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Princeton Doctoral Students Report Gratifying Teaching Experience at MCCC; Mercer-Princeton Partnership to Continue This Spring


Adjunct Instructor Merle Eisenberg, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Princeton, put teaching theories into practice in his interactive history class at Mercer.

Instructor Dan Berbecel, who is studying Comparative Politics for his Ph.D. at Princeton, found an engaged group of students whose opinions varied widely on current issues.

West Windsor, N.J. – In the second part of an innovative teaching partnership between Mercer County Community College (MCCC) and Princeton University (PU), two Princeton doctoral candidates, Dan Berbecel and Merle Eisenberg, have completed their fall teaching assignments at MCCC.

Both say the experience was stimulating and rewarding.

A total of four Princeton students spent time on the MCCC campus last spring. Partnered with MCCC faculty mentors, the PU students’ orientation semester included observing in the classroom, attending college events and committee meetings, and taking advantage of professional development opportunities through Mercer’s Division of Innovation, Online Learning and Student Success. Their MCCC mentors included Professors Laura Sosa (Business Administration), Diane Rizzo (English), Holly-Katharine Johnson (English), and Dr. Daniel Schermond (Sociology).

Then it was time for two of the four PU students to teach as adjunct instructors this fall. Berbecel, who taught Introduction to International Relations (POL 201), said he found his time at Mercer immensely interesting and worthwhile.

“My interactions with my students were very positive, and it was a pleasure getting to know everyone in my class,” he said.

Berbecel’s course covered major, timely topics that generated student engagement and a variety of opinions. The discussion ranged from political science methodology, nationalism, various theories of international relations, war, the role of international organizations such as the United Nations, NATO, and the International Monetary Fund, colonialism, the international political economy, and U.S. foreign policy.

Merle Eisenberg, who taught Western Civilization to 1648 (HIS 101), delved further back in history in his Western Civilization course, but focused on ways to engage the current generation of young people in his subject matter.

“I aimed to make my class a student-centered learning experience through role playing of various historical groups, mock trials of controversial figures, group discussions, short movie clips, and interactive discussions,” he said, adding that he typically delivered short, targeted lectures and then divided each class into two or three segments in which students drove the narrative through varied activities.

Eisenberg said this was his first teaching experience. “Teaching at Mercer has really allowed me to implement some of the groundbreaking pedagogical techniques I learned at Princeton.”

He notes that he learned as much as he taught. “Through their brilliant insights and comments, my students continually forced me to reconsider the structural elements and contents of the course. The curriculum covered a substantial period of time – over 2,000 years – but I was surprised and gratified to see students making connections between ideas we had studied weeks and even months earlier.“

Eisenberg added that he looks forward to teaching a similar course in the future that will incorporate many of the ideas, comments, and explanations from his MCCC students.

Berbecel and Eisenberg expressed thanks all around -- to the professors who mentored them and the two institutions that forged this unique teaching partnership.

A third Princeton doctoral student, Hope Rogers, will teach English 102 in the spring. (The fourth Princeton student from last spring's cohort will be unable to complete the teaching portion of the program due to the specifics of her dissertation completion.)

“I hope this program continues in the future, and that more instructors will have the opportunity to benefit from it,” Berbecel added.

Clearly, the commitment is there. Amy Pszczolkowski, Assistant Dean for Professional Development at the Graduate School at Princeton, is optimist about the future of the partnership and expansion of the program. “We are thrilled to be offering this opportunity again in 2018 to a group of five Princeton graduate students, expanding beyond the humanities and social sciences to include one in chemistry and one in electrical engineering. We think there are many benefits to the program and look forward to learning how this teaching experience may help our graduate students in the academic job market,” she said.

Adds MCCC Dean of Liberal Arts Robert Kleinschmidt, the initiative was designed to enrich students at both institutions. “We wanted MCCC students to learn from these bright, motivated Princeton graduate students, who are deep into their fields as Ph.D. candidates. And we hoped they would find the experience of teaching our students motivating and satisfying. We believe the program worked on many levels.”

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