Laurie Fathe Heads Effort to Improve Instruction Skills

Posted: September 11, 2001 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

Laurie Fathe is director of the new Center for Teaching Excellence, an outgrowth of university self-studies that recommended a focus on improving instruction at the university. Fathe brings to George Mason experience in both teaching and improving the process of teaching. Most recently, she was director of the Los Angeles Collaborative for Teacher Excellence, a National Science Foundation-funded project to improve the science and math preparation of teachers in the greater Los Angeles area. She also taught science at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and spent a year as a science advisor in Congress.

Fathe says an exciting part of her new position is the opportunity to organize a new venture and put together an organization from the ground up. “The limitations we encounter in college teaching are more a problem of the institutional structure and reward system than of individual faculty members’ lack of knowledge or motivation,” she says.

One issue that needs to be addressed, she says, is the way our students’ lives have changed over the years. “When I went to college, most of the students were between the ages of 18 and 24, were fairly well supported by their families or by grants and scholarships, and did not have significant family obligations. This is not the case now. For us to remain effective as educators, we need to understand the realities of our students’ lives, and approach their education accordingly. Students’ time is often every bit as scarce as faculty members’, and thus some prior practices that are not time-effective for students need to be rethought.”

Fathe would like the center to be a “home” for those who want to talk about, learn about, or focus more on teaching. “I hope people will drop by to chat, read, or ask questions,” she says. She encourages faculty members and graduate teaching assistants to suggest topics for workshops, seminars, or ongoing discussion groups, and notes that a discussion group on the teaching of controversial subjects is already in the works. “One of the joys of my job is that I don’t need to be an expert in most of these areas, just a facilitator,” she says. “And along the way I get to learn about all these diverse subjects. I think I have one of the best jobs at the university!”

Read more about the Center for Teaching Excellence in the September issue of the Mason Gazette.

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