Shwetha Srinivasan: Adjunct professors should better utilize real-world experience in courses

As an international affairs major, I have taken multiple classes with professors who have had hands-on experiences working in the federal government, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, think tanks or the media.

Adjunct professors are professors who are hired by a university based on skills they acquired in non-academic settings, and they often simultaneously work in other fields while they teach.

Adjunct professors in the social sciences and humanities should transfer the skills and knowledge gained through their professional experiences to the classroom. More often, universities are hiring professors to teach part-time while they continue their careers. Though GW is veering away from this trend by prioritizing the hiring of full-time faculty over adjunct professors to strengthen the University’s academic programs, officials can work on improving the quality of courses already taught by adjunct faculty members.

In my experience, a course’s content and a professor’s teaching style are not significantly different when a professor is an adjunct professor compared to when a professor has an academic background. Many adjunct faculty members have the added experience of working in their fields of specialization, but the real-world experience isn’t always reflected in their courses’ content. The University can take steps to bridge this gap and, in the process, distinguish itself from other institutions by making the most of adjunct faculty members’ training and knowledge.

The main appeal of professors in practice is their ability to teach students how their courses apply to the real world by giving students examples from their own professions. Working adjunct professors can bridge the gap between education and employment, but GW needs to provide better infrastructure to enhance their potential.

GW should require adjunct faculty members to create course syllabi that include classroom applications of real-world experiences. For example, adjunct professors could include workplace simulations during class meetings.

Apart from adjunct professors designing courses that reflect their skills and experiences, they should mentor and advise students to help them find internships and jobs. This would be a direct way to demonstrate how their coursework is applied to the job market. Professors could also incorporate skills like writing literature reviews and policy memos that are directly related to course material.

Georgetown University offers a course called the development incubator, in which co-directors of the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation mentor students in conducting empirical research and innovation in development economics and impact evaluation. The class allows students to gain real-world experience in their chosen field by working directly with professors. Adjunct faculty members at GW should work with students in a similar way.

The University of California San Diego also created a professor of practice series in 2013, and its first appointment was a U.S. Marines veteran and California State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. While teaching at UCSD, Fletcher engaged with students beyond the classroom by advising and mentoring students and connecting them with internships and job opportunities. Many adjunct professors at GW have professional contacts they could connect to students. Furthermore, it should be every professor’s goal to mentor their students beyond just teaching them.

I’m sure plenty of adjunct faculty members at GW already focus on practical application in their courses. But there is a lack of standardization about expectations when it comes to such faculty members’ courses, and GW is missing out on the potential of this group of faculty.

Adjunct professors should focus on practical application of subjects during their courses and in times outside of class. GW can easily standardize how adjunct faculty members teach and use their real-world experiences in the classroom, and students will get more out of these classes.

Shwetha Srinivasan, a junior double-majoring in international affairs and economics, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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