David Miele, an assistant professor in the Lynch School of Education (LSOE), was not aware that the Sesquicentennial Challenge chair existed until January, when he was told that he was named to the endowed professorship.
The first of up to 10 Boston College assistant professors to receive an endowed chair, Miele said the acknowledgment was a rare one for professors at an early stage in their careers. With the initiative, the University hopes to attract, retain, and support young faculty with their research and career development.
“[It is] a support mechanism for promising faculty, to make sure they’re on the right trajectory,” Miele said.
Each chair is funded with $1.5 million from University donors, including an anonymous donor who pledged to match $500,000 for every $1 million contributed by other benefactors. Miele’s chair was made possible by a donation from University Trustee John E. Buehler, BC ’69, and his family.
Miele, who came to BC last fall, said that young professors stand to benefit from the endowed chairs especially due to recent cutbacks on federal grants for scientific research.
“Particularly in the current funding climate, because of the federal budget, a lot of the major funding agencies have cut down the support they’re providing to researchers,” Miele said. “To get a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institutes of Health (NIH) is very difficult right now.”
After receiving multiple degrees from Columbia University and Northwestern University, Miele joined the faculty at the University of Maryland, focusing on his interests in social psychology, metacognition, and students’ motivation and emotion.
“It seemed very difficult to identify a single set of educational values that should be applied normatively,” Miele said. “To me, especially in this day and age when there are so many possibilities about what you could do coming out of high school or college, the ability to be an effective learner became one of my educational ideals.”
In addition to working with college students-the sample group he has best access to as a professor-Miele has also worked with elementary school children who are in the beginning stages of metacognition, self-assessing and evaluating their own learning. Miele sought a position at BC to be closer to his then-fiancee, now wife, who was finishing her medical residency in the Boston area. He said he found the counseling, developmental, and educational psychology department in LSOE similar to the human development department in which he taught at Maryland.
“I was immediately impressed with the department and the school in general,” Miele said. “It was clear that the faculty members are not only very accomplished and capable individuals, but are also very supportive and easy to get along with.”
Currently, Miele is working on research with colleagues from Maryland that he believes will be furthered with funds from his endowed chair. The project focuses on the relationship between parents and their children as students.
“It involves how parents’ beliefs about the nature of their children’s abilities in different domains affect the way they interact with their children when they’re engaged in academic tasks, and how this might, in turn, affect their academic achievement,” he said.
“We look, specifically, at whether parents believe their children’s abilities are fixed or innate, and can’t really be changed by hard work, or believe the opposite, that children’s abilities are malleable.”
At BC, Miele teaches a general survey course in the psychology of learning for undergraduates, as well as applied child psychology for graduate students and a course for doctoral students next year. Miele said that by doing more research, professors can gain not only a more sophisticated understanding of their field, but also renewed energy on their areas of focus.
“To the extent that you stay engaged and enthusiastic about the topics you’re doing research on, I think this comes across in your teaching,” he said.
Miele also noted how BC encourages faculty to give time and effort to both facets of their professorships-their students as well as their research.
“At top research universities, you’ll sometimes find an imbalance where they emphasize research over teaching evaluations when you go up for tenure, but here, I think they really put a strong emphasis on both,” Miele said. “I get the sense that the University now really wants to be seen as a world-class research institution, but without necessarily forsaking its original identity as a place devoted to undergraduates and their full development.”