Oregon State University has become one of 46 members of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning, or CIRTL, an initiative to increase the diversity and enhance the teaching skills of graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Eighty percent of the nation’s doctoral degrees in these fields come from only 100 research universities, allowing CIRTL to target those universities to provide better teaching and mentoring techniques for STEM graduate students.
As a new member of this center, OSU will develop programs focused on teaching-as-research, learning communities and learning through diversity. This will include developing new courses, hosting events, offering internship opportunities and collaborating with other CIRTL-affiliated universities.
“OSU already has some great momentum toward graduate student and post-doc teaching development through our campus-wide fall orientation, and our graduate certificate in college and university teaching,” said Jessica White, OSU co-leader for this initiative.
“Being a CIRTL member indicates that OSU is committed to supporting GTAs in their current duties, and in developing future STEM faculty in additional ways that are sustainable and flexible for all of those involved.”
Researchers say that ineffective teaching is often a reason students leave STEM programs. One issue is that graduate students are often focused on research, and have little preparation to be teachers. CIRTL programs work to change that.
Nearly 4,500 graduate students are currently enrolled at OSU. Of those, more than 1,000 are on graduate teaching assistantships each term, and together have about 30,000 undergraduate student contacts each week.
“This is a sizeable number, so our GTAs have a considerable impact on the quality of undergraduate education,” White said. “It’s imperative that we adequately prepare them for their current institutional appointments, and that we prepare them for their future career pursuits.”
Brittany Robertson, a GTA pursuing her Ph.D. at the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering at Oregon State, said the biggest challenge of teaching as a graduate student is fulfilling her other obligations as a student and researcher.
“We often end up teaching freshmen who are very used to high school, and college is a different environment,” Robertson said. “There are often frustrations associated with students coping with and adjusting to the different set of expectations associated with the higher education environment. New programs helping us as GTAs develop our teaching skills and teaching styles to assist students in making this transition would be very helpful.”
CIRTL operates from within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in UW-Madison’s School of Education. OSU was one of 25 universities to be added this year.