“Guttman is a community of exceptional scholars that care deeply about teaching and learning and are at the forefront of rethinking the community college experience.”
Dr. Nicole Kras’ academic background is rooted in psychology and education. She earned a Ph.D. in Adult Learning and Development from Lesley University, as well as a Master of Science in Education and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study as a Classroom Teacher Specialist from Southern Connecticut State University. Dr. Kras has also received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a concentration in child development and mental health, and a Master of Arts in Art Therapy from Albertus Magnus College. She serves as an accreditation self-study reader for the Council for Standards in Human Services Education (CSHSE) and is currently leading the self-study accreditation process for Guttman’s Human Services Program. She is actively involved on the Board of the New England Organization for Human Services, serving in many elected positions, including the former president of the organization.
Before entering higher education, Dr. Kras was an elementary school teacher for many years. She also used her background in art therapy to support various populations in different spaces. In higher education, Dr. Kras has served as the academic director of a human services program (at the bachelor and associate level) as well as the academic director of a child development and psychology undergraduate program. Dr. Kras came to Guttman in 2018 because of the College’s progressive approach to education. “Guttman is a community of exceptional scholars that care deeply about teaching and learning and are at the forefront of rethinking the community college experience.”
At Guttman, Dr. Kras has taught Fieldwork and Integrative Seminar I and II, Introduction to Urban Community Health, Methods of Intervention, Health and Human Services Policy, and Ethnographies of Work I and II. She takes a humanistic approach to teaching and course design, focusing on the whole student with an emphasis on personal and academic growth. “I strongly support the rich integration of experiential learning both and try to encourage students to find ways to creatively express the knowledge they have obtained.”
Indeed, one of Dr. Kras’ favorite experiences since arriving at Guttman was going to the Central Park Zoo with her Ethnographies of Work students. During the visit, students learned about careers related to the zoo (e.g., animal care, marketing, security, educational program development) while also having the opportunity to interact with some of the animals. Afterwards, students spent time in the zoo utilizing their ethnographic skills to collect data about the different careers for their research assignment. “It was a great experience and a fun afternoon,” says Dr. Kras. She also distinctly remembers leading an eco-art workshop for human services students to learn about the fields of art therapy and ecotherapy. “During the workshop, students created and shared self-representative pieces of artwork. The creative experience was meaningful and students were very engaged in the process.”
In November, Dr. Anya Spector and Dr. Kras organized a panel discussion for students on careers in human services. “We had speakers from the fields of psychology, early childhood education, marriage and family therapy, and human services.” In the Fall 2021 semester, Dr. Kras worked to get support from Guttman to provide ten human services students with the opportunity to attend the virtual National Organization for Human Services conference. “It was great to support students during this professional experience and receive feedback about the sessions they attended.” Dr. Kras encourages her students to develop a love of learning and to be passionate about acquiring new knowledge. “I also emphasize the importance of being open to learning from other’s rich experiences.”
Dr. Kras’ own research falls into three main areas: nature-based learning in higher education, human services program design, and the influence of nature on human development. Dr. Kras is presently exploring the potential benefits of nature-based learning (NBL) across disciplines in higher education. While much research has focused on the array of benefits that NBL learning has had in primary and secondary educational settings, there is a significant lack of research concerning NBL in higher education. Initial pilot studies on NBL conducted at Guttman have shown positive outcomes. As a CUNY Mellon Transformative Learning in the Humanities Faculty Fellow, Dr. Kras is concentrating on NBL in higher education.
When asked about what professional project she feels most connected to, Dr. Kras cites her research on the influence of nature on the lives of those who live in coastal communities. “I spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in and along the water. Exploring the benefits of nature and the influence it has on the lives of individuals holds meaning and is of special interest to me.”