Archive for Tuesday, October 20, 1998


October 20, 1998


At a ceremony today in Budig Hall, Kansas University officials will unveil the new Center for Teaching Excellence.

While working on a project targeting 1,600 calculus students at the University of Michigan several years ago, Estela Gavosto was skeptical that the school's campuswide faculty assistance center -- the oldest of its kind in the country -- would be able to offer any useful support.

She was happy to be proven wrong.

``I didn't think those things would be useful to me, but it really did help me in my teaching,'' said Gavosto, now a Kansas University assistant professor of mathematics. ``It really has a major impact.''

Taking a cue from Michigan, as well as the universities of Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri, KU last August established its own faculty support headquarters -- the Center for Teaching Excellence.

But with limited available space, the center was forced to take up temporary residence in two study carousels in the Anschutz Science Library.

``That entire place was smaller than the (new) conference room,'' said Fred Rodriguez, center director and a KU associate professor of education. ``Not a lot of space.''

One year and about $200,000 later, KU officials this morning will unveil the brand new center inside Budig Hall's expansive Room 135.

``It's a quiet place for work on teaching and contemplation on teaching,'' said Annette Stanton, KU associate professor of psychology and a member of the center's advisory board. ``It's a beautiful space with nice light and nice facilities. We're excited about it.''

Inside, a meandering corridor and a medley of rooms are accented by wood frames and a number of big windows. From the carpet and furniture to the partitions and sound boards, soft blues and maroons fill their function as Jayhawk hues.

Early Monday afternoon, Rodriguez pointed out the benefits of the multimedia projection equipment and other presentation implements that will enhance faculty conferences and seminars.

The center features a fledgling research library and an informal area for faculty gatherings. It also publishes a newsletter called ``Teaching Matters'' and hosts a regular event called ``Dinner and Dialogue,'' where faculty members give presentations on their successes and failures.

Rodriguez regularly meets with ``ambassadors'' to the center -- a group of 56 faculty members representing all the departments and schools on campus.

``One of the things we haven't done enough of is talk to each other,'' said Stanton, who this semester is teaching an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology and a graduate course in psychology and women's health. ``I learn most from other people's ideas.''

Rodriguez agreed.

After 20 years in the KU School of Education, he realized that although he knew his immediate colleagues he had little if any contact with other faculty members.

``You really don't venture across campus very much,'' said Rodriguez, who this semester is teaching an undergraduate course on equity in education.

New life

New to Lawrence a year ago, Dietrich Earnhart, KU associate professor of environmental studies and economics, has taken full advantage of the center's amenities. He expects it to serve as a refuge for faculty members in need of a recharge.

``Sometimes you need two or three hours of uninterrupted time so you can think about things in a new way, from a new perspective ... take last year's lecture and bring it to new life,'' Earnhart said.

Each semester, the center grants fellowships to two faculty members, allowing them to dedicate one-fourth of their time to hammering out projects at specially designated work stations.

As one of the two fellowship recipients this fall, Gavosto said she plans to use the resources provided by the center and Rodriguez to combat the bad habits that calculus students develop back in algebra.

The applications may be specific, but the implications are universal.

``Somehow, we think things are only happening in the math department or somewhere else,'' Gavosto said. ``But really they are underlying problems all around campus.''

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is

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