PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Terence Favero

What works: Observations from the field

Terry Favero

Terry Favero is Professor of Biology and Associate Dean of Curriculum at University of Portland.

Faculty for the 21st Century members reflect on their experience in making a difference for their students and for the communities of which they are a part.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab—the environment in which you work with students—what impression would s/he leave with?

Two thoughts:

  • That lectures/classrooms need to be more like labs and less like museums, where artifacts and ideas are on display without further examination.
  • The learning for many students follows the pattern of structured chaos which often follows the pattern of neural networks or student mental models. I would like the visitors to leave with the impression that I’m trying to pry into the mental models of students in order to forge deep and sincere connections between what they know, what and how they think and what is really important about science and learning science. Another impression that visitors to our classroom might have is that of a dressing room, where we take clothes/ideas to try them on, examine them, see how they fit, why they fit (or not)? So many new scientific ideas are imperfect or not completely understood. So, to carry the analogy forward: when is it okay to buy a pair of pants that fits in the waist, but is the wrong length? It is important to ask that question, because that is the world in which we live.

What brought you to an interest in “advancing the frontiers of education” and to connecting your research to that work?

As an experimentalist, I’m always willing to try on ideas and question and perhaps this willingness to perform experiments and try on ideas, means that I’m comfortable with failure (like most of the experiments in my lab) and comfortable with the unknown. I’d like students to understand and bear these qualities and capacities as they begin to look at lifes’ series of incomplete and imperfect decisions.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

Being part of a network. I’m human and like most humans endeared with an incomplete skill set. I understand my strengths and recognize my weaknesses. Being part of a network allows me to the use the gifts and expertise of those and contribute where I can. My best work has always been in collaboration with others.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

I would rephrase the question. In what kind of academic culture would you best succeed? Culture is hard to change and it changes slowly at best. If changes happen at all, they typically take the half-life of a faculty member. Finding a supportive culture, or at least a culture conducive to supporting the kind of academic work you aspire to achieve seems to be a better place to start than trying to identify the perfect academic culture.