Shining a Spotlight on FI Alumni, Christina Katopodis
Dr. Christina Katopodis is a former FI Fellow, active from 2017-2020. Her formal discipline is English with specializations in American Studies, Sound Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Environmental Studies. For more information, check out Christina’s website here: https://christinakatopodis.com/.
What field are you currently working in? What is your current job title/role?
I am currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the CUNY Central Office of Academic Affairs for a three-year initiative supported by the Mellon Foundation called, Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH). My role is similar to that of the Executive Director of TLH and our program is similar to FI in its mission and goals with an emphasis on the important role of the humanities in furthering a more just and equitable academy and society. We focus on equitable, creative, student-centered pedagogical research and methods designed for the rich diversity of CUNY students; greater recognition for the importance of teaching; and the role of an urgent and indispensable humanities for the future of CUNY students.
What research/projects (if any) are you currently working on?
Most recently, I completed a book with my coauthor, Cathy N. Davidson, and it comes out from Harvard University Press on August 30, 2022: The New College Classroom. The book is a step-by-step guide to transforming our classrooms and universities using some of the active learning methods that are part of the antiracist activist air we breathe at CUNY, and especially at the Futures Initiative and HASTAC: Think-Pair-Share; Entry/Exit Tickets; co-creation with students; collaboration by difference; ungrading, and more. I really wish I had had a book like this when I began teaching, now over 10 years ago as an adjunct, so I could have started out with radically inclusive methods and strategies for giving students more agency in the classroom instead of having to learn these on the fly or through experimentation. I’m so proud of this book and very excited to share it with the world—and especially with graduate students teaching for the first time.
In addition, I’ve been working on a few other articles and a book chapter: “Teaching for a Habitable Future with Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower: ‘we’ll have to seed ourselves farther and farther from this dying place’” is under review at English Language Notes; “The ‘Mute Music’ in Emerson’s Polarity: Generating Practical Power” is anticipated to appear in Oxford Handbook of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Christopher Hanlon, forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2023; and “Abolitionism, Black Lives, and Staten Island in 1843” is a work in progress based on some research I’ve done recently in archives at Staten Island.
How did your time at FI prepare you for your current job role/position?
TLH mentors faculty of all ranks teaching across CUNY’s campuses. Having worked with faculty in the FI team-taught courses prepared me well for interacting with our 102 TLH Faculty Fellows and our 90 faculty workshop organizers over the course of this grant. So far, we’ve been able to offer our workshop organizers (in Spring 2021) and our Faculty Fellows (in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022) monthly TLH Open Office Hours where they can meet to discuss ideas, struggles, and questions of any kind about teaching right now. These office hours have been a low-stakes, come-as-you-are space where anyone can ask everyone for advice and offer one another support and ideas. In some ways, these office hours have resembled FI team meetings where we’ve allowed ourselves to speak openly and honestly about the hidden curriculum and unspoken rules of academia and collectively share strategies for overcoming roadblocks and challenges—always coming from a place of generosity and care. Just because someone has been teaching for decades doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to run student group work effectively or equitably, for example. We need more spaces like this in the academy where faculty can connect across disciplines, levels of seniority, and campuses to openly share and to learn from one another. I felt this as a graduate student fellow at FI, and now I see this from the perspective of an administrator with the resources to facilitate conversations and spaces like these. I’m so grateful to have the chance to use what I learned at FI to effect change from CUNY’s Central office.
What was your favorite part of the FI experience?
The generosity, care, and trust that afforded me early opportunities to take on a leadership role – even if I wasn’t entirely ready for taking the lead on something, I knew I had a team of colleagues who would lift me up with them. We took good care of each other. We met every week over cups of coffee and tea and sweet treats prepared by the fellows. I baked more in those years than at any other time in grad school because I wanted to give back, to bring my colleagues joy. It takes a special team of people to have faith that all will get done through collective action with rotating leaders and mostly graduate students in charge.
What skills and knowledge did you learn at FI? How have you been able to apply them to your current endeavors?
The skills I use most often are those required to organize engaging, interactive professional development workshops and events. In Spring 2021, TLH sponsored 75 faculty-organized workshops on active, participatory learning where the event format was expected to match the content: to engage audiences in interactives online. We’ve continued facilitating virtual events with the faculty fellows over the course of the last academic year, and we’ve also coached our invited speakers in our Transformative Speakers series to engage audiences, not just talk at them. Beyond TLH, I’ve contributed this knowledge to developing the CUNY Innovative Teaching Academy’s (CITA’s) monthly Teaching Matters workshops by emphasizing interaction, active learning, and focusing on clear, tangible takeaways that could be implemented in any classroom. Without learning the interactive pedagogical methods I did at FI, I wouldn’t have adjusted as easily to virtual teaching and learning in the pandemic, or been able to guide faculty to incorporate active learning into professional development workshops, and these events could easily have become lectures or more panels of talking heads. At FI, I learned that there’s no good reason not to use active learning in academic forums with colleagues – at conferences, panels, workshops. These aren’t just for our students; they’re for anyone who wants to really learn something new.
What advice would you give current FI fellows/faculty/admin? (for example: advice navigating the professional sector/academia; advice with balancing course work; advice on networking; etc.)
When I entered FI, it felt transformative on a personal level – all of a sudden, academia had a welcoming place for me where I could be myself and become my best self! When I left FI, I realized just how revolutionary a program it was. It’s an experience I will talk about for the rest of my life and career, one that will continue to inform everything I do, from managing a team of people to giving a keynote lecture to listening to my toddler and centering his questions and interests. To come back to the generosity, care, and trust of the FI team that I so admire: it has a way of validating that little fire in your heart, the part of you that ardently wants to see higher ed transformed to be more structurally just and equitable. When navigating the professional sector, it’s important to keep that flame alive and growing, to build on those networks of support (mine is a writing group) and not be a stranger (I make time to touch base with my fellow FI alum). Academia can be a joyless place of burnout and strife – any profession can, to be frank. It takes a stubborn optimism and resilient heart to keep the hope alive, and I think the easiest way to do that is in company with others – to keep collaborating and keep believing that change is possible. We’re seeing it right before our eyes as ungrading gains ground across the country! But we need friends – colleagues, resistance leaders, accomplices – to remind us, to celebrate small and large victories with us, and to keep stirring things up with us.