Coming out of nearly two years of teaching during a pandemic, Andrea Aebersold, Director of Faculty Instructional Development at the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI), knew that faculty were feeling overworked, stressed, and burnt out. Concerned that UCI didn’t have the proper infrastructure to appropriately integrate support for mental health within the classroom, Andrea worked with colleagues Brian Sato (DTEI Associate Dean) and Danny Mann (DTEI Director of Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholar Instructional Development) to spearhead the creation of a new position to close this gap. In collaboration with UCI Wellness, Health & Counseling Services, DTEI was able to make this vision a reality.
The new Pedagogical Wellness Specialist role has two main responsibilities. First, they are responsible for training faculty and instructors on creating classroom environments that support student well-being. Secondly, in partnership with existing efforts in UCI Wellness, Health & Counseling Services, they are expected to support faculty and instructor well-being through advocacy, community building, and fostering safe spaces that invite open communication in areas directly connected with teaching.
Andrea’s hopes for the new position and the impact it will have on campus are two-fold:
“We want to empower faculty and graduate students to support their students through best practices in teaching and wellness. Classroom policies and pedagogical approaches can really impact student mental health. We also want to be sure the well-being of faculty and graduate students becomes more of a priority. We can’t expect them to continue being effective, compassionate educators when their own needs are seen as secondary.“
Recently, Andrea and her push to create the Pedagogical Wellness Specialist position were highlighted by The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Beth McMurtie in a post titled “Teaching: A New Approach to Supporting Faculty Members This Fall” as well as in an article titled “Last Year Was Miserable. Can Colleges Make This One Better?”
“I’m proud to see Andrea and her work being featured in such a respected outlet,” says Michael Dennin, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean of Undergraduate Education. “UCI prides itself on being at the forefront of pedagogical innovation and excellence, and it’s individuals like Andrea and units like DTEI that head this charge. Hopefully, other institutions will see what we are doing here and be inspired to make similar changes on their own campuses.”
Having just completed the intensive interview process for the new role, Andrea and her team are excited to welcome Theresa Duong as DTEI’s new Pedagogical Wellness Specialist. Theresa received her B.A. in Public Health Policy in 2015 and her Ph.D. in Public Health with a concentration in Disease Prevention in June 2022 both from the Program in Public Health at UCI. Her previous research work focused on social networks/social support for cancer prevention behavior, health communication, and health intervention design and evaluation.
During the pandemic, Theresa served as a Fellow in the OC Health Equity Contact Tracing program, where she developed workshop modules focused on self-care among community responders. Over the past few years, she received advanced training from DTEI as a Pedagogical Fellow and Educational Development Fellow, which is where she discovered her passion for teaching and program development. Theresa recently led a UCI learning community focused on trauma-informed teaching and learning where she listened to and learned about other instructors’ concerns around mental health and burnout.
As both a student and instructor, Theresa saw the negative impact that the pandemic, family situations, and mental health issues had on the well-being of students and instructors alike. “During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned how to become more flexible and inclusive of our students in order to help maintain their health and well-being,” she points out. “Just as it is important to cultivate a culture of wellness for students, it is equally important to support faculty wellness as we move forward.”
To emphasize the importance of both student and faculty well-being, Theresa has a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish as UCI’s first Pedagogical Wellness Specialist:
“I hope to use my public health research and pedagogical skills to assess the mental health needs of the student and faculty community, co-create pedagogical wellness workshops, and evaluate their effectiveness for student and faculty health. I also plan to collaborate with a wellness coalition (including student ambassadors, faculty, and support staff) in order to develop the Institute for Community Wellness at UCI. My ultimate goal is to foster a culture of wellness inside and outside of the classroom to help our students and faculty be healthier and happier.”
Theresa will begin her work as Pedagogical Wellness Specialist on September 12, 2022. Please join us as we welcome Theresa to the DTEI team! To learn more about the new Pedagogical Wellness Specialist role, check out The Chronicle of Higher Education articles “Teaching: A New Approach to Supporting Faculty Members This Fall” and “Last Year Was Miserable. Can Colleges Make This One Better?” To learn more about how DTEI supports UCI students and faculty, visit their website.