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Oct 20 / Sarah Sheesley

Creating the BEST Version of Myself: What I Learned from My Internship with BEST/ReBUILDetroit

heather mooney










By Heather Mooney


I am a 4th year PhD candidate in Wayne State University’s Department of Sociology, with plans to graduate in May 2018. My research explores how the experiences of “troubled teens” who were sent to private rehabilitation facilities for high school later manifests in adulthood and impacts their identity and social mobility.

The majority of PhDs from my program go on to employment at either four-year or community colleges, with roughly one-third taking positions in industry. While I am passionate about higher education, I also wanted to understand all of the options available for someone in my position, so I began to explore the BEST program.  I was motivated to apply because I see myself as an applied sociologist, and everything in the program is in accord with putting theory into practice. Over the course of the year, I found the panels, workshops, and field experience to be instrumental to my professional development. Interacting with PhDs from other sectors who had creative, nonlinear, and often challenging career paths was not only informative, but inspiring! Furthermore, I was introduced to possibilities beyond academia, and in doing so I also realized the importance of strategizing how I would tackle the job market – and the need to do this sooner rather than later.

I was encouraged by Carmen Gamlin, then the Career Services Director, to consider BEST’s teaching track for Phase III (field experience), which is partnered with ReBUILDetroit. This project is funded by a multi-million dollar NIH grant awarded to a consortium of Detroit schools — Marygrove College, University of Detroit Mercy, and Wayne State University — to establish the Detroit Metro area as a center promoting biomedical research training for students in underrepresented groups. I got the internship and worked as a Graduate Community Learning Advisor. In this role, I mentored students from Detroit universities to teach them how to review scientific literature and design experiments. In particular, my group was interested in researching health disparities in the city through our ReBUILDetroit courses. I collaborated with Dr. Heather Dillaway, professor of sociology and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to teach the university’s first public health ReBUILDetroit course, “Social and Behavioral Aspects of Public Health/Introduction to Society and Health.” In addition to the teaching component of the program, I engaged in cross-campus interdisciplinary discussions with peers to review the current teaching and learning literature on evidence-based instructional practices. “Evidence-based” refers to any concept or strategy that is informed by objective observation of school metrics, as well as by teacher and student performance.

In these ways, my work working with BEST/ReBUILDetroit enhanced my teaching philosophy. Learner-centered teaching, which means that activities in the classroom are designed to optimize the student’s opportunity to learn, guides my pedagogical practices, as students do their best learning once invested and engaged in materials relevant to their interests. My goal in teaching is not just to have students memorize information but to cultivate critical thinking, spark their curiosity, and establish skills for lifelong learning.

The BEST/ReBUILDetroit internship also assisted me in building a digital teaching portfolio, which was invaluable in helping me articulate my teaching goals and accomplishments. An additional benefit of the internship was becoming familiar with Wayne State’s Office of Teaching and Learning (OTL), which offers professional development courses. The OTL workshops gave me the motivation and expertise to set up my own website, which displays the digital teaching portfolio. Creating my own site was easier than I had anticipated, thanks to the myriad Do-It-Yourself platforms now available.  In order to make the site, I first had to take inventory of my experiences and strengths. I was then able to recognize themes in my professional work and interests and to promote myself as a scholar. I believe that the process of creating one’s own site is a great exercise for preparing to enter the job market.

The OTL also offers a Teaching Documentation Program, which provides certification and helps graduate students to validate their teaching and learning practices in higher education. Because this is an excellent way to demonstrate my dedication to teaching and enhance my skills, I am committed to completing the Teaching Documentation Program by the end of 2017. This teaching certificate will give me an edge over the competition in the job market and was a pleasantly unanticipated outcome of my BEST/ReBUILDetroit experience.

I am continually impressed by the richness of resources, networking, and information provided through the BEST and ReBUILDetroit programs. At BEST events, the career value of the PhD is always emphasized, and this has bolstered my resolve to complete my doctorate, despite many challenges. Not only have I developed a strong network of other graduate students and faculty across disciplines (as well as improving my ability to network), I’ve also expanded my horizons and learned how to be successful in the academic job market and beyond. I’ve built authentic connections with a community that that values learning, research, and teaching. I am already benefitting from my new experiences and relationships.

BEST has made clear that it’s never too early to start thinking about, exploring, and preparing for the next venture. I encourage you to explore the bounty of resources that Wayne State has to offer for your tomorrow, today.

Heather Mooney is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Wayne State actively working on her dissertation. She is a Rumble Fellow, a King-Chavez-Parks Future Faculty Fellow, and recently won a Sociologists for Women in Society “Social Action Award” in collaboration with John, an incarcerated man, for a Restorative Justice Summit to be held in a Michigan prison this fall.

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