Apprenticeship in Teaching

Deepening Connections with Students

Engelhard Faculty Project

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.

Maria Donoghue, Biology

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.

"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 problem...you 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."