Dr. Sunita Iyer, SNHS Assistant Teaching Professor, took time out of their busy schedule to answer a few questions for us!
Tell me about your work. What are you currently working on?
My work kinda spans a few areas: mental and behavioral health, teaching, and some clinical care. This past year I have been very involved with an amazing team of faculty colleagues in two mental & behavioral health projects. One project is specifically oriented toward increasing the mental and behavioral health baseline of knowledge and literacy for healthcare-facing folks, which can include nurses, patient service representatives, medical assistants, and more. The other project has a similar objective in terms of mental & behavioral health baseline knowledge, but for K-12 school-based personnel. Both of these projects have incredibly dedicated community partner involvement and our team has been working so hard to assess needs, design curriculum, create content, launch content, and get feedback at a pretty fast pace! Given what everyone is navigating these past 2 years, it has really made mental & behavioral health in every sector so critical a consideration and really created a lot of need and enthusiasm for more knowledge.
Alongside these projects, I am teaching each quarter and it has been an equally interesting and challenging ride. Pivoting to all online/remote teaching, improving course content and delivery for much less (or no) in-person instruction, and then pivoting back to being back in person amidst the fear, trepidation, and grief of our students has really stretched all of my skills and learning as an educator far more than I thought! I have so much gratitude for my fellow teaching colleagues and for our Digital Learning team who share so many incredible ideas about how to do all of this as well as we were able.
Of your accomplishments work-wise, which are you most proud of and why?
This is a tough one, I can be a little hard on myself 🙂 I feel the proudest of how I was able to navigate the constant change in our learning environment and expectations over the last 2 years with both Health Studies and Nursing students, attempt to account for all of their social dimensions of health, well-being, and success, and remain flexible and adaptable every week. I won't lie- it took all of my molecules of patience!
What/who inspired you to choose this field? What/who inspires you now?
My sister and I used to play two choice imaginary games when we were kids: school and restaurant. When we played school, I was the teacher and used to make up whole lessons and give her homework. I was apparently very strict! Honestly, a big part of that is because of my parents. All of us were always reading, my mom used to give us summer homework and have us do every library summer reading program under the sun. It's true that some of it was the immigrant, cultural dream of having us be highly educated and therefore successful. Most importantly, they cared deeply that we were critical thinkers. We sat every night at dinner and talked about the highlights of our days, what we learned no matter how small, what we were challenged by, and what we could do better. Those conversations usually weaved into philosophy, ethics, or politics as we got older. And still do 🙂
What inspires me now is our students. I am really in awe of how much life they have in their lives. I was lucky enough to go to college with relative ease. I studied, worked, and played. I did not have to care for children, family members, or be concerned about my job providing anything other than my portion of rent, food, and beer. My students have so much more they are navigating to show up to class, to stay engaged, and to succeed. I am in awe of what they are able to hold, and it is one of the main reasons I aim to stay open, adaptable, and communicative with them so that we can shape their learning as needs arise.
What are your immediate plans for your work? What are your aspirations?
My immediate plans are to keep dedicating myself to the two projects I talked about above and, of course, becoming a better, more inclusive instructor. I always have a quiver of projects I'd like to launch! In my academic life, I want to become more involved in writing pedagogy and projects on campus as writing is one of my loves. I also have a strong interest in working with the local South Asian community in mental and behavioral health education since there are strong cultural and systemic influences that make these conversations very difficult in the community. I often also think about what I will do when I grow up. One of those things is that I would love to learn to be a sign (ASL) interpreter for people in labor and postpartum I have had some very impactful experiences that have stayed with me always, and it is one of the ways I would like to continue to be of service as a midwife without necessarily being the primary caregiver.
Why UW Bothell?
I chose to come to UWB because of the more close-knit environment, the ability to get to know my students and their needs so that I can be a better instructor, and faculty that is very engaged in collaboration and teaching. Shoutout to my SNHS faculty! They're awesome.
Besides their degree, what will students get out of attending UW Bothell?
I think that students can get a lot of what is true for us as faculty. The ability to build learning and professional connections with their instructors, classrooms and education that are engaged and collaborative, the chance to get involved in community-based learning, and the opportunity to become involved on campus and in leadership in a place that is supportive and not so anonymous.
How can students excel in your class?
Communication is key. Life hands us a lot of challenges, and some of what we are learning in this life so that we can weather those challenges is how to plan and organize ourselves, adapt when plans don't hold up, and then try again. That is what I want students to practice when they are learning with me. You don't have to be ashamed or bag the whole quarter because it didn't start out well, or because you missed some things. Come back to the table, let's figure out what you need to succeed or get by, and try again.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
Hanging with my son, my family, and moving my body! I like to play tennis and play in leagues and on teams. I lift weights, hike, and play golf (my son got me into that!). I also have 2 adorable and noisy dogs, Nori and Nico, who have featured in MANY videos and meetings in the last 2 years! I also try to savor the time to stare out the window. It makes me feel like my brain is more spacious!
What else would you like readers to know about you?
My goal by the end of 2022 is to self-publish the poetry book I've been chipping away at the last 2 years