Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Articles

Dr. Guillermina Nuñez-Mchiri, Associate Professor, Sociology & Anthropology

 My teaching, research, and service philosophies are based on the conviction that education is truly powerful when it is used towards the betterment of self and society. Since beginning my tenure track position at UTEP in 2005, I have committed to teaching my undergraduate students that they are capable of achieving their goals when they are well prepared as critical thinkers, readers, and writers. As an assistant professor of anthropology, I am passionate about culture and about applying knowledge to make a positive impact in the world we live in. I invest great energy in cultivating curiosity and wonder through positive and engaging learning experiences inside and outside of my classes.

My teaching philosophy is best defined by a Pedagogy of Engagement, as I aim to teach students to engage one student at a time. My Pedagogy of Engagement is exemplified at the micro and macro levels in and outside of my classes to help off-set the impacts of indifference. Personally, I invest time and energy in building personal relationships with my students through the sharing of stories and activities that help build a sense of trust and a sense of community. When I walk into my classroom or meet students in my office, I acknowledge their presence with a smile and with the genuine willingness to teach, mentor, and offer advice and guidance as necessary. During my office hours, I often do one-on-one or group consultations based on students’ needs and interests. Some students are enrolled in my classes; others come from various student organizations seeking support for their efforts, while others come seeking my mentorship by to checking in with me and keep me posted on their academic progress. These student interactions are meaningful and significant in helping students stay connected and enrolled in the university until they graduate. I often close a conversation with a student by saying “Make sure you invite me to your graduation. I want to be there to see you walk on stage and hug you as you walk out of the Don Haskins Center.”

 

Every semester, I seek to learn from my students to better assess their challenges, needs, and interests early in the academic semester. I begin by asking students to fill out a Personal Interest and Commitment form. By using this form, I ask students to identify their skills, talents, work experiences and current commitments to their education. In this form, I also ask students to consult their course syllabus and to write my name and office hours so they know where to find me and my TA early in the semester. At the end of this form, I request for students to commit themselves to three goals for succeeding in my course. At the end of the semester, students are asked to review and reflect on their goals to assess any changes in their attitudes, behaviors or cognitive processes (also known as the A, B, C’s or reflection). My goal is to engage my students early on in the semester to help them cultivate a sense of agency and responsibility to their education and personal growth.

 

The undergraduate courses I teach at UTEP include a Service Learning option that encourages students to link their classroom knowledge with their community’s needs and concerns through twenty hours of service per semester. To date, my students have contributed thousands of hours to tutoring children, teaching Citizenship and English as a Second Language to adults, and working with some of our most vulnerable and underprivileged populations in our community. As observant and reflective critical thinkers, students are tasked with taking ethnographic field notes to document and reflect upon their learning experiences. At the end of each semester, students turn in their final papers and their field notes documenting their twenty hours of service learning as a way of

providing evidence of their field experiences’ links with classroom-based readings and lectures. These interactions beyond the classroom are significant in helping students 1) contribute to positive social change; 2) cultivate meaningful relationships and experiences, and 3) develop a deeper sense of purpose and accomplishment. Research on Service Learning provides evidence to indicate that engaged students are more likely to have higher grade point averages, increased retention rates, and higher graduation rates. Engaged students are also more likely to become members of their alumni associations and civically engaged members of their communities.

 

What is particularly significant about my courses is that they incorporate service learning and other alternative research options for students to gain valuable skills and engage themselves in structured activities in the community. Students are able to learn by listening, observing, and empathizing with others, while exploring meaningful topics and places of interest throughout the U.S.-Mexico borderland community. These service learning experiences also prove valuable in contributing to the personal and professional growth of students and the cultivation of social networks.

 

Throughout my teaching career at UTEP, I have contributed to UTEP’s goal of moving towards a Research Tier 1 institution by involving my undergraduate students in research and grant writing activities on issues pertaining to the U.S.-Mexico Border. These activities translate to valuable research experiences at the undergraduate level that serve as the basis for pursuing graduate degrees and/or well-paid careers. I also encourage students to link their personal knowledge, insights, and experiences into the classroom discussions and into their assignments as a way of seeking to validate their contributions to my courses. These experiences have motivated many students to transform themselves into producers of knowledge and as authors of scholarly research.