Mercy College Awarded $2.1 Million Federal Grant to Enhance Teaching and Learning Strategies to Ensure Equitable Delivery of Online Instruction

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Mercy College has received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the Institutional Resilience and Expanded Postsecondary Opportunity (IREPO) program, which aims to help higher education institutions expand educational opportunities for students and emerge more resilient from the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant will be administered over two years to fund the design and implementation of new practices that will enhance online teaching and learning across Mercy College and facilitate more flexible, equitable delivery of instruction. The grant will also support outreach to high schools.

“As we were moving courses online effectively overnight back in the spring of 2020, we knew that it would lead to major challenges not only for our faculty but also for our students, especially those who didn't have the same access to technology or the same experience with online learning,” said Peter West, Ph.D., interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This grant presents an important opportunity to build an infrastructure for online teaching and learning that can sustain us in a post-pandemic future. We need to learn from what we accomplished during the quick migration to remote teaching and from the experiences of the students who were left behind in that transition.” West will co-lead Project IREPO with Kristen Keckler, Ph.D., chair of the Literature and Language Department.

One focus of Mercy College’s Project IREPO will be improving outcomes in first-year math and English courses that are taught in remote and blended formats. Now that there is a more of need to strengthen online learning moving forward, Mercy plans to use the grant to research the obstacles students face while taking these courses online, improve access to resources that already exist and develop new supports. Some initial plans involve expanding the online teaching assistant network for writing classes and developing a peer mentor program.

“Almost every Mercy undergraduate has to take one of these first-year English and math courses, so this grant is bringing much-needed resources to a place in our curriculum where we'll be able to impact a large number of students,” said West.

Another focus for Project IREPO will be using telemedicine simulations to improve telehealth education for students majoring in health science and counseling. The goal is to prepare them for telehealth needs now and in the future, especially in medically underserved communities. In particular, the grant will fund the creation of interactive modules to train students to engage with patients through virtual technology. Mercy theater students from the School of Liberal Arts will draw on their acting skills to play the roles of patients. “I’m excited that we were able to secure funds for work that really highlights the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and thinking about students’ experiences across different programs,” said West.

Additionally, Project IREPO will also facilitate outreach to high school students who may need more support to succeed in college. Mercy faculty will visit high schools to discuss college and careers and introduce them to Mercy College. They will also conduct workshops to help draw students to campus and give them a taste of college-level academics.

Ultimately, Project IREPO outcomes and resources will inform online teaching and learning across Mercy. One key piece of the initiative is to develop a library of resources that students can reference to when taking a course online and that faculty can use to learn best practices for teaching online.

West says that the grant will also support the use of data to identify students who need support and the coordination across several different Mercy College offices to ensure that they get the assistance they need. “We've done a really good job of quickly pivoting online, but now we're looking to the longer term and building a more robust set of resources. It's about coordinating the support for both students and faculty, but it's also using data in a much more coordinated way to get the resources to the students who are going to benefit most from them.”

Four members of Mercy College faculty will provide implementation support for Project IREPO: Jeff Chang, Ph.D., assistant professor of Mathematics; Laura Proszak, Ph.D., assistant professor of English; Allyson Richmond, M.A., assistant professor of English; and Kathleen Kenney-Riley, Ed.D., associate professor of Nursing.