My approach to teaching is informed by my commitment to education as a collaborative enterprise best pursued through pedagogies that involve every student in the learning process. As an educator, I am invested in developing dynamic classrooms utilizing creative strategies and activities that inspire student engagement with me, assigned materials, and each other. As a result, I view each class as an opportunity to generate a learning community where students, working together, are inspired to take ownership of assigned materials and class topics through thoughtful discussion and analysis.
One of the ways I encourage students to take ownership of class topics is by empowering them with both theory and methodology at the beginning of each semester. For example, when I teach my course “Women and Religion in America Today,” students spend the first few class sessions reading and analyzing key concepts in theories of lived religion and ethnographic methodology. They then mobilize what they have learned as they explore course content throughout the rest of the semester by addressing various ways assigned primary and secondary source materials utilize these theoretical and methodological approaches. When writing their summary-analysis papers, which are designed to prepare them for our seminar-style class sessions, students address what they see as the strengths and limitations of the assigned author’s theoretical and methodological approaches supporting their claims with textual references. This encourages students to actively and critically engage with assigned materials beyond simply learning content.
I am committed to facilitating seminar-style class sessions that are flexibly structured so that students can focus on topics from the assigned readings that they find relevant, challenging, or confusing. After working with students to form a solid foundation as a large group, I usually then facilitate paired or small group work to explore what they are learning in new and synergetic ways. Memorably, during one “Modern Religion and Culture” class session, we used sidewalk chalk outside on a beautifully sunny day to sketch timelines in preparation for an upcoming exam. By the end of our session, students were collaborating to construct visual representations of class materials in colorful, creative ways—including timelines in the shapes of maps, umbrellas and balloons—that we then ended up photographing for reference later as they prepared for their final exam.
I like to have semesters culminate in a series of peer-led mini lessons that students are responsible for crafting and executing with their classmates. Each lesson incorporates primary and secondary source materials, a lecture or activity, and a facilitated group discussion. In one iteration of my “Women and Religion in America Today” course, there was a lesson on yoga and cultural appropriation in the United States that was particularly compelling in that it asked fellow students to think about their own compliance with culturally appropriative practices embedded in an activity in which nearly everyone had participated. I find that concluding the semester with these mini lessons reinforces for students not only the importance of being mindful of theory and methodology but also, more importantly, their own potential in being contributing members of their academic communities.
In recognition of my success in teaching at The University of Iowa, I received the Rev. Louis P. Penningroth Award for excellence in teaching and mentoring from the Department of Religious Studies in 2018. My effectiveness in the classroom is also attested to by my course evaluations. Statistically, I have been rated among the highest performing instructors both in my department and in the College of Liberal Arts Sciences more broadly. One student from my “Digital Media and Religion” course commented: “This has been my favorite class so far! Each class we are presented with new ideas and ways in which to view the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to both the instructor and my classmates’ ideas on the topics covered in class.”
In all of my roles as an educator—as a teacher, a mentor, an advocate, and a facilitator—I aim to empower students with the knowledge that they are capable of not only contributing to but actually shaping the contours of their academic experiences. By the end of our time together, I hope that students leave my classes believing they are valuable and contributing members of their learning communities, both on campus and off.
University Teaching Experience
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Instructor
Religion in American Life (RLCL: 2124), Fall 2021
World Religions (RLCL: 1014), Fall 2021
The University of Iowa, Instructor
Harry Potter: Mystery and Magic of Life (RELS:1997), Fall 2020
Women and Religion in America Today (RELS: 2986), Spring 2020
Digital Media and Religion (RELS: 2930/COMM:2079), Spring 2018
The University of Iowa, Teaching Assistant
Modern Religion and Culture (RELS:1250/HIST:1050), Spring 2017, Spring 2021
Medieval Religion and Culture (RELS:1225/HIST:1025), Fall 2018
Harry Potter: Mystery & Magic of Life (RELS:1997), Fall 2017
Digital Media and Religion (RELS:2930/COMM:2079), Spring 2017
Religion in America Today (RELS:1702), Fall 2015, Fall 2016
Religion and Sport in America (RELS:2877), Spring 2015, Spring 2016
The University of Iowa, Teaching Practicum Participant
Magic Machines:Technology and Social Change (COMM:4153), Fall 2015
Women and Power in U.S. History Through the Civil War (GWSS:3280/HIST:3280), Fall 2016
Concordia College, Teaching Assistant
Introduction to Religion (REL 100), Fall 2013
Catholicism (REL 328), Spring 2013
Religion and the Body (REL 382), Spring 2013
Women’s Religious History (REL 374), Fall 2012
Online Teaching Resources
My approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion has been profoundly shaped by my experiences tutoring ELL learners over the last dozen years or so. The challenges that immigrants and refugees face very rarely stem from a single aspect of their identities; rather, they—like all of us—interact with the world through intersecting identities related to categories like race, gender, sexuality, income, immigration status, and religion. As a result, I am committed, as an educator and researcher, to engaging with my students, colleagues, and fellow community members by acknowledging and celebrating our intersecting identity categories.
As a volunteer with a variety of service organizations that specialize in ELL programing for immigrant and refugee populations (including the Somali Services Coalition, Giving+Learning, and the YWCA), I have learned that the most effective teaching occurs when we, as educators, attend to the unique needs of our students. For example, standard ELL programming may not always address the particular experiences of adult learners. Because ELL students are often navigating complex legal systems as they work through the immigration process, for instance, they may be better served with classes that unpack some of the complex legalese they are expected to negotiate for themselves and their families. As the spouse of a now naturalized citizen—my partner is a Palestinian who grew up in Lebanon—I have learned firsthand the stress and uncertainty that accompanies the naturalization process, particularly in a political climate that is often hostile towards immigrants broadly and Arabs more specifically.
As an educator at The University of Iowa, many, but not all, of my students were racially privileged and a considerable number of them from rural Iowa, often with little experience interacting with diverse communities. I myself am from a very small town in Minnesota and grew up in a decidedly racially and ethnically homogenous environment. In light of this, I have worked to centralize diverse materials, methodologies, and theoretical approaches in my classes to equip my students with the tools necessary to engage and thrive in more diverse environments. For example, while it would, perhaps, be easier to teach a more standard version of a world religions course centralizing texts, institutional histories, and male experiences, my world religions syllabus centralizes questions of gender and what we learn about various religious traditions when we look to the margins rather than to the center.
As a scholar, I embrace diversity both in terms of my methodological and theoretical orientations as well as in my choice of subject matter. In addition to my work on North American religions, including mainstream denominations, new religious movements, and indigenous spiritualities, I have extensive graduate training in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies as well as considerable fluency with Islam and the history and politics of the Middle East. I approach these diverse topics by applying innovative theoretical perspectives like new materialisms and affect theory, which lend themselves to novel interpretations of the relationship between individuals and their various environments.
Finally, I am committed to seeking out service and public engagement opportunities that specifically address intersectional concerns both on campus and in my community, from more explicitly activist engagements in the forms of marches, sit-ins, and rallies to more educational opportunities like leading and participating in workshops and discussions. During my time at The University of Iowa, I served on the UI Council on the Status of Women and participated in the Iowa N.E.W. Leadership Institute. Additionally, I regularly offered workshops through a variety of local community organizations that worked to raise awareness and dispel misunderstandings concerning women and gender in Islam. In the future, I intend to continue to implement my intersectional feminist values through my research, teaching, and service both on and off campus.