For KaSondra Toney, earning a college degree was anything but typical. As a single mom, she withdrew twice to focus on raising her young family. It took almost 20 years, and she often questioned if she was good enough to succeed in college, but she remained determined to finish.
Last year, she achieved her goal and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition, she won USM’s Bishop Award, which recognizes students who have endured hardships in pursuit of their education.
“I used to look at my life experiences as a series of setbacks. Now, I realize they were setups to enable me to use my experience and share my story to help and inspire others,” says Toney, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in USM’s School Counseling program.
Toney credits the faculty at USM’s School of Child and Family Sciences, whose instructional approaches provided her with a foundation of support. “They really helped me through a lot of self-doubt,” she says. The relationships she formed with faculty were “transformative for me.”
Student Success Through Exceptional Teaching
Toney’s success story and the role that faculty played,are emblematic of the positive student impact that quality instruction is having at USM, where 1 out of every 6 faculty are now ACUE certified. As one of ACUE’s long-term institutional partners, 126 faculty have participated in the ACUE Faculty Development Institute through USM’s Center for Faculty Development.
“The ACUE experience on our campus has been transformative institutionally,” says Amy Chasteen, Executive Vice Provost at USM.
This summer, ACUE published a series of research papers in partnership with USM, demonstrating that students have better academic outcomes overall when they take more courses with ACUE instructors. In addition, students who completed a gateway course with an ACUE-certified instructor had lower DFW rates and higher GPAs in their subsequent courses.
For Toney, the faculty member who stands out, in particular, was Angel Herring, an ACUE-certified associate professor in the School of Child and Family Sciences. Herring began teaching as an adjunct professor while working in early childhood development and “fell in love with it.”
“We like to say we’re a school of therapists and mamas. We are passionate about connecting with our students, caring for them, and seeing them transform. I was hooked,” she says.
Herring primarily teaches online courses through which she implements instructional practices that build personal bonds with her students. She creates videos that describe her own struggles as a first-generation college student and schedules 1:1 meetings with each student to get to know them. “Online teaching does not mean there have to be no personal interactions with students.”
Her perspectives about online teaching are, in part, why she is a featured contributor in ACUE’s Effective Online Teaching Practices Course,which focuses on proven online teaching approaches that empower faculty and ensure student success.
‘I wasn’t just a student on a piece of paper.’
What stands out most to Toney is a conversation she had early in Herring’s course. Even though the course was online, Herring insisted on one-on-one conversations to get to know each student.
“She listened to me. It helped me realize that what I had to say was important and that my ideas were important,” Toney says. “For Dr. Herring to want to have such an in-depth conversation showed me that I wasn’t just a student on a piece of paper. She cared about me and I felt that.”
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