Feature Stories 2023: Kristen Sethares enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration of teaching in the Honors College

Seated faculty member talking to student
Dr. Kristen Sethares, professor of nursing and a researcher in heart failure self-care, is teaching in the Honors College.
Feature Stories 2023: Kristen Sethares enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration of teaching in the Honors College
Kristen Sethares enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration of teaching in the Honors College

College of Nursing & Health Sciences professor is teaching two Honors classes in addition to nursing PhD courses

College of Nursing & Health Sciences Professor Kristen Sethares, who has taught in the Nursing PhD program since 2009, is enjoying teaching a different group of students—undergraduates in UMass Dartmouth's Honors College.

Sethares, whose research area focuses on self-care among cardiac patients, is teaching an interdisciplinary honors class that helps students develop their senior thesis project (APEX) and an undergraduate nursing research class. She also serves on the Honors College Curriculum Committee and the Honors Advisory Board.

“It has been a wonderful experience since day one,” said Sethares. “I have found the students to be interesting and highly motivated. Their interests are widely diverse, and I learn something in my interactions with them every day.”

Faculty from any discipline can request to teach in the Honors College.

“In Honors, we encourage students to think about big questions and solve multifaceted problems. By nature, then, much of what we do is interdisciplinary,” said Honors College Director Amy Shapiro. “We are thrilled to have faculty in all disciplines teaching for us, because each offers different perspectives on those questions, and different methods of inquiry. Our faculty have really enjoyed being able to stretch their expertise by offering new and innovative courses to a talented and eager student body. We love our interdisciplinary faculty!”

Students are invited to enroll in the Honors College based on their UMass Dartmouth application. Honors students enjoy small group discussions, first-year seminars, collaborative projects, and enrichment opportunities. Classes can be honorized by a student who works with a faculty member to decide a focus area within the course in which they wish to obtain more depth.  Then the student and course faculty design a plan with assignments and outcomes to be achieved for honorization to occur. This process allows students the flexibility to choose courses to honorize in which they have an interest or aptitude for greater exploration of content. 

The College of Nursing & Health Sciences currently enrolls a significant number of students in the Honors College with 49 nursing majors and eight Medical Laboratory Science majors.

“We're thrilled to have Professor Sethares on the Honors faculty,” added Shapiro. “Roughly 12% of students enrolled in Honors each fall are the Nursing and MLS majors, and she is a wonderful teacher, mentor, and role model. She's a skilled researcher and educator, and her work with students in all majors preparing for and doing their APEX projects is invaluable.”

Honors students influenced early research

Sethares first began working with honors students 25 years ago, well before the Honors College was officially formed in Fall 2020. She worked with a colleague and an undergraduate honors student on a research project that later became the basis for her dissertation. 

“That experience impressed upon me the talent and abilities of these students,” Sethares said.  “Our collaborative efforts combined to push our thinking forward about my research area, heart failure self-care. These bright students can help us solve some of our real-world problems if we capture their interest. When given the opportunity to be creative and say what they think, their ideas are usually amazing.”  

She has taught Honors 301 Honors Research Across the Disciplines for many years, a course that was developed to assist honors students in exploring topics for their senior research project called the APEX. Each honors student is required to complete an APEX Project focusing on either traditional research, a performance/expression project, or applied/service that includes internships, volunteering, or work in a “real-world” setting. The class also allows students to explore potential faculty mentors and a variety of ideas with faculty guidance. 

“This class is interdisciplinary which I enjoy.  Each discipline has a unique way of defining and addressing problems,” Sethares said.

In Nursing 261 Concepts of Scholarship for Nursing Practice Honors, an undergraduate research class, Sethares teaches nursing students about evidence and evaluating the quality of evidence to be used for nursing practice. In the honors section, students work on a small research project during the semester that enables them to learn some of the research skills they may need for their future theses.

“I love the interdisciplinary nature of the work,” she added. “I am able to work with colleagues and students from different disciplines.  Someone else may have a different perspective on how to teach a topic or answer a research question. I think that is really cool.”

Undergraduate research

Sethares is committed to involving undergraduates in her research. “I have had undergraduates work with me on all phases of my research, from data collection to data entry and analysis to final publications and presentations. I have also taken students with me for research meetings with collaborators and to nursing conferences so they can learn the processes involved in mounting a research study,” she said. “Many nursing students do not know that nurse researchers exist, and some have even become interested in pursuing this option and going on to graduate school.”

Nursing Scholarship Day
Dr. Kristen Sethares (left) with former PhD student Dr. Maria Vasquez on Nursing Scholarship Day.

Benefits of the Honors College for nursing students

“There are a lot of benefits to the Honors College for nursing students. Having smaller, more interactive classes can be nice for these talented students,” said Sethares. “The honors students also get to register for classes early, have special housing, and access to honors social events.  Students who complete the honors requirements graduate as Commonwealth Scholars, which can help with graduate school applications. 

“Our curriculum is pretty packed, so I want to be sure that interested students can complete the requirements of the Honors College while also finishing their nursing studies,” she added. “I also help faculty within my college with honors processes and curriculum questions. This further helps the students to be successful.”

Also teaching in the Nursing PhD program

Sethares continues to teach nursing PhD level courses; Nur 714 Quantitative Methods in Nursing Research, and Nur 730 Nursing Interventions in the Care of Chronically Ill Persons: Research, Theory and Practice. Both courses are offered in the second year of the PhD program. Last fall, she also taught a master’s level nursing education course fully online.

When she isn’t teaching or doing research, Sethares enjoys sports. She can be found on the golf course in the summer, playing in women's leagues and tournaments. In the fall and winter, she is a season ticket holder, cheering for the New England Patriots. And, in the interdisciplinary spirit, she also enjoys reading about history.