Dr. Grace Pai, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies



July 8, 2021 | Academics, Faculty, Faculty Feature, First Year Experience, Global Guttman, International Education

Dr. Grace Pai

Dr. Grace Pai

“I love and live off of the ‘aha’ moments students have in class when they suddenly understand or build a new understanding of a concept. That has always been what excites me about teaching, whether it’s in a math class or a seminar course.”

In addition to the value she places on new ideas that come into being for individual students, Dr. Grace Pai sees “a career in education as a means of alleviating poverty and bringing about social mobility and equality.“ She does not mince words about “a lack of equity that too often leads to social stratification” and the scope of this crisis: “I’ve always found it astonishing that in a ‘developed’ knowledge economy like the United States’ that stresses the importance of obtaining a college degree, we still have about 15% of students who don’t even graduate from high school.” Experienced as a counselor and math teacher in NYC public schools and holding a Ph.D. in international education and development with a specialization in applied statistics for program and impact evaluation, Dr. Pai is a powerful emerging voice in the critical areas of global learning, culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as they relate to race in America. During just the last turbulent year, beset by the global pandemic, the Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies has presented or spoken at over a dozen events on CRP, Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), and racial justice.

Determined “to study, enact, and produce scholarship on cultural responsiveness and culturally relevant pedagogy,” Dr. Pai’s peer-reviewed articles have appeared in the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year College’s flagship journal, MathAMATYC Educator, and the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. She is the author of the peer-reviewed book chapter, “’I am a wicked somebody’: The experience of not going to school in a schooled society,” to be published in the forthcoming Education in Global and Transnational Spaces in a Rapidly Changing World. In it, Dr. Pai “explores how out-of-school children and families in rural sub-Saharan Africa have historically experienced the process of universalizing education in postcolonial Africa and how that has changed since the 1970s.” As a 2021 Fellow in the competitive CUNY Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP), she has been revising this piece, which she hopes to turn into a larger book project.

It was Dr. Pai’s time in the Peace Corps, being “one of relatively few PCVs Peace Corps Volunteers of color even to date,” that cemented her commitment both to “research on expanding global learning for the underserved and understudied population of urban community college students,” as well as to “creating more international opportunities for students who systemically have had less access to the transformational experience of going abroad.” This “is a form of DEI work that is personally important to me,” Dr. Pai emphasizes, and one of the main reasons she chose to teach at Guttman. “Very few community colleges prioritize study abroad or global education programs for their students,” the way the College has through establishing course-based opportunities for study and research while traveling known as Global Guttman. Having served as its Program Coordinator, Dr. Pai delights in “students’ mounting excitement during pre-departure workshops and their energy and new perspectives on the world upon return from a trip with their class abroad/away.”

Further establishing global learning at the College, Dr. Pai has spearheaded the Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) initiative and incorporated the teaching practice into her own courses. For instance, “students in my Statistics B class collaborated on virtual icebreaker activities and a cross-cultural assignment” with students taking a Marketing for Gastronomy course at the Universidad del Caribe in Cancún, Mexico. “They ended the module by presenting their final survey project, which had to relate to food, to their peers in Mexico.” One of Dr. Pai’s students reported that “this project has changed my view on my heritage, by wanting to explore more about my background.” Eager to champion “a global mindset” that gets our graduates “ready to lead the next generation in building bridges of understanding and tolerance across different cultures,” Dr. Pai piloted the Global Curriculum Project, a series of workshops on internationalizing their curriculum for 12 Guttman instructors, held in 2019-2020.

Because “curriculum play[s such] a central, but often overlooked role in teaching and learning,” Dr. Pai is inspired that the faculty she joined full-time in 2017 are “not only instructors. We are curriculum developers. No faculty simply copies a course or hits ‘repeat’ on a class they taught before.” She is thankful to her colleagues for “continuous[ly] search[ing] to revise and refine their lessons and practice” and for “pushing me to do better.” To keep enhancing the math courses she teaches in the First-Year Experience and the Liberal Arts and Sciences Program of Study, Dr. Pai focuses on “two core goals: developing curricula that are engaging and culturally responsive to our students and building an inclusive class environment where every student feels they belong.”

Reinforcing her approach as “a facilitator of learning through carefully selected problems that I model, deliberately planted Socratic questions, and meticulously designed curricula,” Dr. Pai is simultaneously invested in nurturing “individual relationships with students and getting to know their personal aspirations and challenges beyond the course.” As the Co-Advisor of the College’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, she has been supporting members on the recently completed “Amplifying Student Voices project, a student-run website designed to provide ALL Guttman Grizzlies with a platform to share their stories; promote equity, diversity and inclusion; and engage peers in developing individual and community wellness.” Always putting students first in her teaching, service, and scholarly activities, Dr. Pai strives to “apply cultural relevance theories and frameworks more widely – to areas like assessment or education policies – in order to achieve greater system-wide change.”