Student Organizations MASSPIRG, SGA Recognize Cost-saving Measures by Faculty

Faculty members Carole Salmon, Brent Shell and Leslie Ferris during the zoom ceremony
Faculty members, from left, Carole Salmon, Brent Shell and Leslie Farris were among the 27 'OERscar' winners, which recognized those who save students money by using open educational resources in their courses.

By Ed Brennen

They didn’t receive a shiny statue like at the Academy Awards, but for the 27 UMass Lowell faculty members recently honored at the university’s first “OERscars” ceremony, the thanks from students was even more rewarding.

Organized by students from the university’s MASSPIRG chapter and Student Government Association (SGA), the virtual OERscars event recognized UML faculty who use free or low-cost digital textbooks and open educational resources (OERs) in their courses. OERs are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium — digital or otherwise — that are in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access.

“I guess we’re supposed to thank the Academy, but instead I’m going to thank the students,” quipped Assoc. Prof. of French Studies and Culture Carole Salmon, who received the most student nominations for the award. 

Salmon said she’s been using OERs in her courses “since I can remember” to save students money — and also because they better align with her teaching style.

“I realized very quickly that the only way to make my class as fun and as relevant as possible was by going to open resources,” she said.

UMass Lowell has taken a series of steps in recent years to encourage faculty to use e-books to help students save money and keep them in school.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Julie Nash, who is part of an affordable textbook working group with students, faculty and administrators, told attendees that she has noticed a “cultural shift” toward e-books over the past five years.

MASSPIRG vice chair Ashley Greene talks on Zoom
First-year student and MASSPIRG chapter vice chair Ashley Greene emceed the virtual OERscars ceremony on Zoom.

“The faculty honored here today have been leaders in advocating for students and keeping this issue in the foreground in their departments and colleges,” Nash said. “It says a lot about our students that they organized this event so they could say thank you.”

First-year student Ashley Greene, vice chair of UML’s MASSPIRG chapter, emceed the ceremony. She described her own struggles with paying for textbooks — and how the student organization is committed to helping faculty transition to e-books.

“Studies show that when students have an opportunity to use low- or no-cost materials, students feel more motivated and get better grades,” said Greene, an Uxbridge, Massachusetts, native who is majoring in English with a journalism and professional writing concentration.

SGA president-elect Neyder Fernandez noted that, in a recent survey conducted by the organization, more than 80% of students said that an affordable education was highly important to them.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and if there is any way we can make it more accessible and equitable, that would make the university better,” said Fernandez, a political science major from Lowell.

Among the guests was Robert Awkward, OER statewide coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. He noted that, since 2014, students at public institutions statewide have saved more than $7 million by using OERs.
SGA president-elect Neyder Ferrnandez talks on Zoom
President-elect Neyder Fernandez said the Student Government Association is committed to helping make textbooks and course materials more affordable for all River Hawks.

“This is a movement, and we’re glad to have you all be part of this,” he said.  

He also praised the work of Assoc. Director of Academic Technology Donna Mellen, who represents UML on the statewide OER Advisory Council.

Many of the honorees thanked the UML Library staff, who provide several ways for faculty to find open access textbooks for their courses.

Tracy Michaels, an assistant teaching professor of English, said that with her classes being held virtually this year because of the pandemic, she had students learn about research by digging into the library’s databases.

“I decided to completely embrace the whole online aspect of teaching and save as much money as possible in these difficult times for students,” she said.  

OERscar honorees were nominated by students and fellow faculty members. The winners were:

  • College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: Tracy Michaels (College Writing); Giulia DeLisle (Italian); Angelica Duran-Martinez (Political Science); Susan Tripathy (Sociology); Yahayra Michel (Criminal Justice); Lauren Fogle (History); Cheryl Llewellyn (Sociology); Christina Beaubien (Spanish); YuLuo Rioux (Chinese); Maria Matz (Spanish); Carole Salmon (French)
  • Kennedy College of Sciences: Michael Ross (Chemistry); Jennifer Gonzalez-Zugasti (Mathematical Sciences); Ken Levasseur (Mathematical Sciences); Reza Ahmadzadeh (Computer Science); Johanna Choo (Biology); Suzanne Young (Chemistry); Leslie Farris (Chemistry)
  • Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences: Arlee Dulak (Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences); Michelle Hunt (Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences); Michelle Williams (Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences); Karen Hammerstone (Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences); Karyn Heavner (Public Health); Brent Shell (Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences); Angela Wangari Walter (Public Health)
  • Francis College of Engineering: Chiara Ghezzi (Biomedical Engineering)
  • Manning School of Business: Elissa Magnant (Management)