A Conversation with Dr. Gail Mellow and David Yaskin

Faculty Guild recently announced its exclusive agreement to scale the faculty development model pioneered by the LaGuardia Community College Foundation (LGCCF). We sat down with Dr. Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, and David Yaskin, CEO of Faculty Guild, to get a better idea of what this means. 

How are Faculty Guild and LaGuardia Community College Foundation working together? 

Dr. Gail Mellow: Faculty Guild and LaGuardia Community College Foundation have entered into a licensing agreement that gives Faculty Guild exclusive use of the research, methodology and assets derived from our work as part of the Global Skills for College Completion project. 

David Yaskin: Yes, we are excited to leverage the resources available to us through this license agreement. It provides a wonderful foundation on which we will continue to grow and scale our offerings. 

Let’s back up a bit. What was the impetus for the research project?

Dr. Gail Mellow: Throughout my career, I’ve been continually struck by the individual students who have overcome great challenges to achieve and succeed—forever changing the trajectory of their own lives and the lives of their families. I’ve also been struck by how many students don’t get this opportunity. For a myriad of reasons, a large percentage of students don’t make it through. An interesting fact emerges when we look at individual faculty members. Some of them, teaching the same classes to the same kinds of students, do much better than others at helping students learn. I have witnessed inspired teaching by amazing faculty.

As I enter the last phase of my career, I desperately want to find a way to support the professional development of all faculty who teach the hardest to serve. I want every one of our students to achieve against all odds, climb from poverty to middle class and realize their greatest aspirations. It was this desire to support faculty that led to the creation of the Global Skills for College Completion, a research and demonstration project. We documented this work in a book Taking College Teaching Seriously: Pedagogy Matters! It was our way of sharing our thinking and detailing how to help college faculty improve their own teaching so that more students succeed. 

How many faculty members were involved in the development of the methodology?

Dr. Gail Mellow: With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, the research project was conducted in two cohorts—from 2010 to 2016. In total, we worked with more than 300 faculty members across 40 institutions. 

What results did you document in the research phase of this work?

Dr. Gail Mellow: Changes in student achievement in both cohorts were promising, affecting retention and pass rates with differences ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent improvement. Of greatest interest, was the improvement among students of part-time professors, which was 14 percent to 15 percent. 

Faculty Guild has been around for a little more than a year. How many colleges and universities have joined Faculty Guild to date?

David Yaskin: We are working with more than 35 institutions, including all of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Towson University and University of Memphis. We are encouraged by the response that we have received across higher education—including  two-year and four-year institutions—in support of full-time and part-time faculty and graduate students as well as new and mid-career faculty. In many ways, institutions see the opportunity to support teaching, and support faculty in particular, as a unifying strategy that brings all of their various student success initiatives together and into the classroom. 

David, before Faculty Guild, you founded Starfish Retention Solutions. Why have you turned your attention to faculty?

David Yaskin: I’m proud of the work we achieved with Starfish and grateful that the community continues to thrive as part of Hobsons. At Starfish, we always knew that what happened in the classroom was fundamentally what mattered the most to improve student outcomes. We prided ourselves on making it easy for faculty members to share a concern for a student with an advisor, or to recognize a student for doing great work.

While experts in their field, the majority of faculty received little to no formal training in instruction. Professional development efforts vary widely across higher education. We started asking simple questions like: How are faculty being supported in their teaching? How are they connecting their classroom activities to the evidence-based instructional practices? How does the institution know their professional development efforts are working and should be further scaled? It’s in this context that we were drawn to the idea that we can do something, and Faculty Guild was born. And, ultimately, this is what drew us to the work of Dr. Mellow and her team at LaGuardia. 

Dr. Mellow, what drew you to want to work with Faculty Guild?

Dr. Gail Mellow: I am very proud of the work that our research team accomplished, and I wanted to ensure that it would be in good hands. In my conversations with David, it is clear that he has both a passion for helping higher education address some of its toughest challenges, and he also has a proven track record for creating scalable, valuable businesses. We are excited to see what the future holds. 

Will you have a role in Faculty Guild going forward?

Dr. Gail Mellow: Yes, I am serving as a senior advisor to the company. I look forward to collaborating with the Faculty Guild team to further enhance the model, software platform and fellow experience to ensure that institution leadership and faculty members find distinctive value in what Faculty Guild is offering. 

What’s next for Faculty Guild?

David Yaskin: At Faculty Guild, we are starting what we hope will become a movement – we call it the Teaching Success Movement. The premise is that what happens in the learning environment is as important as content knowledge and research, and we must work together as institutions, foundations, research groups and businesses to offer solutions that faculty members both enjoy and grow from. We look forward to building on the work led by Dr. Mellow and the LGCCF and furthering our contributions to this important movement.