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New York City
December 2002

Provost Podell & Chair of Ed. Sullivan Discuss College of SI
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

The words “unique” and “collaborative” come up often in conversation with David Podell, Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at the College of Staten Island (CSI) and Susan Sullivan, Chair of the College’s Department of Education—and for good reason. Both pride themselves on enhancing a curriculum for students, teachers and administrators that draws on CSI’s history, location, and strengths. The product of a merger many years ago between a community college and an upper-division liberal arts institution with a strong program in interdisciplinary studies, CSI has taken advantage of its relative seclusion from the rest of the CUNY system and its status as a public college in a borough with many private colleges by forging ties with neighboring school districts that allow for close exchange and evaluation. The results, say Drs. Podell and Sullivan, is an education program that integrates liberal arts and pedagogy in a way that has built effective “community” among both students and faculty and between the College and its placement schools. No conflicts here between history majors and prospective public school teachers of history, for example. The CSI Department of Education nurtures a course of study that requires all prospective teachers, K- 12, to study subject matter.

But there’s more to be proud of, they say. Dr. Podell, whose previous positions at the college were as Chair of the Department of Education and as Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, speaks of the way in which CSI also embraces special education. A Ph.D. from NYU in Educational Psychology, with a publications history in special education placement and teacher efficacy as well as in computer-assisted instruction for students with learning disabilities, Dr. Podell, whose undergraduate and Master’s level work was in history, is particularly eager that teachers come to teaching with wide and deep exposure to the liberal arts. In Dr. Sullivan, formerly of Bank Street College, where she was Associate Director of the Leadership Center, Dr. Podell has a supportive and highly experienced colleague.

Central to what both Dr. Podell and Dr. Sullivan cite as success is the College’s Science, Letters and Society program (SLS) which ensures that undergraduates are solidly grounded in content areas. This “philosophy,” as Dr. Podell calls it, is reflected in the fact that there is no education major at CSI. Students concentrate in an area in liberal arts and take education courses. So now, Dr. Podell says, with a playful sense of irony, “the State Education Department has finally caught up with us!” Does this subject-laden requirement at CSI mean that undergraduates who want to teach take more credits? The answer is Yes, slightly more, but obviously, students feel that the extra time and preparation are worth it. SLS makes it clear that those who want to teach must demonstrate the ability to do so. Evaluations, in other words, are built into CSI’s programs.

Another “unique” feature to be stressed is what happens at CSI at the post-Master’s level. Teachers who come from not only CSI but other colleges, among them Brooklyn College, St. John’s, Wagner, and LIU, are nominated by their principals for CSI’s Educational Administration program. What is noteworthy, says Dr. Podell, is that CSI’s education programs manage to exist without the benefit of a separate School of Education. Instead there are local and interdisciplinary support groups, such as the Teacher Education Advisory Committee (TEAC) composed of liberal arts and education department faculty which has been meeting for years to discuss their mutual estate.

Actually, Susan Sullivan has another favorite word about CSI’s collaborative efforts with local area high schools—“cohort.” Working closely with District 31 in particular, CSI organizes groups of student teachers, a “learning community,” who work with a group of senior faculty mentors. Success? How about a “zero dropout rate”! The “cohort” idea extends to CSI teaching fellows or instructors “who lead courses in at-risk schools, as they continue their education at CSI,” says Dr. Sullivan. Beyond assisting new teachers, the cohort idea also benefits the seasoned colleagues, who take courses together, on sabbatical, and thus build their own learning community. A federally and state-funded Discovery Institute, an in-service professional development program for teachers in the high schools, also reflects the cohort philosophy by bringing together groups of teachers at CSI to work on curriculum development and discover new interdisciplinary links.

Now it’s the Provost’s turn again to offer up another key word—“cycle.” What goes on in education, says Dr. Podell, begins early with high school seniors, who are recruited to consider careers in teaching. “If you want to change a culture,” have a different attitude toward teaching, you have to begin early and reinforce at every step, from the freshman year through the post-Master’s phase. “There is a gap between the system and teacher preparation, particularly in the high schools,” but there could be no better time to meet the challenges. The recent wave of retirements has opened new lines. Of the 20-member CSI Department of Education, 14 faculty were hired within the last seven years. And of course, the Provost might have added, there is support in the press. The papers seem to be 100 percent behind efforts such as those that seem to have been in place for years at The College of Staten Island. It’s a sure bet, however, that neither Dr. Podell nor Dr. Sullivan will be resting on any laurels. Probably “forefront” is going to be their next favorite word.#

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