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Salena Brody  

Recognizing Excellence at Two-Year Institutions

Salena Brody, Ph.D., Co-chair, Teaching and Mentoring Committee

SPSSI reflects its deep commitment to the teaching of social justice through the awards we grant each year.  This year, the Teaching and Mentoring committee is pleased to announce the inaugural Two-Year College Teaching and Mentoring Excellence Award. 

As a former community college professor, I have seen first-hand the ways in which two-year instructors have unique opportunities to effect change in and out of the classroom. Two-year institutions are local, open-door, and relatively affordable (and in some areas, free). These characteristics reduce many of the access barriers common in four-year colleges and institutions. Created for and by local communities, two-year institutions serve a diverse student body ranging from first generation college students to career changing adult learners. For many, classes at a two-year institution represent the only postsecondary education students will receive. According to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, while approximately 80% of two year college students intend to transfer to a four year institution, only 29% successfully transfer within six years.[1] Two-year faculty are poised to educate, serve, and support students whose backgrounds are underrepresented in other higher education settings.

The access to pre-professionals in a number of trades is particularly relevant to advancing SPSSI’s goal of sharing research on social issues and impacting public policy. Two-year faculty educate and train a number of public facing professions, including police, fire, culinary trades, hospitality and more. An associate’s degree or certificate program may be the terminal educational goal of many of these career paths. Additionally, local businesses and organizations often partner with two-year institutions to offer continuing education and workforce (re)training. As such, two-year faculty are uniquely positioned to prepare public facing professionals to better understand social issues from an evidence-based perspective and to better serve the diverse populations they may encounter in their careers. 

The diverse characteristics of the two-year student body post particular challenges in the daily life of a two-year college professor (whose load is often five courses per long semester, in addition to administrative and service obligations). In my personal experience, the diversity of students who enroll in a two-year college classrooms make teaching particularly interesting and challenging. A class of 35 may include a 16-year-old homeschooled student, a parent pursuing a college degree while kids are in school, English language learners who are newly immigrated to the country, students needing remedial or developmental education, fire or police academy students, aspiring chefs, and those fulfilling core courses at the institution primarily to save money before transferring to a four-year institution. The manageable class sizes make it possible to develop a close rapport with students and practice innovative teaching techniques to reach such a broad array of backgrounds. SPSSI is interested in learning and cultivating best practices in teaching social issues to broad audiences from two-year faculty.

The goals of the inaugural SPSSI Two-Year College Teaching and Mentoring Excellence Award are to: (1) recognize the important role that two-year college professors have in promoting social justice within their communities and (2) to showcase best practices in developing community-minded initiatives. Additionally, the new award hopes to attract new two-year faculty to SPSSI’s membership (currently two year faculty comprise ~2% of SPSSI’s total membership). Two year college faculty and their colleagues are a valued contributor to advancing SPSSI’s mission and our organization stands to benefit from more diverse perspectives in achieving its goals.

Award details:

Nominees should be two-year college faculty members who have significantly incorporated psychological or allied social science research on social issues in one of the following ways:

  1. integrated research on social issues into a course or program at a two-year institution
  2. developed an initiative or educational program that applies research on social issues to the training or education of two-year college students
  3. presented workshops or training highlighting social issues research to two year college students and/or the surrounding community

Recipients receive $1000, one year of SPSSI membership, a plaque, and will be recognized in the Teaching and Mentoring column in the SPSSI Forward newsletter. Honorable Mention awardees will receive one year of free SPSSI membership.

On behalf of the Teaching and Mentoring committee, thank you for sharing news of this inaugural award with your two-year faculty colleagues.