By Gina Vergel
As director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, Anne Mannion, Ph.D., is helping to strengthen students’ public speaking skills.
Photo by Gina Vergel
“[Faculty members] look at us
like a ‘help desk,’ if you will.
This is about teaching
and we’re here to help.”
You could say that Anne Mannion, Ph.D., associate professor of history, knows a thing or two about teaching. She has influenced countless young minds in the more than 50 years she has taught at Fordham.
The director of the honors program at Lincoln Center, Mannion was appointed director of Fordham’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) when it opened two years ago. We sat down with Mannion to learn what has been going on at CTE, which provides resources for faculty members.
How does the center dovetail with Fordham’s core curriculum?
The center basically was born coterminous with the new core curriculum. When you take a look at the core, at least four courses are Eloquentia Perfecta, or EP seminars. There are two in the freshman year, a third in one of the middle years, and the fourth is a values course in the senior year. One of the distinguishing characteristics of EP courses is that 20 percent of class time must be devoted to writing and public speaking.
The piece I was always so adamant about is oral presentations. It has always bothered me that so many college graduates struggle to give a strong oral presentation. Some have high GPAs and have earned their degrees in challenging majors, so it’s obvious that there is nothing wrong with their brain or critical thinking skills. But when you ask them to get up on their feet and make a formal presentation or speak extemporaneously, you might as well have asked them to jump off a roof. I have seen enough over the years to think we ought to do something to strengthen that component.
How does the center help faculty with EP courses?
Professors have to submit a syllabus that demonstrates how they are going to incorporate writing and speaking skills into the nuts and the bolts of their EP courses. Part of our job is to convince the faculty that teaching speaking skills is not the same as teaching an old-fashioned elocution class.
CTE came online two years ago to train the first group of EP teachers in history, theology, philosophy, English, classics and comparative literature through mentoring and workshops. The natural science group, led by Grace Vernon, Ph.D., put together a dazzling EP model. Slowly but surely, almost every academic department or program has a representation in the EP programs. Altogether on both campuses, we’ve “certified” roughly 130 faculty members.
Will these workshops continue?
At Rose Hill in particular, there are a large number of post-doctoral students and graduate teaching assistants who teach entry-level classes. Their departments are sending them to us. History, for example, used to have a program to train its own instructors, but now it’s probably easier for us to do it. For the foreseeable future, as long as there continues to be a supply of post-docs and TAs, that subculture will always be with us and we’ll always be there for them.
Is the center most helpful for post-doctoral teaching assistants and new faculty?
Some of the best players in the workshop are people who have been at Fordham for 30 years. I find that when you get a reasonably experienced teacher, he or she loves to talk about this kind of thing. When do you sit down and talk about teaching? It seems like never. So the idea that you could sit down for an hour and a half to talk about our craft, it’s great. You’ll hear, “What do you do with this kind of a situation?” and people chime in. Somebody in the room has a thought and it starts a group conversation.
How has the center grown?
In addition to the EP workshops, we have a good connection with the Office of Student Affairs and we’ve collectively devised something called “Students in Crisis.” We have a public presentation on all of the campuses each semester. It’s really a conversation.
What are the goals of CTE?
What I like most about the center is that it cuts across all schools. It has to. It was born in the undergraduate liberal arts colleges because that’s where the teaching business goes on, but if you’re going to reach out to other constituencies, I can see us getting phone calls from all of Fordham’s schools.
We’ve been getting involved with individual faculty members who feel they want some extra help with aspects of classroom instruction. They look at us like a “help desk,” if you will. This is about teaching and we’re here to help. Our mission is basically the art and science of teaching. To the degree that we can be of help, we’re here. It’s as if we have this kind of magnet quality because there is a teaching component to so many things people do at a university.