The word “passion” evokes a sense of forward motion, of excitement and high intensity. It’s not often that we associate this powerful state with tranquility, but Emily Barrett, Director of Experiential Learning and External Relationships at the University of Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cyber Security, connects her passion for teaching with finding peace within her surroundings. Given the option to do one thing for the rest of her life, she would wake up each day at the lake near her home. Taking a pause to reflect and be thoughtful allows her to pour her energy into her students.
Ms. Barrett’s passion stems from a desire to pay it forward. She is inspired by the people who helped her throughout her education and early career. That focus, combined with a conscientious approach to the day, is an effective way to maximize students’ success in the program. She fosters learning through empowerment and a little tough love.
She cites three keys to help students shine: helping them feel trusted, valued, and empowered. Students come hungry for information. It is her responsibility to provide the foundation they need bolster their confidence to seek answers and create solutions on their own. Exercises and trainings give students opportunities to interact with hands-on materials, and at the same time require a great deal of trust in the system and the process. She adds, “Trust them to be engaged and get out of it what you want them to get out of it. Work hard to make sure they’re getting the best learning experience they can.”
Successful programs are dynamic. Barrett says it’s critical to administer surveys and welcome feedback to continually grow and evolve. “Provide a supportive voice that they are qualified and competent,” she says. After gathering responses and suggestions from students, she tweaks the program and adapts necessary changes to prevent stagnation. Listening to students is a strategic and circular relationship, providing valuable insight while helping improve the program.
When discovering ways to motivate students to succeed, Barrett approaches the challenge from a logical perspective. “There’s a certain logic to finding what makes you happy and passionate. Lean in.” She has found that her students strive for success but sometimes aren’t sure how to proceed when confronted by fear and uncertainty. To Barrett, it’s a matter of confidence.
One of her students participated in a swift water rescue training but didn’t know how to swim. The student disclosed this concern to her instructors and the others in the group. Together, they worked through her fears piece by piece, determining solutions to combat these feelings while providing a network of support. When it came time to jump into the water, she was the second person in, her confidence strengthened with the help of a baseline of trust in both herself and her team. “Talk [to students] about not being afraid. Show them they do have this capacity and sometimes they surprise themselves.”
To learn more about the University of Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cyber Security, please visit https://www.albany.edu/cehc/about-cehc.php.