CTI Podcast - Episode 33: Cultural & Global Engagement with Dr. Gurung and Dr. Portaro


Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful friends. Good morning, Tony Pellegrini here with our monthly podcast on teaching and learning at Southern Utah University. We're honored today to welcome Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung and Dr. Iliana Portaro, right? Portaro, I'm sorry. We're and I've got to be careful when there's a little bit of too much Italian and may use too much my hands might bonk the microphone. We're tickled to have you here today to address again Teaching and Learning at Southern Utah University where Dr. Gurung has received an award last year for distinguished faculty and global engagement and Dr. Portaro as a Distinguished Educator here at SUU and so if we could take just a moment and Ryan started a little bit with our with our test, but now it's for real Shobha would you mind taking a moment or two and telling us just a little bit about yourself and how you arrived here at SUU?

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: First of all, I would like to thank you and Ryan for this opportunity. It's wonderful to be here with my colleague, dear colleague, Iliana. So I actually came to Boston to pursue my graduate training study and then after my doctorate in sociology, I started to teach at UConn in store. And then after teaching there for five years, you know, I was looking for small kind of teaching institutions and then when I saw this job, I said “Okay, let me go and see how Cedar City looks like”. And then I came here, and then the minute I landed, I fell in love with the beautiful landscape. And then when I came and when I gave teaching demonstration, you know, I really loved it here. The people, beautiful landscape and you know, and the people who interviewed me. They were amazing people, my colleagues, yes.

Tony Pellegrini: That was wonderful. I again feel that people here is, are one of our biggest assets. It's really what makes a teaching and learning here so engaging and fun. Iliana will you take a moment or two to tell us a little about yourself and how you decided to come to SUU?

Dr. Iliana Portaro: Sure. Well, I was born in Lima and Lima, Peru, and grew up in California in Southern California and went to school at UC Santa Barbara and I majored in English and Spanish and minored in Latin American Studies. And I had amazing mentors there that have encouraged me to go to grad school. I had never really thought about that and didn't really think that was a feasible option. And so I-I pursue that and attended UC Davis. And I got my masters and my PhD in Spanish and when you major in the language or when you get a degree in a language, you usually do an emphasis. I like to get an additional emphasis. So my emphasis is in Latin American literature, and particularly Latin American women writers, and I arrived at SUU about 2011. I had to look this up right before the podcast because I always forget it's been a while and while I was still writing my dissertation, so it was a lecturer position. And I think I at that time, I wasn't really seriously thinking about a permanent job. I thought maybe you know, I'll work here until I finish my dissertation. And then I think look for other jobs. But I think like Shobha mentioned, there's something about the area, the community, the people that you work with, I felt that made an enormous impact on me. And so I just fell in love also with the students and just what that the classroom looked like it was very different from my graduate experience and my undergrad experience. I had never been in a classroom with less than 30 people I don't think. And so that made an enormous impact in how I saw my I guess my teaching career and in general how I wanted to- the kind of environment I wanted to be in.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much. I'm so impressed with that anecdote that you shared about your peers, saying, Hey, you should think about graduate school. I really see that in you. The power that your peers, voices, your peers, attitudes and approaches to you. Sometimes we don't see it in ourselves, we have a hard time seeing even maybe a couple of steps before us. But the power that we have to encourage and to inspire others to move forward or at least give it a chance. I think that's wonderful. So, so pleased with that. Shobah let's start with you if we could, and in particular with global engagement as a faculty member here at SUU, I know you've promoted a cultural and global understanding. How do you- how do you go about and approach that here in rural southern Utah?

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: Right Goshen, thank you for that. So in my teaching, I integrate innovative pedagogies that include multicultural -culturalism global engagement and civic citizenship, and over the years I have developed and taught a variety of courses that have provided our district insight into global issues, cultures and the liberal realities and experiences. People in different societies and discourses have included culture and religion in South Asia. Gender and society and global perspective human trafficking, international ties and civic citizenship, global popular culture and global issues in sociology and parsimony study. So by teaching a wide range of courses that span cultural and global diversity, have fostered intercultural knowledge to gain strength, a broader understanding of the globalized world that we live in. And my courses include the stories and lived experiences of diverse cultural and marginalized communities, which helped us to develop empathy with people from a wide range of life experiences and conditions and discourses have also helped my thread to understand the complexities and contradictions and ramification of race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, nationality, and citizenship identities within and across global boundary. And over the years, I've also provided my students with opportunity to interact with other prominent educators and scholars with significant national and international reputations such as Dr. Dorothy Smith, who says she she just passed so she was considered like one of the star in gender and sociology and Dr. Mary Romero, Dr. Banana Pooraka as Dr. Margaret Abraham and Dr. Claude Herrick, star Dr. Tony Pellegrini. And Dr. Daniel Dubinsky, Dr. Jordan Davis The list goes on. So my strengths I tried to bring scholars from different cultural backgrounds and the expert to my strengths are not one near listening from me or learning from me, but they also you know, get this opportunity to hear from other experts. So,yeah.

Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful, kind of is that a little bit of a follow up? How do you how do you feel how are the responses of your students been to that great breath of diversity that you do bring into the into the classroom.

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: They just love it.

Tony Pellegrini: Wonderful. That's so engaging for their futures as well to be able to address those issues in the futures and their futures. Well, thank you so much, Ililiana. As you work with your your learner's in Spanish. Could you take a moment or two maybe and talk to us about how you assess their learning how you are able to- your awareness of are they really getting it? Are they are they making those connections that you're trying to engage them with than your classrooms?

Dr. Iliana Portaro: Yeah, that's a very complex question. And first, I have to say I'm totally inspired by Shobah and so I just took everything she said in because she's been kind of very influential during my time here at SUU. So, I really enjoy that. Assessing for languages is complex and it varies by class and by level and by cohort by group and so I think one of the first things we're taught is how to be very in tune with the room on a day to day basis and flexibility. So assessment, oftentimes for the lower division classes, for example, which is these are students that are true beginners, or maybe intermediate students, looks like small daily assessment, and daily check ins. So the assessment is not left. The big assessment I guess it's not left until the very end, but throughout a module or throughout a Chapter, you check in daily, and the activities are very scaffolded. So we start with the easiest activities first and as they master those or as you see progress with those, then we can, you know, move on to the harder activities. And, and if they're not grasping the material, then it makes moving, moving on a little challenging and so that provides you with a lot of feedback regularly, and then the exam, you know, the big exam doesn't really matter as much you kind of know more or less what the students can do, but it's you know, sort of allows room for a little bit more flexibility. So my language exams, for example, will contain a mix of recordings of so I can assess their audio or their proficient- their oral proficiency. It can contain listening activities, reading, writing, culture, and so it gives you a variety of assessment, but also of different benchmarks that you can look for. So that would be for the lower division for the upper division. You're looking for proficiency. So you also want to see growth in how students communicate and vocabulary, grammar and accuracy but then you're also looking for more complex thinking. Some of the hardest things for students to do in another language is to express abstract thoughts, to analyze literature or film or just things that require more, just more complex language skills. And those can take years to kind of master. So in the upper division we're doing two things we're still working on language proficiency, but also teaching them how to acquire critical thinking skills, analytical skills and intercultural knowledge. And so, it really depends.

Tony Pellegrini: Because I you know, I really loved the perspective that you identified particularly with your beginning learners, that it's a day to day process. This is not something that they can just show up in class for two or three weeks and, and not have that connection with you because hey, I need to know how you're doing and how you're progressing and how you're growing. That kind of almost like taking their linguistic pulse of-on that day to day basis. And then to with your advanced learners are just so pleased with that understanding and direction that you provide them to be able to connect with some of the deeper thoughts and, and be able to express them, engage them with those so powerful, so profound, and again, those are great examples of what teaching and learning at SUU needs and some of those why we're here today. I have to say thank you as well to for recognizing Shobah’s interaction with her learners. That's why I really love doing these podcasts because yes, it's just the two or three of us today, right here in this room. But as others listen, they get to engage as well too, with these practices and just so appreciative of your time and efforts. Thank you so very much. Shobah, with sociology, we deal with human beings, you-we all deal with human beings but you in particular deal with human beings and the concept of empathy of that human emotion of being able to be sensitive to what your learners feel, and their emotions. We're human beings. We have emotions. How have you fostered that empathy with your learners and with those that you invite to participate in your courses with you?

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: Again, I tried to include the [unintelligible] realities and diverse experiences of people from different cultural communities, particularly marginalized communities, and then my students through readings and through videos and through you know, the narrative, you know, analysis and also through different forms of communication such as reading and writing, right? They do, you know, understand the way in which their, these communities you know, lifestyle are actually shaped or affected by larger social cultural structure, the institution, the social institutions, the political institutions, the economic institutions, and the globalization. And then, so I think that and also including the kinds of speakers that I bring from various you know, this is sometime I have this speaker attending from Nepal. So, we are teaching here at 11am and is 12pm in Nepal. So, the but the speakers are sort of very instrumental, instrumental in sharing their stories and, for example, we were talking about, after a short documentary, which features the, the earthquake in Nepal, right in 2015. And so what happened in the Everest area and then what happened to people in the Kathmandu Valley. And then there is also so much focus on the Sherpa communities there. And we have a strange year. I think she was here four or five years ago. She was here just for one year. She actually, you know, climbed Mount Everest when she was 16 years old, with her dad, so she's in the Guinness Book. So she made that, you know, history and, you know, she came to my class and she spoke. So, having that kind of, you know, sort of, you know, bringing the real, you know, lived experiences with what my students are reading, you know, just that kind of teaching pedagogy. Very important to me. It's like, Uh huh. And also giving students hands on experiences like I do lots of service based, you know, project. I work with the local community that I my student, I should say, my students, I just need to create assignment. And my students have worked with the cannin-, you know, candidate services, the happy factory in Burgoyne assisted living and you know, a children's Justice Center and the concept you know, race, class, gender these are very in a way not so fun, you know, issues to talk right racism, classism, sexism, who like to talk this, right?. But when my students when they do service projects, they are able to see that how this factor you know, affect or affect the communities.

Tony Pellegrini: I'm so appreciative of your vision of, you know, incorporating learners across the globe, your participants from Nepal who have lived through and experienced earthquakes, and thinking how could students here in Cedar connect with those who well, we may not have earthquakes, we may not have Mount Everest next to us. But a couple of years ago, our learners suffered out in Enoch with the rains and the floods. The similar I mean, no matter how different some of these experiences are to find those commonalities in being a human being a human being and how we deal with trauma and addressing the challenges that come to us are very important and consequential to the learning that our learners have and I am grateful that you're able to connect with that. That's wonderful.

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: Absolutely. to disturb your capacity miss. Is right, I taught around religion in South Asia and then we're looking into Saudi, Denise's States and throughout the semester, there were so many floods and natural disasters in Pakistan and Bangladesh and in Nepal. So this is our very courage. And then if similarly, I was offered a global research in sociologies and and then we were talking with the FIFA World Cup 2022 which brought all these you know, people around the globe together, and then we're also looking into various sociological issues, global issues, like the migration, the human rights issues, the might, you know, the suffering and the crisis of migration, you know, my labor right?. And also, you know, the LGBTQA issues, you know, how people were actually you know, brought all these issues together. And yesterday I was this you know, watching the news and then I have some student and you know, writing back to me, like, you know, and I have given my student assignment like, you know, explore FIFA World Cup in sociological way and you know, they were sort of and yesterday when they saw all this, you know, cheering and all these celebrations and saw that how few people have all these, you know, people together so people is symbolizes, you know, global kindness in sport, right? But we also talked about other sociological and global issues, again, the human rights violations and the migrant labor, you know, crisis and all of that. That also, that was also part of FIFA.

Tony Pellegrini: It absolutely is and sport can can bring us together but it brings those other issues that can't be addressed as well. I appreciate that. Thank you so very much. Iliana. You and I want to go back to for a moment about the daily activities that you do with your novice learners in particular, check their, their, you know, how they're getting it and making it happen. Certainly, you have some students who struggle just a little bit. How do you as a teacher here at SUU, how do you have a plan B, C, or D? If, if I'm really not getting it? What do you go to or what do you what are some of the things that you go to to, to to get them maybe in a different approach or a different way to make learning happen, and understand.

Dr. Iliana Portaro: That has gotten easier with time. That was really hard, I remember my first couple years of teaching because, you know, write out lesson plans and I would try to like follow the lesson plan. And then I just got rid of that and things became more organic. One of the things that helps a lot is that especially in the language classes, in the lower division there tend to be very small. And so I'm able to walk around and participate with different students, but I can sometimes give more attention to somebody who is struggling a little bit with an activity or a concept and give them that one on one attention that sometimes makes a difference, sometimes five minutes of just eye attention with the student. They will just go Oh, I get it now and then they can move forward. And then it just varies sometimes. It's the it's the group dynamic or students do a lot of partner and group work. Sometimes maybe that's not working, so maybe make a switch. Sometimes it's having conversations with the students about, you know, what's going on outside of the classroom. And mainly the starting point would be because we have a flipped classroom in languages in which students do the homework in preparation for what they're gonna see in class that day. So if somebody hasn't done the homework, somebody hasn't prepared, then that class is gonna be a lot, a lot harder than it should be. And so finding, finding out that information makes a difference. And then knowing also that some students won't Oh, it's not about perfection. So some students there will be a day where they can't do the homework or something happens or they're not as prepared as they would like. And so having backup activities or letting them know okay, well tomorrow, we'll do this again and then you can come prepared and you know, have that opportunity to practice. But in languages really, it is sort of the daily practice. And it's not necessarily about showing up and being perfect, but it's about just the the day to day that you put into it. And so even a student that maybe didn't do so well today, doesn't have to feel like tomorrow is going to look the same. They can, you know, make make changes or come to class in a different in a different ad with a different attitude or in a different way. And maybe feel accomplished and so it's what I tell students it's it's almost like what you put into it daily, and then you'll start progressively seeing the progress and I think since they can see it themselves, they can hear it, they can be good. They they really feel a sense of accomplishment throughout. But like especially at the end of the semester. The list of things that they can do with the language is astonishing,

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting. Let me ask you to cook just a little deeper and ask your impressions on a couple of a couple of situations or scenarios. You talk to us about your impressions of the importance of that proximity of getting close, you know, getting physically close to your students. You'd mentioned walking around the classroom and being physically close. Do you see that physical proximity being a benefit for your learners or talk to us a little about just a little bit deeper about how that helps you or helps them if it does.

Dr. Iliana Portaro: Well, two years ago, I would have said absolutely. But I've been teaching remotely since. So I became a quickly adapter of all the technologies available that would enhance learning and language learning in particular because my entire training, pre COVID was in person and just the benefits of speaking to people face to face and close to them, the hand gestures, the body language and all of that. And and that then quickly went away and then had to adapt. And I would have to say that I I sort of I didn't dwell on what had been. I just moved forward and tried to use Zoom To the best of my abilities is not perfect. But I am able to use certain whether it's the chat or whether it's bringing students back into the room if they're in breakout rooms or maybe having conversations with them one on one, I guess just being present and available. With technology. Teaching remotely, has helped tremendously so students know that I'm consistently reliable, but I'm just I'm very present and so they can reach out and we can go over any of their questions and I think that has made a difference. So the class even though it's not online, it's remote. I still meet with them daily, but it doesn't feel as I guess as disconnected as it would if we didn't have that connection.

Tony Pellegrini: That connection that being there being available for them, I think is so, so powerful and so profound for you to be able to make those engagements and those connections. Shobha but can you talk to us for a moment or two about where you see your future? What are some of the things on the horizon you see in regards to international context and let’s get some students excited about the spring or even next fall, what are some of your visions for the future?

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: Let me just give you some example what I have done with my colleagues in the past and that about future. So actively, you know, work with my colleague campus community in professional organizations to organize events, to, you know, bring speakers that will be very useful to our campus community, particularly students. Actually Iliana was my co coordinator when we did [Unintelligible] students event 2016-17 Right when when brought Mary Romero and then in 2012, we did a big international conference here at SUU on human trafficking and we brought Anuradha Koirala, who is considered the Mother Teresa of South Asia right now. And she was the as you know, CNN hero after 2010 We were able to bring her here in 2012 and then doing so we engage our students in different you know, you know, aspects of the the conference, the students were presenting students were, you know, you know, interacting with the, you know, speakers and they were also, you know, hosting dinners. That happened and again in 2013 with my colleague along with my colleague, you know, we brought were able to brought Pushpa Basnet who had also put in a CNN hero of 2012 but she also after [unintelligible] years you know, CNN did like, CNN wanted to select super CNN, the super CNN hero of the year. And Pushpa Basnet was the super CNN Hero. She was CNN Hero and super CNN hero. And here are able to you know, actually being here at SUU and she interacted with our students. She even went to the happy factory because we when we went to Nepal, I took a stream to Nepal in 2013. We took you know, many you know toys from happy factory and we distributed to all the children who are, you know, living with her and so that was then and then. Then after earthquake, you know, some of my students actually, they went back to Nepal, and they were helping the the, the needy communities there and one is doing to actually sponsor financially sponsor one boy whose mother died that earthquake. So, you see that connections are still there. You know, we initiated I initiated in 2012 or 13. But even after 2015. You know, students were you know, actually, they were actually, we're able to continue with those, you know, communities right, and what's happening, we are planning the women [unintelligible] event and then I'm also working on some project back in Nepal. I'm actually I was asked to develop some, you know, a program not only for students but also for faculty for Kathmandu University, which is a premier, you know, universities in the capital city. So and I do have some, you know, kind of invitations to bring the student to some of the organization, you know, in Kathmandu, and I'm also working with the political hospital. So the local hospital actually is very much community oriented hospital to our students from rural happy students, scholars, were able to go and do some service project to Kathmandu, to local hospitals. So I think it's a start. I am just working on those and I have also my current research is about the Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin, who live in Salt Lake and Seattle. So I'm looking at their journey to America and then I'm doing a comparative kind of analysis. And my students are also part of it I have, oh, I have one student help me, you know, translate and transcribe the other, you know, record interviews and in the past my strength you know, one of my strengths was actually doing the indexing. So I whenever there is an opportunity, I try to engage my strength in my scholarly activities also.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much. I was impressed to Iliana with [unintelligible] connection with you over time and through these different projects, projects. Can you give us some exact examples, maybe further examples of how you engage with your department or college peers, and to discuss teaching and learning and how that how that nurtures and helps your instruction.

Dr. Iliana Portaro: But I think something to mention is at the beginning I mentioned that, you know, we're trying to teach languages but also content areas. And so I think when I came in to SUU, Shobha was one of the first people I met outside of my department, and we connected over or interest in women and gender studies, and so that in some respects was important for me to develop a community outside of my department. My department's very vibrant and within Spanish, the faculty meets regularly. We meet almost on a monthly basis to discuss curriculum and pedagogy and in general, just the the program itself. So in some ways, we keep that that connection and those discussions alive by just regularly discussing them, they're not always fun. You know, some of this is a lot of work, but it's important to have them and important to sort of always ask what the students need and what we're doing, you know, we're doing things Okay, or if we could do them better and to self assess outside of the department. I'll be starting a new position next semester as the new chair of Interdisciplinary Studies. And so that kind of combines a lot of my interest in terms of language but also my connections outside of my college and outside of my department, and within HSS I think Interdisciplinary Studies is a very vibrant community. In which a lot of faculty are interested in and so really exciting to have a new department or creating a new department. And so, yeah, that that I think will take up a lot of my time next semester and that is something I have to look forward to.

Tony Pellegrini: It's exciting. It's exciting. And that's that's why I love having these conversations. It just leads to the wonderful things that are going on here. But we do need to wrap up our conversation today just would like to have you take just a moment or two each of you to we have a lot of new faculty this year. I think we're gonna have a lot of new faculty next year we're crossing our fingers as well we need some more help. What would be some final words of advice or wisdom that you may have to be able to new faculty to help them fit in and and engage with their learners, their peers and in the university show, but can we start with who would you be okay with that?

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: Sure. I would say connect with the people connect to the student, learn from the student as well and and share your experiences. It's very important because we learn from each other. And you may think that it is only our experiences but when you hear from others than okay and then you realize that you are not the only experiencing that. So sharing is very, very important and having conversation is very important. Even having conversation on you know, challenging issues ,difficult issues are very, very important. Thank you. So and I learned from my student a lot

Tony Pellegrini: And that of communication is so critical. And it is a two way street. It does go both ways. Thank you so much. Iliana any words of wisdom for new peers,

Dr. Iliana Portaro: Everything shows. Absolutely. I think and this took me this. This has been a practice but I think kindness not just towards your towards others but yourself. And figuring out what will bring joy to your day to day I think makes a big difference. I think sort of your your mental health by just in general your overall well being when you step into the classroom is is essential. And so how you feed that how you grow, how you maintain that when we have these marathon semesters or whatever your you know, teaching period looks like it's very important. So for me that has been a constant practice of finding joy, but also finding ways to practice self care practice ways that will make me a better person in the classroom because if I'm not functioning, then I'm not going to be functioning in the classroom.

Tony Pellegrini:Thank you so very much. I appreciate both of you. I'm grateful for being your friend, being your professional associate please. Shobha one more thing you want to share. Please

Dr. Shobha Hamal Gurung: I just want to add something on what she was sharing. Iliana was sharing on the mindfulness kindness compassion for that very very important. Just remind the last day of class, you know, I started playing [unintelligible] you know, chanting song for my students to calm them down to calm them, right. And then and then the good thing is there was a script, they could read it and it is and then after that I asked them what it meant for them to listen to a you know, the Buddhist monk who’s very well known internationally and I did that and they loved it. They loved it just that I do incorporate the even when I was teaching Globalization and Sociologies, we do talk about you know, the whole globalization of meditations, yoga and all the Eastern based healing. You talk about that. So yeah, and then I ended class with [unintelligible], you know, chanting with this chanting and just to make my student you know, distress.

Tony Pellegrini: Beautiful. Thank you so very much. Thank you for taking time with us today. Listeners we appreciate your listening and your participation and engagement. we'd invite you to tune in next month in January both Richard Cozzens and Andrea Frauhm will be visiting with us regarding virtual reality and augmented reality the grants that they're receiving and providing to instruction to us as faculty and students here at SUU. So show up again. Thank you, Iliana, thank you so very much. And have a great holiday season, both of you and everyone else out there. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having this. Happy holidays.


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