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Barbara Klimek, Outstanding Faculty Mentor 2018-19

Barbara Klimek

Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, School of Social Work

Beyond being knowledgeable in her field, Dr. Klimek is compassionate, caring and loves teaching, guiding her students through every stage of development. She was committed to my success and held me accountable throughout my academic career, from prospectus defense to final refinement of my ideas and topic, both allowing my intellectual growth and challenging me. 

Mohamed Abdalla, former Doctoral student

Mentoring is a pedagogical method used in higher education to allow graduate (and undergraduate) students to be well prepared for their professional careers, and to effectively and efficiently function and apply what they learn within the university to any social and/or economic setting locally, nationally or globally. 

Problem-based learning Application of problem-based learning (PBL) in teaching, specifically in mentoring, is the best way to accomplish the above-mentioned purpose. I was introduced to PBL in 2007 while attending a professional education workshop provided to faculty at ASU.

A few years later, I attended PBL courses offered by the PBL Institute in Republic Polytechnic in Singapore (a leading higher education institution) which fully implemented this method of teaching campus-wide. Since 2007, I have been utilizing PBL when teaching in classrooms and when mentoring students in individual and team settings. To accomplish higher level teaching outcomes and create an environment conducive toward an innovative and competitive yet collaborative approach to mentoring students, I apply the following principles of PBL: promoting self-directed learning, enhancing critical and creative thinking skills, allowing students to reflect on their learning, improving information-searching skills, helping to develop collaborative and deep learning, and creating authentic learning opportunities (PBL Institute, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore).

These core elements are vital in allowing innovative and creative ways of thinking. It is designed for experiential learning and stimulates students’ engagement in knowledge acquisition and its application to problems and solutions, creates research opportunities and passion for discovery, and promotes independence and self-guided learning. Meaningful coaching creates an environment when both the student(s) and instructor work as a team. It further shows that finding solutions to problems are not just an academic exercise but a real-life experience. The evidence of the work students completed under my mentoring approach is displayed in digital innovation portfolios. Many students continue research and projects started within the academic environment and apply these to their work in real life situations, as well as offer mentoring to new cohorts of students with similar research agendas. Some continue their education in different PhD programs, which allows me to continue this mentoring approach. 

Real-world learning
In my classroom settings, I applied PBL in my Immigrants and Refugees elective course, which I have developed and have been successfully offering since 2007. For the past 11 years, undergraduate and graduate students from multidisciplinary backgrounds work together by conducting labs, developing refugee community projects, and researching difficult topics utilizing problem-based and cross-cultural learning approaches. It has been inspiring to see undergraduate and graduate students working together to find solutions to difficult issues/problems. By assuming a role of mentor, I can effectively teach regardless of the academic level or the degree students are working toward. To date, more than 240 students from social work, public affairs, criminology, nursing, psychology, social justice and human rights (just to name few disciplines) have completed this course. Now an online option is offered in addition to traditional face-to-face instructions. Course evaluations are always very positive and inspiring. 

Examples of a few include: 

“This class was one of the most inspiring classes I have ever taken. I will take all that I learned to all my future clients. I will also recommend it to other students.” 

“An excellent class, one of the best of my social work experience. Klimek is one of the most effective and interesting teachers I have experienced at ASU. The videos and guest speakers were amazing.”

“I really enjoyed the class and applaud Dr. Klimek her teaching skills. One of the best classes I have taken.” 

“My favorite social work class ever.” 

The creation of the Office of Global Social Work (OGSW) added a new opportunity and dimension for this mentoring approach. As a director of this office, with my clear research agenda–working with refugees and immigrants, OGSW became an open educational platform for students from many disciplines and diverse backgrounds. Application of flexible schedules and inclusion of diversity prompted students to learn by choosing the discovery platform and research in the area of their interest and passion. The above permits mentor/mentee relationships to move in the most effective and efficient direction and allows the learning process to flourish. This platform showcased the potential contribution, process of discovery, problem formation and solutions of each student as part of a collective team toward meaningful outcomes.   

The outcomes of PBL
Since 2012, by using research grants for which I am the principal investigator, graduate students were able to work as research assistants, doing their internship for master’s and doctoral programs. In addition, undergraduate students joined the OGSW and under my guidance and supervision completed their honor thesis for Barrett, the Honors College, working as a part of the team that utilized PBL. From the perspectives of the last few years, OGSW as a platform for mentoring students has proven to be an excellent way to observe students’ academic development from undergraduate to graduate study. In addition, it opened opportunities for local, national and international development via conference attendance, publication preparation, community engagement and attention to diversity, not only of culture but of gender and sexual orientation. Students engaged in local and international projects (Nepal, Costa Rica, Myanmar, Africa, Ukraine, India, Kazakhstan, Armenia). Many of my graduate student alumni and doctoral candidates are now volunteering in the OGSW to help mentor the next cohorts of students. This interesting dynamic is the ultimate outcome of effective mentoring and provides for opportunity for sustainable continuation of research and projects. 

Many of the recent innovative projects were showcased by ASU media (ASU Now, podcasts) and just recently students and alumni from the OGSW were invited to participate in the Digital Innovation Portfolio pilot project sponsored by the office of the University Provost and supported by President Crow. During the last eight years, more than 60 students received mentoring via OGSW. Many of those were working on their master’s thesis, PhD research, applied projects or honors thesis. Nine international fellows from five different countries (Armenia, Kazakhstan, India, Ukraine and Burkina Faso) received mentoring; three international Fulbright scholars (Laos, Burma, Kosovo) and former refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, as well as international students from Qatar and India received mentoring and contributed to the work done in the OGSW. During the last two years, one graduate who completed her internship and graduate portfolio in OGSW was named the College of Public Service and Community Solutions outstanding graduate student, while another graduate student was honored as the outstanding student for the School of Social Work. The best recognition any faculty can receive is to see students learning, achieving their educational goals and moving forward to apply what they learned in everyday life. During the last 12 years as faculty at ASU, I have been able to provide meaningful educational opportunities via mentoring to many students by delivering instruction and supervising or being on the committees of five PhD dissertations, 16 master’s theses and/or applied projects and five Barrett Honor’s College theses. In addition, I supervised and mentored more than 48 students who completed their applied projects for Master of Social Work in the School of Social Work in the Advanced Generalist concentration.   

I want to conclude with two quotes from two of my recent students, now colleagues and supporters
of the work we are doing in OGSW:  

“I want to have a moment to thank you and have a proper transition from mentor/mentee to colleagues (I hope). You have been the most influential person probably in my life, and I want time to express that.”

“Dr. Klimek, you deserve all the thanks and appreciation in the world!!!! Nothing I accomplished this year
would have been possible without you. WE DID IT!!!! :)”.