First Year Faculty Thoughts




Michelle Corvette, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Art – Painting

BFA Painting & Drawing, University of Tennessee
MFA Interdisciplinary Art, New York University
PhD Educational Psychology, University of Tennessee
PhD Visual Art Research, University of London, Goldsmiths

On the first day of classes I promised students that I would help increase their creativity across all disciplines and fields. This requires seeing the world with new eyes by standing back from the quotidian details and making space to notice what is positive and fascinating to be more mindfully engaged. What I have been blessed to realize is that Belmont students are steadfast in their commitment to learning and collaboration which helps facilitate creativity. Likewise, they are motivated and enthusiastic to understand arduous concepts and to be challenged. It is humbling to be part of such a dynamic university where the administration, faculty, students, and staff have been overwhelmingly supportive, respectful, and kind. I find myself practicing gratitude and deeper appreciation for all the people in my life and to quiet moments of reflection and faith. I look forward to what the future holds for all of us at Belmont University.

Recently at the Teaching Center…

Academic Rigor and Student Success Lunch Discussion

Professor John M. Braxton of the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Program at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University led a discussion on the role that course examination questions play in the process of student persistence in private residential colleges and universities.  His analysis utilized a sample of 408 first-time, full-time undergraduate students at eight private residential colleges and universities as described in Rethinking College Student Retention (2014) by Braxton, Doyle, Hartley, Hirschy,  Jones and McLendon.

Upcoming Events for March

Lunch Discussion:

Tuesday, March 14
Many Roads Lead to SoTL 
11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Massey Boardroom


Wednesday, March 22
Postsecondary Inclusive Education
12:00-1:00 pm
Johnson 327

Coffee Conversation:

Thursday, , March 16
Helping Our Students Cope with Stress and Improve Their Self-Efficacy
Dr. Caroline Gaither, College of Pharmacy Scholar-in-Residence
3:30-4:30 pm
McWhorter 308

Recently at the Teaching Center…

Short-term Study Abroad Programs: An Introduction to Teaching on the Road from Faculty Leaders
Lunch Discussion

Presenters (left to right):  Thandi Dinani, Alison Parker, Nathan Webb, and Mimi Bernard

Creating a Maymester or summer study abroad program is one way that a faculty member can internationalize the curriculum and take learning outside of the classroom.  For this Lunch Discussion, the Teaching Center partnered with the Office of Study Abroad and experienced faculty program leaders to discuss the principles and practicalities of designing the academic course for short-term study abroad programs. Faculty presenters Nathan Webb (Communication Studies), Mimi Barnard (ISGE), and Alison Parker (Chemistry) shared their short-term study abroad experiences, including faculty preparation, setting and achieving academic goals, logistics and travel planning, and utilizing resources abroad.  Participants also had the pleasure of being introduced to Belmont’s new Director of Study Abroad, Dr. Thandi Dinani.  To find out more about study abroad at Belmont, click here.


First Year Faculty Thoughts

Janet Hicks, Ph.D.
Professor & Director of Mental Health Counseling

BS, Education, Eastern New Mexico University (1990)
MS, Counseling, Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi (1997)
PhD, Counselor Education, Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi (2005)

My first semester at Belmont has been a wonderful challenge. My students perform at a higher cognitive level and exhibit more emotional intelligence than any I taught previously. I attribute this to the overall spiritual environment and teaching emphasis focused upon at Belmont and within the College of Theology and Christian Ministry. I have never been busier and never loved my job this much. Being surrounded by caring administrators, faculty, students, and even the scenery here has been a real blessing. I thank God every day for bringing me here and for the wonderful colleagues and students on this campus. When I see the genuine concern for others combined with those “aha moments” in my students eyes, it is all worthwhile.

Recently at the Teaching Center…

Integrating Digital Assignments into an Existing Course
January Workshop

To begin the new semester, Belmont faculty with some recent experience in using Scholarship of Digital Information (SoDI) sources presented ways to create new assignments for an existing course to foster interdisciplinary learning and collaboration.  SoDI assignments attempt to integrate current Internet databases and archives with the full range of traditional humanities and social science courses.  There are also opportunities to integrate similar assignments into science, graduate, and professional courses.  Presenters were (from left to right) Belmont faculty members Joel Overall (English), Beth Ritter-Conn (Religion and Honors Program), Zach Quint (Research Librarian), and Sybril Brown (Journalism); the workshop was organized by Jonathan Thorndike (Honors).  Participants were able to see how SoDI offers new insight into old sources and allows students and scholars to interact while building community and sharing information.  To read more about the workshop, click here.

Sabbatical Leaves

In a continuing series on sabbaticals, the Teaching Center will be offering a mini-workshop session:

Post-Sabbatical: Now What?
Wednesday, March 1 from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Ayers (JAAC) 1045

We will hear from several Belmont faculty members who recently completed a semester-long sabbatical leave.  In particular, Natalia Pelaz (Foreign Languages), Judy Skeen (Religion) and John Niedzwiecki (Biology) will talk informally about their experience transitioning from a sabbatical to full-time teaching and other duties again.

Our session from last fall included insight from Dr. Sally Barton-Arwood (Education), Dr. Marty Bell (Theology and Christian Ministry), and Dr. Cheryl Slay Carr (Music Business) who have also recently completed sabbatical leaves.  Drs. Bell and Slay Carr share their thoughts on their sabbatical experiences below.


Sabbatical Reflections
Marty Bell, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion

I have had two sabbaticals in my time at Belmont. I started teaching as an adjunct professor in 1985 and I started on the tenure-track in 1988. I regret that over the years I applied for only two sabbaticals, both of which were granted. I was on sabbatical in the spring of 1997 and in the spring of 2016. Whenever you are eligible for sabbatical, I encourage you to apply. You probably need sabbatical more than you may realize.

In 1997 I was forty years of age when I took my sabbatical. At that stage of my life, I struggled more with what to do with my time to renew myself than I did when I took my sabbatical in 2016 at nearly sixty years of age. This last sabbatical came at a time when I was more willing to engage in self-reflection and when I was more prone to actually find the renewal that comes with authentic rest. I have found myself pondering an interesting paradox related to my two sabbaticals. In 1997 sabbatical came with greater expectations to actually rest, but I found it difficult to adjust to the rhythm of rest. In 2017 sabbatical came with greater expectations to be productive and do something that reflected well on the University, but I found that I needed more time to wander, ponder, and relax. Although I met the University’s expectations for sabbatical, I created for myself a healthy sense of boundaries related to the unique opportunities in the break from the regular schedule of a semester.

I encourage you to dovetail the University’s expectations with your own passions and your need to enter into a more spacious and relaxed daily rhythm.  The scholarly activity that I did during my most recent sabbatical fed my soul and created new energy to return to the classroom with enthusiasm.  One way to integrate the University’s expectations and your own passions is to ask yourself what brought you to the desire to be a college professor.  What do you love about your work? What brings you energy? With a bit of creativity, writing a sabbatical proposal can be a vision that brings you joy rather that a chore that seems like sheer drudgery.

Do what you need to do to make your application for sabbatical strong for consideration, but make sure you plan to actually renew your spirit and your zest for teaching.


Prime Time
Cheryl Slay Carr, J.D., M.P.A.
Associate Professor of Music Business

The sabbatical “road” has many paths.  I envisioned traversing trails leading beyond the proposal I submitted for approval, beyond the academic words I would eventually write and see published as a result of my leave.  For me, that meant creating a guide for the journey, a sabbatical plan.  Though the idea of having a plan may conjure up images of slavish adherence to some inflexible structure, I believed it would work the opposite outcome – freedom to maximize my reflective semester – and for the most part, it did. Just as importantly, it served as an accountability tool keeping me on track.  Since I saw every sabbatical day as a precious, irretrievable opportunity, the last thing I wanted was to reach the path’s end and find I had actually traveled nowhere.  Lastly, my plan reflected my aspiration to understand and live out the “Sabbath” in sabbatical, to leave room for uncharted terrain.


Before sitting down to plan, I did some light research to take a look at others’ experiences within academia generally.  Some faculty had secured grants to facilitate a longer leave, or to permit travel abroad.  Whatever the specifics of the journey, the common thread seemed to be time invested in planning.  I prospectively developed a plan for each month; advanced planning was particularly helpful in terms of making travel plans.  I planned trips for 3 of the 5 months I was off during spring 2016, not including the summer months.  I presented at conferences and traveled for a self-planned, solitary writing retreat that was fruitful and at the same time a dynamic highlight of my sabbatical.

In addition to my monthly plan, I also kept a sabbatical productivity journal; it was more of a log, both in terms of its purpose and the manner in which entries were recorded, but it helped me to derive insights from my productivity, and to set goals that would live beyond the sabbatical period.  For example, I learned what times of day I really write well (very early morning), and also got insights on general productivity.   In retrospect, I am able to return to the journal to examine the average number of hours I wrote per day, as well as insights for improving that productivity.

Sabbatical provides a rare opportunity for academic and personal reflection.  I believed it was important that I return from sabbatical with insights yielded from a purposeful rest, which comes close to a definition for me of Sabbath in the context of occupation.


Purposeful rest — visiting a local artist’s exhibit and buying a little of her art; sitting in on a rehearsal of the Nashville Symphony; taking a special vacation (a cruise) tied with a conference presentation; planning for a summer concert (I’m also a vocalist).  These are but a few examples of ways in which I “sabbathed” during sabbatical.  Yet the essence of any of these experiences was the exploration of a “coming away” time to experience something wholly out of the ordinary, with a view toward being inspired not only to write, but to be renewed and refreshed for teaching and for the most everyday tasks.   I used a book called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives (Wayne Muller) and scripture to fuel my Sabbath journeying.  Moments of dedicated prayer, journaling, reading, and meditation made my sabbatical experience distinctive.


  • Consider developing a detailed sabbatical plan that lays out the “how” of your sabbatical, after you have submitted the “what” via your proposal.  Consider keeping a productivity or other journal as well.
  • Belmont offers the opportunity to apply for either the semester-long or year-long period.  If you want to take an entire year, rather than just a semester, consider applying for a grant to supplement the reduction in salary.  This means planning in advance to apply for grants.
  • During sabbatical, focus on your sabbatical goals.  My participation in conferences was productive, but at times it changed my focus on writing.  Moreover, the temptation to “get it all in” during sabbatical will loom large and challenge the goals you’ve set for yourself.  Resist that temptation.  Focus on what you have set aside Sabbath to be.
  • Last, but not least, remember to Sabbath during sabbatical.  It is prime time.

Diverse Perspectives for the Classroom

Last fall, the Teaching Center’s first Lunch Discussion focused on diverse perspectives for the classroom.  Belmont faculty panelists (from left to right) , Edgar Diaz-Cruz (Pharmacy), Mona Ivey-Soto (Education), Linda Jones (Psychological Science), and Cheryl Slay Carr (Music Business) shared insights from their own pedagogies on methods for engaging racial, ethnic, gender, or other diversity themes in coursework through course creation, course design, and potential challenges along with successful practices.  Drs. Ivey-Soto and Diaz-Cruz reflect below on these experiences.


Courageous Conversations in the Classroom
Mona Ivey-Soto, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Education

Self-work is hard work! I find myself telling my students this throughout the semester in FYS, Education and Social Work classes. Critical conversations on the wide span of diversity issues that impact ourselves and others (including race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender, community, ability) requires us to engage in the deeply personal work of actively interrogating our biases and stereotypes and committing to anti-bias action both individual and within systems and structures. One of the frameworks that helps to situate this work and is a good starting place is the idea of cultural humility. Cultural humility is defined as “the ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the [person].” Our self-work therefore becomes deeply courageous rather than safe or predictable. Often times we think of cultivating a “safe space” within our classrooms and while I understand the notion of safety as an imperative element to building trust and empowerment, I believe that work that challenges oppression and injustice requires tremendous courage for our students and ourselves. With these ideas guiding me, my students and I must actively co-construct the conditions within our class for courage to flourish. How do I situate myself as a figure who holds knowledge and professionalism, but also as someone who can learn and collaborate with my students? How can my students make sure to be aware of their own social identities and how they may or may not privilege those identities over others even unintentionally? These are just a few of the questions circulating within our classroom as we do this important work.

Here’s a great example to bring these ideas to life. My students recently completed an in class exercise called “Building your Cultural Chest.” They were asked to bring in 5 items/symbols that help tell a story about some part of their identity (racial, cultural, community, gender, religious…). This simple sharing became a powerful moment of truth for many as they boldly discussed highly personal stories of addiction, mental health, family loss as well as fun moments of international travel and favorite family pets. The “diversity” within this activity allowed for a significant amount of self-learning and also classroom/community building. By just the second week of class we had created the conditions for courageous sharing and vulnerability. As the students concluded their sharing, I asked them to identify any strands or commonalities that they heard in each other’s stories. Many were excited to share travels around the world and proudly brought passports highlighting their knowledge of diverse cultures through international travel. While I celebrated these incredible, life changing experiences, I also used this as a moment to highlight the level of privilege that is necessary for that sort of travel. I reminded that that while we’re at a private institution and many enjoy the privileges and benefits afforded by wealth, it’s important to recognize our social class differences and not assume that one’s own identities and lived experiences are shared by all. Perspective taking, an essential tool of cultural humility, must be felt and named within a classroom where diverse narratives are shared.

Finally, as a higher education community, I believe we can invite courageous conversations into our spaces regularly and across disciplines. These conversations aren’t limited to certain professions or areas of study. We are all deeply committed to transformative education for all of our students and we want them to depart from our campus as critically engaged citizens ready and willing to advocate for social change. As a voice in their journey, we need to demonstrate not only our subject matter knowledge, but our passion for social justice in the classroom and the community.


Using Health Inequalities as a Way to Teach Diverse Perspectives in the Classroom
Edgar S. Diaz-Cruz, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy

All people should be treated fairly and equally. Nondiscrimination and equality should be considered core values of the healthcare system. Although the health profile of Americans has improved over time, health inequalities still exist in certain population groups. When I first came to Belmont University, I dedicated most of my time and effort teaching students the latest advances in pharmaceutical care. However, I soon realized that unfortunately both the access and quality of healthcare among different population groups is not homogeneous. It soon became clear that social determinants of health such as income, education, unemployment, food insecurity, social exclusion, safe neighborhoods, among others are strong predictors of health outcomes. Human identity as dictated by race, ethnicity, culture, and gender dictates how these factors influence health. It is no surprise that the best way to close these gaps in health is to educate our future healthcare providers so that they become more aware of their own culture and biases so that they treat all patients equally. For this reason, I take the “social determinants educational approach” to include diverse perspectives in our classroom discussions.

In 2013, I proposed the development of a Health Disparities elective course to give students the opportunity to get a more in-depth understanding of the role of pharmacists in reducing health disparities in the United States. An anonymous survey conducted as part of this course showed that the majority of the students elect to take this course because they are interested in the topic and to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. Furthermore, these results showed a lack of knowledge and awareness in the subject in our student population. The United States Department of Health and Human Services expanded its nationwide health-promotion and disease-prevention goals by adding a “Social Determinants of Health” goal to its Healthy People 2020 overarching goals. I thought it was very fitting when our Belmont University Vision 2020 guiding principles mirrored that same initiative.

It took me some time to design a course that includes diverse perspectives and fosters objective critical thinking. I strive to create an environment of respect and openness in my classroom. Diverse perspectives are taught in the dimensions of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, and religious beliefs. Course topics are first introduced in lecture and discussed using objective primary literature. Video documentaries are used to supplement course lectures and become the basis and platform for multiple reflection papers. Diverse perspectives are also introduced in group discussions by using learning tools such as; a board game to build empathy with marginalized people and gain an awareness of the students’ own social location, in-class activities to explore their own personal biases, an immersion project to assist students relate research findings with real life situations, and invited guest speakers to learn from a first-person perspective.

My experience teaching diverse perspectives as part of my courses have been nothing but rewarding. It allows me and my students to explore our own culture, prejudices, and biases. It challenges us to get out of our comfort zones and get a clear picture of what is outside in the real world when we leave our classroom. It teaches students cultural sensitivity to better prepare them to engage in effective cross cultural communications. While it is hard for some students to discuss diversity issues, explore their own history and upbringing, understand different political ideologies and religious beliefs; it makes for a more realistic and complete education experience. In the end, it fills me with extreme pride and joy to know that students are more aware of their role as healthcare providers in reducing health disparities and that I have contributed to the development of more competent individuals that have the potential to become agents of change in our society.

First Year Faculty Thoughts

Jeremy Fyke, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Communication Studies and Corporate Communication

BA Communication Studies, Texas State University (2005)
MA Organizational Communication, Texas State University (2007)
Ph.D. Organizational Communication, Purdue University (2011)

Reflecting on my first semester, three words come to mind: collegiality, uniqueness, and commitment. First, I was struck by the friendly spirit at Belmont, from all around campus and specifically within my department and college. This extends to faculty as well as students. I have been treated with a great amount of respect, and felt valued and welcomed with warm southern hospitality. It started with being introduced at the Board of Trustees meeting in August and continued into the semester. In the classroom, I’ve enjoyed the students and their kindness and civility. From my first day of classes, they made an effort to welcome me to the community. Second, Belmont is unique. From the moment someone performed an original song at the Board of Trustees meeting I knew this was a special place. Throughout the semester I enjoyed getting to know the students and their varied interests. In my previous institution, I just wasn’t used to someone being a corporate communication major with musical aspirations. It’s so interesting and exciting to watch them pursue their dreams. Finally, Belmont knows who it is and stays committed to that. Universities are great at saying they value things–such as teaching–but, simply put, where you put your resources is what you value. I’ve been impressed by how much emphasis and energy is placed on quality teaching, and giving us the tools to succeed. I’m looking forward to many more semesters to come!


Student Veterans

In October, the Teaching Center hosted a lunch discussion entitled, “The Needs of Veterans as Students”, to continue the conversation about how we, as teachers, can create welcoming spaces in our classrooms for veterans to thrive and contribute in their own unique ways while integrating into our communities of learning.  A panel of current Belmont student veterans shared their experiences and perspectives in the classroom and encouraged continued communication among students, faculty, staff, and administrators.  Assistant Professor of Social Work, Jenny Crowell, reflects on the lunch discussion and her experiences with veteran students below.

Students panelists (from left to right), Reginald Ordonez (Entrepreneurship), Shelby Powell (Social Work), Eric Hyde (Entrepreneurship), and Antonio Hale (Exercise Science)


The Needs of Veterans as Students
Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Social Work

More than 500,000 veterans and their families have utilized Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits since the law’s enactment in 2008 (American Council on Education [ACE], 2012). These students are the beneficiaries of unprecedented support for higher education at a time in which there is an ever growing mandate for a highly trained and skilled labor force. Efforts aimed at reintegration and retention are vast.  A survey of 690 educational institutions that serve veterans indicated that these students are offered an array of services.  Eighty-nine percent of institutions surveyed report having increased their emphasis on these services since September 2001. Such services range from academic and financial counseling, to education on benefits and mentorship (ACE, 2012).

However, despite these important efforts aimed at supporting veterans as they transition to campus, recent data collected in the National Survey of Veterans indicate Iraq and Afghanistan (OIF/OEF) veterans are experiencing below average degree completion rates (54.3%), as compared to veterans from previous service eras (66.8% of the veterans who served from the Korean conflict through August of 2001) (Westat, 2010).  The American Council on Education (2013) holds that best practices related to supporting veterans transitioning into higher education include both peer-to-peer counseling, as well as maintaining a trained and dedicated staff knowledgeable in Veteran Affairs benefits and the unique academic requirements of their specific institutions.  While incredibly useful in outlining an institutional approach to supporting student veterans, there is little information presented in this toolkit regarding how individual classroom experiences impact student veteran success.  Faculty are encouraged to simply open lines of communication with veteran students. While this would be essential, there seems much more that could be shared with faculty to enhance the support veteran students receive; support that that may help with their reintegration to civilian life and possibly improve retention and graduation rates. In what ways can individual faculty members approach their mentorship and teaching so as to better serve student veterans in their respective courses?

In my work both on campus and off, I have begun to listen for answers to this question.  The increasing number of students with former military experience enrolling in my classes over the last six years have been my best teachers. They have shared with me the importance of recognizing their history, and yet respecting their privacy. They appreciate the acknowledgement that they are adults who are embarking on a second career; youthful as many may be, they bring a wealth of experience to our classroom. They value being able to choose when to share that experience and when to remain silent. Many hold a frustration with civilian life and desire to connect with one another, especially when on campus. They balance this frustration with an apprehension about being labeled and a desire to blend in.  By no means are their suggestions and personal preferences generalizable, but they have been consistent and powerful. The student veterans I have had the privilege of working with have shattered deep rooted stereotypes and made way for my ever growing appreciation of their shared strengths.

It is my opinion that faculty have an opportunity to play an essential role in supporting student veterans. We are uniquely privileged in our ability to create a space in which veteran students feel empowered and valued. We can use our role in the classroom to foster an increased awareness of the needs of this cohort of students, while being careful not to single them out. We can connect those interested with campus supports and mentor them in finding ways to use their previous career in their studies and work; thereby honoring their experiences and training. These students are some of the most prepared and wholly engaged students I have yet had the privilege to teach. Offering them the space to showcase their strengths might serve to benefit every one of us.


American Council on Education (2013). Toolkit for veteran friendly institutions. Retrieved from

American Council on Education (2012). From soldier to student II: Assessing campus programs for veterans and service members. Retrieved from

Westat (2010). National survey of veterans, active duty service members, demobilized national guard and reserve members, family members, and surviving spouses. Final Report, Deliverable 27. Retrieved from http://