When Dr. Amanda Gunning, associate professor of Science Education and co-director of the Center for STEM education at Mercy College applied for a one-semester sabbatical to pursue research and writing projects, she never expected that COVID-19 would provide such an array of virtual opportunities.
Academic sabbaticals are commonplace in higher education to allow faculty to take a break from teaching and other academic responsibilities to pursue their professional interests in greater depth. Faculty use this protected time to pursue research and writing projects, often traveling and networking with colleagues from other institutions. Sabbaticals also benefit the home institution when professors typically return from leave refocused, refreshed and reinvigorated. Gunning used her sabbatical to the fullest, writing and submitting articles for publication, attending and presenting at conferences, and developing new ideas for the classroom—all of which ultimately benefit Mercy by advancing its reputation as a leader in the field of STEM teacher training.
In addition to her increased productivity, Gunning found new opportunities made possible by the almost universal shift of most conferences to virtual platforms. “The virtual component gave me the opportunity to present at a conference on technology education that is usually held overseas,” she said. She also had the time, freedom and mobility to advance her day-to-day responsibilities, designing course materials and developing new approaches for the teacher education classes she resumed upon her return.
In all, Gunning produced six presentations and four publications during her sabbatical, one of which continues to reap recurring benefits. Based on data she and her colleagues at Mercy have spent years cultivating through their research on the training of science teachers, Gunning submitted an abstract the Association for Science Teacher Educators (ASTE). The editor responded enthusiastically, calling her proposal “timely and appropriate.” The encouraging response inspired Gunning to begin developing a workshop on the same topic, which was accepted for presentation at the association’s international conference next year.
“The work that’s come out of my sabbatical will support the College’s reputation as a leader in STEM education and STEM education research and will connect our work strongly with the body of knowledge on STEM education,” Gunning wrote in her sabbatical report.
Reflecting on the time spent, she added, “I’m so thankful to Mercy College for giving me the freedom and the time to deepen and broaden my explorations of teacher education. I believe this new work reflects well on Mercy College as a significant contributor to the body of knowledge in the field of STEM education and STEM teacher training.”