When Bianca Arello transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University from an Orlando college, she quickly wanted to learn more about her new school. While exploring the FGCU website, she stumbled upon a job listing for a student consultant with the Lucas Center for Faculty Development and was intrigued enough to apply. After four semesters working with the center’s Student-Faculty Partnership Program, the dual major in theatre and public relations has helped faculty in entrepreneurship, accounting, and language and literature by providing valuable feedback on student perceptions of their teaching.
“Teaching is way more complicated and unscripted than I thought,” Arello said.
Most partnerships are randomly assigned, and student consultants are typically paired with a faculty member outside their study area. That’s true of Arello, a native Portuguese speaker working with assistant professor Marianela Rivera in her intermediate Spanish course.
“When I served as a teaching assistant in college, I was grading and helping to teach the class, so those students saw me as a professor even though I wasn’t. But I was standing in the front and missing some of the background conversations, just like I am now,” Rivera says.
She believes students don’t always feel confident providing honest feedback to someone responsible for their grade. “Bianca’s role is different because she’s in between the students and me. They know she isn’t judging them or grading them.”
That helps students open up to the student consultant about their experiences in class. It also gives the consultant distance to see the class differently than the instructor. Arello says students have asked her to bring specific requests to her faculty partners.
“It sounds surprising, but the students asked for more lectures,” Arello says of her faculty partner in entrepreneurship. “I’m in the class, and I see a professor who can engage her students with the content, so I understand why they want her to say more.”
Ninety-five faculty and 77 students have participated in the one-on-one, semester-long collaborations since the program started in fall 2018. The partnerships have grown from eight student-faculty pairs in the first year to 18 pairings this spring.
Each semester, student consultants observe at least one class weekly and meet one-on-one to provide feedback to faculty partners. The student consultants survey class attendees formally and informally throughout the semester, sometimes using questions tailored to the specific needs identified by the faculty member.
For a recent class, Rivera led mock job interviews with her students in Spanish. Before the class, Arello provided examples to Rivera from a recent job interview she’d been on. After class, Arello conducted a focus group to ask for student feedback, which she then shared anonymously with Rivera.
“Not every student feels comfortable talking to us as faculty. They see a wall between student and faculty, but there’s no wall for them and Bianca,” Rivera says.
What do the student consultants get out of the partnership? Beyond an hourly wage, they get a peek behind the curtain to see how much consideration goes into crafting each 60- to 90-minute class. The pedagogical thought and preparation required by FGCU faculty are on display for their student consultant through the partnership.
“Having this middle person, someone with a voice, shows students they are appreciated by the faculty member, that their education is valued,” Arello says. She believes faculty involved in the program are demonstrating their eagerness to listen to students and make effective change in the classroom.
According to Bill Reynolds, the Lucas Center’s director, 15% of full-time faculty have participated in the program. Like the student consultants, faculty apply to participate and receive a small stipend.
Student partners may not come into the program with an understanding of teaching methods. “They’re not expected to be pedagogy experts,” Reynolds says, but student consultants often bring fresh ideas and help faculty be more reflective and intentional with instruction method choices.
Rivera says the program has become important to her growth as a language professor.
“I’ve been teaching the class for many years, and I wanted to develop it a little without going through the lengthy process of changing materials. I wanted ideas on what is new with what I already have,” Rivera says.
Reynolds knows FGCU faculty and students are interested in increasing fall and spring partners and introducing summer partnerships. But the Lucas Center would need additional resources to expand the program to meet growing demand from students and faculty. “The core intent was to bridge faculty development and student success, and we’re meeting the challenge,” Reynolds says.
“Having a student as a partner has opened my eyes to a different type of relationship with students. They’re not only there to get a grade,” Rivera says. But if Arello took the class for credit, what grade would Rivera give her? “She would be getting an A, for sure!”