Monday, April 15, 2013

The value of cohorts

This past year, I've been reminded of the power of cohorts or small connected teams. My newest grad student Briana Whiteside, who arrived in August, has been an important contributor to our projects this past year, assisting with public humanities projects and producing several blog entries on various subjects. Her apparent individual success has been linked, in many respects, to her membership in a cohort.

Right before Briana arrived, I kept reminding my senior grad students Cindy Lyles, from English, and Danielle Hall, from historical studies, that I needed them to serve as big sisters and guides for Briana--orienting her to the university, introducing her to our projects and approaches, and collaborating with her as much as possible. Early on, Briana was looking over Cindy's and Danielle's shoulders as they worked on black studies projects, and when she learned that they were working on blog entries, she came to me and asked to contribute. "I want to write for the blog too," she told me.   

The development of deliberate cohorts are far less common in literature programs than in the social sciences and physical sciences. Literature graduate students develop informal communities when they enter a program together and when they take courses together. However, there are rarely concerted efforts by professors to design out-of-class projects where grad students will need to work together to achieve various tasks over a long period of time. 

Our expanding public programming for black studies and African American literature demanded that I develop cohorts. A few years ago, my senior program coordinator Adrienne Smith served as a guide for the then junior coordinators Cindy and Danielle. As senior coordinators, they are now serving as guides for Briana.  

Small cohorts have powered our programming during the course of the last few years. At the same time, the programming has created a circumstance for the development and operation of the cohorts.  

African American Literature @ SIUE 

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