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Caroline McNutt, Biology Professor

December 07, 2020

Schoolcraft College: Hello, Professor McNutt! You have been on our faculty for 25 years, but I have to imagine the last year or so has been one of incredible challenges because of COVID-19. Please tell us about how you, your colleagues and your students have adapted to this environment.

Caroline McNuttProfessor McNutt: Well, the initial transition from face-to-face classes on campus to remote learning back in March was definitely an intensely stressful experience for faculty and students alike. I was literally working around the clock during those first few weeks! Many of my colleagues and I struggled to quickly master new technology for our virtual class sessions, including using Blackboard Collaborate and recording our lectures. Countless hours were spent searching for comparable online simulations and videos to replace our in-person hands-on lab activities.

Thankfully, a number of Biology instructors volunteered to contribute useful teaching resources and helpful technology tips for each lab course, which were then made available to all Biology faculty on a newly created Blackboard site. Meanwhile, we did our best to support students who were overwhelmed by the sudden pivot to remote learning, ongoing struggles with internet connectivity and child care issues, and the high level of stress from their jobs as front-line workers in healthcare facilities. When the winter semester finally ended, I felt like every instructor and student deserved a medal just for overcoming all the obstacles, not giving up, and crossing the finish line – Yes, we did it!

Preparing for the fall semester has been a completely different experience, since we knew early on that all traditional Biology classes would be fully remote and we had the entire summer to thoughtfully plan for our specific course content and delivery. Like many of my colleagues, I seized the opportunity to participate in numerous online training sessions offered by publishers and professional organizations, in addition to completing the Remote Teaching Series produced by the Schoolcraft College Distance Learning Department.

A major game changer for me has been the option to use the Zoom platform to conduct my remote synchronous* class sessions this fall. My students have been so patient with me as I learned to navigate through all the great features one by one. Although I miss working with my students in person, especially in the lab, I enjoy interacting with my students one-on-one as I move through each of the Zoom breakout rooms during our live lab sessions.

When we come back together in the main room, I use “cold calling” to do an informal assessment and to re-teach difficult concepts from that lab. In our lecture sessions, the polling and chat functions, as well as the reaction emojis, have helped to engage students who may be hesitant to verbally participate in class discussions. Zoom also has attendance tracking and recording features that are very useful as well. I’m definitely not tech-savvy, but I’m living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Schoolcraft College: Please tell us the courses you are teaching this semester.

Professor McNutt: I am currently teaching two remote synchronous sections of Microbiology (BIOL 243) and two online classes, one in Conservation and Natural Resources (BIOL 104) and one in Nutrition (BIOL 115).

Schoolcraft College: What do you like best about teaching at Schoolcraft College?

Professor McNutt: I find it immensely rewarding to have the opportunity to get to know my new students every semester, and to support them on their educational journey. I began my professional life in microbiology and immunology lab research after grad school, but later discovered that what I love the most about science was being able to share my passion and knowledge with others. Transitioning into the teaching field turned out to be a perfect fit for me, and I am so grateful for all the support I’ve received over the years from Schoolcraft College to hone my craft and do my best job every day.

The Schoolcraft College administration deserves credit for putting the health and safety of its employees and students above financial considerations, by making the decision to shift the majority of traditional classes to remote during the ongoing pandemic. To me, this sent a clear message that the safety and well-being of the Schoolcraft community are a top priority. While faculty and students in many colleges and universities experienced a summer filled with uncertainty as they anxiously awaited final decisions regarding in-person, hybrid and remote classes, Schoolcraft’s clear communication and early decision enabled faculty to focus our attention on preparing for teaching remote synchronous fall classes.

Schoolcraft College: You have been very active as a mentor throughout your career. Dr. Cerny is putting an even greater emphasis on developing our people and helping them grow professionally. Please tell us about your approach to mentoring and the keys to becoming a successful mentor.

Professor McNutt: I strongly believe in the power of mentorship for both individual professional growth and building the strength and depth of the overall organization. Effective mentoring requires a genuine interest and desire to help someone else succeed. This applies to our relationships with students as well as with our colleagues.

There’s truth in the old adage “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” In my experience, a collaborative and congenial work environment where contributions from every individual on the team are valued and welcomed, is far more productive (and pleasant) than a competitive (and potentially toxic) one.  

Over the years, I have served as a faculty mentor to many outstanding students through the Schoolcraft College Honors Program. I was also one of the first instructors to jump onboard when the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) Program was launched, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mentoring my PAL Leaders and witnessing their transformation in gaining self-confidence and excellent communications skills.

In a sense, the art of teaching is inherently a mentoring process, and I see my role not as “a sage on the stage” but rather as “a guide on the side.” Every semester, I tell my students that, as their instructor, I cannot get on the field to play on their behalf, but I can actively coach, support, and cheer them on from the sidelines. It’s always exciting to hear back from my former students as they share their hard-earned success in their academic and professional pursuits!

Another part of my job that has been tremendously rewarding is the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues and to mentor instructors teaching a new course. No one should ever have to struggle alone in isolation. I have learned so much from my incredibly talented colleagues in the Biology Department and I’ve been amazed by the synergy that emerges when we work together on various projects and initiatives.

Schoolcraft College: Thank you for your time, Professor McNutt. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Professor McNutt: The ongoing pandemic is causing a widespread increase in stress and anxiety, so I’m concerned about the overall well-being of my students and colleagues. Some of my students are struggling with food insecurity, financial setbacks, COVID infections both at home and at their workplace, as well as mental health and relationship challenges. As faculty, we have an obligation to maintain a high level of academic rigor in our classes and deliver quality instruction. At the same time, however, there’s a great need for kindness, compassion, empathy and flexibility. This is the time to for all of us to reach out and support one another.  “We are stronger together than we are alone.”  - Walter Payton.

*Remote synchronous classes are held in real time.