Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Chatting with Caryl Fish: climate for moms at a small teaching institution and evaluation of non-researchers

Dr. Fish is an Associate Professor of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at St. Vincent College, the director of its Summer Institute in Watershed Restoration and its  Environmental Education Center, a mother of two, and happily married to a fellow highly educated chemist.  We couldn't resist the opportunity to meet with her after her campus-wide presentation on "Abandoned Mine Drainage:  A resource for Undergraduate Education" and ask about the climate for mom's at a small teaching institution, including how she and her husband solved their "two-body" problem.
Here are some highlights:
Caryl Fish and her husband Daryl met and married during their doctoral programs at ESF. Caryl came into the program with the intent of finding a position at a small teaching institution, while Daryl was interested in finding a position in industry.  She found her position at St. Vincent first, and with its close proximity to Pittsburgh, they expected that Daryl would have little trouble finding that industry job. This wasn't the case, however, and after he completed his post-doc and joined her in Latrobe, was unemployed until hired as St. Vincent's chemistry lab manager.  Soon thereafter, one of the other faculty members left, leaving the college with very short notice to find a replacement for the upcoming fall course schedule.  Daryl filled the position on a temporary basis, and the position was eventually converted to tenure track.  Their offices are a floor apart, and "it would seem strange not to see him every day."
Both of Fish's children were born before she attained tenure.  She took a leave after the birth of her older child, and after the birth of the younger was granted an extra year on her "tenure clock."  Her "marriage is very much a partnership."  Because she and her husband have staggered schedules, they can share care-taking of the kids when they are not in school.  Both Fishes have been involved with their kids Boy Scout troup, and she is currently serving as the den leader.  Daryl led her scouts on a field trip while she visited the campus.
Also,  "St. Vincent has a wonderful on-site daycare with a full-day kindergarten" which was an enormous help to them when the boys were younger.  Now that they are older, they still bring them to campus on occasion.   St. Vincent College also hosts the new "The Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media", which is partially staffed by students in the early childhood development program.  The local community has also has many family amenities, courtesy of Latrobe native Fred "Mr." Rogers, and the Rogers-McFeely families. 
We also asked about how faculty are evaluated at this predominately undergraduate institution.
Faculty at St. Vincent have higher teaching loads than at research centered institutions, often 12 credits per semester.  While her faculty does not have a graduate program, all seniors are required to complete an independent research project, and she supervises about 1/5 of these (there are 4 other faculty). Faculty are evaluated first on teaching effectiveness, a second criteria associated with teaching, and then on professional development. Research fits into this third category.  There is an expectation that faculty will publish, but there is not the pressure to do so in the most prestigious journals as is common at research-centered institutions.  Successful grant writing, community efforts and participation in symposia are also considered in evaluation, but are probably not as highly ranked as more traditional publications.

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