James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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CISAT Faculty are 'Professors in Residence'

By: Vilina Phan
Posted: April 16, 2012

PHOTO: Calvin Walker, mother and sister BeverleyProfessors at JMU are going above and beyond by offering guidance to underrepresented middle and high school students in Virginia. The professor in residence program (PIR) provides opportunities for professors to reach out to local underserved students. The primary goal of the PIR program is to not only encourage and provide academic support to students who are considering college, but also to help them understand the process of college admissions and financial aid. Currently there are six middle schools and seven high schools being served by professors of varying backgrounds and degrees, three of which belong to CISAT: Drs. Cindy Klevickis (ISAT), Thomas Benzing (ISAT), and Michele Kielty-Briggs (Graduate Psychology).

Klevickis has been serving Huguenot High School for the past seven years, helping faculty and guiding the students. We need to catch students early enough in their academic career so that they have a chance to make good choices about the classes they take during their four years in high school. We try to encourage students to take the most challenging classes their school has to offer.

A recent addition to the program is Benzing, who is currently serving Waynesboro High School. “Michael Deaton has been the PIR since 2008, and I told him that if he ever wanted to leave the position, that I would like to take over.” With similar goals to Klevickis, Benzing wants to encourage his students and “to help them understand the benefits of education over other life choices,” but he often feels challenged in trying to understand the mindset of the high school students and how to engage them in academic pursuits.

Briggs faces a similar challenge in a different setting; she serves Lucy Addison middle school in Roanoke. The students that she works with may be younger, but are dealing with the same problems faced by their high school counterparts. “I see students who may be struggling with poverty, loss of a parent, family instability, etc,” said Briggs. Briggs became involved with the program after expressing interest in serving a school in her hometown and so she was partnered with Lucy Addison, a feeder school of William Fleming High School, another PIR school.

The PIR program allows for flexibility and each professor has the opportunity to leverage their knowledge in their subject area to their respective school, keeping in mind the broader overall goal of the program. . “At Huguenot, I promote science because that’s what I’m involved in here at JMU, different PIR professors have different programs depending on their interests and the needs of their schools,” said Klevickis. Although Benzing and Klevickis are both from the ISAT program, they have different approaches to how they mentor the students at their respective host schools.

PHOTO: Klevickis demonstrates ice creamIn Klevickis’ case she teaches dual enrollment courses in science, providing students with the opportunity to earn high school as well as college credit. In the classroom she conducts demonstrations such as making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, to show students the possibilities that science has to offer. “In everything I’ve done, there has been a lot of student enthusiasm, and the faculty and staff at Huguenot High School have been incredibly helpful.  No matter what I suggest, they will do their best to cooperate. For example, we planted a garden at their school and we are hoping to have students participate in a Chesapeake Bay Foundation canoe trip on the James River.” said Klevickis. She does hold informational seminars on topics such as financial aid, but her real passion is in actually teaching the students. “I’m not an expert in financial aid or counseling, nor on college admissions. When I go to Huguenot I focus on what I do know, and I teach them what I’m passionate about. I would love for them to experience the joy of learning.   With the stress that goes along with standardized testing, that is sometimes missing.

Benzing’s approach to Waynesboro High School includes three objectives that he is seeking to continually implement and improve upon. “I meet with select students one-on-one to talk about college plan...I organize various workshops or seminars to connect the students with JMU resources...and I’m working with teachers at the school and helping them develop their curriculum,” said Benzing.

PHOTO: Students work on river testingWith his specific goals in mind, Benzing has been able to help students who are typically the first of their family to attend college. To him, the PIR program provides an opportunity “to improve diversity in our own community in all the ways that it means, not just ethnically but socioeconomic diversity as well.”

Working with middle school students, Briggs has a different approach mentoring the students. “Working in a middle school requires taking a longer view of students' educational path...assisting them in becoming more "present learners" at the middle school level will allow them to stay connected to and passionate about their education,” said Kielty-Briggs. Instead of the classroom, Briggs chooses to spend her time with the guidance counselors. She works as she is needed but also has a standing group of students that she specifically mentors touching on “personal, academic, and career concerns.”

In the long run, her goal is the same: to teach students that not only is higher education a plausible option, but also, that there are multiple ways to approach higher education.

Briggs is currently working on developing various programs with the counseling department at Lucy Addison, “We are looking forward to using some career planning interventions to help students become more visionary about their futures. I plan to involve our master's students in designing and delivering a career program,” said Briggs.

Along with telling students that higher education is a possibility, the PIR program has provided students with the chance to visit JMU campus and to show them first-hand the opportunities available with higher education. Benzing sets up “Take-A-Look Day” to target juniors. The program allows students to visit on a Saturday in order to tour the campus and hear about not only academic programs, but also the various clubs and organizations available.

The goal of the PIR program is not necessarily to get the students to apply to JMU but to get them to really look and scrutinize their options for the future so that they can make the best choice for themselves in the long run. “We talk about various college options based on interest and what is the best fit, which may not necessarily be JMU, often times other colleges are better such as community colleges, small private colleges, or historically black colleges” said Benzing.

The program benefits not only the targeted students, but also the professors who volunteer their time, making this program possible. “I love the students. Each student I have been able to work with teaches me something about joy, resilience, the power of both mind and heart, and the maturity it takes to face real challenges,” said Briggs.

The professors at JMU are first and foremost teachers – passionate about their subject area and furthering the education of their students. PIR professors take it one step further and combine that passion for education with encouragement, inspiring students to reach further and aspire higher. 
“You cannot put a price on education or a meaningful future. The authors of "At Risk Youth" tell us that the most powerful protective factor in a child's life is the presence of one caring adult. I am so grateful that JMU has invested in the future of young Virginians by allowing faculty to invest our time in the lives of students,” said Briggs.