SoTL Scholar Spotlight: Melissa Levy

By Kristin Sloane

Melissa LevyOur SoTL Scholar Spotlight series continues with Melissa Levy, Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Youth and Social Innovation major in the School of Education and Human Development. She frequently engages in CTE programming, currently serving as a teaching consultant and participating in the Community-Engaged Teaching Scholars program’s inaugural cohort. Back in 2019, Melissa joined SoTL Scholars and tells us more about the research project she completed as part of the program.


Q: Why did you want to join the SoTL Scholars program?

A: I'm interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning, and this program offered some support behind doing that work. That was what was particularly appealing about it as a general teaching faculty member who doesn't have research as part of my teaching load. I don't have any built-in support for doing any of that work, and this was a great opportunity.

Q: For your SoTL project, what did you set out to learn about your teaching and/or students’ learning?

A: I was looking at how it would be possible to support both BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students and white students in a class together where you are talking about issues having to do with race and racism.

Q: What were your research findings?

A: We interviewed 14 undergraduates, eight white students and six students of color (in my Foundations of Community Engagement course). One of the things we looked at were changes in students. White students talked about change behavior, that they would talk more outside of class and are less quick to judge new ideas and information; changed perceptions they had in looking at their own upbringing and thinking about some of the guilt that they were experiencing; [had] greater confidence and comfort and were less afraid to say the wrong thing or to talk about these topics; and [had] greater awareness of their identity/privilege. … These are some of the themes that we pulled out.

Then with students of color—it was too small a sample size to kind of really piece out—some students, their interest was sparked by talking about some of these topics and talked about being more informed and knowledgeable about their own identities and privileges that they may have in their community and university’s history; [had] more awareness of their experiences as a student of color and more confident sharing those experiences; [and had] increased vocabulary to talk about their experiences.

Also, one of the things that we noted from the data was that students were particularly interested in learning about the racial and ethnic history locally. I found that to be particularly meaningful.

Q: How has the program and/or your study findings changed or informed your teaching?

A: There are some things from this that I've been able to think about in the class and other classes moving forward, as well. I've become a fan of using Mentimeter in class to help surface anonymously students’ questions or ideas that they want to get out there, but not necessarily raise their hand and share it.

I have an assignment … what I call the personal profile assignment. … They (students) choose three different social identities to write about for themselves. I shifted it this semester so that they can choose whatever three and then I highly recommend that white-identifying students choose race as one of theirs, and it's interesting to read those.

I'm teaching this class again for the 14th time actually this semester, and I'm really enjoying it. This semester it's feeling better in a lot of ways. Part of it, the class itself is more racially and ethnically diverse this semester, which students have always, everyone always wants, but it's another thing to actually have.

Q: What did you appreciate most about the SoTL Scholars program?

A: Something this gave me was a couple of other people to think about this [work] with because they were involved in looking through the data and really discussions around this.

I think what was most helpful for me was the actual grad student support to actually do this (the project), which I just couldn't have done on my own. Even if I had felt like I had the time, I wouldn't have been able to for IRB reasons, power dynamic reasons, I wouldn't have been able to do the work in the same way. I was really appreciative of that.

I'm just super appreciative of the program and the resources that [the CTE is] putting toward [SoTL]. It was a great experience to be able to be a part of and maybe I'll figure out some way to connect with [SoTL] more again at some point.


For questions about the SoTL Scholars program, email cte-sotl@virginia.edu. For questions about the SoTL Scholar Spotlight series or if you're a SoTL Scholar alumni who would like to be featured, email Kristin Sloane at ks8yx@virginia.edu.

 

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