June 28, 2022

Professors Pool Resources to Focus on ‘Compelling Courses’

Assistant Professor of Biology April Wynn is among the dozens of UMW professors participating this summer in Compelling Courses, a faculty learning community to help instructors design engaging courses.

Assistant Professor of Biology April Wynn is among the dozens of UMW professors participating this summer in Compelling Courses, a faculty learning community to help instructors design engaging courses.

To teach mitosis, April Wynn has students in her class act out the process, portraying chromosomes that divide into nuclei. The assistant professor of biological sciences hopes to replicate lively exercises like this – but virtually – in the fall.

“My goal is to promote the same level of engagement, energy and enthusiasm in an online space,” said Wynn, who, as faculty director of the University of Mary Washington’s First-Year Experience, is helping other instructors do the same for their classes.

Professors often spend their breaks on scholarly research, but Wynn is among dozens of UMW faculty members who went back to school this summer. Through a new faculty learning community called Compelling Courses, representatives from nearly every academic department have been teaching each other how to deliver dynamic online lessons and incorporate the best of the UMW experience into distance learning.

In March of this year, UMW professors – the majority of whom had never taught online – abruptly had to shift to a new method of teaching. The succeeding months have given these instructors time to tinker with and tweak tools so that they are fully prepared to teach virtually if necessary. Many, like Wynn, have found that this modality can even offer benefits.

“We believe teaching can be excellent regardless of medium,” said Professor of Economics Steve Greenlaw, who launched the group with Professor of Communication Anand Rao. “It all depends on how you design the course.” Read more.

‘COVID-19 in Context’ Course Highlighted on Education Blog

UMW’s eight-week “COVID-19 in Context” course was highlighted in a post on Bryan Alexander’s blog, “Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education.” The article primarily focused on private liberal arts institutions – singling out the University of Mary Washington as a public liberal arts university.

The University of Mary Washington – that unusual thing, a public liberal arts university – also taught/teaches a summer seminar on the pandemic. Topics include biology, policy, communication, elections, climate change, social justice, art, literature, chemistry, geography, history, and finance. Professors of communication and math facilitate. Read more.

Mellinger, Rao Interviewed by University Business

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger and Anand Rao, Professor of Communication and Director of the Speaking Intensive Program and Speaking Center at UMW, were recently interviewed by University Business about UMW’s new “COVID-19 in Context Course,” being taught over Zoom by over 40 faculty members to thousands of participants worldwide.

In just two days, enough professors from the University of Mary Washington agreed to donate their time to help launch a free coronavirus course in five weeks for students and the community this summer.

The popularity of the then-upcoming COVID-19 in Context online course, now still in session, rapidly grew after a faculty member was inspired by another school’s offering to pitch the idea to leaders at the Virginia public university. Soon, nearly 2,000 people enrolled in the free COVID-19 course, including more than 800 students. “It was a logistical nightmare,” says Keith Mellinger, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We had to ensure our more than 40 faculty members were on the same page and learn how to work with numerous departments that are typically not part of course development since we would be reaching such a large audience.” Read more.


Free UMW Course Turns COVID-19 Inside Out

Communications Professor and Chair Anand Rao, who is facilitating the eight-week “COVID-19 in Context” series with Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger, taught Monday’s course on how messaging about the pandemic impacts policies, along with Assistant Communications Professor Elizabeth Johnson-Young.

Communications Professor and Chair Anand Rao, who is facilitating the eight-week “COVID-19 in Context” series with Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger, taught Monday’s course on how messaging about the pandemic impacts policies, along with Assistant Communications Professor Elizabeth Johnson-Young.

Political leaders and health experts who communicate the impact of COVID-19 to the public are just like anyone else. Some hit the mark. Some don’t. Understandable terms, relatable ideas and the confident presentation of useful information are key to delivering a successful message, said UMW Professor of Communication Anand Rao.

And competent public discourse during pandemic-scale events, he said, can mean the difference between life and death.

The lesson, delivered Monday, was part of UMW’s COVID-19 in Context, a series of biweekly lectures that turn the virus holding the world captive inside out, examining everything from its economic impact to its influence on art. Created for current and incoming students who can receive academic credit, and offered for free to all, it’s quickly become UMW’s largest course ever. More than 1,900 registered participants are in 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., and countries across the globe, including Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Japan and Ghana.

“We have been floored by the response,” said Rao, who presented Monday’s course – “Communicating COVID-19: How We Talk About a Pandemic Changes What We Do” – with assistant professor Elizabeth Johnson-Young live via Zoom.

Nearly 40 faculty members from across the university – from fine arts and humanities to the sciences and social sciences – joined forces, along with guest speakers, agreeing to share their expertise on all facets of the pandemic. Beginning last week with a biological exploration of the virus and a look at how it affects public policy, 16 hourlong sessions take place on Mondays and Wednesdays through July 22. Read more.

Coronavirus Course Boasts Largest Enrollment In UMW History (Patch.com)

Rao Added to Virginia Education Work Group

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

Professor of Communication Anand Rao was recently added to the Virginia Education Work Group to help guide processes for safe, equitable reopening of schools. He is serving as the representative for the Faculty Senate of Virginia. You can find the Governor’s announcement here: https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/may/headline-856846-en.html?fbclid=IwAR1VlsMzzuPSkST9uDp9_K10RppUvbdEiV-KNuyu4DKD5xkHW0ZFroaM5Yg

Rao Presents on Speech Anxious Students at National Communication Association Conference

Professor of Communication Anand Rao

Anand Rao, Professor of Communication, presented last Friday at the National Communication Association conference held in Baltimore, MD. The title of his presentation was “Helping Speech Anxious Students Survive and Thrive” and was part of a panel about speech apprehension and the basic course. In the presentation, he discussed what UMW has done to help address communication apprehension for first-year students at UMW through the FSEM, as well as the special sections of COMM 205: Public Speaking that he has offered for highly apprehensive students. Anand reports that the panel had a great turnout–approximately 35 in attendance–and a wonderful discussion after the panel.

Anand Rao: Courageous Conversations

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

No topics are off-limits at Anand Rao’s dinner table. The communications professor and director of UMW’s Speaking Center said he encourages his four children – whom all have been members of debate teams – to share their opinions. He has one rule: they must be willing to defend their ideas and open to listening to others.

Rao brings this philosophy to all the courses he teaches at Mary Washington, which include public speaking, rhetoric, argumentation and social media, as well as the First-Year Seminar classes. “I hope my students bring a variety of different political, philosophical and social opinions to our class discussions because I want us to learn from each other,” he said. “That’s not possible if we all have the same perspectives.”

It’s also why he chose to participate in UMW’s Courageous Conversations series, a collection of videos featuring faculty exploring ideas of diversity and inclusion. Rao tackles the topic of free speech in the 21st century and discusses the role colleges and universities play in preparing students to engage in civil discourse in a polarized world.

“A university campus is a place where students are engaging in courageous conversations daily,” said Rao, who holds a B.A. in philosophy and an M.S. and Ph.D. in rhetoric and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. “This project demonstrates not just that we need to engage, but that we must learn how to do so in a respectful and professional way that helps us seek out the best answers. It reflects how we can collaboratively develop and test new and different ideas.”



Q: What brought you to Mary Washington?
A: I became acquainted with UMW when I visited the campus as an undergraduate when I was on Pittsburgh’s debate team. Though they were fierce competitors, I had great interactions with UMW students, who were bright, hard-working, energetic and motivated. Tim O’Donnell, who is a communications professor and now Associate Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Success, told me about the position in 2002. Because I held UMW in such high regard, I knew it was an opportunity that I wanted to explore.

Q: How do institutions of higher education find the balance between free speech and allowing inflammatory discourse on campus?
A: There are ideas that could be offensive to others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider them. We should critically engage those ideas, discuss what may make them offensive, and we should always be willing to engage in civil discourse. A college campus that doesn’t allow free speech isn’t really participating in the intellectual enterprise that we take pride in at Mary Washington. But in the same way you can’t shout “Fire!” in a public theater, you can’t encourage violence or harm toward others. Public safety is always a consideration. Our words have consequences and we should show concern for how our words impact others.

Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: I love helping students develop their own voice, particularly those who are apprehensive about public speaking. Through my role as director of the Speaking Center, I haven’t experienced anyone who we aren’t able to help speak confidently in front of an audience. We hear all the time from employers and graduate schools how prepared UMW students are to succeed.

Q: What role has social media played in creating conflicts and can it be instrumental in finding a way out of them?
A: There are reasons to be pessimistic, because the echo chamber reinforces the worst of your own ideas. But social media also provides great opportunities for reaching out of those silos in ways we were never able to do in previous generations.

Q: What is the one thing in your office that means the most to you?
A: I have a picture of my son, who is a sophomore at UMW, giving a speech outside of Harvard’s Widener Library, and a picture of my daughter debating the British National Debate team. I also have photos and art work by my younger son and daughter.

Q: What is one of your favorite Mary Washington memories?
A: When Congressman John Lewis spoke at commencement, right after the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. I took him to see the bust of James Farmer, and he shared stories about him and the work they did together.

Q: What are you currently reading or have read recently that inspired you?
A: I just started “When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink, and I’m reviewing a variety of open educational resources for public speaking.

Rao Receives National Communication Service Award

Anand Rao, professor of communication, was awarded the 2018 Hobgood Service Award at the annual conference of the National Communication Association in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was recognized for “dedication to excellence, commitment to the profession, concern for others, appreciation of diversity, and vision of what could be.”  As past chair of the Communication Centers Division for NCA, he helped run the annual business meeting. In addition, he also served on a discussion panel titled “Communication at Play: Creating Strategic Partnerships between the Basic Course and First Year Experiences.” There he talked about UMW’s QEP/FSEM, how it serves as a basic communication course for new students, and how the Speaking Center helps to support the FSEM.

Rao Attends Meeting of Nationwide Faculty Governance Leaders

On Oct. 27, Anand Rao, professor of communication, vice chair of the Mary Washington’s University Faculty Council and president of the Faculty Senate of Virginia, attended a meeting of faculty governance leaders from across the country.

Rao participated in creating a National Council of Faculty Senates at the Austin, Texas event.

The National Council of Faculty Senates will help ensure various faculty senates nationwide play a coordinated, decisive role in university faculty members’ shared governance with their university administrations.

The Texas Council of Faculty Senates organized the daylong organizational meeting that attracted the faculty members to Austin, where they discussed plans to develop mission and vision statements, a constitution, and bylaws. Faculty senates advise university administrations and boards of trustees or regents on all matters of policy and decision-making that affect the faculty.

“Most associations in the United States have not only a statewide or a regional presence but also a national one,” said Trevor Hale, a professor of operations management at Texas A&M University and a convener of the meeting. “Therefore, we asked ourselves why not move beyond the state level to a national one.”

In welcoming the faculty members to Austin, Jim Woosley, president of the Texas Council of Faculty Senates and a professor of health and kinesiology at Texas A&M University, said that it was imperative that the voice of faculty members nationwide be well coordinated and presented in a meaningful and an effective way to university administrators and to broader audiences.

Attendees identified areas for immediate action. They included developing a database to support one another and to weigh in on evolving issues, creating a communication system with boards of regents or trustees, and identifying a medium for disseminating widely best practices in shared governance and in academic freedom.