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Coenen and Knight Learn Lessons at Princeton
During Mid-Career Fellowship


11/2/11


West Windsor, N.J. - MCCC English Professor Laura Knight and History Professor, Dr. Craig Coenen, spent time on campus at Princeton University last year as part of the Mid-Career Fellowship Program. Mercer traditionally selects two faculty members for this energizing academic experience each year.

Coenen and Knight met with 11 of their community college colleagues from across the state for monthly seminars to talk about issues at their schools, including differences and similarities, as well as approaches to teaching and assessment. They also discussed projects they selected to work on, with each participant presenting his or her project to the group in the spring.

Coenen, a sports enthusiast and author of a 2005 book "From Sandlots to the Super Bowl," focused his research on the value of intercollegiate sports at the community college level. While college administrators may think of sports programs as an easy way to cut budgets, Coenen's research, entitled "Benefits of Sports Programs at Community Colleges," found that athletic programs can actually benefit the bottom line at many schools. Interviewing MCCC Athletics Director John Simone, Assistant Director Ryan Zegarski and the former director, Professor Emeritus Al Leister, Coenen drew from data at Mercer in addition to his research of other colleges.

"Not only are sports programs worth it economically, but these students often serve as models of success," Coenen says. He notes sports teams bring paying students to a college, and they also tend to be loyal alumni. They provide college newspaper reporters and Radio/Television students with news coverage opportunities and their successes are picked up by local newspapers and on the Internet. "For a nominal expense, there is a great return," he concludes.

English Professor Laura Knight and History Professor Craig Coenen

Laura Knight focused her research project on "New Student Orientation or 'How Do I Read My Schedule?'". Knight presented an overview of MCCC's New Student Orientation (NSO) program and looked at other local and national programs. Among the Best Practices she explored are making NSO attendance a requirement, offering incentives for attending and staying throughout the program, adding an online option, involving more faculty members, and broadening the scope of what is presented. Knight believes that requiring orientation is a winning strategy for students, particularly if they attend in person as compared to online. "It establishes a baseline and provides a real connection to the college," she observes. "These students are more likely to use the library and other facilities and to seek help at the Learning Center. They are more likely to get involved in campus life."

Also part of the Mid-Career Fellowship was the opportunity for Coenen and Knight to enroll in Princeton classes. Coenen especially liked the course "Law and Work" that he took last fall, a seminar-style class composed mostly of seniors taught by Associate Professor Paul Frymer. "Professor Frymer appreciated my presence," Coenen said. "I was able to draw on my own expertise in labor history." Frymer also found Coenen's work background helpful. "When I was young, I worked at Blockbuster, Pizza Hut and at a paper factory. I was able to help reinforce his discussion of labor rights and sweatshops." Coenen notes that he was teaching his own U.S. History class at Mercer while taking the Princeton class and added newly learned content to the curriculum when he covered issues of labor and employment.

Knight found her Princeton class entitled "American Places" especially fascinating. "It blended sociology, history and literature," she said. "We read works of fiction and then looked at the social and historical realities of the time period." The course has given her ideas about creating a similar interdisciplinary course at Mercer, perhaps working together with Coenen.

Both professors say that Princeton's faculty and students were welcoming and gracious and that the experience has reinvigorated them in the classroom. Knight observed, "It gave me a chance to step back and think and to be on the other side as a student again. I have brought many ideas back to Mercer. My students will benefit."


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