Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Teaching the Initiative to Learn

Teaching the Initiative to Learn

Dr. Charles (Billy) Gunnels: The Man Behind the Mission
When I first met Dr. Gunnels it was to be interviewed for an internship position with FGCUScholars–a program under the umbrella of the Office of Undergraduate Scholarship. This would only be my third actual interview to date and it had by far the most weight behind it (I needed an internship to graduate the following semester and this best suited my career path). That being said, I made sure to do more preparation for it than I’d ever done for any past exams or assignments; I was not going to wing this. I walked into the interview with a demeanor that I can only summarize as a feigned confident fawn. I was confident in my knowledge of the program and how I could assist but I was completely blind to the nature of Dr. Gunnels’ interviewing style and the depth of the world in which he’d created.
Shortly after introductions, in the midst of small talk, I mentioned a company I was fond of with little thought that we’d pursue that line of discussion. Nevertheless he proceeded to pull up their website and question me on my thoughts. The rest of the interview followed suit, flowing from one topic to the next based off mention of trait or aspirations. It was one of the most challenging moments of my adult life.
Shortly after I was hired, I decided to create this highlight reel of students and faculty that have inspired others with their work and/or simply their personalities. And who better to start with than the person who started this challenging internship? Dr. Gunnels, himself. To fully showcase Dr. Gunnels and the other students and faculty in the future I will be doing both interviews and observations and will document them here. To read my go at turning the tables on my supervisor continue reading. I hope you enjoy!
What does FGCUScholars value most?
I would say FGCUScholars values the full development of students. So that they become the best version of themselves academically, intellectually, and professionally. We do this by supporting the scholarly development of students as they basically start to learn how to make discoveries and insights in their own disciplines and we do that because the development of a scholar helps to enhance the most important and found issue of skills of a learned individual: the ability to think critically, the ability to use and process information appropriately, and the ability to communicate that information and those insights to others.

What short term impact do you see the program having on FGCU?
There has been a host of things. Some of them include, for an example, there is an intention and significant effort to bridge the experience of students in their first year in their general education program to what they then learn about in their majors for graduation so that there is a more explicit and clear continuity between what we’re trying to teach and develop in those first two years of the college degree and then how that translates into a major. I think it’s awesome. Hopefully when it’s done most effectively the students won’t note so stringently distinctions between our general education and their major. Obviously the content will change, dramatically, but sorta the goals behind the course and what we’re trying to develop in that student is more seamless. I think another thing that is very clear is the diversity of ways students can pursue scholarly efforts and then demonstrate those scholarly efforts. So prior to this effort, there was research day, there was a few symposiums around, and since this effort came on board there has just been a host of additional ways in which students show their work and describe their performances and engage their creativity. Awesome stuff. And then it’s also been very nice to see both the development of Aquila and the continued growth of mangrove review: two ways in which students can share their work and show off their best.

What role do you want FGCUScholars to play on campus 5 years from now?
I want FGCUScholars to be completely embedded into everything that goes on in this campus, academically. A long term goal would be that the aspirations of FGCUScholars is just what people do. It’s not a distinct thing, it’s just a part of the requirments so that as you take a class you learn content, but just as importantly, you learn how to think and problem solve. You learn what is known about the discipline, but just as importantly, you learn how to make the discoveries yourself because what can a class teach you in 15 weeks? Let’s say biology, how much biology can you learn in 15 weeks? And the answer is you can probably learn just a freakishly small amount of all of the biological knowledge out there. But if we can teach you to think like a biologist, then you can discover it at any time that you want. History, philosophy! Right now we have thousands of years of philosophers all thinking through ideas. In a 15 week course, you’ll get an infinitesimally small amount of their insights. But if we do this right, and FGCUScholars infiltrates completely, then much of that course will not be about teaching you what others have learned but about how using what others have learned provides you the ability to create new insights. That would be awesome.

How do you define/measure success in your own lives?
Joy. I measure success when I have joy. And joy can come from an accomplishment, it can come from overcoming a challenge. Like we just talked about prior to this interview: i was working on something and it deleted! I lost it. If I were to recreate it and I were to make it impactful, there would be joy in that. I find success when others that I support do something really wonderful. And I find success when someone I interact with has an epiphany or has a glimpse of new insight and sorta being able to see that and facilitate that is just fantastic.

If you could tell every student one piece of advice on getting involved in research, what would it be?
Let your curiosity and your enthusiasm drive your efforts. Don’t worry about the final solution, spend as much time worrying about the questions. To actually solve something is extraordinary. But to give yourself the time to actually think through what might be worthy of solving, what might be worthy of exploring, is just as miraculous. And as importantly, pay attention to those things that you already find of interest but challenge yourself to think about, look into, and explore topics that you haven’t been exposed to.

If you could tell every student one piece of advice about life, what would it be?
Prepare to fail and find a great deal of joy in success in overcoming that failure. You will fail continuously, constantly, and everywhere. It’s not about the failure. It’s about taking that experience, using that experience, learning from that experience, and creating success in direct response to that failure, because that’s what success is. Success that is not challenging is boring. And why be boring, y’know? Success which is challenging, success which demands, success which is not easy. It’s fulfilling and incredibly satisfying. A person that wants to just pursue those things they are already comfortable with, will be comfortable. They will, but they won’t be excited. And I think one of the things I would always encourage students to become by the time they graduate is become a student. Not a person waiting to get a grade but a person excited for the opportunities that the unknown has available to them. Become that student.

Teaching the Initiative to Learn

Teaching the Initiative to Learn May 2, 2017 Dr. Charles (Billy) Gunnels: The Man Behind the Mission When I first met Dr. Gunnels ...