Fostering community in the classroom
By Liz McCarthy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-2848
Lauren Brown decided after graduate school that being a counselor wasn’t the career for her. At the University of South Carolina, though, she has found the perfect way to put her counseling skills to work by helping students in University 101.
Brown, an academic adviser and licensure administrator in the College of Education, came to Carolina for a master’s degree in counseling in 2007. It wasn’t the right fit, but Brown had already found the perfect career choice while working as a graduate assistant with the college.
When she was hired, Brown immediately started teaching University 101, the university’s first-year student seminar. She has taught general sections of the course and education-major only sections.
“It’s a good outlet to use counseling and advising skills. It’s another way for me to get to know my students,” she says. “I want to be a soft place for folks to fall.”
Brown’s day job means she’s working with more than 300 students. She’s found U101 to be the perfect outlet to get to know her students better.
“There’s no way to build those kinds of personal relationships because there’s too many students, but I do get to build it with 18 students at least,” she says. “They’re all coming with similar concerns, concerns almost any 18-year-old has, and then I can follow up with them on the academic side.”
Brown likes to build personal relationships with her U101 students, telling them to text her if they have concerns. Students from her class in 2012 will begin their senior year in the fall and they continue to text her with questions.
“It allows me to foster mentor-mentee relationships that I can carry on for their four years. No matter what the issue is, they can always text me,” she says. “So that if there is something going on their lives, and there always is because these are students going through major transitions, then I can be someone they can come talk to.”
That kind of commitment to her students landed Brown the 2014 M. Stuart Hunter Award for Outstanding Teaching in University 101. Multiple students nominated her for the award for the dynamic classroom setting she fosters through humor, authenticity and compassion.
“Lauren Brown was by far the best professor I have had all semester. Not only did she do her job teaching me and getting me used to life as a college student, she took her extra time to always make sure every one of her students was okay,” education student Jillian Miller wrote in her nomination.
Brown says she wouldn’t be able to teach the class successfully without the help of peer leaders, upperclassmen who teach alongside her. These students bring a much-needed perspective to the class since Brown did not get her undergraduate degree from UofSC.
“They’re work is tremendous. It’s hard to articulate how much they bring to the experience,” she says.
For now, Brown doesn’t think she’ll give up teaching U101 anytime soon, even if it means more work.
“It’s fun. It allows me to be goofy and I can’t quite be as goofy here. Paperwork doesn’t lend itself to happy dances,” she says. “Everyone here at USC is in a helping profession and this is an easy, rewarding way to go about it.“
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