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The road to college starts in preschool

We’ve all cringed during the movie scene when someone important calls with good news, and the recipient hangs up, not believing it’s real.

A variation of that theme played out earlier this year when University of Phoenix (UOPX) faculty member Kristin Basinger got a phone call from an unknown number. Provost John Woods, PhD, was calling to tell her that, out of more than 4,000 University faculty, she was being honored as one of 15 Faculty of the Year.

“It was a phone number I didn’t recognize, so I sent it to voicemail,” Basinger says.

That’s right. Face palm.

“I called Dr. Woods right back. He laughed and said I wasn’t the first one who didn’t take his call,” Basinger says. Some, he joked, were even worried they’d done something wrong.

All the right moves

Phone calls notwithstanding, Basinger has done many things right during her 21-year career.

Top on her list of achievements as an educator is the connection she makes with students. At UOPX, where more than eight in 10 students are employed and nearly two-thirds have dependents, Basinger creatively helps students acclimate to college and keep pace.

“I know my students have worked all day by the time they’re sitting down for school,” she says. So, she makes the reminder part a little more fun. She sends pictures of her dogs or makes Bitmojis or videos. She also makes herself available to students for questions, and she uses a tool called remind.com to nudge them when assignments are due.

“My whole big point is that I like to interact with students. That has made them — and me — successful in the classroom,” she says.

Basinger’s supervisor, Jenna Pavleck, who is a faculty development chair for the College of General Studies, seconds that. “The No. 1 impact of having faculty like Kristin is the value it gives to our students. She is always willing to try new things in the classroom,” Pavleck says. “And for our entry-level students, having a little extra handholding and being set up for success is important. Kristin gives them that and more.”

Because she teaches the first University course most students take, Basinger is accustomed to lots of questions. Of course, she got those at the start of her career as well, when her students were a bit … smaller.

“I started teaching with really young children — preschool. I loved working with younger kids,” Basinger says, adding that she soon moved on to first and second grades. She enjoyed working with Spanish-speaking students, so she earned her ESL endorsement and began tutoring students in grades 3 through 12.

Moving on to college

Things really clicked for Basinger when she went back to school to pursue a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction (MAEd) with UOPX. “I really liked learning online. I was motivated, and it was fun to do things on my own schedule,” she says. She graduated with her MAEd in 2006 with a singular goal: Someday she was going to teach online.

Someday happened fast.

Basinger began as adjunct faculty in the College of General Studies for the University in 2008 and became full-time faculty in 2013. Today, as one of the instructors for GEN201, Foundations for University Success, she stands at the figurative front door to college for many students — nearly 60% of whom come from homes where neither parent went to college. She embraces her role of helping them acclimate.

Basinger also teaches HUM115, Critical Thinking and Everyday Life. “That class is really fun, probably my favorite because we discuss a ton of current events.” COVID, vaccines, administrations — you name it, it’s been discussed. “When we’re talking about critical thinking, barriers and avoidance, interesting topics come into play.”

Her heart really gets going when her students let her know they’re using their learning in the real world.

“They might make use of a time management chart in GEN 201 and tell me how much easier it has been to balance work, school and home,” she says. “In HUM115, we talk about barriers, fallacies, rhetoric, etc. I have had students write to me about how something we learned — like recognizing fallacies in an argument — has helped them to react more positively in discussions or make better decisions.”

Always trying new things

There’s the side of Basinger that students get to see. Then, there’s the side her colleagues get to see.

“Kristin is an absolute, 100% dedicated, passionate educator,” Pavleck says, rattling off a litany of accolades.

Basinger currently serves on the University of Phoenix Academic Council, which creates, maintains, reviews and approves academic policies and procedures. These include admissions, programs, curriculum, and faculty- and curriculum-related policies.

She also volunteered to pilot a tool within the online educational platform Blackboard®, which enables faculty and students to meet live.

“She was part of testing it in our entry-level courses to see if it had a positive impact on students,” Pavleck says. “We have lots of data to show that it did have a positive impact, and now we’ve rolled it out to all full-time faculty in the College of General Studies.”

Basinger is also working to help revise the University’s Psych 110 course, a commitment that helps her use her UOPX Curriculum and Instruction background. “Our faculty are actually writing the curriculum,” Pavleck says, noting that they’re working with zyBooks, an online provider of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning.

So much has changed since Basinger helped little kids find their way around a preschool classroom. Now, she’s helping adult learners find their place in college.

“I started with the youngest and went to where I am now. It’s the greatest job ever.”