on Teaching in a Post-Pandemic World

Matthew Williams

Faculty, staff and graduate students from across Rutgers and the Metropolitan region recently explored how to reach students during the post-pandemic era, when emotional and financial resources are stretched thin at colleges and universities nationwide.

The event was hosted by Rutgers-Newark’s P3 Collaboratory, which is the university’s comprehensive center for excellence in pedagogy, professional development, and publicly-engaged scholarship. The day-long conference was titled, “Anchoring Higher Education: Recovery and Resilience in the Classroom.’’

The biennial conference also featured the university’s Three Minute Thesis Competition, where PhD students had a chance to present their dissertations, which can be as lengthy as 750,000 words, in 180 seconds. 

The P3 Collaboratory hosted the inaugural Anchoring Higher Ed conference in 2019, and its second conference, scheduled for 2021, was postponed due to the pandemic. This year’s theme was chosen to address changes in the educational landscape since the COVID-19 outbreak began, along with challenges that have been more enduring.

“We wanted to discuss what does it mean to be back in this space when our resources are depleted and our students have greater needs,’’ said Taja-Nia Henderson, Dean of the Graduate School-Newark and Director of the P3 Collaboratory.

This year’s keynote speaker was Cia Verschelden, author of “Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism and Social Marginalization.’’ Previously the Vice President for Academic & Student Affairs at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, Verschelden has also served with the American Association of Colleges and Universities as Special Projects Advisor for the Integration of Academic and Student Affairs.

Verschelden’s book, published in 2017, was also the selection for the first P3 Collaboratory’s first book club in the spring.

The keynote address centered on the concept of “bandwidth,’’ particularly among students from marginalized backgrounds, who face challenges and struggles that may impede their “cognitive capacity” to learn, she said.

It’s not that such students are less able or less willing to succeed, but difficulties that can stem from financial insecurity, childhood trauma, family responsibilities, and the strain of coping with racist stereotypes can deplete energy and focus, she said.

“Our job is to create a learning environment where we can maximize bandwidth,” explained Verschelden. 

Bandwidth recovery can include teaching from a “strengths perspective,’’ which capitalizes on knowledge and skills students have already acquired rather than emphasizing the ways in which they fall short.

“If you’re from a marginalized community and you make it to college, you already carry with you a bunch of stuff,’’ she said. “You’re told you don’t write well, you don’t read well enough.’’

Educators can encourage students to draw from their daily life, culture and community rather than compartmentalizing those things. “They don’t need to leave all that stuff at home,’’ said Verschelden. 

“They know a lot of things,’’ she added “Start with what they know and build from that.’’

In addition to Verschelden’s keynote speech, a highlight of the Anchoring Higher Ed convening was the university’s Fifth Annual Three Minute Thesis Competition, organized by the Graduate School-Newark together with the P3 Collaboratory.

Founded at Australia's University of Queensland in 2008, the 3MT is now held in more than 600 universities around the world. The competition is designed to develop presentation and engagement skills among doctoral students and to bring research knowledge to larger communities. 

Doctoral students from Nursing, Behavioral and Neural Science, Environmental Sciences, and Global Affairs competed for for cash prizes with Galit Karpov, a doctoral student in Behavioral and Neural Science, crowned the Grand Prize Winner for a presentation entitled "Lasting Effects of Childhood Abuse." 

Malte Gueth, another doctoral student in Behavioral and Neural Sciences was crowned First Runner-Up with "Developing Personalized Brain Stimulation?’’ 

Willa Rae Witherow-Culpepper, a doctoral student in Global Affairs, took home the People's Choice Award with her presentation on court testimony, mass atrocities, and how rhetoric impacts beliefs.

"Cultivating our students' ability to clearly and cogently present their research discoveries fosters their professional development, and the university's commitment to publicly-engaged scholarship,"  explained Henderson.“Our students need to be agile communicators, and opportunities like the 3MT help our students speak within and outside of their fields in powerful ways."