James Madison University

CHBS Embraces Preparing Future Faculty Program

By: Lori News
Posted: March 24, 2015

Every year, JMU’s Preparing Future Faculty Program (PFF) selects four doctoral students to receive a one-year teaching fellowship teaching JMU courses while finishing their degrees. This national program began in the early 1990s as a way to provide teaching opportunities for doctoral candidates prior to the completion of their dissertations, while also promoting faculty diversity in all academic departments. JMU adopted the PFF concept a decade later and has since established a partnership to work with doctoral students from Howard University and Morgan State University.

PHOTO: Maleka Brown and Tarek Zidan

This school year, the College of Health and Behavioral Studies embraced the opportunity to promote faculty diversity by accepting two JMU PFF fellows, psychology professor Maleka Brown and social work instructor Tarek Zidan.

Brown and Zidan, both from Howard University, were accepted into the fellowship after completing an application process involving interviews and essays, as well as completing all required graduate course work toward the Ph.D. in their respective programs.

Before coming to JMU, Brown taught a variety of psychology classes, honors research classes and a graduate level course at Howard University. “My experience teaching at JMU has been really rewarding and very different,” said Brown. “Last semester I taught Life Span Human Development; it was the first time I taught that course and it was the largest class I’ve taught. It was a learning curve but it was a nice and fun challenge.”

Similarly, as an Egyptian-American, Zidan taught a variety of social work-related classes in Egypt. After coming to the U.S. in 1999, Zidan taught in-class graduate courses at the University of Denver, and online undergraduate classes at Metro State University of Denver, such as Research Methods, Human Diversity and Social Work Case Management. This year Zidan is teaching “Social Work Research Methods” and although he has plenty of teaching experience, he described the student population at JMU to be different from his past experiences.

“I have always taught in places with a lot of diverse students,” explained Zidan. “I always tell my students I might have a heavy accent and my name might sound different, but that’s why the PFF exists: to add more diversity to the faculty of JMU.”

As part of the PFF internship, fellows are encouraged to use JMU’s resources to aid them in their dissertation research and to help finish their degrees. Zidan’s dissertation involves researching “attitudes of Arab Americans toward persons with disabilities.” He found JMU’s online-based survey programs such as Qualtrics and the JMU library databases to be helpful, however he says the biggest resource has been teaching and learning in a new environment.

While working to complete her Ph.D in Developmental Psychology, Brown recently finished her dissertation focusing on methods for youth of African descent to succeed in school despite environmental challenges, such as exposure to violence in their communities.

While Brown’s PFF fellowship ends this school year, she will be doing a postdoctoral teaching fellowship for the next academic year at JMU. Brown explains she will be able to teach more classes, have more students and be able to integrate herself more as a faculty member at that time.

According to Zidan, during his time at JMU he continues to receive support and encouragement from the chair of social work department and his faculty mentor to pursue research and publications. He also explains that the most rewarding part about the PFF fellowship is witnessing his students learning and understanding the foundations of research.

“When I first began teaching here, some students seemed to have negative perceptions about research, but by the end of the semester my students were talking research and understanding research terminology, so it was very rewarding for me as a professor,” he said.

Likewise, Brown feels her involvement in the PFF program allowed her to learn new teaching skills through first-hand experience as well the opportunity to grow as a professional.

“At first I was concerned about how I was going to balance it all because you have to do research, you have to teach and learn news skills, and you still have to be a human being,” Brown said. “But I have been able to manage it and that’s what being a professor is all about.”