Alumni Profiles Series: Andrew Ruoss
Andrew Ruoss received his Ph.D. in 2017, focusing on the history of global political economy. As a doctoral candidate, his research on the English and Dutch East India Companies was supported by a Fulbright Research Fellowship as well as an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council and a fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. After holding faculty and administrative positions at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, Ruoss is now Upper School Academic Dean at Greenwich Country Day School (GCDS) in Greenwich, Connecticut.
How did your time at Duke prepare you for teaching at an independent school?
I was fortunate to have dynamic and generous mentors including Phil Stern, Ronnie Chatterji, Victoria Szabo, and Ed Balleisen, who pushed me to think creatively about the knowledge and skill sets that I developed in my doctoral work. My advisor, Phil Stern, worked with me to build a program of study across the departments of History; Economics; Technology, Media and Information Studies; and the Fuqua School of Business. For my entire time at Duke, I was fortunate to teach and work at the Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI), which certainly prepared me for my career ahead. I served as a graduate instructor in the BorderWork(s) Lab (2011-2015), which organized undergraduate research and courses around how the inhabited world has been “parceled up” materially, politically, economically, and culturally. Following Borderwork(s), I worked for another fantastic mentor, Chris Chia, to develop a curriculum review of the Humanities Labs program. The FHI is one of the first flagship interdisciplinary, project and research-driven teaching centers for undergraduates at a Research I university, and I had the opportunity to learn from a team of highly inventive faculty across humanities and STEM fields. Most leading independent schools across the country are now turning to this collaborative and inquiry-driven model for teaching and learning. In addition, Duke’s approach to training in global fields prepares its graduate students to be effective problem solvers, who can look across cultures, languages, and institutions. This is something that Duke does very well, and all of this can be leveraged to huge effect in a K-12 space.
What kinds of extracurricular or co-curricular projects have you overseen between Hotchkiss and GCDS?
One of the most exciting elements of independent school teaching is the opportunity to work with students beyond the classroom or the lab. At Hotchkiss, I coached the varsity cross-country program of 110 students. This role grew out of my high school and college athletic experiences, and I remained an avid runner in my Duke years. I’ve continued to coach at GCDS, and I especially enjoy observing how my colleagues work with students on the field, which sometimes reflects a very different approach to teaching.
I was also able to build on my research experiences at Duke to serve as the first head of Hotchkiss’s All-Gender Residential Program. This comprehensive residential and wellness program was designed to support the transgender student population at the school, and LGBTQ+ students more broadly. At GCDS, we’ve built an Upper School from scratch, and in my role, I’ve used my training at Duke to build programs and inter-institutional partnerships with schools, universities, organizations, and companies around the world.
How does working with adolescents differ from teaching college students?
In many ways, high school students are just opening their eyes to the world, so to speak, while college students have a more solidified sense of self, as well as a more stable worldview. A great deal of important growth begins to happen in the ninth grade. Teachers have the opportunity to work with students to “learn how they learn” and to begin to blend an interdisciplinary skill set to decode the world around them. The increasing pace of change in today’s world has presented new challenges and opportunities to the mission of teaching students how to be impactful global citizens. Some of our most exciting work at the secondary level is in studying and anticipating these changes, ensuring that our students are prepared with the knowledge, skills, and adaptability necessary to navigate their next steps.
One substantial difference is also that, in working with high school students, you get to see them every day, and the job itself changes daily. Effective educators recognize this and are comfortable and eager to wear many different hats. Just as in mentoring research or teaching classes in the FHI, strong teaching at the high school level represents a partnership between the instructor and the student. At GCDS, this kind of work is made possible through small research-based classes and a robust advising system. Our teachers work with five or six advisees and serve as their lead advocate and guide facilitating the connection between home and school.
Thinking about “home and school,” working with parents might be a source of anxiety for doctoral students interested in teaching at the K-12 level. How do you approach this aspect of the job?
This is a key difference with university teaching. At the secondary level, education is most successful when both teachers and families are partners who are invested in educating and raising students. This relationship can be powerful. At most schools, seasoned faculty mentors are there to help new teachers for whom this element of the job may be new. Raising a child can provoke anxiety at times, but you realize that families and faculty are on the same team—we both want the students in our care to be successful, healthy, and curious about the world around them.
Is it possible to maintain a research agenda while teaching at a secondary school?
In many ways, the boundary between independent schools and academia can be defined by the individual teacher. Since I received my Ph.D., I have published two journal articles. One of these is a synthesis of some of the research I laid out in my dissertation. But there have also been opportunities for me to apply the research skills I learned at Duke in new directions. For example, in an outgrowth of the partnership that I formed with medical practitioners in the development of the All-Gender Program at Hotchkiss, I worked with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who were interested in applying educational approaches to clinical care for LGBTQ+ patients. For me, it was a new and creative project to work on a medical paper, and our findings were published in Dermatologic Clinics in April of last year. To support faculty research, many independent schools also offer generous faculty grants and sabbatical programs on par with what you might find at research universities, and some even cross-list courses with universities. You’ll also find that the skillsets developed at Duke—through teaching, advising, and organizing international research and travel—can be applied and further cultivated in independent school teaching and administrative roles. At GCDS, not a day goes by when I don’t lean on the skills I developed at Duke to approach the teaching, curriculum construction, institutional partnerships, organizational management, and relationship building required to develop a new Upper School.
What advice would you offer someone who wants to explore careers at private secondary schools?
I would approach the process as if you were planning an element of your dissertation or research travel—sounds corny, I know, but there are a lot of similarities. Spend time learning about the ecosystem—institutions, trends, debates—of this professional field. It’s a field with distinct regional identities and institutional types. To start, one might consult job boards like those maintained by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), regional associations, and more specialized associations like the Friends Council on Education. The hiring cycle generally starts in earnest around the winter holidays, with positions being posted to NAIS and listed with placement firms through the spring. Look at the types of jobs that interest you, and in the postings themselves, see what skills and capacities that schools are looking for in successful candidates. As you apply, study the school’s website and scan your own network for anyone who might know the school or the community. Generally, a member of the hiring committee will reach out for a preliminary interview. These can be really engaging conversations, where you can think through how your narrative of experience at Duke applies to the needs and opportunities of the school. The pace, architecture, and priorities of the hiring process will vary by school and position, so try to get a sense of these dynamics through that preliminary conversation. Also think about your aspirations for professional learning. Coming into a junior faculty position from graduate school, schools will want to see that you’ve inventoried your strengths and your focuses for growth, and they’ll want to know what excites you about working with high school students. Duke’s Career Center also has a robust advising program for this industry with strong resources.
Editors’ note: Thanks to Laura Coutts, Assistant Director for Graduate Career Services, for compiling and sharing these resources.
Gray F. Kidd, Ph.D.
Recent Ph.D. graduate, History
Gray F. Kidd received his Ph.D. in History in 2021. At Duke, he coordinated the Global Brazil Humanities Lab at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute (2014-2017) as well as the Duke Brazil Initiative (2018-2019). A collaborative humanist, Kidd also co-led a Bass Connections Education and Human Development (EHD) team that explored the impacts of Brazil's vast expansion of free public higher education since 2000. Most recently, Kidd advised a group of undergraduate student curators who produced the virtual exhibit “Black Lives Matter Brazil-USA: The Global Fight for Breath.” In August 2021, he will join the history faculty at The Agnes Irwin School in greater Philadelphia.