Saving Space for Students

Picture of Lena Fletcher

Lena Fletcher’s first-day teaching in the iCons Program made her feel right at home.

“One of the first iCons team members I met was a senior who was very enthusiastic about the program and told me that I wouldn’t be ‘just a TA’, but an integral co-teacher on the iCons team,” recalls Fletcher – then a teaching associate in the UMass Amherst iCons Program. “I absolutely loved that – there was no feeling of hierarchy, and all perspectives and ideas were celebrated. That was made perfectly clear from day one.”

On a personal level, Fletcher appreciated the humility and respect shown to educators and students alike regardless of their individual skills, abilities, or differences.

“I used to suffer a lot from public speaking anxiety,” says Fletcher. “My face would get sweaty and red and my heart would race. This was tough as an educator who has to speak in front of large groups of people all the time. The support and encouragement that I received from the iCons faculty and students helped with the anxiety. Everyone was working on becoming a more effective presenter and improving their communication skills. Sharing my experience with the students helped them to relate, as many students struggle with public speaking.”

“I believe in bringing my complete self to work, and I want my students to feel safe doing the same.”Fletcher also found that the innovative teaching methods used in iCons resonated with her teaching philosophy and inspired her to try new approaches.

“I learned so much from the iCons faculty,” says Fletcher. “They improved my teaching and now I focus on students working together to solve big problems. I saw first-hand the value of team-based and problem-based learning – how students support one another through difficult problems, ask tough questions of each other, and depend on different perspectives and training to collaborate effectively on finding solutions.”

Eventually, Fletcher accepted a position as a full-time lecturer at UMass and no longer teachings in the iCons Program, but she remains involved to this day. She serves on the steering committee for the creation of iCons’ newest track, the Food, Water, Climate track and attends major iCons events like the annual Senior Exposition. She now serves as a Natural Resources Conservation Program Director and Senior Lecturer for the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass Amherst.

Fletcher believes that the deep connections formed between iCons faculty and students as collaborators, co-learners, and colleagues left a lasting impression.

“During my last day teaching in iCons, a student asked permission to hug me goodbye,” recalls Fletcher. “Then another student asked if they could hug me, and then another, and then all of them. It was indicative of the bond that iCons students feel with faculty, who bring their whole selves to teaching and are constantly learning from students. This is very different from the usual university experience.”

Because of her experience in iCons, Lena Fletcher now feels at home whenever she’s teaching, and that’s a beautiful thing.