August 18, 2021

Spotlight: Devin Arias

Interview by Liz Cardenas, PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student in the School of Community and Global Health. Liz is also the Assistant Director of Leadership Equity, California Primary Care Association.

Devin Arias is a doctoral student in the Community & Global Health Program at Claremont Graduate University.  She has experience working in the non-profit health sector focused on program planning, implementation, research, data analysis, & evaluation.   She currently teaches at California State University, San Bernardino Health Science Department and California State University, Dominguez Hills Science Department.  She enjoys teaching public health courses and fostering the learning outcomes of students going into the public health field.  

You and your students are constantly learning, evolving, and adapting.  You and your students are going to have challenges, but they are great learning opportunities to improve.  So, remember to show empathy and compassion for your students and yourself!” 

1. How were your expectations different from the reality of teaching? 

I have been in higher education teaching undergrads for 7 years and it was something I never thought I would do but it was always a part of my journey form the various experiences and jobs I had.  I am a perpetual learner and the joy of teaching stemmed from my willingness to help my peers understand course content, to tutoring outside the classroom, providing community health education, and to teaching in the classroom.   

I have definitely gone through ups and downs as a professor in higher education such as wondering if I did the best job I could to serve my students, could I have done better, and how could I improve.  However, taking part in faculty development courses and learning from my peers from different disciplines in higher education has been a great resource to help me improve and make adjustments in my own classes.  After every semester I take time to reflect on my content delivery and assessment as well as asking how I can enhance community in my classroom but it is always a work in progress as every semester and group of students is different.   

Teaching is definitely more than the content your provide your students about a topic in the classroom.  It’s the preparation, execution and reflection of your teaching that takes time and effort outside of the classroom.  All that outside extra work is so rewarding and a reminder that the end goal is to foster perpetual learning inside and outside the classroom and give students transferable skills that make them successful in academia and in their future careers.   

2. What have you learned about teaching from your students?  

I am constantly learning from my students, whether it is through climate surveys, class discussions, reflections, or office hours.  The climate surveys give me an understanding of the student both inside and outside the classroom.  With class discussions I can ask students without delay what their thoughts are about a specific exercise or how they feel about an upcoming assignment.  I encourage my students to provide me feedback about course content, assignments, and projects to learn not only what is working or not working for them but what they learned about themselves and their peers.  I’ve learned that student have enjoyed the reflective process and appreciate being given a space to write freely about their learning process and experiences.  This as an educator is so important because providing them a space through various forms has allowed me to better understand where my students are coming from and make it a learning collaboration between educator and student.  My students continually provide me with new ideas and advice to enhance their learning. 

3. What are some of your best techniques for inclusive and equitable learning?  

It’s important to remember that we stem from a variety of characteristics, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs that make us all very different.  So, show empathy and compassion for your students by getting to know them and let them get to know you.  Also remind them to show empathy and compassion for themselves and their classmates as well.  The pandemic has definitely brought to light the many challenges our students face and it’s a great reminder to be flexible and adaptive in your teaching. 

As educators, we can strive for inclusivity and equitable learning in our classrooms by being self-aware of who we are as an individual but also reflect this back to our students by engaging them to understand who they are inside and outside the classroom.  With that in mind, it’s always nice to learn your students’ names and create a safe space where students feel comfortable to ask questions not just about the course or the field.   

I have learned the importance of designing a student-centered course that is specific, observable, and actionable.  Having a student-centered syllabus helps provide your students the big picture of the course, learning outcomes, expectations, assessment plan, schedule and due dates.  But also be mindful of the technology you use and how you use it.  For example, make sure learning management systems like canvas or blackboard are easy for your students to navigate.  Also, when creating lecture recordings try creating short video lectures with “closed captions”.  It also doesn’t hurt to send out announcements or record yourself making an announcement for important reminders about assignments.  It’s the little things that make a significant difference not only for you but for your students.  Your prep work starts with connecting all the dots from the learning outcomes, to the syllabus, to the assignments, and to the assessments. 

The syllabus can be used to reflect on what is most important in the course and clearly communicate what students can expect to learn and how their learning will be assessed. It’s also important to design transparent assignments most aligned with learning outcomes because it helps student learn and succeed in your course, what you expect them to get out of your course.  By developing a student-centered course, you are ensuring every step of the way that your students are engaged and learning and not falling through the cracks when it’s time for final exams or final project.  You are also ensuring they are capable of practicing in their field as they are equipped with tools, resources, and experience that will aid in their personal and career development.   

4. What are some changes you would like to see in higher education? Or predictions for how you see higher education changing?

Although there are many changes that we can discuss, I’ll just hit on a couple. 

For my students I want to see a shift from the mindset of memorization to application and problem-solving.  Although it’s important to understand the fundamentals, they need to be prepared on how to apply it in their field.  I think higher education needs to be mindful that not every student is going to apply for an advanced degree or pursue an academic position.  We need to provide students with tools and resources that are transferable inside and outside of academia. 

I also think the pandemic has provided us many lessons that we can learn from as well and it highlighted what the Public Health field can do.  So, although the pandemic shifted us drastically to an online platform and had its challenges, I think there would be many benefits to shifting to a hybrid classroom model.  It addresses accessibility issues for the student and professor by providing flexibility for class meeting times, recording of lectures to be reviewed and prepared for in-class discussion.  This is also a great tool for our students as we saw during the pandemic how many organizations shifted to an online model and used technology to their advantage.  

5. What are three key pieces of advice for other teachers or your younger self?

A faculty mentor– This may start off with one person who got you interested in teaching but will expand as you meet and network with educators outside your discipline.  They are a great resource for all your teaching needs. 

Professional Development– There are so many resources available to part-time and full-time lecturers so take advantage of the webinars and bootcamps that your institution offers during the summer and academic year. During this time, you are building your teacher toolkit, expanding your network, as well as planning and prepping for the next semester. 

A Growth Mindset– You and your students are constantly learning, evolving, and adapting.  You and your students are going to have challenges, but they are great learning opportunities to improve.  So, remember to show empathy and compassion for your students and yourself!  

6. How has the PFF program impacted your teaching? 

PFF has been a major contributor to my professional development as I have enjoyed attending the seminars/webinars and pursing the PFF certificate.  It has reignited my love for reflective practice, and I have acquired many resources and tools that I apply in my teaching.  It has given me the space to reflect on my courses to make them student centered, inclusive, and equitable.   

7. What do you love most about teaching? 

Every student and every semester is different but ultimately, I strive to be a mentor for my students.  I enjoy interacting with them and making myself available to talk about the field and my experiences.  I love seeing the “ah ha” moments when students understand and are able to apply the material.  Or when they come back after they graduate and tell me how they were able to use an activity in class for their job or internship.  I like having the opportunity to teach a variety of courses in public health and being able to break down complex subject areas in a variety of health topics for my students.  It’s challenging, fun, and rewarding.