Maho Sonmez: Supporting online instruction through peer mentorship
While instructors around the country were working quickly to move their classes online a few years ago due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mahmut “Maho” Sonmez was ahead of the curve, having already created college courses in a fully digital format for his department three years prior.
“I was skeptical at first about putting classes completely online,” Sonmez said. “But I’m glad I did it because it was an eye-opening experience. It made me better prepared for the challenges that the pandemic brought since I had developed online courses before it was a requirement.”
Sonmez, a professor of practice in the Carlos Alvarez College of Business’ Department of Management Science and Statistics, was approached by the college in 2017 to create an online course for the cybersecurity degree program. He later used this experience with online course development to help other faculty members as an official peer mentor, easing their transition as they switched to remote instruction.
First launched in 2020, the faculty peer mentorship program was created by the Faculty Success division of Academic Affairs. The program brings together groups of faculty to learn from each other about topics ranging from best practices in online instruction to research group management. Sonmez was selected to be a mentor for the online instruction peer mentoring team (PMT) in the summer and fall of 2020 due to his previous experience developing an online curriculum.
“I was one of the lucky ones to have prior training with online course transitions,” Sonmez said. “I learned so much from the digital learning specialists who helped me create the course for the cybersecurity program in 2017. Now as a mentor, I can share what I’ve learned to help other faculty adapt their own online classes.”
He made a strong impression on fellow faculty who participated in his PMT. Heather Trepal, a professor of counseling, was part of his team during the fall 2020 semester.
“Maho was a fantastic peer mentor. I was very nervous about teaching online for the first time and Maho could not have been more helpful! He shared his vast knowledge of best practices and tips for virtual classrooms. He also facilitated our group and encouraged us to do the same with each other throughout the semester,” Trepal said. “He is one of the most organized people I have met in quite a while—he sent out a specific agenda for each meeting to keep us on track.”
In his role as an online learning mentor, Sonmez helps UTSA continue to expand its online offerings and enhance in-person instruction. UTSA Online and UTSA Professional and Continuing Education have more than 30 programs—including online degrees, certificate programs and boot camps—that offer students a flexible learning environment. Additionally, UTSA upgraded more than two dozen classrooms with physical and technological enhancements that incorporate universal design and provide students with a consistent experience across modalities. With help from instructional designers in UTSA Academic Innovation’s Office of Teaching, Learning & Digital Transformation, Sonmez and other faculty can leverage learning technologies and engagement strategies to foster deeper learning and digital literacy skills that students require for their careers.
Born in Turkey, Sonmez first became interested in teaching while earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir. Sonmez was often the person his classmates would come to for help when studying for final exams, and he realized that mentoring came naturally to him. After completing a master’s degree in operational research from the University of Birmingham and a doctorate in decision sciences from the University of Manchester, he spent 10 years teaching management science, quantitative methods, and statistics classes at universities in Turkey and the U.K. before making his way to the United States.
“My wife was actually offered a job at Trinity University while we were still living in England, so I hoped to find a teaching position in San Antonio as well,” Sonmez said. “I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to teach at UTSA, so I try to contribute and give back as much as I can.”
Sonmez has been active in the UTSA community since arriving in 2013. In addition to being a peer mentor for online instruction, he also advises new junior faculty members when they join his department, and is currently a member of the Faculty Senate. Sonmez is also the Online Teaching Faculty Champion for the Department of Management Science and Statistics.
"I really enjoy being a faculty champion because I get to meet colleagues from different departments. Despite teaching different subjects, we’re all trying to improve for our students,” Sonmez said. “Although I’m the official mentor in these groups, it is a two-way learning experience for me. Through sharing our experiences we’ve had in the classroom and asking each other questions, we are all able to learn from one another."
Although his teaching experience is extensive, Sonmez doesn’t see this as a reason to stop learning himself. He continues his own professional development by participating in various workshops, such as the Quality Matters workshop offered by the Office of Teaching, Learning & Digital Transformation. His main takeaway from the course was to regularly conduct self-reviews for his teaching style and curriculum. Even if his students were doing well, he learned the importance of being open to new ideas to see where he could improve or adapt as an instructor.
When asked if he had one overarching piece of advice to give instructors regardless of the subject they teach, he summarized it into one word: experiment.
“For anyone who’s new to online teaching, don’t be afraid to experiment,” he said. “We are all still fairly new to the virtual classroom environment, both students and teachers. I’m constantly trying new methods in the classroom so I can find the tools that work best. The perfect online class has yet to be created, but each semester we can improve to provide the best possible experience for our students.”
Sonmez teaches the following courses:
- MS 1023: Business Statistics w/ Computer Applications I
- MS 3043: Business Statistics w/ Computer Applications II
- MBA 3053: Management Science and Operations Technology
- MBA 5413: Management Science with Data Analytics
Faculty interested in mentorship programs and opportunities can visit the Faculty Mentoring Hub for more information.
Read more Faculty Features about other interesting and accomplished faculty at UTSA.