A conversation with Dr. Sarah Lashley, new Director of Center for Teaching and Learning
While the distance from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, to Centre College in Danville, Ky., totals some 1,100 miles, the pedagogical terrain of both nationally ranked liberal arts colleges is very similar. As such, Dr. Sarah Lashley anticipates a smooth transition when she begins her duties on Monday, July 16, as the new director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Most recently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Human Rights at Colby, Lashley is excited to begin her new position, which has both administrative and faculty components.
She recently took time to discuss her educational background, goals for this position, and possible shift of college basketball allegiance from Ohio to Kentucky.
Please talk about how your interest in teaching and learning as a discipline developed. How does it complement your own scholarly work in environmental studies?
As an environmental education Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine 10 years ago, I discovered that I loved teaching. I loved not only the student interaction, but also the challenge of thinking about how to convey complex information in ways that engaged students, and facilitated critical thinking and dialogue. While in Ukraine, I was constantly placed in new and challenging positions, but the classroom was always a safe space for me and I looked forward to heading home each night to craft new lessons. I also looked forward to my weekly meeting with the English teachers in my small town. In these meetings, we worked together to incorporate active learning into their classrooms and improve their own confidence in speaking English. From this early experience to my work with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, I have felt energized by thinking about how to meet the challenge of elevating student learning.
Environmental problems are complex. These problems are in a constant state of change, are volatile, and are symptomatic of other problems. There are no well-defined solutions, and a multitude of actors and interests are involved. These problems are beyond the control of one discipline, agency, or actor. Instead, they require discussion amongst people who have different perspectives, goals, knowledge, and means of communicating. Managing environmental problems requires an integrative understanding of social and natural environments, an ability to communicate with diverse audiences, and creative problem-solving. Many of these challenges are also observed and felt in the classroom. As such, my interests in environmental problems and teaching and learning are complementary.
The CTL director is part administrator, part faculty member. What types of courses do you plan to offer as the teaching component of your new position?
My environmental teaching and research interests combine studies of environmental justice with theories of collaboration and conflict management to explore processes for social change. The courses I plan to offer reflect these interests.
This fall, I will teach an environmental justice course. Although environmental conditions impact all people, environmental risks and amenities are not equitably distributed across places or populations. In this course, we will explore the connections between human and environmental health, how and why environmental inequalities arise, and why some communities are able to work more effectively toward environmental justice.
Environmental problems are contentious, so I am also particularly interested in offering courses that introduce students to strategies for identifying, understanding, and managing environmental conflicts.
In the future, I would like to take advantage of the structure of CentreTerm to travel to the Middle East with students to assess the role of environmental problems, particularly water scarcity, in situations of peace and conflict. I can also imagine contributing to the introductory environmental studies course.
What attracted you to this opportunity at Centre College?
Initially, I was attracted to this position because it would allow me to advance my interests in teaching and learning by directing the Center for Teaching and Learning, and simultaneously, I could hold on to my identity as an environmentalist by teaching environmentally themed courses. Furthermore, it would allow me to continue to work at a liberal arts college. Having attended Allegheny College, a liberal arts college in Meadville, Pa., and most recently teaching at Colby College, I am committed to maintaining a career in a liberal arts setting. Finally, having grown up in Ohio, I have long been aware of the strong academic reputation of Centre College. After my campus visit, I was also attracted to the collegiality of the faculty and staff, the quality of resources and facilities available at the college, and the opportunity to shape the vision of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
What are your key areas of interest in teaching and learning?
I am particularly interested in the challenges, opportunities, and outcomes of civic engagement and service learning. I am also interested in student resistance to student-centered learning, and teaching across the disciplines.
What goals do you hope to accomplish in the first six months? The first year?
During my campus visit, I received a piece of advice for approaching the first year, “Learn everything you can.” I have taken this advice to heart. My first goal is to learn as much as I can about the teaching and learning culture at Centre, the challenges and opportunities awaiting faculty, and the college’s strategic initiatives and administrative structure. I look forward to meeting as many people as possible. In light of my first goal, my second goal is to craft an updated vision statement for the Center for Teaching and Learning, and form an advisory committee. My third goal is to support and expand the reading circles and workshops that faculty have initiated in recent years, and to celebrate Centre’s commitment to teaching.
Was your campus visit to Danville your first trip to Kentucky?
It was not. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. My family and I made several trips to southwestern Kentucky to visit extended family, who have since moved to the Lexington area. I also visited Kentucky with my partner, whose parents lived in Nicholasville for a few years. I have been forewarned that I may have to shift my allegiance from Ohio State to the University of Kentucky during basketball season.
B.A. with honors in environmental studies from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.
M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in natural resources and environment from the University of Michigan