Today all my teaching revolves around the MA in Sociology, Research, and Practice showing students how to conduct social science research by involving them in team projects on pressing issues around migration and health.
During the pandemic, my focus was teaching on real-time collaborative research over Zoom and email with master's students at American University MA in Sociology Research and Practice and members of the Immigration Lab.
My teaching philosophy is centered on making students realize the power that social science has to help them understand their lives better. I aim to integrate teaching, learning, and service. I first tried this approach during my graduate school years while I taught at Columbia University and Baruch College, City University of New York (CUNY). For those classes, I engaged students in original research in Hispanic neighborhoods in New York City. In particular, I was interested in finding out more about ethnic succession in the neighborhood of El Barrio/Spanish Harlem in Manhattan that was changing from a Puerto Rican-majority to a Mexican and Central American one. For two years, I asked students in five classes to help me survey, map, and understand the local dynamics. Many students were initially reluctant to spend time in El Barrio, including several first and second immigrant generation Hispanic students; but by the end of the semester, many reported that their initially negative views of the residents of Spanish Harlem had changed. During my time at the University of Texas El Paso, I continued to integrate teaching, learning, and service.
I believe in student involvement, community engagement, and Socratic questioning. In the classroom, I use a combination of lecturing and asking open-ended questions to elicit student participation and debate to develop independent thinking, and to show the students how their classmates and I can learn from their previous knowledge, experiences, and reflections on the readings. Students present their work throughout the semester, and many have presented posters in conferences.
Our MA students immerse themselves in research focusing on the social determinants of health—particularly related to social inequities of race/ethnicity, social class, gender and sexuality—in connection to other sociological subfields, such as urban development, migration, education, and social movements.
I design my courses so that learning transcends the classroom walls. Research shows that students are more likely to remember and apply skills learned during hands-on activities and through experiences that generate emotional reactions, rather than through the mere repetition of facts and theories. I facilitate such learning by developing opportunities for students to interact with members of their own community. After I provide students with examples and proper training on safety and the ethics of conducting research with human subjects, I give assignments that require students to leave their comfort zone and the familiarity of the classroom and learn more about the community where they live. Of course, alternative assignments like literature reviews or student-driven research papers are always made available as an option, as I believe it is essential to be flexible while ensuring that learning goals are met. However, I have had a high level of participation of undergraduate students in research on public housing, homelessness, the border fence, and immigrant communities. Many of these students report in class and departmental evaluations that these experiences were extremely valuable for them. Throughout the semester, I encourage students to share the challenges they are facing conducting research. We then connect this to discussions about epistemology and methodology.
The way I teach Research Methods exemplifies my dedication to provide students with real-world research experience. I successfully teach Methods of Research in a community-based interdisciplinary manner. I combine rich and carefully planned lectures with grounded empirical work that extends learning beyond the classroom. I accustom students to seeing themselves both as active users and co-creators of social science knowledge. This allows them to realize that they all have the potential to become professional social scientists. I also show them how research skills can be extremely beneficial for non-profits, business, and the government, and can lead to career advancement.
My teaching philosophy is centered on conducting social science research on issues that are relevant to the students and community. I work with my TAs, graduate, and undergraduate students in research, writing, and publishing. While time-intensive, co-authoring with students pays dividends in terms of training a new generation of scholars and in producing scientific research that addresses important issues in a holistic, interdisciplinary manner with input from the local community. Such experiential learning pedagogy and collaborative research including data collection, discussion of findings, data analysis, and writing about results have been greatly beneficial to all parties involved. Partly as a result of their research experiences, over a dozen of my students thus far have decided to attend graduate school and have been accepted into MA and doctoral programs.
Undergraduates enrolled in my “Migration” course constantly give me the highest evaluations possible. I have also successfully taught rigorous Sociological Theory courses to undergraduates. I challenge my students to read selections from the original texts and grapple with the meaning and the context in which it was written. Theoretical insights are best appreciated when they are related to real-world experiences that students are familiar with. Thus the final paper for my theory class asks students to use two theories to explain social phenomena around them.
In agreement with the “funds of knowledge” theory, I show students that no matter their background, they bring knowledge and experiences to the classroom that their classmates and I can benefit from learning about. I survey students at the beginning of every class to learn more about their background, life experiences, and interests. In graduate seminars, I match the course goals with the students’ desire to find an area of research and to learn how to do sociology in the 21st century. In all courses, we scrutinize the methodologies used to generate theoretical statements, and discuss the limitations of various theories to inform empirical projects.
This overall approach to teaching produces creative, critical, independent, and inquisitive students with a developed sociological imagination. I have had success writing and publishing papers with a wide range of students, including minorities, non-traditional, trans, gifted, and underprivileged students.
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