Personalized teaching means tapping into students’ talents and passions. Read about three Adelphi STEM professors who exemplify this hallmark quality of Adelphi faculty.

Sean Bentley, PhD, talks with two of his physics students, Thomas Danza and Zoya Shafique.

Adelphi prides itself on the personalized education it offers students. But what exactly is a “personalized education”? For an answer, look to the examples set by these three faculty members.

Helping Students, at All Hours

Wei Liu, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health, always makes a deep impression on students in her Fundamentals of Nursing course.

“Dr. Liu was one of my favorite professors,” said Rebecca Rafael, who took the course in the Fall 2019 semester. “She went out of her way to make sure we understood the material, even going over exams with every student individually to discuss the questions they missed.”

Rafael, who returned to school to get her nursing degree after having four children, said Dr. Liu was always available to provide help. “I had a question at 10 on the night before an exam, so I emailed her, not thinking she’d reply,” Rafael said. “She wrote back immediately, explaining everything. She even said she was happy that I’d emailed my question.”

There’s a reason Dr. Liu is so dedicated to her students. “The course I teach is crucial,” she explained. “My students will be taking care of patients in just a matter of months. They have to understand the material.”

Dr. Liu believes she must be more than a teacher. “In our discipline, we must be role models,” she said. “We are nurses, and we have to show how caring we are.”

It is that stance that leads her to encourage all her students to come see her for review sessions. She conducts five or six of them every day, giving each student half an hour of her time. Most of her students jump at the chance to review; others, often those who aren’t doing well in the class, are reluctant. Dr. Liu has a way of overcoming this reluctance. “I go directly to those students,” she said. “I say, ‘You have to come see me. I’m not happy with your grade.’ “

Propelling an Ongoing Conversation

For Susan Lederer, PhD, professor and undergraduate program director in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, learning is a collaborative process between faculty and students. It’s a method she uses to greatest effect with students in clinical training, helping them learn to work with late-talking toddlers and their families in the TOTalk program at the department’s Hy Weinberg Center for Communication Disorders.

“The students—two graduate students and one undergrad—run the group, and I supervise,” said Dr. Lederer, who created TOTalk in 1998. “After each session, we sit for a long time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. I ask a lot of questions: Is one of the toddlers ready to put words together? If the child uses only nouns, should we work on some verbs? If so, how will we get the toddler to learn a new verb? What does the research say about verb acquisition?”

These Socratic sessions can last well over an hour. Afterward, the students submit plans in writing for the next week’s TOTalk class, receiving Dr. Lederer’s comments in return.

“It an ongoing conversation,” Dr. Lederer said. “I have my students build on their clinical experience by finding support for their ideas in the academic literature. Then they’re getting the clinical skills while enhancing their critical thinking skills. That’s the way to develop an evidence-based practice.”

Dr. Lederer believes that the best way to help students learn is by asking the right questions. Just as important, of course, is the ability to inspire.

“I hope students see the passion and empathy our faculty shows for the kids, their families and the profession,” she said. “Our goal is to produce competent and caring clinicians.”

Teaching Physics Beyond the Equations

A passion for the profession is also a key to the success of associate professor of physics Sean Bentley, PhD.

“The thing about Professor Bentley is he gets so excited about what he’s teaching, and it’s a contagious type of excitement,” said Zoya Shafique, a senior majoring in physics. “He takes physics beyond equations on a page and makes it cool and exciting.”

Dr. Bentley, who has taught at Adelphi for 17 years, says physics is an easy subject to adore. “Physics is beautiful,” he said. “Everything around us is physics. Physics gives us cellphones and TVs and bridges, and it makes the planets move and our cars run, and it all runs on five or six simple concepts.”

He said the elegance and power of physics often gets obscured by the math that goes with the topic. “You have to get through a lot of math to see the beauty,” he said. “I show my students the beauty, then I show them the math. I don’t want them to lose the joy of physics.”

Dr. Bentley enjoys an advantage at Adelphi, where the smaller size of first-year physics classes gives students a better chance to connect with their professors and eventually work with them on research projects.

Thomas Danza, a senior who does research with Dr. Bentley, came to Adelphi intending to major in engineering but decided to major in physics as well after taking a class with him.

“He drew my interest to physics and made me appreciate math more,” Danza said. “Whenever he talks about a topic, he goes in-depth and helps you understand it. I love listening and I want to ask more about it.”

Dr. Bentley has a similar effect on other students, who line up outside his door during his office hours just to talk to him.

“He showed me that a physics degree is something I could go for,” Shafique said. “He’s the sort of once-in-a-lifetime teacher who helps put you on the path to your future. He’s truly a great professor and mentor.”

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