First Experiences: Teaching As a Doctoral Fellow at El Paso Community College

Apr 2020
10-minute read

At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at EPCC’s Northwest Campus titled "Teaching Humanities at EPCC." There, I learned first-hand information on how to apply my teaching experience according the needs of the students of community college students in the Borderland. This encouraged me to apply to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP to add another layer to my academic career, for which I got the opportunity to be a Doctoral Teaching Fellow for the 2019-2020 academic year as an adjunct instructor. I arrived at EPCC with no preconceived notions as to what to expect from this teaching experience and only very little information from my friends and peers from UTEP’s Borderlands History Graduate Program relative to what might lie ahead of me.

I started as an instructor at EPCC during the 2019 Summer II semester and continued through the fall semester, teaching in EPCC's History 1302 course. As the weeks and months progressed, I began to encounter the unique challenges of teaching in a community college environment.  One such challenge was that of teaching students whose first language was not English, and I noticed that it was not only difficult for them to speak and participate in the group activities but, most importantly, to transfer what they learned in class to my written exams that have short answer and essay questions.  Having previous experience working at UTEP and sometimes having such students in my classes, I noticed that this same situation occurs in both institutions, and I have learned that it is crucial for me as an instructor to meet the needs of particular student populations. To accomplish that at EPCC, I implemented various strategies including sharing part of my notes and PowerPoint class presentations with these students, the use of simple English during my lectures, and getting away from deep history jargon or deep analysis. I also used synonyms or simple explanations when I saw blank faces, encouraged them to talk to me or review material after class or during office hours, and most importantly, used the language in which they feel most comfortable, especially when they want to address any particular concern about the course. In the near future, I would like to develop with my EPCC faculty peers some ways to address this challenge—which I see more as an opportunity—to better serve our student population.

Language, though, is not the only challenge I’ve faced while teaching.  At times, I have had to incorporate certain methods to work with students that need special accommodations. Luckily, I’ve had training in this area during my UTEP faculty background, in which I coordinated mostly with the UTEP Center for Accommodations and Support Services (CASS), where I would take students’ exams to give students time-and-a-half or double during their assessments. From this experience I have had one of my best students during my teaching career, for which I learned to have the greatest respect for this student population and for the effort they make while taking my classes. During this semester at EPCC, I had the opportunity of serving several of these students, and one of my goals was for me to accommodate their needs for them to be able to be successful in my classes. For that I made several visits EPCC’s Valle Verde Campus Center for Students with Disabilities, in which I met on several occasions with the center’s coordinator, counselors, and staff to address particular situations or needs of my students. Adding that extra level of involvement with my students made the difference since not only all of them passed the class or got a good grade, but some of them exceeded my expectations with the improvement in their writing on different class assignments and exams, and even the completion of the optional final extra points activity that consisted of doing an oral history.

Effective teaching at community colleges involves more than just teaching in the classroom.  To connect community college students with the full humanities experience, one must also commit to reaching out to students through a variety of events and presentations.  As a Doctoral Teaching Fellow, I’ve also had the pleasure of volunteering as a UTEP coordinator/liaison with EPCC faculty, and have been able to bring EPCC and UTEP and their students in contact with each other in the area of humanities. The first EPCC Humanities Fair accomplished its main goals of giving EPCC students the opportunity to know the different career options in the humanities by giving students the opportunity to speak with faculty, students, and staff of different departments of both institutions, and informing students how they can transfer their credits to UTEP by attending a presentation given by the staff of EPCC’s Career & Transfer Services and UTEP’s Office of Admissions and Recruitment departments and allowing students to speak directly to staff of both departments.

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Another outcome of the EPCC Humanities Fair was to put students into contact with peers of the different humanities departments of both institutions, giving students a more intimate look at the opportunities offered by humanities programs at the university level.

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Another event was a presentation given by Dr. Yolanda Chávez-Leyva and Dr. Selfa Chew-Meléndez, Honoring Stonewall: Empowering the LGBT Community Past and Present, in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising that marked the start of the LGBT Movement in the United States.

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This presentation, apart from giving some historical insight to this important event, provided a human and inclusive side of the story as both speakers talked about the role of minorities and personal experiences related to the LGBT community. I am sure that these kinds of events could be the great start of a future lecture series that includes both EPCC and UTEP faculty in the area of humanities.

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It has only been a few months—a short period of time—that I've been working as a Doctoral teaching Fellow for The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP, but I can say that in this short period of time I have learned so much working as a community college instructor and working with other community college instructors and that it has also been one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my teaching career.

Written by Jaime R. Ruiz, The University of Texas at El Paso
Doctoral Teaching Fellow, The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP

(All images courtesy Jaime R. Ruiz.)



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