First Year Faculty Thoughts

Sue Iliff, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, School of Occupational Therapy

B.S., Occupational Therapy, University of Kansas
M.A., Occupational Therapy, Texas Woman’s University
Ph.D., Occupational Therapy, Texas Woman’s University

Accepting a faculty position at Belmont University was a serendipitous moment in my life.  Everything seemed to fall into place in a very short period of time.  I applied in early April 2017, interviewed in May, and accepted the position and moved to Nashville two months later to start work August 1st.  Needless to say, it was a whirlwind experience filled with emotion, however, never a day goes by that I regret making this career move!

As an occupational therapist, we value work-life balance, and this holds true at Belmont.  The faculty in the School of Occupational Therapy have been so supportive and eased me into the system slowly, allowing me to get my bearings and finish my PhD.  Co-teaching was a new experience for me, but I’ve decided I like and it gave me the opportunity to learn from others and observe different teaching approaches.  The Teaching Center was also integral in my transition.  Their new faculty educational seminars and lunch discussions offer current teaching strategies to implement immediately into the classroom and furthered my knowledge of the many pedagogical resources at Belmont.

As a whole, I am enjoying being faculty at Belmont and plan to take advantage of the many opportunities here—hopefully through more involvement in global health and inter-professional education.


The First Year Faculty Thoughts series is a way for the Belmont University community to get to know new faculty members as they reflect on their journeys to Belmont.

Recently at the Teaching Center…

Reacting to the Past at Belmont: Pedagogy and Play

By James Al-Shamma

Presenters (left to right): Mitch McCoy, James Al-Shamma, Paul Gatrell, and Andy Miller; Not pictured: Beverly Schneller

On January 3, 2018, the Teaching Center hosted a workshop titled, “Reacting to the Past at Belmont: Pedagogy and Play.” Reacting to the Past (Reacting) is a role-playing pedagogy that places students at specific moments in history and asks them to debate the big ideas that influenced events at that time. It promotes deep learning through research, writing, speaking, and debate, in an environment that requires creative problem-solving, teamwork, and negotiation, all in the spirit of friendly competition. At this workshop, five Belmont faculty shared their experience with Reacting. The results of a survey administered to their students in Fall 2017 was presented as well. The panelists have used Reacting in diverse courses from across the Belmont curriculum: James Al-Shamma, Paul Gatrell, and Beverly Schneller in the First Year Seminar; Al-Shamma in a theatre history course; Mitch McCoy in an upper division Spanish course; and Andrew Miller in Honors Math Analytics and Mathematical Inquiry.

During the first hour of the workshop, following a brief explanation of Reacting, panelists shared their experience with the pedagogy, and the student survey results were presented. The panelists reported the practice to be a challenging and rewarding one, and all plan to continue incorporating it into their classes. The survey instrument was generously supplied by researchers at the University of Georgia. It addresses the learning environment promoted in the Reacting classroom, and its designers drew on social cohesion theory and the theory of relationship-driven teaching as they formulated their questions. At Belmont, 91 students participated in the survey, with a positive response across such categories as Reacting’s impact on learning and research, and on student behaviors and relation to faculty.

During the second hour of the workshop, attendees played the microgame, “Athens Besieged,” in order to experience Reacting firsthand. In this scenario, set in 405-404 BCE, members of the Athenian Assembly debate the best means of ensuring their survival as they face inevitable defeat at the hands of Sparta and its allies. Reacting allows for outcomes other than those dictated by history, and indeed the Spartan Kings at the workshop chose to utterly destroy Athens rather than spare its citizens and install the rule of the Thirty Tyrants, as actually occurred. A departure from the course of historical events, such as this, is not uncommon in Reacting; the pedagogy encourages students to conceive of history as not predetermined, as it may appear to be when read from a textbook, but rather as developing out of the complex interplay of numerous personalities, driven by various conflicting ideologies and motivations.

For more information on Reacting to the Past, click here and/or email James Al-Shamma.

Spring Events and Deadlines

Welcome back and happy 2018! So you can plan accordingly, you will find a list of upcoming Teaching Center events and opportunities below. As always, you will receive emails about individual events and deadlines.

Lunch Discussions

Friday, January 26
The Elephant in the Classroom: Addressing Sensitive Topics with Skill and Courage
12:00 – 1:30pm
Massey Boardroom

Tuesday, February 15
Career Readiness Competency
11:30am – 1:00pm
Massey Boardroom

Monday, February 26
Faculty Peer Review Effective Practices
12:00 – 1:30pm
Massey Boardroom

Wednesday, March 14
What Does Faith Have to Do With How We Teach?
12:00 – 1:30pm
Location TBD

Tuesday, April 3
Celebrating Effective Teaching
12:00 – 1:30pm
Massey Boardroom


Wednesday, February 7
Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching
12:00 – 1:00pm
Johnson Center 422

May 8/9
Teaching Center Workshop
Ayers 4th Floor

Reading Groups

February 6, 13, & 20 or February 9, 16, & 23
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
Tuesdays at 8:00am or 3:30pm or Fridays at 10:00am or noon
Location TBD

Dates TBD
Belmont Applied Teaching and Learning (BeATLe) Groups
Time TBD

Additional Deadlines and Events to Note

Tuesday, February 13 – 4:00pm
Deadline to submit Teaching Center Travel Grant application

February 6 – 22
Teaching Center Formative Reviews

Wednesday, March 28 & Friday, April 13 – 10:00am
Author Talk Series

Thursday, May 10 – 3:00 – 8:00pm
Circle of Trust Retreat


Resource of the Month

This month’s resource, Using a Teaching Philosophy Statement as a Professional Development Tool for Teaching Candidates, is found in the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. According to its website, the journal, published by the Centers for Teaching & Technology at Georgia Southern University, “is an international forum for research and information about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and its applications in higher/tertiary education.” The article, written by Nancy G. Caukin and Thomas M. Brinthaupt, analyzes teaching philosophy statements and how they can be used as a professional development tool for teacher candidates.

Dr. Brinthaupt led a workshop titled “Developing or Updating Your Teaching Philosophy Statement” at Belmont’s May 2017 Teaching Center Workshop series.

The purpose of the Resource of the Month is twofold:
1) To encourage the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) by providing examples of high-quality research.
2) To provide faculty with innovative ideas that promote effective pedagogy.

First Year Faculty Thoughts

Amy Bryson Smith, J.D.

Assistant Professor of Music Business

B.B.A., Business Management, Belmont College
B.S., Education, Belmont University
J.D., Nashville School of Law

It seems just like last week that I was running around the campus of Belmont College as a full-time student. Yes, we were a college until 1991. So much has changed since those years. Back then, the building I now teach in was where our baseball field and tennis courts were located. We had parking lots everywhere and no parking garages. And, Starbucks was not on campus, nor even in Nashville.

I have always been proud to be a graduate of both Belmont College and Belmont University (I graduated with a BBA in 1990 and an Education degree in 1991). Having taught as an adjunct here for many years, I have always been impressed with the serious approach Belmont students take to their education, while having fun in the process. Now that I am here as a professor, my love for the Belmont community is even stronger.

Being here with the students, faculty, and administrators every day, I see how truly blessed I am to work at a place for which I hold such fond memories as a student. Also, what a joy it is to come to work each day to a place where God is celebrated. The Belmont community is a special place – vibrant with beauty, faith for God, and a focused excitement to be the very best in all we do. It’s great to be back on campus once again full-time.


The First Year Faculty Thoughts series is a way for the Belmont University community to get to know new faculty members as they reflect on their journeys to Belmont.

Faculty Reflections

Memories of the Lilly Teaching Conference
Shape My Career Development

By Pete Giordano
Professor, Psychological Science

2017 Lilly Conference Attendees (left to right): Jessica Mueller, Nathan Webb, Jennifer Thomas, Lucyellen Dahlgren, Mike Pinter, Marnie Vanden Noven, Pete Giordano, Brad Schleben, and Julie Hunt; Not pictured: Barb Padovich

I never thought I would be a college professor. Early on, I was not even sure I would get my bachelor’s degree.  Neither of my parents have a college degree, and one of my older brothers had flunked out of Wake Forest about the time I was starting high school. Dave threw the javelin at Wake and, by his own report, that’s all he did – throw the javelin and, well, party. He was my idol and “role model,” so his brief stint at Wake put some doubt in my mind about my own ability to succeed in college. So I was proud of myself (and relieved) when I earned my undergraduate degree.  Then a few years later, I applied to PhD programs in clinical psychology and by some miracle of the universe got in.  But I never thought I would be a professor.  Then I started to teach as a third year grad student and slowly my career interests began to shift.  Through another stroke of luck, I had a wonderful major professor who started to point me in the direction of university positions that valued teaching and mentoring undergraduates.

As I look back on my 28 years at Belmont, two things stand out about my career path.  First, my departmental colleagues are the best, and I am lucky to have landed with this group. Second, and this is the focus of this blog post, it is memories of the Lilly Conference on College Teaching that have shaped my career as a teaching professor. I’ve lost count of how many times I have attended this conference (the one at Miami University in Oxford, OH), but it is a lot. Below are three reasons why this conference has been important in my development as a teacher.

First, it is one of the best conferences on the planet if you want to develop your teaching abilities.  I’d be lying if I said all the sessions at Lilly are spectacular. Some of them are boring, and I’m sure I’ve presented some of those sessions.  If you’ve not read Richard Light’s Making the Most of College (2001, Harvard University Press), you should. There are many important lessons in this book.  Here’s one of them. Where do students say their most important learning experiences happen?  Guess what?  Not in our classrooms.  Many important learning experiences occur when our students are talking to their peers – outside of our classrooms when you and I are nowhere to be found.  The same principle applies to the Lilly conference.  I have learned a great deal from the talks and workshops but, like the students interviewed for Light’s book, I have learned so much from Belmont colleagues in the van drive to and from the conference, in conversations during the meals, at the receptions prior to dinner, and during “after hours” events with Belmont friends.  The memories of these moments are a deep reservoir of inspiration that continue to mold my development as a teacher.

My second point relates to the first.  There are a lot of faculty on our campus whom you do not know.  But, like you, they care deeply about teaching and want to get better at it.  The Lilly conference is a marvelous venue to get to know them. These new connections happen every year.  While at Lilly, you meet Belmont colleagues from across campus and you develop new friendships.  And ideally these friendships get renewed each year at Lilly, as they did this year.

Finally, I have learned a tremendous amount about teaching by making presentations at Lilly.  I was terrified the first time I presented in front of a Lilly group, but I quickly learned these folks are just like me – they care a lot about becoming better teachers, and we are all on the learning curve together. At Lilly, the line between presenter and audience is blurry. The Lilly conference does not have a lot of pomp and circumstance.  It is a delightfully quirky collection of academics who love teaching and want to talk about it. As a later career faculty member, it is also exciting to see the creative and interesting teaching projects that some of Belmont’s younger faculty are doing – this group keeps my teaching heart young.

So that’s a thumbnail sketch of how memories from the Lilly conference have shaped and will continue to direct my career development.  That’s what memories do – they connect our past and future in a way that drives development forward.

You can read more about Lilly Conferences here and about Belmont’s participation in the 2017 Lilly Conference on College Teaching here.

First Year Faculty Thoughts

Matthew Heard, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biology

B.A., College Scholars (Emphasis in Ecology & French), University of Tennessee
Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University

Part of the reason that I decided to become a teacher was that every day is different. Despite teaching the same classes over and over again and covering the same topics I’m continually surprised about how working with different students can yield vastly different results. Talk about air pollution and how it relates to human health and someone has a story about a family member who was affected. Share the same facts with another class and on comes a debate about politics and how we make energy decisions as a country. Every day is exciting and brings me the joy of working with young minds that are eager to learn and grow.

Over this past year, I’ve been so impressed with the students I’ve encountered here at Belmont. But more than that I’ve been impressed with the community as a whole. This year has been a major transition as my wife and I had our first child and picked up and moved back to Nashville, our hometown. To say that it has been challenging and overwhelming doesn’t even come close to characterizing how tough the transition has been. But the truth is that every day has still been different and exciting and has kept me going. And the Belmont that I’ve encountered over this time period inspires me to be a better teacher and person. So thank you to everyone out there for making this a special place and I look forward to seeing what the future brings.


The First Year Faculty Thoughts series is a way for the Belmont University community to get to know new faculty members as they reflect on their journeys to Belmont.

Resource of the Month

The resource for November, Keeping Students “on Their Toes and on Their Game”: Serendipitous Findings in Students’ Assessments and Reactions, is found in the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. The article, written by Kathy L. Pelletier, examines the effects of two-minute papers and mini-quizzes on exam scores and student attendance. According to its website, the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching is published “by and for faculty at universities and two- and four-year colleges to increase student learning through effective teaching, interest in and enthusiasm for the profession of teaching, and communication among faculty about their classroom experiences.”

The purpose of the Resource of the Month is twofold:
1) To encourage the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) by providing examples of high-quality research.
2) To provide faculty with innovative ideas that promote effective pedagogy.

First Year Faculty Thoughts

Ken Corbit, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Public Relations

B.A., Communication Studies, Arkansas State University
M.A., Communication Studies, Arkansas State University

Ph.D., Strategic Communication, University of Alabama


Integration into a new institution has the potential to be a comic adventure of signature mishaps. Yet, my assimilation into the Belmont community has been nearly seamless. Throughout the process leadership has over communicated, excelled in training and provided reflective opportunity.

The Teaching Center has provided ongoing orientation for new faculty and the monthly training sessions have been outstanding. Each session provides new pedagogical content and time for rumination. Regardless of an individual’s time in academia, the content is enlightening, challenging and applicable. Likewise, the ability to become part of the team has been incredible.

I’ve already been welcomed onto the Faith & Academics Committee, developed an LCC class for a Belmont Abroad Maymester, worked as a team leader for a Fall service opportunity through Plunge and signed up to lead a Small Group revolving around Christian leadership this fall. The combination of teaching and service are unique, yet the embracing of scholarship is apparent as well. I have been given opportunity to continue my own research agenda, and as a result have four conference presentations pending.

Belmont University has exceeded all my expectations to this point. I am excited about the journey and chasing the dream.


The First Year Faculty Thoughts series is a way for the Belmont University community to get to know new faculty members as they reflect on their journeys to Belmont.

Faculty Reflections

Teaching as Learning, Learning Through Teaching
By Virginia Christy Lamothe
Lecturer, School of Music

At this past August’s annual Teaching Center workshop, Belmont faculty were treated to an opportunity to work with Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire, author of Teach Students How to Learn (2015) and Director Emerita of the Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University.  Dr. McGuire focused on how teaching students about metacognition and learning better mentoring skills can help students succeed in college and beyond.

Whenever I attend one of these Teaching Center workshops, I look for an activity I can try out myself with my students to improve learning outcomes, or help students learn better study skills.  I was intrigued by a slide that Dr. McGuire showed that asked a question directed at a student. It read “For which task would you work harder?”  The choices were “A. Make an A on the test” and “B. Teach the material to the class.”  McGuire explained that when she asked this question of students she worked with, they almost always chose task B.  She then went on to explain how teaching the material makes us think more deeply along the lines of the Bloom’s taxonomy, as opposed to surface learning or “memorizing” information.

Dr. McGuire encouraged us to try an activity with which she had seen some success where students “teach” the material they are learning.  She gave an example of a young man who was studying for his Praxis exams, but feeling like he was overwhelmed and having no success.  She asked him to “teach” his lessons – even if he was not teaching them in a formal setting or even to a human being.  The young man chose to teach his “Baby Groot” action figure of Guardians of the Galaxy on a regular basis.  Soon, the young man saw great improvements in his own retention and understanding of the material.

I decided to try this activity out for myself.  I spend the first two weeks of my Freshman Seminar talking with them about study skills.  I showed my students a slide similar to Dr. McGuire’s and asked the students the same question: “For which task would you work harder?” with the same tasks.  Only a few of my students answered, “To make an A on the test.”  Almost all the students chose “Teach the material to the class.”  But, when I asked them why they thought they would work harder for teaching the material, they had few ideas as to why that task would require more hard work.  For homework, I asked the students to “teach” a lesson from one of their classes to anyone or anything that would listen.  I also offered extra credit to those students who made an mp4 video of themselves teaching the lesson.  The students were asked to write down their observations about how they felt they understood the lesson both before and after they taught it.  Most of the students returned the next class day and reported that “teaching” the lesson made them aware of “holes” in their knowledge or understanding.  Some even reported that teaching the lesson helped them simplify it in their own minds, thus making it more accessible and easier to remember.  While I did expect these improved learning outcomes, I was pleasantly surprised by the adorable videos some of the students made.  I now have videos of my students teaching business basics to Batman, the intervals of a major scale to a cookie (although the cookie’s music career was cut short as it was eaten in the end), and a piano lesson for a stuffed snowman, a blue dog, and Mickey Mouse.

The students who made the videos did so with the agreement that I could share their lessons with the rest of the class.  I did this because I often teach from a social constructivist philosophy that students learn best when they learn from each other.  While the students also agreed that the videos were funny and cute, they also said that they learned the material each student-instructor in the video was teaching, even if it was material outside of their major.  This further reinforced the idea that teaching is a highly effective way of learning material, and when one can learn the material well enough to teach it, they also make that same material accessible to others.