January 17, 2017

For Psychology faculty member Kate Herold, the best part of teaching at Century College is the diversity of the student body.

“This is the most diverse group of students I’ve ever taught,” said Herold, who specializes in Child Development. “For me, that is such a gift, because I get to teach and learn from so many types of people. It has really allowed me to grow as an instructor and has kept my classes fun and interesting.”

For embracing diversity, cultivating students’ unique strengths, and fostering a sense of community within her classroom, Herold was named an Outstanding Educator by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees.

“This passionate educator truly believes in the potential of her students, especially those from diverse populations, and fervently strives to help them overcome their challenges and succeed academically,” writes the Board of Trustees.

An Asset-Based Approach

One of greatest challenges of teaching a diverse classroom, according to Herold, is that everyone comes to class for different reasons.

While many students take psychology courses intending to move on to a career in psychology, or because they have a general interest in psychology, many students may simply be fulfilling a degree requirement.

To engage all of these unique students in the coursework, Herold has them apply psychological principles to what they’re interested in.

“Most of my classes, I give students quite a bit of flexibility of what they do their research papers or projects on,” said Herold. “I let them choose their topics, which accounts for the diversity of interests within the group.”

This is one example of how Herold implements her asset-based approach to teaching. At the beginning of each semester, she learns about each student’s assets and incorporates those strengths into the curriculum.

“My students bring areas of expertise that I don’t have, and that shapes the way the course content progresses,” said Herold. “I tell my students that the class is only as good as the effort they put in terms of sharing their strengths and expertise with the rest of the group.”

This approach resonates with her students. “I learned a lot about my classmates, and their views of the world,” said former student Carter Stumne. “Through this type of classroom experience, I felt that I learned much more than I would have just from a textbook.”  

Making Students Feel They Belong

Along with her asset-based approach, Herold also emphasizes making students feel like they belong. When Herold begins a class, she prioritizes learning students’ names over everything else.

“If I learn their names, then I give them a sense that I really need them in our classroom, and that they’re an important part of our classroom,” said Herold. “Creating that sense of belonging early on can help students overcome most other challenges they’re having.”

Kate’s emphasis on creating a sense of belonging is key to implementing her asset-based approach. Herold shows students they are needed in the classroom, and that their participation is necessary for the class to function as a community.

 “You have to give students the opportunity to feel their voices are welcome, otherwise their default will be to sit back and listen,” said Herold. “When students are continually asked to engage, they will.”

Herold, who was trained in teaching at four-year colleges, noted the contrast between a community-based classroom and a classroom where one person is presenting the class material.

“I think a lot of the techniques we use in community colleges can really be applicable in a four-year setting,” said Herold. “I think four-year schools have a lot they could learn from us.”

Applying Psychology to Current Events

While psychology is certainly a fascinating subject, it may not apply directly to everyone’s future career – particularly those entering into technical fields.

To keep her courses relevant to everyone, Herold makes sure that course content is grounded in current events. She focuses her class discussions on the diversity of human beings and how they’re developing in a modern-day context, both locally and globally.

“It forces students to have conversations about difficult topics,” said Herold. “I think that is a critical life skill, regardless of what profession you’re going into.”

Stumne agrees,“At first I was nervous about speaking during class, especially about controversial topics, but over time, as I got to know my classmates, it became more comfortable—and now, I feel much more confident engaging with people outside of the classroom, too.”   

For students who plan on entering the psychology field, now is a great time to be at Century College. The 2017-18 school year was the first in which students graduated with an AA degree in Psychology, providing them with a transfer pathway to four-year schools.

“I feel Century College is at the forefront of two-year colleges in terms of preparing psychology students,” said Herold. “Students are transferring from Century College having already completed a research project, which is essential for a four-year degree.”