Teaching

Preparing Future Faculty at Howard University

Jeanne Maddox Toungara and Sandra Jowers, November 2004

The History Preparing Future Faculty Program (HPFF) at Howard University provides workshops and seminars specific to the historian’s task and careers in history. A dynamic collaborative effort between the Graduate School at Howard University and the American Historical Association, HPFF got off to an exciting start in fall 2001. A grant from the Pew Charitable Trust made it possible to invite guest speakers, purchase literature related to the teaching profession, and support student travel. Our efforts to reach the principal goal—to prepare graduate students to enter the teaching profession—have resulted in a more supportive research- and career-oriented environment, the creation of additional resources, and much excitement for student participants. To participate in the program, graduate students are required to have at least 30 credits and a minimum GPA of 3.0. A faculty member must agree to serve as HPFF mentor for the student. There are approximately 10 student participants and 4 active faculty members at a given time.

The HPFF program, in collaboration with the Graduate School PFF, schedules and coordinates site visits to a variety of institutions to enable students to experience academic diversity. Participating students benefit from visits to community colleges, private four-year colleges, public universities, and sister Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Deep South. The institutions involved in these visits include Tougaloo College, Jackson State University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, George Mason University, Bowie State University, and Prince George’s Community College. Meetings with top officials in these institutions provide vital information on salaries, benefits, teaching load, and issues specific to each student community. During the site visits students talk with junior and senior faculty members and gain first-hand experience on the responsibilities of faculty members, both in the classroom and outside of their teaching (such as committee obligations and outreach). While the program was originally directed toward cluster relationships with specific graduate history programs within the nearby area, it now encompasses a more expansive academic network.

One successful outcome of the visits has often been the establishment of one-year teaching fellowships, whereby Howard University ABDs could teach a reduced load (usually one course each semester) in return for a benefits package, access to office space and equipment, an onsite teaching/research mentor, and a $20,000 stipend. In one case, the fellowship, funded by an area minority business association supportive of diversity efforts at the nearby state university led to a full-time, tenure-track appointment in history—an outstanding example of what could result from a collaboration between business and academe. In addition to the site visits, the graduate school hosts several skills workshops in distance learning, dissertation writing, grant applications, job searches, and fellowship opportunities, among others.

In the history department, noted historians are invited to speak with students about important career issues as well as significant topics in historical research and present seminars on their research. Patrick Manning of Northeastern University’s World History Center, who lectured on the topic, “The Place of African Slavery in World History” and conducted a workshop on the use of his book and CD-ROM, Migration in Modern World History 1500–2000, is a recent example. Given the wide interest in African diaspora history, students were especially delighted to hear Manning’s lecture. Another visitor was Carol Boyce Davies of Florida International University, an expert in women of the Caribbean diaspora, who lectured on her newest book project and discussed gender issues in teaching the history of the African diaspora. Cynthia Fleming, associate professor at the University of Tennessee and a civil rights historian, discussed her current research on women in the civil rights movement. Lee Schulman of the Carnegie Institute focused on the importance of students mastering technology in order to teach from a more student-centered perspective in his presentation, “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” The speakers also contributed information about teaching environments at their institutions.

As part of the program, students are required every year to direct workshops that discuss topics of importance to professional development. The HPFF workshops are essential to the professional development of the participants. While student directed, the sessions are prepared in collaboration with a faculty mentor. Workshop topics have included development of practical skills (preparing for the comprehensive examinations, writing the dissertation proposal, selecting a dissertation topic, getting from ABD to PhD, editing manuscripts, publishing in professional journals), research methods (engendering the Caribbean diaspora, blacks in the Civil War, archaeological sources), the scholarship of teaching and learning (how adults learn in the classroom, teaching with technology, student-centered pedagogy, teaching in a multicultural community), and jobs (preparing the teaching portfolio, interviewing for the job, the first year on the faculty, managing an academic career, getting tenure).

The students are also encouraged to promote projects that involve students and faculty in capacity building within the department; so some students host sessions with invited faculty, librarians, or specialists in graduate education. To support such efforts, the HPFF program pays for memberships in professional history organizations such as the AHA, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and the Oral History Association.

Perhaps one of the most crucial elements in the HPFF at Howard is the ongoing relationship between the student participants and their faculty mentors who provide essential intellectual and practical support. For instance, faculty mentors allow their student mentees to “shadow” them at meetings within the university and outreach events, or to discuss a research paper with them before its submission to a peer-reviewed journal. Under faculty mentorship, students travel to major conferences where PFF panels are included on the conference agenda or where a PFF experience can be arranged to strengthen students’ capacity in teaching or career advancement. The students present and get feedback on their own research, meet and interact with colleagues from different institutions, gain experience in presenting their research to the larger academic community, and discover new scholarship. HPFF students participated, for instance, on panels at the AHA annual meeting in San Francisco, where they spoke about the PFF experience and engaged in conversations with colleagues on problems germane to graduate school. Thanks to a grant from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and Council of Graduate Schools (made available through the AHA), students were able to travel to the Council of Graduate Schools conferences. Students also attended a conference at the Schomburg Center in New York (on the theme “Eric Williams: His Scholarship, Work and Impact”), the Graduate Student History Conference at the University of Boulder, the Graduate Student African American History Conference at the University of Memphis, the Association of Caribbean Historians annual conference in Jamaica, and the Warren Susman Graduate Student Conference at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The PFF program has developed a small library of publications on various relevant and useful topics such as public history, museums and archives, African and Caribbean diaspora, pedagogy, technology in the classroom, and dissertation support.
Overall, the history department at Howard University has enjoyed a positive experience with PFF. The challenges for the future include the search for continuing financial support (for travel, memberships, faculty incentives, and guest lectures) at a time of severe cutbacks in university programs, nationwide, and a means to institutionalize HPFF, making it a regular and desirable offering in the graduate school (perhaps as a certificate course) without compromising the graduate student curriculum or faculty teaching loads in history.

— Jeanne Maddox Toungara is an associate professor and Sandra Jowers is a graduate assistant in the history department at Howard University.