UTF Mentor Spotlight: Clinical Instructor Summer Gunn

Widely considered the most difficult course in her program, SPED5040 (Instructional Design) was Instructor Gunn’s first experience with the UTF program. The course was known for its fast pace, high expectations, and newness of the instructional technology—but then-student Summer Gunn took advantage of the opportunity. As a senior she had been nominated to be a UTF, planning to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education—and she did. She added that the UTF program was influential in building her confidence to pursue a Masters’ degree and to teach at the University level.

Lauren VandeMerwe, current UTF for Instructor Gunn, gives advice for those interested in the UTF program, “[G]et to know your professors. They are way less scary that way!” Lauren also noted that learning from a professor behind-the-scenes and over the summer has benefitted her, and shed light on her mentor’s passion for the students and course content. “She is an excellent teacher and mentor! [She] has sparked my interest in possibly teaching at the college level someday [and] to pursue research opportunities.”

Lauren isn’t the only person that has benefitted from a mentor; networking and learning from mentors is a key aspect of the UTF program. While she was teaching in St. George, Instructor Gunn found a mentor in Dr. Higbee. He encouraged her to pursue teaching at the collegiate level and provided helpful insight in achieving that goal. “He connected me with employment that strengthened my skills,” noted Instructor Gunn, adding, “I continued to collaborate with him and his doctoral students to conduct research in my classroom.” Likewise, she recommends that UTFs make these connections and get to know their mentor, noting that “[Professors] are people too.” She adds that good UTFs “make relationships and lift others up.” Creating these relationships now can help students achieve more academically and build a network for the future.

Instructor Gunn realized her university teaching dream, and currently teaches Early Childhood and Special Education courses for the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation. Each semester she teaches a practicum course, alternating between a special education preschool and an early intervention agency. She continues in the UTF program as a mentor, and UTFs in her courses have unique involvement opportunities.

UTFs are assigned to train students in administering assessments to young children, followed by mentoring students in implementing instruction while planning for family interactions. Other opportunities include designing case studies for future use in courses, and assisting with preparation for course lectures and assignments. “I get to practice skills that I learned last semester and learn about the topics on a deeper level,” Lauren asserts. “This class is also really fun to work with because I spend most of my time working with the students or organizing toys we use for testing.”

Lauren’s advice for other UTFs–“Take advantage of the opportunity to interact with the students and be in front of a class…I believe when we have to teach other people about a subject it helps gain a more complex understanding of the material.”

Whether you are looking to gain experience, build confidence, decide on a career or network, the UTF program can help you achieve your goals. If you are currently involved or considering becoming involved as a UTF, consider Instructor Gunn’s assertion, “any deeper experience can help you in whichever direction you go.”

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