Twice as Nice for Two Tenure-Track Alumni

Professors Paull Fess and Krystyna Michael and their son Andrzej at graduation from The Graduate Center.
Alumni Paul Fess and Krystyna Michael and their son, Andrzej.

For Krystyna Michael (Ph.D. ’19, Comparative Literature) and Paul Fess (Ph.D. ’18, English) things have been happening in twos. They met and fell in love while pursuing their Ph.D.’s at The Graduate Center, bonding over common interests, such as 19th-century American literature and multimedia-based learning. At the time, Michael was an instructional technology fellow at the School of Professional Studies. Fess was a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and had designed an online course at the School of Professional Studies that Michael helped build out.
Now, they are both assistant professors of English at CUNY — she at Hostos Community College, he at LaGuardia Community College.
Michael spoke first to The Graduate Center about the experiences that helped her on her path to Hostos. (Fess also spoke to us in a separate interview.)
The Graduate Center: What do you think helped you stand out?

Michael: One thing that helped me stand out is that I had a background in open digital pedagogy from the instructional technology fellowship I held at the School of Professional Studies [SPS] and from serving as open educational technologist at The Graduate Center [GC]. CUNY has all these opportunities for graduate students to get teaching-adjacent experiences, such as faculty development and curriculum development, which gave me new, different perspectives on the classroom.

I also think it's important to try to make sure that you get broad teaching experience, so you're not just teaching one class for the entire time that you're in graduate school. I tried to teach a bunch of different types of classes at different institutions. I taught at Queens and Baruch. I also taught online at SPS. Then I taught at NYU’s Gallatin School, where I also tutored Opportunity Program students who were the first in their families to go to college and advised students on developing their course of study in Gallatin’s student-directed program.

GC: Explain what you mean by teaching-adjacent experiences.

Michael: When you're teaching a class, you design your materials, you write an assignment, you encourage your students to come to office hours, but it’s difficult to get a real sense of how your students experience your methods. If you have the opportunity to work in faculty development, you're helping other faculty develop their materials and finding out how they work in a different context from your own class.

As an instructional technology fellow at SPS, I was designing and running workshops for faculty about ways to use technology in their online classes; 80% of SPS classes are online. I also got a lot of experience with accessibility. We designed an online accessibility workshop that is in now use across CUNY. Then as an open educational technologist at the GC, I helped develop tools that make it easier for faculty to use technology to make connections beyond the walls of the classroom with the broader institution and the city beyond that.
As a tutor at NYU, I got a perspective on how first-generation college students were experiencing their assignments and classes. For instance, in the classroom when I first started writing essay prompts, I would include a bunch of questions with the implication that students should answer the ones what they found compelling. I found from tutoring Opportunity Program students that they found that method really confusing. It was nice to be able to get that kind of perspective on what's going on in the classroom outside of the power dynamic of the teacher-student relationship.

GC: What are your hopes for your new position? What do you want to accomplish?

Michael: I'm really excited about working with the Hostos student body. I love that I'm back at CUNY. I love the way CUNY straddles research, especially at The Graduate Center, but then also has this mission to help underserved populations in the community colleges. I'm excited about honing my classroom activities and assignments and working on that with students in the classroom.

GC: What advice do you have for current students who are looking for tenure track positions, or what do you wish that you had known at the beginning of your job search?

Michael: It's still hard to give advice. The most important thing is that you have time to finish your dissertation. At the same time, you want to be a well-rounded candidate because each hiring committee is particular about what they're looking for. If you have done many different types of things, there's more of a chance that one of them will speak to the position that you're applying to.

Submitted on: OCT 8, 2019

Category: Alumni News | Faculty | General GC News | New Appointments to the GC | Student News