Mary C. Miles, Ph.D. -
Academic Positions
~Senior Lecturer, Penn State English Department. 2015-present.
~EFT, Penn State English Department (with course sharing in History and the World Campus). 5 courses/semester plus summer teaching.  2010-present.
~FT1, Penn State English Department (with supplemental teaching in History and the World Campus). Averaged 5 courses/semester plus summer teaching.  2008-2010.
~FT2, Penn State English Department, Continuing Education, World Campus.  Averaged 3-4 courses/semester plus summer teaching.  2002-2008.
~Instructor and Teaching Assistant, Cornell University History Department.  1998-2002.

 
Biographical Sketch:
I spent my earliest years living several blocks from campus while my father completed his Penn State Ph.D.  After first grade, we moved to Rhode Island where I underwent extensive aptitude testing for school placement.  I was identified as exceptionally gifted and sent to a special school on Fridays, but was also diagnosed with a number of learning disabilities and needed some extra help.  I’ve always believed that facing this early identity paradox instilled in me an ability to be deeply empathic towards students from an extremely wide range of ability levels.  I know not only how it feels to be the star pupil, but also what it is like to face struggles and frustrations in learning. 
 
As I progressed through elementary and high schools, travelling to Georgia and back to State College, I developed strategies to overcome those early challenges and learning quickly became my favorite pastime.  I adored school and developed a passion for books and reading.  At this point, I suspected that I would want to be a teacher when I grew up and coaxed – sometimes forced!—my younger brother to enroll in my classes.  I created all sorts of presentations, activities and assignments.  I like to imagine that I might have taught my pre-school aged brother to read. 
 
By the time I enrolled in the University Scholars Program at Penn State, I was even more convinced that I wanted to teach and decided to become a professor.  My only dilemma was whether to pursue a Ph.D. in History, English, or Psychology.  I chose History but, through happy coincidences, have had lots of opportunities to pursue the other two fields as well – studying and teaching about the history of literature and psychology. 
 
As an undergraduate TA and MA student, I had opportunities to work with some of Penn State’s most acclaimed teachers.  I noted that students responded well to passion and enthusiasm in their professors, that they enjoyed chances to break into groups and talk, benefitted from field trips, and appreciated the incorporation of alternative media into their classes.  In Prof. Jack Spielvogel’s courses, we pursued all of these avenues – scheduling small group discussions to augment large lectures, taking the students to the Holocaust Museum, and using pictures, films, and music to bring the lectures to life.  Of course, in the early nineties, this meant lugging slide projectors and boom boxes to the classroom.  The ease with which I am now able to embed video clips, photos, and music into my own class activities would have appeared magical in those days! 
 
My graduate studies at Cornell were pivotal in my intellectual development.  I honed my skills in research, writing, and analysis while immersing myself in the theories and literature that shape modern European and American intellectual and cultural history.  Participating in Cornell’s School for Critical Theory along with the History program, I discovered philosophers, texts, and ideas that would shape my approaches to teaching and learning.  I developed a particular interest in the ways that ideas about psychology and religion have shaped American political and popular culture in the 19 and 20 centuries.  My teaching at Cornell culminated in an undergraduate writing seminar about positive psychology and popular religion. 
 
Upon my return to Penn State in 2002, I was given a wonderful opportunity to expand upon the training in composition instruction that I had begun at Cornell.  The Penn State English Department provided me with superb professional development programs that enabled me to meet the challenge of transitioning from a primarily history based classroom to one focused on rhetoric and composition.  I became fascinated with the arts of persuasion and enjoyed exploring them with my freshmen.  In 2004, I embarked upon another new adventure with the creation of two new thematic history courses: The History of Madness, Mental Illness, and Psychiatry, and The History of Family and Sex Roles.  The last years of the decade brought yet another welcome new teaching project: upper-level composition courses in Business Communications and the Social Sciences.  I have found these courses to be exceptionally rewarding because they allow me to interact with students who are poised to embrace their new professions.  This enables them to deeply appreciate the practical and immediate applications of the skills that we develop.  As one student noted, “I have used all the ideas that I learned in this class to successfully obtain my internship.” It’s amazing to show Penn State seniors how to write job application letters and then share vicariously in their success and excitement when those letters help them win positions. 
 
Another exciting aspect of my recent teaching career has come through the World Campus.  Being able to design one of Penn State’s first World Campus courses was a terrific opportunity to work on the frontier of one of this century’s most significant educational developments.  The World Campus has grown exponentially in recent years and, by revising my own course and serving on the Outreach Committee with Faculty Senate, I have been privileged to participate in discussions about the new directions and future potential of this global endeavor. 
 
What’s next? William James’ notion that “truth happens to an idea, it becomes true, is made true by events…its verity is in fact an event, a process” forms a central component of my current world-view.  A philosophy of teaching is perpetually under construction and being co-created by the participants in the learning process.  When a student declared that our class felt more like a “learning experience” than a typical class, I recognized a major theme in my own philosophy: learning should be a vital, living experience; one that evolves as it happens rather than being predetermined by too many guidelines or rigid expectations. I would like my students to leave our classes with a heightened sense of awareness about themselves and the world, to take an active stance towards life and learning, and to develop a perpetual attentiveness to ideas and their effects in the world (much like William James himself).  
 
In keeping with my commitment to positive psychology in education, I would like to conclude this overview by looking towards the future with an eye towards aspects of my teaching that are working well and might form the foundations for further improvements.  I have found some of the following comments from students to be particularly validating and inspiring as I continue to evolve as an instructor and a person:
 
·        Dr. Miles definitely is a quality university professor. She has a vast store house of knowledge and does a wonderful job of sharing that knowledge in an exciting and educational way to her students!
·        I enjoyed the instructor’s passion for what she was teaching. She appeared to really enjoy the topics, and was able to make them interesting for us as well.
·        Mary Miles was one of the best professors I’ve ever had at PSU. Always willing to help, and a positive attitude at all classes.
·        Our professor was very fun and enthusiastic. She made learning about grammar fun. You could tell that she truly cares about her students and that she will do anything to help us succeed!
·        It was a pleasure to have Dr. Miles as a professor. It is obvious that she is very knowledgeable about each topic we covered, which made lectures very interesting. Dr. Miles is very pleasant and does a great job at making the classroom a positive learning environment. I thoroughly enjoyed going to class.
·        Dr. Miles’ personality it was so cheery and upbeat, really made me care about learning.
·        Professor Miles taught this class with great clarity and knowledge. What helped me learn the most is how available she was and how much she made it feel like a learning experience and less of a course.
·        Professor Miles is very enthusiastic about the course content, which contributes to a positive learning environment.
·        Prof Miles was fantastic. Enthusiastic and always ready and willing to help.
·        Mary knows what she’s talking about and obviously has a lot of experience in her field.
·        She is very inspiring!

Content Copyright 2012, Mary Miles.  All rights reserved.
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