Transforming Teaching and Learning at SLU for 15 years: Or is it 20?

by Debra Rudder Lohe, Director

Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning 15-Year AnniversaryGreetings from the newly-christened Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.  Officially, this year marks the 15th anniversary for the Center (formerly, the Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence), but the fact is, we’ve been transforming teaching at Saint Louis University even longer than that.

Twenty years ago, in 1992, the then-Graduate School created the Graduate School Teaching Resource Room, in an effort to better prepare graduate students for their future academic careers.  The idea for the Resource Room – like so many good ideas that have taken root at SLU over the years – came from the late Don Brennan, who was Dean of the Graduate School at the time and who was deeply committed to the formation of excellent university teachers.

The story goes that Dean Brennan, along with the late J.J. O’Brien (professor emeritus of education), put a small library of teaching resources and a handful graduate assistants in a corner room in the Graduate School, and the first formal resource for instructional development at SLU was born.  In an interview several years ago, Dr. Jim Korn, professor emeritus of psychology, explained that, informally, graduate students and faculty alike had been consulting with Dr. O’Brien – whom Korn called “the saint of teaching” at SLU – about pedagogy for years, hanging around in hallways and chatting with him while he smoked.  (To hear more of the interview with Dr. Korn about the Center’s history, listen to the podcasts found on the following page)

By early 1997, the Resource Room had made such an impression on campus that Dr. Korn, in his new role as associate graduate dean for teaching, headed a faculty committee that petitioned University administration to establish a formal teaching center, which would serve both graduate students and faculty across the campus.  The committee was successful, and in the fall of 1997, the Center for Teaching Excellence officially began its work.  Just a few years later, in 2001, it would be christened the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Teaching Excellence, in honor of the long-time SLU president whose commitment to innovation and excellence are unrivaled.

First located in O’Brien House (named for that aforementioned “saint”), the Center officially began by offering a small number of services for faculty, in addition to consulting with graduate teaching assistants and offering the Certificate in University Teaching Skills.  The Certificate – originally designed for graduate students – is still alive and well.  Recently, we’ve even seen an increase in the number of faculty participants, which is a strong indication of the quality of the program. (In May, we celebrated our largest group of recipients to date: 50 total Certificates were awarded to SLU graduate students and faculty, which brought our total for the academic year to about 60.)

The Center has continued to grow since those early days.  Thanks in large part to the reflective, thoughtful leadership of Dr. Mary Stephen, who led the Center for almost a decade (until her retirement in January 2011), and to a robust, dedicated faculty Advisory Board, we have continued to deepen our roots in the SLU community and to set a high bar for the quality of programs and services we offer.

Today, a mere 15 years after our founding as a formal Center, we now enjoy a rich diversity of faculty and graduate students attending our programs and seeking our services, and we increasingly are invited by departments and colleges to hold unit-level workshops on teaching and assessment of learning.  Additionally, we often are called upon to share our expertise on effective teaching practices with other educators on campus—others from whom students learn (such as academic advisors, Learning Communities residence hall coordinators, and the like), in this holistic, Jesuit effort to care for and educate the “whole person” (cura personalis).

Ultimately, strong leadership, faculty commitment, and ongoing administrative support have made the Center’s first 15 years (or is it 20?) successful ones.  As we look ahead to the next 15, we can only hope that our presence and sustained growth continue to serve as evidence that “teaching is valued and has a high priority at Saint Louis University,” as Dean Brennan hoped (correspondence with the founding Advisory Board members).

All year long, this blog will explore the rich history of the Center – and the faculty who have contributed to its formative years – as well as offering 15-year themed suggestions, tips, and reflections.  So, join us as we celebrate this important milestone!

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