Kent State Geauga and Twinsburg Academic Center Professor Dr. Molly Wang Receives Fellowship to Attend Conference

Back in February 2020, before social distancing became a guiding principle in daily life, a group of Kent State University administration and faculty members attended a conference designed to be a thought-provoking, interactive meeting of the minds within the realm of post-secondary education in Ohio. Among them was Zhiqiang Molly Wang, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Kent State University Geauga and Twinsburg Academic Center, who was granted a fellowship to participate.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic imposed its constraints upon higher education, Ohio’s colleges and universities had been facing declining enrollments among traditional-aged students, liberal arts majors and international students, declining state and federal funding, uncertain economic impacts of ongoing trade policies; and unknown public policy directions. Higher education is at a crossroads where inspiration is needed to chart a new direction.

Two Kent State faculty members received fellowships to attend the 2020 Ohio Inspiring Practices: Achieving Student Success in Undergraduate Education conference at Capital University near Columbus. Dr. Wang and Steven Turner, Assistant School Director of the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent campus, were part of a contingent that included faculty member Daniel Dankovich, Biology Lecturer at Kent State East Liverpool; and Kent administrators Jenny Marcinkiewicz, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning; Eboni Pringle, Dean of University College; and Manfred van Dulmen, Interim Associate Provost of Academic Affairs.

The conference delivered on its promise. According to Dr. Wang, “I have learned many effective practices, innovative strategies for enhancing students’ learning engagement, and improving students’ success.”

“I am so thrilled by being awarded this fellowship opportunity,” commented Dr. Wang upon her return from the conference. “Attending this conference was an eye-opening experience for me. It not only provided me an opportunity to learn from other institutions but also allowed me to share my own experience with colleagues from other institutions.”

In her role representing Kent State, Dr. Wang was pleased to participate in a pre-conference workshop geared toward increasing student success. Panel discussions focused on barriers to faculty engagement and opportunities for innovation, addressing four levels of student support: individual faculty level (both inside and outside the classroom), departmental/community level, institutional level, and ecosystem level.

Dr. Wang said that these panel discussions helped her to formulate new strategies for improving success rates among nontraditional students. This includes how to better accommodate their time constraints due to family and work demands beyond the classroom and developing new pedagogies (classroom instruction approaches) for improved student engagement. Along with an early-alert tracking system that identifies struggling students before they lose too much ground, inspiring practices such as personalized learning-style instruction, Ambassadors (peer support mentors) and Learning Assistants (similar to traditional graduate assistants in large-enrollment gateway STEM courses) should improve first-year students’ retention and success rates.

Nontraditional students often experience academic challenges such as study strategy, time management, and lacking a sense of belonging within the campus community. Dr. Wang suggests that solutions include faculty offering topic-focused mini sessions and developing or modifying the curriculum for the “first-year experience” class to make it more relevant and attractive to students.

Personalized teaching approaches can include (1) faculty keeping track of each student’s learning strengths and weaknesses, (2) faculty being highly involved in each student’s learning process for increased interaction with students, and (3) online homework systems with adaptive learning capabilities. These systems can generate different practice problems to accommodate each student’s individual learning experience while helping all students reach the same learning targets.

As Dr. Wang says, “Our university is already doing these things at a certain level, but now we can move forward with new momentum.”