Director’s Blog

A Bittersweet 2023

by | Jan 10, 2023 | Director's Blog

In typical new year fashion, 2023 will bring change, both exciting and challenging. As many of you have seen, 2023 is bringing a major change to me. I have accepted a new position as the Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Montana State University Billings. My final day with UCI will be the end of this month, which means this will be my final blog post.

It was an agonizing decision to leave UCI. I have learned so much and enjoyed this work immensely. And that is really thanks to you, the faculty at UCI. So many of you took a chance on me, attended my programs, and were willing to try some of my crazy teaching ideas. The interesting thing about being in faculty development is that you can only truly be impactful if the faculty are willing do the work. I could be the most brilliant developer to ever walk this earth, but none of that would matter if faculty don’t listen or heed my advice. And since I’m not the most brilliant, it’s even more surprising how many of you I got to work with! I seriously can’t begin to express my gratitude. I received so many touching emails from faculty after the zotmail went out last week. It’s humbling to hear your thanks because I feel like I should be the one thanking you all.

When I arrived at UCI 5.5 years ago, I worried I was in completely over my head. Previously, I was teaching faculty in English, doing faculty development at a small branch campus of Washington State University. And when I say small, I mean small. There were 90 faculty on campus – I literally knew everyone! The largest class I ever taught was 100 students, but my average size was around 15. Suddenly I found my self on a giant campus with over 2,000 faculty and class sizes that rival the populations of small towns. It was like being on another planet. Even more nerve-wracking, I had made the difficult and scary decision to leave a faculty position for a staff position. Many, many people warned me I had just committed academic suicide – who in their right mind would do that? That door will close and never reopen. Yet there I was, wondering how I could convince anyone to come to a workshop.

One of my first assignments was the design the certificate program for the yet-to-be-built Anteater Learning Pavilion. So brand new me thought it would be wise to ask faculty to commit to a 8 week workshop series plus a course observation. That would endear me, right? Not a big ask at all! Shockingly, faculty signed up for the Active Learning Institute, knowing nothing about me or what to expect. To my first cohort, I am forever indebted to you. You were enthusiastic, engaging, and encouraging. It’s because of you that I felt like maybe I could actually do this job. And 5 years later, 223 of you have done the ALI with me and nearly 400 faculty total have or are working towards certification to teach in ALP. What an honor to work with so many talented faculty!

But just as I was getting comfortable, I entered unknown territory once again in March 2020 – a date that is forever burned in my memory. The pandemic pushed me to rethink and redesign faculty development without any time to actually think before acting. While there are a handful of books about faculty development, not a single one has a chapter on pedagogy in a global pandemic. I don’t think DTEI has ever churned out so much new content so quickly. While this time was challenging (I stepped away for a month the following year before I burned out completely), I also pivoted on some of my philosophies regarding teaching and learning that I believe make me better at my job. One of those was about the importance of wellness for everyone in the university community, but especially the faculty. One thing I am proud of is that DTEI is the first center in the country to have a Pedagogical Wellness Specialist position. So now a thanks to my team at DTEI, a passionate and talented group of humans that will continue to trailblaze after I am gone. Brian, you grant genius you, thank you for your guidance – my CV looks amazing now. And an extra special thanks to Danny Mann, my pro-bono therapist and educational development kindred spirit. Thanks for putting up with me in our shared office – it will be much quieter now!

UCI, it has been an honor and privilege. Words of thanks feel cliché, but sometimes words are all we have. This blog was a lot of fun to write, so I plan on starting a new one at MSU Billings. Hopefully the faculty there will be as welcoming and encouraging as you all have been.

In other news…

What I’m Currently Reading: My first read of 2023 was Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel, and it was fantastic. It’s a feminist retelling of the queen from Indian epic the Ramayana. It’s a mix of mythology, history, and modern interpretation that’s compelling and lyrical. If you like books like The Song of Achilles then definitely add this to your list.

Songs from my introvert playlist: One final share, and I think this one fits the situation. In the words of Daft Punk, “one more time we’re gonna celebrate, don’t stop the dancing”. So celebrate with me One More Time!

Andrea Aebersold

Andrea Aebersold

Director, Faculty Instructional Development

Andrea Aebersold is the Director of Faculty Instructional Development at University of California, Irvine. She earned a PhD in English and was an associate professor of teaching before coming to UCI. She specializes in active learning, evidence-based teaching, and reading mountains of books.