Mason’s Location Provides Army of Talented Adjuncts

Posted: February 12, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

By day, Robert Ponichtera is the founder and executive director of Liberty’s Promise, an organization in Alexandria, Va., that “supports young immigrants in need while encouraging them to be active and conscientious American citizens.”

By late evening, specifically Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester, Ponichtera is among the army of highly qualified adjunct professors at George Mason.

“It is a challenge to work full time and then teach,” says Ponichtera, in his fourth semester at Mason. “I do it because I like to teach. And the money certainly comes in handy.”

Ponichtera, who teaches History of Western Civilization, says, “The thing I like best about Mason is it has such a diverse population. It is certainly interesting to talk to young people, for instance, who have no background with Christianity.” He enjoys explaining to his class, for example, about the Reformation and how Christianity influenced Europe.

Like all Mason adjuncts, this part-time professor is no slouch academically: he has a PhD in East European History from Yale, and he has taught at Yale, Quinnipiac College and Albertus Magnus College.

According to Kris Smith, associate provost for institutional research and reporting, there are 1,022 adjuncts at Mason this academic year.

“Mason obviously depends considerably on adjunct faculty,” notes Provost Peter Stearns. “The resources of the region allow us to tap very talented professionals who add greatly to the expertise available to undergraduate majors and students in master’s programs.

“We are also blessed with some very talented adjuncts who work in some of our lower-level courses; their competence and devotion are both welcome and impressive,” he adds.

Ponichtera became adjunct professor of history through Mills Kelly, whom he has known for several years. Kelly directs the Western Civilization Program and is responsible for hiring adjuncts for Western Civilization classes. He says 1,200 to 1,300 Mason students take History 100 every semester, with another 300 to 400 students enrolled in the course in the summer.

Kelly recruits four to eight adjuncts each semester to teach History 100. He says most adjuncts he works with either have their doctorate and are working full time in a field outside of academe, or have just completed their doctorate and are looking for teaching experience at the university level.

Another adjunct who brings real world experience to Mason is Juliana Birkhoff, a senior mediator at Resolve Inc. She has mediated workplace, landlord-tenant, and other community conflicts. She is now an assistant clinical professor at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) at Mason.

Birkhoff has a master’s degree and doctorate from Mason, and she became an adjunct about a year ago. She teaches her conflict mediation classes at Mason on the weekend.

“It’s just a natural partnership. My nonprofit pays for my actual contract hours for teaching, but not for preparation time,” she says.

Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah, another ICAR adjunct, is teaching a course this semester called Integrated Complimentary Approaches in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She also heads up a woman-owned firm, Kommon Denominator Inc., in Fairfax. Va. The firm offers consulting services nationally and internationally in conflict prevention and mitigation, as well as organizing development.

“It is a challenge preparing and getting ready for the class. Teaching is extremely time consuming. You have to be physically and emotionally prepared,” says Jadallah.

On the other hand, she says, “It’s a win-win situation. You continue the relationship with your alma mater, or a university you have respect for. It’s a unique opportunity for us educators to learn from our students who come from a broad range of academic training and life experiences. You develop great rapport with them and they become your network in the community.”

Chad Morris moved to the Washington, D.C., area from Kentucky about two years ago. He had been adjunct professor at Eastern Kentucky University, and he sent his resume to several universities in the area. He landed a position at Mason and is now teaching Anthropology 440 and Global Affairs 101 this semester.

“I have been thrilled with the capabilities of the students,” says Morris. “We have some outstanding students who have a variety of experiences. The Department of Anthropology is a group of people that get along real well. They have also been incredibly kind to allow me to teach courses that match well with my experience.”

The oldest adjunct at Mason is Max Harway, who turns 94 in March. He has been an adjunct at Mason the past two academic years in the History Department. Harway has had a varied career; he spent several years with the U.S. State Department and was an economist with the Department of Labor.

Harway recently returned from a two-week family trip to Turkey; he says he had been to at least 80 countries by the time he turned 80. Harway has also met several U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy when he was a senator. He also worked under President Lyndon Johnson and met George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon.

“I teach the history of the 20th century, since I lived through most of it,” says Harway.

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