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PU Graduate Students Set Forth On Teaching Experience at MCCC

“I LOVED TEACHING”: Princeton University PhD candidate Merle Eisenberg (right) put teaching theories into practice in his interactive history class on Western civilization at Mercer County Community College this past fall. The PU-MCCC partnership will continue this spring and next fall, with five more PU doctoral students teaching at MCCC.

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton University (PU) and Mercer County Community College (MCCC) have launched a collaborative program for PU graduate students to gain teaching experience in the community college classroom, and the reviews are positive on both sides.

History doctoral candidate Merle Eisenberg, who taught a Western civilization class at MCCC this past fall, reported that considerable learning took place, both for himself and his students. “The partnership between Princeton and MCCC is a great way for Princeton graduate students to plan and teach their own class, which can often be difficult to do at Princeton,” he said. “It also provides the opportunity for MCCC to have top graduate students teach their students. I personally learned that I loved teaching, which I always thought I would enjoy, but without ever teaching my own class, I could not know for sure.”

Eisenberg, along with Dan Berbecel, who taught Introduction to International Relations, was one of two Princeton graduate students who completed teaching assignments at MCCC in the fall. A third will teach English 102 in the spring, and five more Princeton graduate students will visit MCCC this spring for their orientation semester in preparation for teaching at MCCC next fall.

“We are expanding beyond the humanities and social sciences to include one student teacher in chemistry and one in electrical engineering,” said Amy Pszczolkowski, PU graduate school assistant dean for professional development. ”We think there are many benefits to the program, and look forward to learning how this teaching experience may help our graduate students in the academic job market.”

MCCC Dean of Liberal Arts Robert Kleinschmidt noted that the initiative was designed to enrich students at both institutions. “We wanted MCCC students to learn from these bright, motivated Princeton graduate students, who are deep in their fields as PhD candidates. We believe this program worked on many levels.”

Eisenberg described how it worked in his classroom. “I aimed to make my class a student-centered learning experience through role playing of various historical groups, mock trials of controversial figures, group discussions, short movie clips, and interactive discussions,” he said, adding that he typically delivered short lectures and then divided each class into two or three segments in which students participated in varied activities.

Eisenberg noted that he learned as much as he taught. “My students seemed to really enjoy the class, especially the active elements such as role playing, debates, and group discussions. I learned that structuring a class on a particular day can be as important to ensure students learn as the content of that class.”

In addition to his lessons on the history of Western civilization, Eisenberg expressed his hope that he broadened his students’ views of higher education in general and, in particular, their goals in college and beyond. He encouraged several of his students to apply to Princeton and other selective colleges.

“Perhaps the greatest impact for some of my students,” he said, “is to understand the numerous colleges and universities they can apply to that can broaden their views of the world. I hope many of them know they have the skills, knowledge, and abilities to succeed at any university anywhere.”

In preparation for their teaching, Eisenberg and Berbecel spent time on the MCCC campus last spring. Partnered with MCCC faculty mentors, they observed classes, attended college events and committee meetings, and took advantage of professional development opportunities. MCCC mentors included Laura Sosa (business administration), Diane Rizzo (English), Holly-Katherine Johnson (English), and Daniel Schermond (sociology).

Eisenberg shadowed Rizzo in several of her English classes and sat in on a variety of history classes last spring. Rizzo attended one of his classes this past fall and provided extensive feedback on his teaching.

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