McMaster grads reflect on lasting impact of student partnership work

The front of University Hall in the spring, with flowers in beds and pots around the stairs

The postsecondary experience can be a transformative period in a student’s lifetime. While they are busy absorbing knowledge, discovering new passions and considering their future careers, they may not realize their unique perspectives can be a powerful tool in shaping and enhancing the teaching and learning experience.   

Former McMaster undergraduate students Zoya Adeel, Adina Silver and Stefan Mladjenovic had the opportunity to partner on several research projects with Katie Moisse, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Science beginning in 2019.

Their experiences changed the way they think about the student experience, bolstered their self-confidence and helped shape their future aspirations and careers.  

The Projects 

In 2020, Moisse, who has a background in both science and journalism, was awarded the Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship to support a research project evaluating science communication training in the School of Interdisciplinary Science (SIS). Moisse and her colleague, professor Sarah Symons, would examine existing science communication courses, propose new offerings and seek feedback from students as part of their work in the study.  

In 2022, Moisse and colleague Tahmina Shamsheri were awarded the IDEAS (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Sustainability) Grant to support a project that would examine the impact of hybrid-flexible (HyFlex) learning environments on student engagement and success. This research would also look at the impact of embedding meaningful opportunities for students to critique science and science communication through an equity and inclusion lens.  

For both research projects Moisse used portions of her grant funding to hire students who would help provide important learner perspectives and assist with the research and data analysis work.  

The Experience 

Stefan Mladjenovic, a former undergraduate student in the Life Sciences program, had the opportunity to work with Moisse as a student partner on the HyFlex learning environments research project and highlighted the importance of empathy from both the student and the instructor perspectives throughout the process.  

A headshot of Stefan Mladjenovic
Stefan Mladjenovic

“Katie is a hard-working, intelligent and exceptionally empathic mentor and educator,” said Mladjenovic, who is now a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto in the Biomedical Engineering program. “Being a student that analyzes data on student learning experiences also gives us a uniquely empathic perspective throughout the research process.”  

While working as a student partner on both the HyFlex research project and science communication project, Zoya Adeel highlighted the significant impact the partnership experience had on her academic and professional trajectories.  

A headshot of Zoya Adeel
Zoya Adeel

“Like many science students, I considered pursuing professional school but when I started working with Katie and became interested in science communication and pedagogical research, that changed,” said Adeel, who is now a master’s student at McMaster in Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. “Katie’s curiosity is contagious. It was her curiosity and passion for research that inspired me to take on my current role as a graduate researcher in a cancer immunotherapy lab.” 

Adina Silver acknowledged Moisse’s ability to work comfortably in partnership with her students — where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are recognized and appreciated. 

“One of the most significant impacts Katie has had on me is in the confidence she’s instilled. She has this incredible ability to validate your thoughts and opinions,” said Silver, who continues to support Moisse with her research while working at a non-profit organization. “You’ll have an idea and feel intimidated to share it, but she has an incredible way of validating and expanding on it. You gain confidence in sharing your opinions and ideas, while learning from her perspective and experience.”   

The Impact 

The constant exchange of ideas mixed with mentorship fuels a mutually beneficial relationship that has laid the groundwork for future course enhancements through Moisse’s research and set in motion new pathways, both academically and professionally, for Adeel, Silver and Mladjenovic. 

The research they participated in has now been published. Adeel and Mladjenovic co-authored an article titled Student Engagement Tracks with Success In-Person and Online in a Hybrid-Flexible Course, which looked at student perceptions and experiences with a hybrid-flexible teaching and learning environment — a study that began before the pandemic.

Silver and Adeel contributed to publishing an article titled Weaving Science Communication Training through an Undergraduate Science Program with a Focus on Accessibility and Inclusion, which examined the use of science communication training in science programs to help strengthen science literacy and preserve public trust in science.  

These articles represent something tangible that Adeel, Silver and Mladjenovic can take away from their work as student partners, but the experience of working with Moisse is what has left the most lasting impact. 

“Having her as my mentor was crucial in developing my confidence in professional contexts. I can unequivocally say that she’s changed the trajectory of my career,” said Adeel.  

There are many types of student partnership that exist at McMaster. The Student Partners Program (SPP) is one opportunity that enables undergraduate and graduate students to participate as partners with faculty, instructors and staff on projects that contribute to the enhancement of teaching and learning at McMaster.  

Interested to learn more about Student Partnership?   

Register to attend the upcoming Students as Partners Community Forum on June 26. The Community Forum is an in-person event held for the first time at McMaster University this year. The event will feature a diverse range of activities including a student panel, roundtable discussions and networking sessions. Attend to hear more experiences and insights related to student-faculty partnerships from unique contexts.  

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