Featured Faculty

  • John Wright, Counseling and Psychiatric Services/Center for Multicultural Equity and Access

    Dr. John Wright typifies the Engelhard Project’s goal to foster collaboration among campus professionals so they can support students better, together.

    Dr. John Wright is a staff psychologist based at CAPS (Counseling and Psychiatric Services) where he works directly with students in a clinical capacity. As the Coordinator of Multicultural Initiatives, he spends about half of his time as a liaison to the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access (CMEA). Dr. Wright also serves as an Engelhard Health Professional Fellow, periodically guest lecturing in Engelhard classes.

    At CMEA, Dr. Wright counsels students informally, both one-on-one and in group sessions. He also advises staff and supports students in such programs as the Community Scholars program. Prior to coming to Georgetown, he focused on community-based interventions around cultural and ethnic groups, "so it was just obvious for me to make this link and then do more."

    "Even if I didn't do another Engelhard discussion, I would continue to have a relationship and talk with [these professors]. I know with confidence that if there was an issue that came up with students that they would consider me to be a resource."

    At CAPS, in addition to his clinical work with students, Dr. Wright acts as the Coordinator of Multicultural Initiatives. In this capacity, he leads a diversity meeting for staff and supervises individuals interested in addressing multicultural issues in their clinical work.

    It is not surprising that Dr. Wright has been participating in the Engelhard project as a health professional almost since he first arrived on campus seven years ago. He has spoken in a variety of Engelhard courses including in the Sociology, Nursing & Health Studies, and English departments. Dr. Wright went to a class in the School of Business to Professor Robert Bies' Management and Organizational Behavior class. Professor Bies was interested in addressing stereotypes, racism and discrimination, and exploring how they impact relationships, and consequently the way people do commerce together. Dr. Wright recalls: "I didn't know the commerce/business side, but when it came to the other things, I said 'I get that, I think I can make a contribution there.'"

    Over the years John Wright has formed ongoing partnerships with two professors in particular, Sarah Stiles, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Sarah Vittone, assistant professor in the Department of Nursing. Having found common interests, Dr. Wright returns to each of their classes frequently, adapting his topic discussion to the needs of their students each year.

    In the spring semester of 2014, Dr. Wright visited Professor Stiles' Introduction to Sociology class where he facilitated discussion about students' experiences of being different, from both the insider and outsider perspective. They also discussed the health implications for people who are on the outside and how that plays out on Georgetown's campus. Professor Stiles is a social activist in the city; she works on influencing policy and organizations to help give a voice to oppressed individuals. In Dr. Wright's opinion, this work is very similar to the work he does at the therapeutic level, which helps to deepen his and Professor Stiles' collaborative relationship in the Engelhard Project and beyond.

    Dr. Wright and Professor Stiles have met periodically to discuss her classes, each others' work, and occasionally individual students. "She can be working with someone who's doing research on her behalf and who I'm actually mentoring in CMEA, and so it becomes a very open, collaborative relationship between myself, Sarah, and the student," Dr. Wright explains. This approach to supporting students differs from that of the typical faculty member, notes Dr. Wright, when the attitude is often "ok [the student is] over at CAPS, my work is done, whatever comes out of it comes out of it."

    In Professor Sarah Vittone's spring 2014 Human Growth and Development class, Dr. Wright discussed self-forgiveness as "a way to do some introspection for nurses-to-be on how to deal with past difficulties and traumas in order to make them better practitioners in the future." This aligns with his primary goal as a university counselor, which is to help people move through a real or perceived challenge in their lives and then to "become better for it." Professor Vittone also shares this perspective.

    Dr. Wright's goal with his Engelhard discussions is to give students pause for reflection around things they or others may encounter. During his time as an Engelhard Health Professional, he believes he has observed increased awareness among students. He also hopes that his presence in the classroom continues to enable students to be more receptive to seeking out mental health services.

    Whether in the classroom or in passing, Dr. Wright values his interactions with students for the perspective that it gives him. As the semester progresses and Georgetown students experience an increase in mental health issues that challenge their well being, CAPS psychologists become hyper-focused on their clinical work. For Dr. Wright, the Engelhard Project "allows for me to remember individuals are so much more than their issues" and therefore becomes a source of balance for him in his career.

  • James Olsen, Department of Philosophy/CNDLS

    A post-doctoral fellow at CNDLS and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, James Olsen spends a lot of time thinking about teaching, learning and student well-being.

    James Olsen first became involved with the Engelhard Project in the fall of 2007, as a Teaching Assistant for Professor Alisa Carse’s Introduction to Ethics course. “Alisa does a great job of trying to give students the tools to rigorously discuss the rich moral fabric of their lives. Students are often uncomfortable and unequipped to do that,” Olsen explains. He continues: “when you provide a safe atmosphere for students to address [these issues], they’re very interested in talking about things.”

    Olsen saw first-hand how Engelhard components (guest speakers, pointed discussion, and reflection papers on wellness topics) add value to a class, enabling deeper conversations about the big issues students face, such as sexual assault, drinking and anxiety.

    Olsen doesn’t think students have much opportunity to seriously and significantly confront these issues in their lives. The classroom setting “doesn’t really allow for wise cracking about these sensitive topics, or if a wisecrack is made you can zero in on can help students to recognize the way that stigmas get created, the way they get perpetuated and then to really challenge them.” It is constructive for Engelhard courses to give students a space in which to tackle these issues.

    “Being an Engelhard fellow was transformative for me as a teacher and I certainly have brought a lot of the things I learned with me to my other classes.”

    Typically, most if not all of a professors’ interactions with students are about academics, but the Engelhard project gives professors a chance to dig deeper. Instead of simply checking that students understood the readings, Engelhard allows professors to change the conversation. Illustrating this point, Olsen explains: “Aristotle is talking about friends and what it means for flourishing. So let’s talk about your life, what are the scenarios where your friends are not helping you to flourish, or vice versa. These conversations allow students to connect the content of the course with their outside life.” By making these connections, Engelhard helps students remain engaged and motivated in class.

    Olsen has incorporated Engelhard components, including reflection papers, into his own teaching, first at Georgetown’s Qatar campus, from August 2011 to July 2013, and now back here on the main campus. For Olsen, reflection papers are an effective tool to get students to make connections between the readings and their own lives, but only if the assignment is thoughtfully integrated into the curriculum. He points out that students are much more likely to reflect seriously if given guidance. Olsen does this by first having his students engage with one another on the topic in class. Doing so helps students to brainstorm connections and get past superficial interpretations. This also helps to motivate students, as they recognize similarities and differences between their own experiences and those of their peers. Additionally, he explicitly discusses what makes a good reflection paper and provides them with an example from a past class. Olsen finds that this then enables students to construct more rigorous reflection papers than they would if they were “just checking a box for 5% of their grade.”

    Additionally, Olsen often allows students to debate issues of real concern at the beginning of class. He explains: “They bring up everything from political issues to social issues, personal issues, issues at the university and what it is to be a good gets them sort of warmed up, in terms of thinking argumentatively, and about reasons and justification. Likewise, it allows me to constructively model for them: here’s how we make and challenge arguments, and here’s how we can do it in a respectful environment.”

    Olsen credits the Engelhard project with orienting him toward student needs and making him aware of the resources on campus. He points out that before Engelhard “I had no idea people like Jen Schweer [Georgetown’s Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Services Coordinator] existed.”

    Because of his experience with the Engelhard project, Olsen feels better able to recognize and address issues with students. While he refers students to campus wellness resources, such as counselors, Olsen feels that his “Engelhard skills” predominantly come into play when helping students to confront stigmas. “It seems like you feel ashamed about that, why? Do you think you should feel ashamed?” By asking these questions, Olsen helps his students think through what their needs are, how to meet them effectively, and how to overcome some of the negative stigmas that are out there.

    In the spring 2014 semester, Olsen is co-facilitating a cohort of faculty members who have been awarded grants from CNDLS to incorporate technology into their classrooms in order to educate the whole person, as part of the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL). This fits in nicely with the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, or “care for the whole person” which is central to Georgetown’s educational mission, and to the Engelhard Project. Cura personalis, as Olsen describes it, is “something I’ve really latched onto here at Georgetown. I think that Georgetown actually tries to substantively implement’s not just a fancy sounding slogan.” Olsen is excited to be involved in working on “how technology can be one of those things that helps to enhance greater well-being overall.”

    “Professors are on the front lines,” as Olsen puts it, and participating in the Engelhard project is a good way of equipping professors to be able to support students as whole persons. As evidenced by James Olsen, participating in the Engelhard project has a lasting impact on professors and the way they think about both their courses and their students.

  • Maria Donoghue, Department of Biology

    As an Engelhard Fellow, Maria has established close and trusting relationships with her biology students and worked to demystify afflictions such as mood disorders by breaking them down and analyzing them biologically.

    Since arriving at Georgetown in 2006, Assistant Professor of Biology Maria Donoghue has sought to establish strong connections with her undergraduate students, acting on her mantra that teaching is a partnership. "My students need to trust and respect me and I need to trust and respect them," remarked Donoghue.

    The Engelhard Project has certainly helped her to this end. Donoghue credits the project with helping her students - both biology majors and non-majors - find some "common ground" with her, resulting in a much closer and deeper student-teacher partnership.

    Donoghue, who has infused wellness issues into the content of both her advanced undergraduate neurobiology course and a general-education course called an Issues Approach to Biology, has incorporated visits from campus professionals on infectious disease, addiction and mood disorders. The mood disorders unit proved particularly important to students' personal lives, Donoghue said.

    "By talking about the biology of a mood disorder in class, it sends a message to students that this is a problem like any other demystify it."

    "It brought up so many questions about the biology, and it turns out that many, many students have either had a mood problem themselves or have a family member - or, what is even more important, a friend here at school - who has struggled with one. By talking about the biology of a mood disorder in class, it sends a message to students that this is a problem like any other demystify it."

    After the health professional visits the class and presents on the wellness topic, she requires students to post reflections on Blackboard, and then respond to at least one of their classmates' reflections. The responses, Donoghue noted, showed not only an increased understanding of how the biology concepts work but also a mature consideration for each other's challenges.

    Even for students who neither follow science-related careers nor need to utilize the campus health resources they learn about, Donoghue said she feels the Engelhard project has clear benefits. When students connect personally to her science courses, they become a resource they can draw on long after the semester ends. "What Engelhard does is put this information out there in a way that is part of their regular coursework, so they can then turn back to that later in their lives."

    The benefits, Donoghue added, aren't just for the students. Donoghue said her collaboration with both the other Engelhard fellows and the health professionals has changed the way she thinks about her research and inspired her to learn more about the topics she introduces. Additionally, she said the project has helped her connect her work to fellow faculty across campus.

    "They may teach something so different, such as in the humanities, but it is good to hear that they are having similar interactions with the students," Donoghue said. "I think a program like this really communicates to the students that the university wants them to be successful and that we want to help them with challenges. Just as we would send them to the library for a research challenge, we can send them to resources for their personal challenges."

    Engelhard Goal

    Dr. Donoghue hopes that through her Engelhard courses, students will develop trust and respect for each other and for her, not only as a faculty member but also as an individual. Especially through the reflection component of the class, she wants students to show a mature consideration for each other's personal wellness challenges and respond to them with empathy, respect, and compassion.

    BIOL-195 : Neurobiology

    BIOL-195: Neurobiology is intended as a gateway course for Sophomore Neurobiology majors and covers the fundamentals of neurobiology and the study of the cellular basis of nervous system function. Throughout the course, several neurobiological topics are covered, including the cellular composition of the nervous system, the characteristics and functions of neurons, the ways that signals are relayed within the nervous system, the cellular and molecular basis of sensory and motor systems, plasticity, development and learning, among many others.

    During the spring semester of 2009, Dr. Donoghue delivered a lecture focusing on the neurochemistry of mood regulation, i.e. what keeps our mood stabilized, what happens during destabilization (specifically depression), and what we can do about it. After the lecture, students read a memoir by William Styron entitled "Darkness Visible," in which he describes his own experience sinking into depression. As a follow up, students wrote personal reflections on their own experiences with depression, contextualized by Dr. Donoghue's lecture and Styron's piece. Dr. Donoghue's choice to address mood regulation is inspired by its striking relevance on Georgetown's campus and in the collegiate environment in general. Problems with mood regulation (mainly depression) touch many college students personally either through their own struggles or the challenges of people in their lives.

    "I want students to understand that the regulation of mood is a neurobiological question, into which we are gaining insight. By demystifying the process, I intend to educate students about how to confront tough neurobiological issues."

    To view the class syllabus, click here.

  • Jim Sandefur, Department of Mathematics

    Jim has participated in the Engelhard Project since 2005, looking to improve student engagement in his Math Modeling class by relating course material back to his students' personal lives in a practical and meaningful way.

    Jim Sandefur originally joined the Engelhard Project in 2005 seeking a way to boost student engagement in his math classes. Because most of his students represented non-math majors, the idea of infusing his curriculum with wellness issues that would resonate with his students on a personal level was an appealing one.

    Since joining the project, Professor Sandefur has experimented with using math modeling to explain the effects of eating disorders, gambling, and the elimination of alcohol from the body to make his classes more accessible on a personal level for his students. And by meeting with campus health staff, Sandefur said he was able to better understand the issues he was modeling and add a means for students to personally connect to the topic.

    As a result, Sandefur has consistently noticed that his students not only understand the math better, but enjoy it more. By showing students very applicable, very concrete ways they could use the math skills they learned, the course became one which extended beyond the classroom walls into the students' personal lives.

    "The Engelhard Project fit right into what I have always wanted to do. The class is math modeling, so for years I had been looking for engaging models that were important to the students, models where they could see math as it affected their life as well as the life of all those around themselves."

    Sandefur has also noticed that the curriculum infusion model of the Engelhard Project improved his students' overall well-being. He explains that when students arrive at Georgetown, they are inundated with sessions about avoiding eating disorders and alcohol problems during freshmen orientation, but a barrage of information actually seems to have the opposite effect as intended with students absorbing very little. "Students actually knew very little about things like alcohol's interactions in the body," said Sandefur.

    By infusing wellness issues into the mathematical content of the course, and bringing in help from campus health professionals, students are not only better retaining information about these wellness issues, but also using this information to make better decisions. "The added benefit is that a few students who have had serious problems were able to get help," Sandefur said. "But even more importantly, for the majority of the students, especially with the alcohol unit, the class made them think more about potentially dangerous problems. One student said to me, 'well, I don't sit there and calculate exactly how much alcohol I have drunk, but I now I keep count.' And that's great, because it is a sign that they are thinking about themselves in a new way."

    Engelhard Goal

    To make his classes more engaging by relating math to the lives of his students, and to establish his classroom as a place where his students are receiving honest and real information that they can use to make informed decisions.

  • HEST-001 : First Year Health Student Colloquium

    This seminar introduces new students to the current political, social, economic, ethical and policy dimensions of the U.S. Health Care system. Moreover, throughout the semester, students will be introduced to the programs and opportunities of GU and NHS by introducing them to the meaning of a Jesuit education at Georgetown University.

    Guest lecturers will lead various discussions about common concerns, such as managing the transition to college and assist new students in identifying resources. Students will also have the opportunity through outside required attendance to learn more about time management/academic enrichment opportunities, health care careers, internships and study abroad opportunities. Our goal is to make the first year at Georgetown University a rich and productive one and to provide students with the tools necessary for academic and personal success.

    As part of the Engelhard component of the course, Dr. Afshin Nili, Staff Psychologist and Outreach Coordinator for Counseling and Psychiatric Services, visits the class and discusses the aggregate data from a class-wide survey about the first semester freshmen collegiate experience. In discussing the survey, Dr. Nili is able to unite the freshmen in the class through their common experience, and also put meaning to this experience. In the past, Dr. Riley has also invited other health professionals on campus to discuss mental health and alcohol use on campus. Above all, this class provides an opportunity to discuss health care issues as they impact the lives of Georgetown students.

    To view the class syllabus, click here.