Today@Sam Article

Changing, But Keeping The PACE

Sept. 30, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Julia May

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Sam Houston State University’s Professional and Academic Center for Excellence is temporarily undergoing a change of leadership, but it won’t be missing a beat in terms of the services it offers.

Effective Sept. 1, Todd Primm, associate professor of biological sciences, has taken over as interim director of the center, while Marsha Harman, who has served as the center’s director since its creation, is taking time off to care for a family member. She will be teaching full-time in the Department of Psychology during the leave. 

“Todd has been very supportive of the PACE Center since the very beginning,” Harman said. “He came to the very first training program we had on Project Based Learning in higher education, and he has supported the teaching conference that we offer with his expertise and his time. He has always shown an interest in the development of the PACE.” 

Primm’s first faculty job was at the University of Texas at El Paso, which had a teaching-learning center similar to SHSU’s PACE on its campus. Having access to the center gave Primm the confidence he needed as a new faculty member. 

“My experience is very typical of that of many new faculty members, particularly in science,” he said. “We get our doctorates from taking courses that are 100 percent content. We learn practically nothing about how to actually teach a class. It shouldn’t be that way. 

“I went through a graduate program that is world-renowned in the biomedical area,” he said. “Then I started teaching in a university. I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t know what I was doing, and I needed help. 

“I became involved with UTEP’s teaching and learning center, and it opened my eyes to so many things that were out there, such as active and cooperative learning,” he said. “I also attended the center’s teaching conference, and it was a huge benefit to me as a new faculty member.” 

When Primm came to SHSU in 2005, there was no learning center on campus. However, it wasn’t long afterward that Harman was asked by university officials to chair a task group with faculty, staff, students, and administrators to discuss professional and academic needs. 

After listening to recommendations, the task group submitted a proposal for the establishment of a professional and academic center.  Since its establishment in 2009, Harman has served part time as the center’s director and part time as a member of the psychology faculty.

“Once I heard that PACE was approved and being funded, I was ready to become involved,” Primm said. “Now I get to play a bigger role, which is great. I believe that there are other new faculty members with stories similar to mine and that we can assist them in the classroom. Even those who have had some training find that it’s a lot different once you’ve actually started teaching.” 

The PACE offers services such as Project Based Learning training, the annual teaching conference, workshops on the art of teaching, and confidential classroom observations.

“PACE doesn’t try to tell people how they should teach,” said Primm. “We want to support professional development. We know that faculty want to participate in professional development; however, their schedules both inside and outside the classroom are so insanely busy that it’s difficult for them to carve out time for any kind of structured activity.

“We try to offer professional development sessions at convenient times, provide lunch, and furnish a few resources, and so far the response has been good,” said Primm.

PACE also hosts the Faculty Leadership Book Club and the Staff Leadership Book Club, featuring books on core and professional development. Each group chooses their own books. This fall, the faculty and staff have joined together and are reading “The Eighth Habit” by Stephen Covey.

“We also are now working with Staff Council,” said Harman. “They give us a topic and date, and we make the presentation available to all staff.

“The unique thing about our center is that we offer professional development for faculty, staff, administrators, and students,” said Harman.  “We also work across the disciplines, and we include other campus programs such as the library, online education and the Student Advising and Mentoring Center.

“So much is already being done on campus, and we don’t try to duplicate services,” she said. “We are always looking for new ideas, and we are proud of the fact that we have something to offer everyone.” 

For more information about PACE, visit

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