Published January 11, 2022
GSE doctoral student Danielle Lewis jumped at the opportunity to share her perspective on student engagement strategies in the new book, "Keeping Us Engaged." The book, written by Christine Harrington and 50 college students from wide-ranging backgrounds, shares stories about professors who have positively impacted their students' experiences through various approaches.
Printed by Stylus Publishing in 2021, the book delivers real student stories, supported by research, to help faculty find new ways to make a difference in the lives of learners.
"Students are a really good source of data," said Lewis. "This book is not just about pedagogy. It's about building the community and support that students need, and how faculty can best provide that."
Lewis, who is also the assistant director of strategic programs in the University at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences, immediately knew she wanted to write about her advisor in the higher education PhD program, Margaret Sallee.
"She builds a community of support amongst PhD students," Lewis said of Sallee. "And it can be invaluable for someone. I already knew people on campus. But, it was still helpful for me to connect with students who were three or four years ahead of me. We go out to dinner. We did an escape room. Once, we met up at a park."
Sallee, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy, employs an approach that aligns with the engagement strategies outlined by other college students in "Keeping Us Engaged." The book reports that creating a sense of belonging, interacting with students outside of class and coordinating collaborative activities are meaningful approaches that improve student engagement. Sallee offers opportunities for her students to connect outside of the classroom at least once a month.
“We talk about what we're going through and sometimes problem solve as things comes up,” said Sallee. “They can serve as mentors for each other because they're all going through things at different stages.”
Inspired by her advisor, Lewis focused her portion of the book on the importance of faculty who intentionally nurture student networks within a PhD program. These student relationships are powerful when shared by advisees within the same cohort, who will someday become professional colleagues.
"When a peer is accepted into our doctoral program, Margaret sends a note to the entire group, welcoming the new addition to 'Team Sallee,'" Lewis wrote in the book. Creating a friendly team of advisees helps students build stronger relationships. These networks provide a safe space for students to support one another through conferences, coursework, presentations and dissertations.
Peer mentorship is another benefit of Sallee's advisee network. "By facilitating relationships amongst her advisees, Margaret creates an environment in which students further along in the doctoral program offer feedback and mentorship to those newer to graduate studies," said Lewis.
Now, Lewis extends the mentorship that she once received to new students in the higher education doctoral program. "I have talked to a couple of PhD cohorts as, you know, an older student. And, I tell new students: 'It doesn't matter if we have different interests. I don't care. There are no stupid questions. Email me; call me. I am here to help you!'"
Lewis also continues to welcome guidance from her advisor. Last year, Sallee encouraged her to pursue a position as the managing editor of the Journal of Women and Gender in Higher Education. By opening the door to new professional opportunities, Sallee elevated Lewis' engagement. As managing editor, Lewis better understands the publication process and collaborates with well-known scholars.
"I've had an incredible experience with the journal, and that is all because of Margaret. She knew what my long-term goals were, and she knew it would benefit me… It's probably been the single most defining experience of my PhD program."