Faculty Profiles

Teaching and Learning in Tandem

When it comes to first-year college classes, two professors are sometimes better than one.

Tandem Teaching ProfessorsThat’s the philosophy behind “tandem” courses at Saint Mary’s, which let first-year students explore two academic fields at once, with a two-professor team, as they fulfill their general education requirements.

Professors Gail Mandell and Becky Stoddart recently paired up to offer a tandem course called “Book Club: Culture and the Self.” With Mandell, a professor of Humanistic Studies, students read a wide range of personal accounts that highlighted “enduring human concerns,” especially the role of culture and society in shaping identity. With Stoddart, a professor of psychology, they were introduced to major theories and methods of studying human behavior.

Tandems help students compare and integrate ideas and approaches from different disciplines—for example, psychology and English, or religious studies and philosophy. Since the classes are small (15 to 20 students), discussions spark intellectual exchange and build confidence.

“For me, the main advantage is that it forms a tightly-knit learning community early in the student’s college career,” says Mandell, who has taught tandems for many years. “They learn so much and are growing so much in these courses.”

Tandem participants meet four times a week for seminar-style discussion, and hone their writing and analytical skills in a weekly writing lab. “We all spend so much time together that we really develop a sense of trust in each other,” says Tavierney Rogan, a first-year student.

Rogan took a year off between high school and college, but says the “Book Club” tandem “whipped her back into shape” academically. “We read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, a collection of short stories about people from India and their experiences with acculturation. We then studied acculturative stress alongside it in psychology. The short stories were magnificent and the topic of acculturation was really interesting because it is so pervasive in modern times.”

For Stoddart, tandems are demanding but worthwhile because they build bridges—between disciplines, students, and professors. “By accepting each other’s fields, I think Gail and I create a classroom that accepts everybody. Students see connections that we don’t see, and we’re more likely to hear them, I think, in a tandem structure."

Mind of Her Own

ChambersEntering Professor Karen Chamber’s office, students are drawn to the posters on the walls, with rolling green hills and wandering sheep. Most of them associate Chambers with Saint Mary’s study abroad program in Maynooth, Ireland, which she coordinates. Although highly dedicated to the program, her real love is inspiring interest in the study of psychology.

Now an associate professor of psychology, Chambers earned her BA from the State University of New York at Buffalo and MA and PhD from Kent State. As a young graduate, she had no idea what to do with her degree in psychology, only that she enjoyed enriching her mind through education. She enthusiastically explains, “I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do with a PhD in psychology?’ Well, I could teach psychology at the college level. ‘Cool,’ I thought. ‘I can stay in school!’ ”

When Chambers first visited Saint Mary’s in 1996, she was struck by the campus’ beauty. More importantly, she liked the energy between professors and students. Emphasizing the partnership and equality between them, she notes, “The faculty are positive influences on the students, and I enjoy the atmosphere of an all-women’s college.”

An expert in cognitive psychology, Chambers also teaches statistics and research methods. She insists that developing a thorough understanding of statistics “is fundamental to living in society.” A well-qualified psychologist needs to be able to think logically to understand the differences in groups and draw conclusions. For both Chambers and her students, the process of learning these skills is empowering.

Anne Cusack, a 2007 graduate, is earning her doctorate in clinical psychology with a concentration in forensics at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She credits Chambers with sparking her interest in the field: “The more Professor Chambers taught me about forensic psychology, the more fascinated I became! She really made it clear how many different ways psychology and the legal system can work together.”

Besides developing young women’s minds, Chambers feels strongly about shaping them into successful, well-rounded individuals. She is convinced that study abroad is a powerful part of a liberal arts education, imperative to discovering oneself and turning personal weaknesses into strengths. Every year, she sees students develop independence and maturity through the Ireland program. “It is a real chance to live your life, and to become yourself.”

—Megan Stokes ’09