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Grad Teaching Fellows lead inclusive teaching effort in SIPS

Inclusive learning environments help students thrive. The School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) is one of many units all across Cornell working to build more inclusive, equitable learning experiences.

Two Graduate Teaching Fellows at the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI), Joshua Garcia, Horticulture Section, and Kavya Krishnan, Soil & Crop Sciences Section, developed and facilitated a training workshop for SIPS teaching and lab assistants focused on inclusive teaching.

Their workshop is part of an effort by the SIPS Diversity & Inclusion Committee to make learning spaces more diverse and inclusive. Garcia serves on the curriculum review sub-committee, which focuses on eliminating barriers in order to make undergraduate plant science majors more inclusive and equitable.

Garcia said, “All the grad students in SIPS are required to be TAs, but they need training on fostering equitable and inclusive learning environments.”

When Garcia proposed offering such training, the committee enthusiastically endorsed the idea., Garcia and Krishnan worked with CTI to adapt their Fall 2020 GET SET workshop to address specific contexts SIPS TAs often encounter, especially focusing on issues related to lab and fieldwork.

“Graduate teaching and research are important, interconnected components of the graduate student professional development experience at Cornell,” said Derina Samuel, associate director of graduate student development at the CTI. “Josh and Kavya’s leadership in bringing back the teaching practices they are exploring to support other TAs in their departments is an exciting role that CTI Fellows play,.”

Twenty SIPS graduate TAs attended the workshop, held in February 2021, to explore strategies for building an inclusive learning environment from the first day of class, facilitating discussions on race and diversity, and selecting tools and activities to enhance all student engagement, regardless of background or learning style. This comprehensive approach allowed participants to explore the whole learning experience.

“We wanted to work not just on making classrooms more diverse, but ensuring that content and all aspects of the course are equitable and inclusive,” said Krishnan.

Krishnan did note one challenge; often the professor makes many course-related decisions, and TAs only have the power to influence their discussion or lab section.

She added that many professors want to be involved in issues of diversity and inclusion, and do not realize the impact they have on the members of marginalized communities in their classes.

Garcia said SIPS faculty often express their support for not only the work he and Krishan are doing, but also initiatives by other members of the SIPS graduate student community in leading the effort to build more inclusive learning environments. Several faculty members even contacted Garcia about attending the workshop.

Garcia and Krishnan plan to build on the momentum from their workshop and the SIPS diversity effort as a whole in June 2021 with plans for a graduate student learning community and a SIPS cohort to take the online course Teaching & Learning in the Diverse Classroom. Garcia and Krishnan are planning further workshops on inclusive teaching topics as well. The SIPS Diversity & Inclusion Committee is also exploring the idea of forming a faculty learning community around Teaching & Learning in the Diverse Classroom.

The CTI Graduate Teaching Fellowships provide graduate students with an opportunity to design and implement teaching programs, events, and resources that foster teaching excellence and innovation.

Teaching & Learning in the Diverse Classroom is open to all members of the Cornell teaching community.

For more information on the Graduate Teaching Fellowships or Teaching & Learning in the Diverse Classroom, please contact the CTI.

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