Faculty members gain a different kind of teacher’s pet experience by enrolling in courses

Paul Myers, chair of the computer science department, wouldn’t strike you as the kind of person who has read “Ulysses” five times. Yet each semester, he takes at least one class in the department of English and has done so for over a decade now.

Myers is one of many Trinity faculty members who takes advantage of the policy that allows staff to enroll in one free class per semester. During his many years at Trinity, Myers has almost built up an English major, as well as engaged in classes for fun, like Trap and Skeet I and II. What started as rekindling a love for literature has evolved into pure joy and fascination for the subject.

“I no longer feel like an alien in the room, and I feel like I’m just one of the members of the crowd,” Myers said.

Myers also enjoys the chance to experience a different kind of class environment compared to the usual STEM lectures he delivers to his computer science students.

“For me and people like me, it’s especially useful and interesting to take real discussion classes and seminars where you really talk about life and literature and art and society, because otherwise I don’t really get much of a chance to do that in most of my classes and lecture,” Myers said.

Some professors, such as Nina Ekstein in the department of modern languages, are only able to take a class at Trinity while on academic leave. Because of her teaching, research and committee obligations, Ekstein doesn’t participate in Trinity classes all too often, but when she does, she carefully chooses a course she believes she will be able to utilize in future situations.

“I can counsel my advisees really well about all of the classes I took. The logic class I took definitely enabled me to think more clearly about the project I was working on at the time,” Ekstein said.

Mario Gonzalez-Fuentes, a professor in the business department, also takes a class every now and then. For him, it is more about learning from the different teaching methods of that professor.

“When I first arrived at Trinity in 2011, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, if Trinity hires some of the best educators in the country and in the world, then I’m definitely among some of these best educators in the country and the world. So I better learn from them while I can,’” Gonzalez-Fuentes said.

Gonzalez-Fuentes has taken several classes of various topics, including Stephen Field’s class in Elementary Chinese to Kathleen Denny’s class about the Self in Society. He was particularly inspired by the methods that Denny used in her sociology class to inspire all of her students.

“One of the greatest outcomes is seeing how a professor here at Trinity organizes their class throughout a semester and uses a bunch of very creative activities to transmit the knowledge that they need to teach their students. All of those activities gave me a lot of ideas I wanted to incorporate into all of my classes,” Gonzalez-Fuentes said.

Kathleen Denny, visiting assistant professor of sociology, remarked that his presence in her class was somewhat daunting at first, but she ended up benefiting immensely from having him enrolled in the course.

“Where he was really able to bring his professorial expertise to bear was in his ability to encourage quieter students to share their thoughts. Often, we discussed topics in small groups of two or three and then came together as a full group to share the highlights; it was here that Dr. Gonzalez-Fuentes would encourage his group mate(s) to share with the whole group their interesting contributions when they otherwise may not have without him there to support them,” Denny said. “I’m indebted to Dr. Gonzales-Fuentes for his encouragement and endless support of my teaching styles.”

In addition to learning from the professors teaching the class, faculty members noted that their interactions with students were surprisingly remarkable as well.

“One of the big advantages for me enrolling in courses is that it’s just one more way to keep in touch with the students. I really get a major dose of the zeitgeist, the contemporary culture and all,” Myers said.

Other professors agree that there are invaluable benefits teachers have on other students who are enrolled in their class.

“That’s just one of the things that I have loved about the classes here; not only the enrichment I get from the other professors, but the enrichment that I get from helping to develop the other students’ opinions.” Gonzalez-Fuentes said.