Experiential Learning at Drexel Boosted by Adjuncts

Often at Drexel, it’s good to look back on the goals of the University’s founder to provide perspective on the University today.

“As Anthony J. Drexel pointed out, a Drexel education is founded on the ideal of having an education that is both good and ‘good for something,’” said Janet Fleetwood, PhD, vice provost for Strategic Initiatives. “As a University that emphasizes experiential learning, adjunct faculty members who can bring real-world experience to the students play an important role.”

Nearly half of the adjunct faculty who responded to a recent Drexel poll have a full-time position outside of their adjunct position at the University. It’s the University’s goal to use adjunct faculty with that valuable outside experience to better complete the mosaic of learning students require before heading out on co-op or to their careers.

“Our adjunct faculty members include nurses, engineers, artists, designers, professional writers, entrepreneurs and judges, among many other professions,” Fleetwood said. “Other Drexel adjunct faculty members are recent doctoral recipients or long-time academics with impressive resumes.”

Peter Hoffman, JD, is one of those adjunct faculty members who bring real-world experience to the classroom.

A partner at the firm Eckert Seamans and a practicing lawyer for 40 years in the professional liability and malpractice fields, Hoffman has taught both medical malpractice and health law classes at Drexel for five years.

“I see things from the perspective of a person who is practicing,” Hoffman said. “We talk about how cases develop in trials, how they develop for the defense and the plaintiff, we talk about some policy issues — things that I see.”

Adjunct faculty member Alfred Giosa working with a Drexel nursing student.

The majority of Drexel adjunct faculty members are employed by the College of Arts and Sciences, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, the School of Education or the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

David Caldwell has been an adjunct faculty member for the College of Nursing and Health Professions since 2012, where he teaches classes in health services administration, finance and long-term care. Caldwell is a senior associate with Summit Talent Group, LLC, a firm that searches for candidates for openings in executive health care positions. As such, he has a pretty good idea of what skills and know-how are valuable on the job market.

“I think that the industry experience is terribly important to the overall learning process,” Caldwell said. “I, along with the majority of adjunct instructors, make it a point to build classes around not only didactic material but also relevant knowledge of trends currently going on in our fields.”

Alecia Fox is an assistant clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, where she also serves as the senior director of nursing faculty resources. Her department was created to better recruit, retain and utilize the adjuncts in the college.

As such, Fox is intimately aware of the value of bringing adjuncts into the fold of Drexel’s teaching ranks.

“For a practice such as nursing, adjuncts are a valuable addition to student development,” Fox said. “These individuals hold such positions as hospital CEOs, entrepreneurs, clinical trials managers and primary care providers.”

Blythe Davenport teaches early college English courses with the perspective and flair of a published author and poet.

“I don’t teach a lot of students who will pursue writing outside of their schoolwork, but I try to shift that perspective and look at writing as something they can have fun doing,” Davenport said. “I sort of try to exemplify that and show that I do that on my own time and enjoy it.”

When Davenport was published in The 33rd, an anthology featuring the work of Drexel faculty and students, her students took notice.

“Some of my students saw that and thought it was cool,” she said. “They don’t realize they can do that and I’m trying to show them that they can.”

Davenport serves as one of four adjunct faculty representatives to the Faculty Senate. Adding adjunct representatives to the senate was a change enacted this year in an effort to give more of a voice to adjuncts in how the University runs. The senate represents all Drexel faculty, which numbers more than 1,100 full-time faculty members and a little more than 800 adjunct faculty members.

“I think the idea was to be more inclusive and I think Drexel does a very good job of that with the adjuncts,” Davenport said. “They’re really trying to hear all these situations.”

Although the adjunct representatives don’t vote in the senate, they weigh in on discussions that help shape important decisions at the University and meet twice a year with the University’s provost.

The Adjunct Faculty Initiative from the Provost’s Office has made some advances for adjunct faculty members, including an Adjunct Resource Guide, a space reservation system, and a new professional development awards program.

Adjunct faculty members who are eligible under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are offered health care.

Drexel offers some benefits that go beyond the scope of what the Affordable Care Act has required since Jan. 1. Eligible adjunct faculty members who work an average of at least 30 hours per week over the previous 12 month period are offered vision, dental and prescription coverage.

“Drexel is also working to transition some of our long-term adjunct faculty members who have heavy teach loads to our full-time teaching faculty, enabling them to put down roots at Drexel,” Fleetwood said.

Keeping adjunct faculty around to provide a valuable mix with the traditional, full-time faculty is important.

“I would say that Drexel students are very practical and interested in career information, so people working in the industry can bring what’s happening at that time to the classroom and bring an idea of how to make that transition from school to job,” Davenport said.

Some adjuncts provide that transition themselves.

Hoffman has hired three students during his time as an adjunct.

“You get to know who’s out there,” in the hiring pool, Hoffman said.

For a University dedicated to preparing students for a productive post-graduate career, that can’t be bad.