New faculty try to find footing amid pandemic

Whether they are a first-time faculty member or a veteran educator new to Iowa State, the pandemic has added an extra wrinkle for new instructors trying to find their footing.

Meeting fellow faculty, teaching and finding a successful work-life balance have been altered. It may not be how they thought their first semester would go when they applied for the position, but new faculty are dealing with successes and challenges every day.

Settling in

Katherine Madson, an assistant professor in civil, construction and environmental engineering, began her first faculty appointment at home July 1. The pandemic kept her from familiarizing with campus or meeting many members of her department after moving from Florida.

Katherine Madson

Katherine Madson

"I didn't know what went into preparing a class," she said. "If people had been around, I think it would have been a more organic conversation."

Simple cues like being able to hear students or read their facial expressions are more difficult with a mask. They were not challenges Madson had anticipated as she prepared for the classroom setting.

She leaned on faculty she met during online meetings in May and started pulling together information to apply for a grant.

"The people I met three months earlier are the only reason I knew I should be doing this or that," said Madson, who has a pair of mentors to help guide her.

Teaching assistants provided a walking tour of campus, but her experience lacked the comradery that comes with a typically buzzing campus, Madson said.

"You move to a new town, and it is hard to meet new people at this time because there aren't any activities going on -- and the ones that are, happen online," she said.

"I came in as new faculty during a pandemic, but every new faculty has challenges. I don't know that mine are any more or any less than anyone else coming in, just different."

Preparation is key

Todd Kingston, assistant professor in mechanical engineering, began his appointment with Iowa State Aug. 16 and was teaching his first class as a faculty member -- an online lecture -- at 7:45 a.m. the next day. Fortunately, Kingston earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Iowa State, which gave him some familiarity with the university.

Todd Kingston

Todd Kingston

Teaching assignments and delivery format were decided in advance of Kingston's arrival, giving him time to prepare mentally and develop the course materials. He teaches a 400-level course that includes a lab and lecture, and began ordering equipment needed to synchronously deliver his lectures online before his start date.

"My expectations were a little different than they would have been had the pandemic not happened," said Kingston, who delivers his online lectures from his office. "Campus and classes look different."

He is able to lean on other instructors and participates in a weekly virtual meeting with the course's teaching team.

Kingston took advantage of many offerings from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching to familiarize himself with new technologies while also utilizing online training.

He brings enthusiasm to teaching at his alma mater, but the pandemic forced changes that test him.

"I miss the face-to-face interactions and the excitement and energy you get in the classroom," Kingston said.

Little things make a difference

Anne Farniok, assistant teaching professor of interior design, taught at a technical school in Minnesota for 12 years before spending last year at the University of Northern Iowa. She is teaching a pair of hybrid studio classes that meet both in-person and online.

Anne Farniok

Anne Farniok

Farniok came to campus with experience, but it is the separation from fellow faculty that is most challenging, even for a veteran educator.

"Typically, starting a new job, you would have someone in an office that is next to you or there with you pretty consistently," she said. "You don't have that. You might send an email or reach out, but it is just not the same. It feels like more of a hurdle to get your questions answered."

The College of Design is set up to have co-instructors for studio courses, which benefits Farniok. Having other instructors already established in the classes has been helpful, she said. She continues to adjust to Canvas and its setup, having previously worked in Blackboard.

Before fall classes began, Farniok got to know some faculty members while helping to paint and clean their shared office space. The limited interaction had a lasting impact.

"We still group-text each other, and I guess I would say I have a closer bond with them because of it," she said.