We Connect: Campus Collaborations with the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning

June 6, 2024
students in front of nogales sign
adrienne brown headshot

This past spring semester, Dr. Nadia Alvarez Mexia co-taught her HNRS 335: Leadership: Building and Nourishing a Community, with Dr. Adrienne Brown, a postdoc at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. Along with her role as a faculty member, much of Dr. Alvarez Mexia’s work involves seeking and stewarding campus and community collaborations in the W.A. Franke Honors College.  

Adrienne is a researcher studying community engagement in environmental decision-making. She received her Ph.D. in sociology, with a focus on community and environment, from the University of New Hampshire in spring 2023. Her previous work has focused on wildfire recovery and resilience and forest management in northern California. She joined the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning Postdoc Pathways program last fall, which provides training in undergraduate instruction.   

“It’s a great opportunity to be part of a learning community with other postdocs and learn about tools for inclusive, engaged, and experiential education,” Brown said. 

What attracted you to CIRTL, as well as Dr. Alvarez Mexia’s courses?  

group of students at agave heritage festival

I worked as a teaching assistant throughout graduate school, but I had little experience developing lesson plans or leading classes. I joined CIRTL to help to build these skills in a supportive environment. I was lucky to connect with Dr. Alvarez Mexia this spring, in the Honors course, “Leadership: Building and Nourishing a Community.” I felt that her focus on hands-on learning experiences would fit well with my qualitative research background, but also with my previous work history with community organizations. 

What were some of the topics you covered during your 4 weeks of co-teaching in HNRS 335?   

The classes I taught during my unit covered a range of topics, including reflexivity and positionality in research, stakeholder identification and engagement, and qualitative data collection and analysis. 

What did you enjoy about the experience co-teaching Franke Honors students with Dr. Alvarez Mexia?  

I got a lot out of this experience, but I especially enjoyed building relationships with Dr. Alvarez Mexia and the students in the course. Given that it was a small class and everyone came from diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines, we were able to have some great discussions and I learned a lot from them. The course was also centered around a semester-long, community-engaged project that the students worked on, and it was really rewarding to see their final projects, which were professional, creative, and informative. I was so impressed by the students in this class! Throughout the semester, they were thoughtful and engaged in the course content, they took on significant responsibilities in working with community partners, and they each brought unique experience and knowledge to the class that made for a really rich learning environment. I’m very grateful for how warm and welcoming they were to me. 

nadia alvarez mexia and adrienne brown

Any highlights/takeaways from your experience working with Dr. Alvarez Mexia this past semester?  

Dr. Alvarez Mexia is an excellent mentor, and she is so good at building genuine relationships with students and colleagues. My big takeaway from this semester is that learning is a social experience. I think it’s important to consider my own and my students’ strengths, and how to build on these to promote knowledge-sharing and engagement in the classroom. 

 Were there any challenges/surprises you faced during this fellowship?  

I’ve always been a nervous public speaker, so I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the classes that I led. CIRTL empowered me to build classes around my strengths, rather than adhering to some traditional lecture model. In particular, I found that my experience with qualitative research was useful when it came to creating small-group activities and facilitating discussions with the class. 

Who/what inspired you to become an educator?  

I have been lucky to have some really excellent teachers and mentors over the years. During graduate school, my advisor Dr. Cliff Brown was a huge source of encouragement and support for me, especially coming in as a nervous, first-generation college graduate. Also, Dr. Nena Stracuzzi, who I worked with as a TA throughout graduate school, taught me a lot about navigating adversity and building genuine relationships with students. I tried to channel the lessons I learned from both of them throughout my experience in CIRTL. 

 “CIRTL is offering an excellent opportunity for faculty members who are willing to co-teach a course with a fellow member and extend collaborations across academia. My experience with Dr. Adrienne Brown was remarkable and contributed to incorporating a holistic teaching approach and learning environment. Adrienne was an extraordinary mentee who supported key activities for this course including a one-day visit to Tec of Nogales in Sonora, Mexico, a partnership with one of our BCII course and our collaboration with the Agave Fest in Tucson, Arizona.” - Dr. Nadia Alvarez Mexia