Professor Perspectives! (part two)

Hi everyone! Following the positive response I received in the spring regarding the professor interviews that I did with several of our wonderful faculty members, I thought it would be good to gather a few more!

As I have always firmly believed, the dynamic between students and faculty here is incredibly unique and special. These Franklin perspectives give a peek into what it's like to be at Franklin. Thank you to Professors Della Croce, Vogelaar, and Rocourt for their time - it is so appreciated!
Originally from: Lugano, Switzerland
Pre-Franklin: M.S. Swiss Institute of Technology, Zurich; Ph.D. Montana State University
Length of time teaching at Franklin: 2 years

Professor, how did you end up at Franklin University Switzerland?

Well, I am originally from Lugano, and had previously been living in Bozeman, Montana doing research there and getting my Ph.D. I started at Franklin in August 2013 and I arrived here honestly by chance, because I had moved back to Lugano a few months before the position opening. This job opening was great because I was still finishing my Ph.D at the time and was able to finish it and then come here.

You’ve been at Franklin for two years, how do you like teaching here?

I love it! It’s really different from all of the other universities I’ve been to. I was used to larger universities with lecture halls holding 100-150 students in the room, so coming here you’re just confronted with this very small community with small classes and you get to know your students very well. It’s just nice—there are nice interactions with students and I love what I teach.
In addition, I get to do research, be close to home, and keep up with my English, which is something I was hoping for given that Italian is my first language.

What does your research at Franklin focus on?

I am focusing on what I was doing for my Ph.D, namely on how non-native genes spread across native populations. Imagine you have a river populated by native fish and put in that river non-native fish: I am studying how the non-native genes from the non-native fish into the gene pool of native populations. I am mainly working with a computer simulation model that I designed for my Ph.D.

Where do you lead Academic Travel?

I lead a freshwater conservation based travel where we travel to Northeastern Italy and work on a floodplain for about a week. Students are able to be in the river and we do a lot of river and groundwater ecology. We collect samples of insects and spend quite some time in the water which is something I really love to do. Related to water, we look at karstic environments exploring caves in Slovenia, and we spend some time in Venice looking at the lagoon and the problems it has related to water. This year we also visited a fish farm and a wastewater treatment plant.

How do you feel Academic Travel relates to your teaching?

It’s definitely a whole new experience! Already at Franklin you really get to know your students quite well when you teach because you have such small classes, and in several of my courses we have off-campus activities which increase interactions with the students. But then academic travel brings your interactions to a whole different level: on travel we are pretty much our own small unit and are together just about all of the time. You have to get to know each other, it’s really nice! In the first week we have all meals together and we spend the days on the floodplain together. We stay at an agriturismo during the first week where there's a long table that fits about 20 people. For me it's been great to spend the evenings around that table because you get to know the students in a different context - you learn what they like, their viewpoints, and what their passionate about. 

What are your thoughts on the international community at Franklin?

Well, students bring examples in my classes from all around the world and then every now and then there’s somebody from any given nation who says “oh, yes, we have that in my home country”.
My favorite anecdote - which I believe is very unique to Franklin - came from last spring.  I taught three different courses and I had a student from South America (Venezuela), a student from Eastern Europe (Ukraine), and a student from the Middle East (Syria), come to talk to me in one day. All of them were from crisis regions in the world and all of their countries had bad events occur that day. I remember how I left campus thinking about how that day the world was not a good place for everyone, and I was just so relieved we were all safe here in Switzerland. It’s just so unique to have so many students from different parts of the world, you don’t find that anywhere else. You really see everything here, Franklin is a small sample of the world.

Are there any big draws to studying Environmental Sciences at Franklin?

We encourage the interaction between environmental sciences and other departments here. We are only two professors in our department so students can’t only take classes with us, which is something you see in very few other universities. Here, other courses are offered to you from other faculties. An Environmental Science degree is relevant - we need to understand the environment better and we need to protect it better. One of the strengths of the major here is that it integrates really well with all of the other aspects, it doesn’t only focus on Environmental Sciences. We encourage students to take economics classes, politics classes, management courses, and so on. This allows you to not only understand the environment better, but to understand the economics behind the environment, the politics behind the environment, and that makes our students better environmental sciences graduates.

Do you have any advice for anyone on the fence about coming here?

If you want a technical school, don’t come to Franklin, if you want a math and physics heavy school then this is not the place for you. If you want to be a number, don’t come to Franklin. Come here if you want and you are willing to be an active part of a very nice community, to be a name and a face in that community. Join us if you want to gain an instruction that is deeper than the education you can get at a lot of other institutions.
Originally from: Colorado, USA
Education: B.A. Colorado State University; M.A. San Diego State University; Ph.D. University of Colorado
Length of time teaching at Franklin: 7 years

When did you come to Franklin?

I arrived here in the fall of 2008, from Washington D.C., where I was finishing my dissertation and teaching at Georgetown University and George Washington University as an adjunct professor.

What is your academic focus here?

With two professors in most departments at Franklin, we focus on a lot! My courses in particular focus on media (from organizations, policies, texts) and power.  My courses always examine power and power dynamics. In fact just taught a class that looks at communication in the context of power. I also teach courses in environmental discourses and globalization, and media and as well as more applied courses like public speaking and journalism. My courses often focus upon social movements and the place of media in transforming power relations in societies.

What do you like about the students, do you think there’s anything that really embodies a Franklin student?

In one regard, what I like about Franklin students, is the fact that I actually can’t say specifically what embodies a Franklin student. What’s great about a Franklin student is you just don’t know what you’re going to get! Everyone is so unique. In terms of the sorts of places and societies and class systems, you get the whole gamut here. The variability of students is really great and keeps you on your game. Franklin students really keep me thinking!

On the other hand, I think the whole ‘misfit’ thing may be the one thing that describes us all here. Maybe more Americans identify with the idea of being a misfit, but I really like that about the Franklin community—the notion that we are all peripheral in some way.  

What do you enjoy most about the classroom setting at Franklin?

The most particular thing about ‘the classroom’ here is the one class that is not really taught in the classroom - Academic Travel. I have a love/hate relationship with Academic Travel. In one regard it’s so, so stressful to plan, and, on the other, it’s also incredibly exciting. It has completely transformed how I think about teaching and I try to bring those lessons back into the ‘regular’ classroom. For example, before Academic Travel, I never really thought about place and learning. Now I always think about how a lesson might be affected by the place in which it is learned. I also love/hate how travel tinkers with interpersonal relationships. In the classroom, roles are more clear, but on travel both faculty and students have to re-negotiate relationships. It’s tough, but I think it benefits us all. I see it as a huge benefit for Franklin students, who, when they leave here, have experience in developing a professional/personal relationship with people in positions of power.  That’s a real skill set when you enter the work world.

What do you admire in the Franklin community?

As a faculty member, what I think is really unique is that we really are, more so than any place I’ve ever been, united in this cause. We’re always working together across disciplines. And my friendships with colleagues are really special in this regard. I imagine we could say the same thing about the students. You end up working with and befriending people you might not have chosen if you could have chosen people more like you. In my experience, the interactions made possible by Franklin are deeply rewarding.

What research do you do here at Franklin?

I have three lines of research with Professor Hale: one looking at sustainability and academic travel, another examining 'invasive species’ as a biological and cultural phenomenon, and another exploring the discourses of ‘collapse’. I have written several articles about social movements and environmentalism. My most recent two in this area are about Occupy Wall Street and the ways in which is used place to symbolize and actualize the movement.

What has your experience on Academic Travel been like?

Well, I lead Academic Travels to Scotland, and next year will be my eighth travel! So, obviously, I love Scotland and I love bringing students to Scotland. As for the experience of Academic Travel itself, as I said earlier, it transforms how I see and interaction with students. When we get back from travel, I always say to my students,  “before we left for travel, you were two dimensional, and now you are three dimensional. I can see you now.” It’s like a fog is lifted, and you get to see students as the complex selves they really are. It’s a nice change.

Do any words really embody a Franklin student?

I think I’d say open. You have to be open to survive here. And it is hard work to make it here. There’s more labor involved in being at Franklin. You take classes. You travel. Because the ethos of the school is adventure, you are adventurer. Because the classes are small you have to talk and be present. You make friends across all sorts of cultural divides. It is a labor intensive experience. But, I think it is that much more rewarding, as well.
Executive in Residence, International Management
Originally from: Chicago, Illinois
Pre-Franklin: B.A. Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA; Ph.D. study (ABD) The Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA 
Length of time teaching at Franklin: 12 years

Professor, you’ve taught at many other different schools both big and school over the course of your career. Is there anything that you really particularly enjoy about teaching at Franklin?

The main difference is in scale and contact. All the classes here are small and it is true I know almost all of my students. Franklin offers more personal interaction and as a result I tend to know a bit more about the students cultural background and origins than I would at a larger university; I can leverage this as a way to initiate conversation and give examples in class.

What do you enjoy most about the student body?

Compared to other universities, for every Franklin student there is probably a very specific reason as to why he or she came here. Everybody has a story as to what attracted them to Franklin, whether it was from that initial postcard to, in many cases, Academic Travel courses.

Would you say students have a different outlook here than at other schools?

Our professors are driven by their passion and ability to do research, and increase their specialization in their field, but there is also the requirement for professors to get involved directly with students' work more so here than in other places. There are dual objectives present, between professors furthering their research and professional career as well as interacting with the students. In other universities I’ve taught at there’s been a mix of professors who are mainly interested in pure research, or those that are interested in the classroom more. At Franklin, we do everything.

You teach both introductory courses as well as senior capstone classes. Do you see huge growth within students over the four year period?

One of the factors that make a professor stay here is that a professor like myself can see the growth and development of each of the students I met as a freshman. It is so rewarding to see these students be prosperous and engaged in what they are doing after Franklin post graduation. There are many, many, cases of students who keep me satisfied in coming back. In other words, there are students who myself, or my colleagues, accomplished something with by teaching them for many years. When they leave and I can see that they really have a grasp on a strong career path and have turned out to be an interesting and lively person.

All of our students really get something out of this education because they are put together in a way that really ends up working. On a regular basis I am quite astonished when I call on a student who perhaps hasn’t been all that verbally engaged in the classroom, only to find a fountain of wisdom about all sorts of interesting things that you really wouldn’t have imagined before. It is startling and it is gratifying - you find a level of interest and background and quality of information I would not have expected.

Why is the Management major so popular at Franklin?

The management major here at Franklin is in a liberal arts format and not in a business school. In most other places the students are in a business school and the vast majority of a student’s classes are business or management classes. That’s certainly true in the European model. But even in the United States you can major in Economics or Political Science, but if you are going to major in Business you’re self selected in a sense by junior year on a competitive basis into a school, or you are in a business school environment from the very beginning. At Franklin we make a conscious effort as much as possible to make a management major be exactly parallel (to the extent we can) to the other majors offered here, be it Art History or International Relations. Because of this integration, the management major here has less requirements of the actual major than what you would find in a business school environment somewhere else, but we’re happy with this. It is our mission to make students understand that managers need a breadth of skills including reading, writing, thinking, and speaking that come from the having experienced a liberal arts background - taking language courses, writing courses, history courses, etc. We insist that there is no segregation between those alternatives between a management degree and a liberal arts degree. The management major is a vast confluence of Franklin students, and everyone is aided in that context.

Can you speak to the Academic Travel component of Franklin?

I have been traveling with students for over 30 years. Academic Travel, for the first or second time a professor leads a trip, can be a real revelation. The course is integral to the Franklin experience. It’s a forum in which students who might not necessarily talk to each other or spend time with each other in-depth on campus can be with each other in an intensive environment for 10-12 days, this does wonders. It helps to integrate the student body in a way that I think is very important for the mission of Franklin. 

What are the first words that come to mind when you think of the Franklin community?

Personalized, you do not hide here, there is no use of it. Camaraderie, knowledge of what a professor expects from you in the discipline on a very personalized level, I imagine in other environments students think of professors to be off on the other side of the fence whereas here students really have a clear conception of who the professors are and what they do, because it’s a small place.

What do you think is Franklin’s biggest asset, from the perspective of a student?

For a graduating senior who has done well in their program here, and who has perhaps even taken a study abroad semester somewhere else, the asset they are going to leave with is that they are going to have a more cosmopolitan view of the world, the ability to speak two or more languages, to be comfortable in a variety of settings that you really are going to encounter in the professional world. The good students who come out of this with a good major and strong GPA really are more comfortable within themselves and within settings they haven’t understood or been exposed to before. They are more adaptable. There is a knowledge of people the students can connect with all around the world and that alone is worth a certain kind of mental attitude and comfort that can make for a good employee.

I would put our professors up against anyone in terms of their knowledge and commitment to the subject and certainly their ability to transform textbook learning into real experience. Many students at other schools may tend to market the brand name of their school while students here are able to market their experience because it is so different from the norm. Students here can experience it, internalize it, and articulate it when is necessary, and that’s a huge advantage.

From the point of view of the faculty, it is a place to develop intellectual friendships with people from different disciplines. I know my colleagues in literature or political science and it is a constant opportunity to have interdisciplinary discussions I would not otherwise be able to have with my colleagues.

For anyone on the fence about coming to Franklin, do you have any advice as to why Franklin is a good choice?

I would say for anyone on the fence… why not? What do you have to lose? Try one year and if you don’t enjoy it here go back and you will have a year of experiences no other freshman had. I really don’t see much downside of coming here… what are we going to do to you in a year that will hurt your future? 


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