PSU-LV faculty, students present research at innovative learning conference

PSU-LV faculty and student at Lilly confrence

Faculty and students from two different departments present research on innovative learning techniques at the Lilly conference in Asheville, North Carolina. Pictured: from left, Maryam Kiani, Lara AbdelAhad and Maung K. Min. 

Credit: Maung Min

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Penn State Lehigh Valley (PSU-LV) made a positive impression at the Lilly conference in Asheville, North Carolina. The annual event, which was held in early August, focuses on scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), with strong emphasis on innovative strategies for advanced learning.

Associate Teaching Professor in Mathematics Maryam Kiani and PSU-LV student Lara AbdelAhad presented their work on “An Exploratory Study of Improving Success in Calculus (I) with an Illustrated Workbook.” Associate Teaching Professor in Business and PSU-LV Director of Business Programs Maung Min collaborated with Laura Cruz, associate research professor at Penn State Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, on the presentation “Re-Purpose: Integrating Sustainable Ways of Knowing into Introductory Management Courses."

Kiani received a grant from the Schreyer Institute to develop the illustrated workbook for her students at PSU-LV; she said the response has been phenomenal, with fewer students struggling and ultimately dropping the course. AbdelAhad has worked closely with Kiani over the past two years. Last fall, she was chosen as a STEM peer mentor, working directly with Kiani’s calculus classes. This spring, Kiani chose AbdelAhad as one of three research assistants for the workbook project. “When we finished the presentation, Dr. Kiani had the option to choose a student to attend the conference. She chose me because I’m involved with her classes and in this research,” AbdelAhad said.

This was AbdelAhad’s first time at a conference, and she said presenting in front of faculty members and fellow students was a great learning experience.

“I feel like I learned to just let things happen. Be prepared, do not fear it, but things will happen no matter what. Know what you’re doing, but let things happen. If I get the opportunity, I would present again,” she said. “I feel like Dr. Kiani was the person who really pushed me. She knows a lot of stuff about my life since I moved here from Lebanon — she is always wanting the best [for] me. This opportunity could’ve been given to any other co-researcher. She chose me because she knows the struggles and what I was looking for. I would like to thank her and say professors can really play a huge role in students’ lives. Not just [the] education portion — I’m talking about students’ futures.”

Kiani said AbdelAhad has grown over the last two years.

“She has grown in the field — she can teach the class without me. I’m trying to train her to be a good teacher in the future," said Kiani. "The presentation was a good opportunity. People were so surprised a 19-year-old had so much confidence and can present in front of people at least twice her age. [Conferences] are good opportunities for students to grow and be a leader in their field. I was able to take Lara because of the grant; taking a student with me was a good opportunity for her and for other students to see how they can grow. At PSU-LV students see they have many opportunities to do research and grow.”

Min’s presentation had a strong focus on incorporating sustainability into a course curriculum, something he strives to do at every opportunity.  Min worked in the corporate world for many years before moving to academia six years ago.

“I’ve been passionate about sustainable business,” Min said. “When I first started teaching, I found there was little focus on sustainability. On top of that, in the business and supply chain program there are 120 credits which are ironclad. There’s very little room to add another course, but that didn’t stop me from incorporating sustainability into some of my business courses. My focus for the presentation had to do with incorporating sustainability concepts into better decision-making for our business students.”

Min’s presentation for the Lilly conference centered on a case study and a scenario dealing with the dilemma of sustainability and what to do about it. Min worked with Cruz, whose role at the Schreyer Institute is to “partner with professors from different campuses and essentially encourage them to get into the SoTL area. That’s how we collaborated," said Min.

Min said the Lilly conferences and others like it are “very important when it comes to the whole body of research in SoTL. Essentially what it’s doing is enhancing learning — bringing in new concepts to enhance learning so we can teach our students better. It allows us to bring new concepts to them which they would otherwise not be familiar with; concepts that are not in textbooks.”