By Hailey Stiehl
On her first day of teaching “Introduction to Robotics,” Siobhan Oca invited her students to collaborate on a problem that the class was discussing. As she watched, her students got to work, diligently trying to figure out how to answer the question.
This opportunity to see her students engaging with the lesson that she had constructed was one of Oca’s favorite experiences teaching an undergraduate course in her department, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. That experience was made possible through her Bass Instructional Fellowships.
The Bass Instructional Fellowship Program supports high-quality teaching experiences for Ph.D. students where normal means of funding are unavailable. There are three fellowship opportunities within the program: instructor of record, instructional teaching assistants, and digital education fellows.
Oca, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate, heard about the program during her first year at Duke and knew that she wanted to apply, specifically for the instructor of record. She had been passionate about teaching, and the fellowship would give her the perfect opportunity to combine hands-on teaching experience with her research. She received a fellowship for 2021 and is teaching her course during the fall 2021 semester.
“I was ecstatic that there was an opportunity to teach even before graduating with a Ph.D. as an instructor of record, and I was able to find a course that worked well for my department and the undergraduate student needs,” Oca said. “I have always loved teaching, but it still really surprised me that this type of opportunity was even available.”
Hugh Crumley, Ph.D., assistant dean of academic affairs in The Graduate School, helps to coordinate the fellowship program, and collaborates with Sophia Stone, a senior consultant in Duke Learning Innovation, to supervise the digital education fellows. Crumley has worked closely with many of the recipients and knows how valuable the opportunity can be for students’ future careers.
“The program just has so much to offer to our students,” he said. “From chances to teach a course as an instructor of record, support a department that would greatly benefit from help in a classroom as a teaching assistant, or explore a digital pedagogy in an increasingly digital world, it provides so many opportunities.”
Bass Instructional Fellow Dayton Kinney got to experience that broad range of opportunities through all three types of Bass Instructional Fellowships during her time at The Graduate School.
“As a Bass Instructor of Record, I was afforded the opportunity to teach a course of my own design that implemented my research. As a Bass Digital Education Fellow, I engaged with online pedagogical practices through distinct projects and make an impact on undergraduate education,” said Kinney, a seventh-year Ph.D. candidate in music composition. “And finally, as a Bass Teaching Assistant Fellow, I am gaining additional teaching experience through a secondary field related to my research.”
Kinney’s time within the fellowship program has not only provided valuable teaching experiences, but also has influenced her thoughts about her post-graduation career paths.
“My experience as a Bass Fellow has inspired me to cast a wider net of opportunities related to education,” she said. “[The Bass Fellowship Program] has made additional career pathways possible, while also granting me the ability to further develop my approaches to teaching.”
Similarly, Oca’s experiences as an instructor of record have broadened her professional possibilities within her field after graduate school.
“This program has given me the space and time to embrace what I have been passionate about for so long—teaching,” Oca said. “With this opportunity, I feel emboldened to apply to teaching faculty positions across the country when I graduate, something less common in my field of engineering. I know teaching is not a typical path to pursue, but it’s what I love doing, even at night, to make the best learning experience for my students.”
The deadline to apply for the next round of Bass Instructional Fellowships is November 12, and the next cohort will be named December 20.
“My best advice for the next cohort of Bass Fellows is to lean into and apply for every opportunity that will allow you to further develop your skill sets and experience,” Kinney said. “There are so many opportunities at Duke, but the Bass Fellowships truly are worthwhile and unique.”