As My First Semester Ends, My Second Begins

Last month, I finished my first semester on the tenure-track.  It was a very busy semester, but a happy and productive one as well.  I taught courses in General Psychology and Personality Psychology, submitted 3 manuscripts for publication, submitted and had 6 posters accepted to international conferences, advised students, served on committees, volunteered in the residential colleges, and attended as many professional development workshops as I could find.  I also made incredible friends and found fantastic mentors.  I’m tired, but I’m incredibly proud of all that I accomplished with the help of supportive colleagues.


Now I’m gearing up for my second semester.  I learned a lot from the mistakes of my first semester.  Yes, I’m perfectly happy in admitting my mistakes.  This was a new role for me, and I was bound to find some teaching and research strategies that, though they had worked in the past, were not suited for this environment.  But I’m excited about implementing changes that will allow for me to continue doing what works very well and to improve upon those areas that were less successful.


Just like my students, I am learning.  It’s fun to learn, and I look forward to transforming myself into a seasoned, tenured professor.


Posted in Academia, New Semester, publishing, research, Teaching

Excited to Connect to this Caravan

Hello, fellow “Caravanistas“!

I am excited about embarking on this active co-learning Connected Courses adventure, and  am looking forward to ‘meeting’ and exploring with all of you.

Posted in connected courses

Go Racers!

Just a quick note to report that I am settling in well to my new home in Murray, KY.  The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of paperwork, but it appears that I’m now a resident of “The Friendliest Small Town in America”.

Friendliest Small Town in America

I’m also settling well into the university.  I have an office and a lab, a faculty ID, and wonderful coworkers.


I’m staying busy writing syllabi, tests, assignments, and lectures.  I’m also working on completing required and supplemental trainings and preparing papers and manuscript submissions as I anticipate the demands on the tenure track.

I’ve explored my beautiful campus and town.  Have shopped for necessities.  Have learned how to cook on an electric stove (I previously had a gas range, so things like, “preheating” are new to me).  I’ve found the nearest craft and thrift stores.  And I’ve learned where to find the best pizza in town.

Now, it seems, the only thing left to do is to keep moving forward and to bask in the glory of being fortunate enough to have found my dream job.

Go Racers!

Posted in Academia, Job Market, New Semester, summer

Being a Caring Professor to Improve Graduate Engagement

This week is another busy week.  I’ve just submitted my students’ final grades, and I’m preparing to have family in town for my hooding on Friday.  Whew!

Just a quick post today to share an article from the Chronicle that shows how caring professors impact their students long after college.  In fact, having caring professors can improve engagement in one’s job after graduation.

College professors can positively impact their students’ outcomes by demonstrating some key characteristics:

College graduates had double the odds of being engaged at work and three times the odds of thriving in Gallup’s five elements of well-being if they had had “emotional support”—professors who “made me excited about learning,” “cared about me as a person,” or “encouraged my hopes and dreams.”

Yet many don’t:

The bad news, in Mr. Busteed’s view, based on Gallup’s findings, is that colleges have failed on most of those measures. For example, while 63 percent of respondents said they had encountered professors who got them fired up about a subject, only 32 percent said they had worked on a long-term project, 27 percent had had professors who cared about them, and 22 percent had found mentors who encouraged them.

So how do you, blogosphere, encourage, excite, and support your students?  And how do you encourage others to do the same?

Posted in inspiration, Students, Teaching

Using “my voice” in class

Maybe you didn’t notice, but I used my voice frequently in class. No, I didn’t talk about the specific needs for a returning combat veteran. But at times, I shared in the psychological struggle, the similar feelings associated with being “an outsider” to an established and close knit group, and the courage needed to stand up for my beliefs.


I started silent for first two classes and then found my courage to voice a different opinion – I noticed, seriously, classmates snickering when I would speak. It didn’t matter. I knew my perspective was different and something they didn’t want to hear, but something they needed to hear in order to be more effective when serving others.


My success and connection to the course is a direct function of the pedagogy employed – the student-centered, group-based learning community model. My courage to speak in class was derived from my belongingness, which began with the friendly folks in my learning community and spread to the class. The professor could have suggested to each student, “hey, go out of your way to befriend Shane, since he’s new to the cohort group.” But, I didn’t want to feel like a charity case. Instead, the course was structured in such a way that my success was a function of my teamwork, which required me to know my team.

It’s on me too

It’s easier to expect or feel entitled to getting extra benefits or even to complain when you don’t, but I learned early on that you are responsible and accountable for the success of a team. Thus, I held a 3-hour initial meeting with my learning community team in order to talk about their “why,” our shared and differing philosophies on people and education. It wasn’t the instructor’s responsibility to direct individual behaviors, but to set the goals and structure with suggestions for processes (e.g., work together and collaboratively on each project). I knew I was responsible for my learning and my group’s learning, and I took that role seriously.

Learning to “fail”

In class, we discussed the idea of “letting people fail to promote learning and growth,” but it’s not that simple. Failing and learning is moderated by two essential factors: mindset and social support. In Tagg, mastery vs. performance mindsets are discussed as one’s learning orientation as process (mastery) or outcome (performance) focused. If an individual with a performance mindset fails, s/he internalizes the failure, it does not promote learning and reduces self-efficacy. Additionally, if this individual or even a mastery-oriented person does not feel supported by a teacher or classmates, or even friends outside of the classroom, the failing could be catastrophic.  As we learned from visiting the architecture students, these students could fail and learn, because they felt connected and competent.

Competence and Connection 

In my learning from this course, I am even more confident that every organizational decision should include student competence and connection as the primary outcomes – not just as learning outcomes, but as effective measures for organizational outcomes. For every decision, we must ask: what specific resources does this student (or group) need to facilitate competence and community? And we shouldn’t employ an equality ideal, but rather one of equity. If a former solider needs significant resources for a student club or a resource center to attract other veterans and build relationships, we should provide it at a different level than the student who needs a club to sing a cappella. Objectively unequal allocation of resources is always a challenge to individual’s perceptions of fairness, especially among those receiving less, so our challenge is to alter environments disproportionately in favor of those groups needing more in order to achieve the same level of competence and connection as others.

What’s easy and profitable vs. hard and meaningful

In my numerous rants throughout the course, I think I embodied the perspective of a student veteran with the vision to learn from history and improve it.  Rather than be a usual suspect by working for Northrop, Lockheed, etc. on a high-paying salary, I wanted to re-write history so we don’t head to war again, rather than follow the big contracts to facilitate the continuation of war. Similarly, I am a year away from my Ph.D. in organizational psychology and the big jobs are waiting to fill those 6-figure “organizational consultant” roles. Sorry, but that won’t be me. My commitment is to people – finding a way to give psychology to the masses in order to improve the lives of students worldwide. I’m not a historian, but rather a futurian(??). I’m prepared to re-write history by practicing with the future in mind, but I need to know my classmates – those student affairs professionals and educators – are willing to join the mission.

Posted in Student Environment

Winding Down

Life has been hectic lately.  I was in the very fortunate position of traveling the country for job interviews and conferences while also putting the finishing touches on my dissertation.  While all of my data collection was completed on campus at Virginia Tech during the summer and fall semesters and the winter holiday, my writing had a less straight-forward path.  The results section was written mostly in a combination of conference hotel lobbies and coffee shops.  The discussion was completed in a total of 14 different states, in airports, in hotel lobbies, on various campuses, and even in the air flying across the country.  There were many sleepless nights during which time I wasn’t sure that it was all going to come together.

But it did.

I successfully defended my dissertation on March 21st, and I submitted a final draft of the document to the graduate school soon after, thus completing all of the requirements for my PhD.

So, with that one day, my whole life changed.  I’m Dr. {Psychobabble}.

There are still plenty of lose ends that need to be tied here.  IRB protocols to extend for data analysis, grant reports to file, documents to be turned into manuscript publications, and a semester of teaching to bring to a close.  Next, there will be many preparations for my new faculty life.  It’s exciting to begin the process of writing syllabi and finding textbooks again, and this time it gets to be supplemented by house-hunting and finding new friends.

It’s an exciting time, blogosphere.


Are you finding equal excitement in the end of the semester and the sunshine that springtime brings?


Posted in Academia, dissertation, Grad School, Job Market

It’s not our first rodeo…

Veterans, Civilians and Cadets

I heard the Student Government President talking about cadet-civilian relations. In fact, he suggested an executive cabinet position in order to improve those relationships. I don’t know much about that, but I do know I don’t fit in that dyad. We aren’t civilians and sure aren’t cadet members. I hate being grouped as a cadet.

I was sitting in Torgersen and talked to a student who asked why I wasn’t sitting with my friends – as she pointed to the cadets in the front row. I wish I had a soapbox to explain the difference. I’m not 18, young, naive, and protected. In fact, I am the exact opposite of those. I am a 31-year old protector with some wisdom and a plethora of experience that most people could only imagine.

I was reading an article from the Atlantic about other fellow veterans and a few words really stuck. “Universities have long been a place where young people develop a purpose in life. But for older students with wartime experience, those lessons have already been learned.” I couldn’t agree more, which is probably why I feel so disconnected. I am a different developmental level and place in life.

The first rodeo

Homer wrote the Odyssey about 600 BC. Who knew the message would foreshadow the experiences of so many veterans who are not returning home but rather to college campuses?

“If we did a better job of listening, history wouldn’t have to repeat itself.” This philosophy dictates my life. In fact, it was my sole reason for becoming a history major at Virginia Tech. How many times has such an influx of people like me.. required the university to alter protcols and procedures to meet needs. I recognize that it probably hasn’t happened for any person, but what about the institutional memory?

According to the VT website, world war I and II, Vietnam and Korea,  and now post-911 wars are producing nearly identical situations for students returning home. This isn’t a fad or a trend. It’s a reoccurring trend. And so, I hope to document my experience and the experiences of others to meet the needs of the next wave of veterans. I want to support the infrastructure and ideas that lay the ground work for this generation and many to come.



Posted in Student Environment

Grateful for Virginia Tech, but longing to belong

I recognize that I am lucky. After returning home and to Virginia Tech, a few of my buddies received calls from the University of Phoenix and other for-profit colleges. According to data from, degree completion for veterans is only 28% for students at for-profits compared to 56% for public institutions. I feel terrible that they don’t have the support I have. Here, we have a center and resources for dealing with all of the post-9/11 GI issues in order to pay tuition and support my family.

I don’t understand how ungrateful all of these students are for this gift of education.  I’m in this amazing class and everyone is texting and facebooking. Sure, the environment could be more inclusive, but it works for now.

To be honest, I am struggling in my classes. I cannot connect to students who sit next to me in class, or eat near me at lunch. I’m alone and confused about what might happen next…

Posted in Student Environment

“To this day Project” and helping Humankind remember to be both. . . .

Ever notice how synchronicity and connections occur when we’re open to them?  I was lucky to have such a moment last semester.  After a seminar conversation last fall on inclusive pedagogy and diversity, an undergraduate came in to grab some late evening study time in the GEDI seminar room as I was packing up.  I heard what sounded like a spoken word performance emanating from his laptop.  He looked up and asked if he was bothering me and I said not at all.  I asked him if that was a recording of him doing spoken word.  He said no, but wished he could make a powerful impact on people like spoken word poet and activist Shane Koyzcan does.  He struck up a conversation with me about Shane Koyzcan and and hit replay on the YouTube video.  I asked him to send me the link and he did.  So, thank you, Nathan Chung, for crossing paths with me on that Wednesday evening last fall and sharing, and making a powerful impact by doing so.  If you haven’t watched this before, Koyzcan brings the pain of being marginalized and misunderstood to all of our attention in his “To This Day Project.”

One aspect of our focus on inclusive pedagogy is to provide a welcoming learning environment and to find ways to model inclusive engagement in the learning communities we create with our students.  Most of the time we hope this happens of its own accord, but I’d suggest to you that we need to be actively involved in the process.  Our pedagogical praxis should focus on how we can encourage learners to choose to be their ‘best selves’ for their own learning and in their interactions with peer colleagues.  Learning can be uncomfortable at moments, and learning that changes our world view, that has us examining new ideas, new data, new discoveries that shift our understanding of the world around us—those are powerful moments, and sometimes they are powerfully unsettling moments. . .at least initially.  Those are the times when out of fear and insecurity and discomfort around change, our ‘lizard brain’ may kick in, and we attempt to make ourselves feel better/bigger/stronger by picking on someone who appears vulnerable.  You may have witnessed, or even experienced, behavior inside and outside of higher ed.  Bullying doesn’t just occur in K-12; we have bullying and emotional hazing going on in our university classrooms as well.  Should we think that ‘victims’ oughta just toughen up, we may want to remember that affective and intellectual connection go hand-in-hand.  This is not about rigidly prescriptive politically correct behavior.  It is about being human and kind.

We are all weird, as Seth Godin declares.  Indeed!  Small amygdalas should not and shall not rule.  Celebrate weirdness–yours and others’.

Living with PTSD at Virginia Tech: The fictional story of a 31-year-old veteran

Reflecting on my own story… again?

I remember college as if it were yesterday. I was a motivated undergraduate student, who sat in the first-row of every class with an attentive look and hung up on every word spoken by my wise professors. I must admit.. for the first day of every class… I was very annoyed. I wanted to learn, not hear the rules of the university explained to me as if I were a 6 year-old headed for the playground. Do we really need the university’s mission and disability policies at the bottom of our syllabus? If we cared, we could look it up.

Oh, how everything has changed.

After four tours serving the United Stated Army in Iraq, I see things differently now. Literally. My sight and hearing are off.

My first class… as me?

I am back on campus, an unfamiliar campus at Virginia Tech, using the post-911 GI bill to fund my next degree.  I review my class schedule only to find my first “class” is at the Math emporium. I get on a bus, feeling crowded by the other students. I walk in to the “empo” as they call it, but I am flashing back to a vivid memory. The six-person computer pods remind me of our six-person tents, each tent lined up only a few feet from the next. I know efficiency when I see it. Am I right? Yeah, totally confirmed by the professor who explains the “red solo cup phenomenon”. Just do everything by yourself and ask for help when you need it. When your red cup goes up on the computer, it means you need help from a math tutor. Well not me, I am not asking for help from some 22-year-old know-it-all wiz kid.

I am a number… and some?

I am not part of the 1%; I’m part of the 79%. The 79% who lost a close friend in battle when attempting to secure a post. And the 63%, who saw dead bodies in the streets. And the 60% who were ambushed on a regular day. Finally, I am part of the 36% who discharged a weapon. These numbers don’t define me, or us, but they are part of my story.

The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reports many more disturbing statistics related to my pains and perils. This explains the sounds — the clicking, buzzing, and heavy breathing. That clicking sound from the metal beam contracting inside the frame of every door… it sends me back to the same “click” – the trigger being pulled. I hear this sound with every person exiting through a doorway  - in the residence halls, classroom hallway, stairwell, and dining facility exit. At any time, it can send me back and remind me I’m part of the 36%. I can’t connect the dots differently in my head. I want to hear clicking and think about a door, but it’s not that simple. It’s not just clicking, the lights in Mcbryde  Hall take me back. Some of the light fixtures rival me for years spent in service. Instead of letting me retire after a good run (of say, a tour or two), they pushed me to four. I know how the dim light above my head feels, if it were to feel anything at all. But, I can’t feel connected to the object, it bothers me after all. The buzzing is constant. It’s the slightest of hummmm, but never stops. Nobody else but my comrades have ever heard this distinct sound, but I have. It’s the sound of eight electrical generators running all day and night to keep certain medical supplies and organs cooled before a surgery.


In order to truly put yourself into someone else’s shoes, you must attempt to live as if you were him/her. This is the start of my journey. After reviewing some of the research literature on military veterans and experiencing campus with a new lens, I came to write the story above. I sat in absolute darkness in order to hear every sound, listening for every kind of sound on campus that reminded me of a war movie.

I expect my voice to intersect with age, nationality, class, and disability status. I have been continuously schooled since Kindergarten, which is a stark contrast to someone who has spent four years overseas serving in a war. In short, a veteran has different experiences and a few years on me. Although, we are both Americans, I expect to see things very differently. As a Washington, DC native, I know the beliefs and politics of war, not the scars and pains from being on the ground. I also come from an educated family in Northern VA, which contrasts with the rural and lower SES typically exemplifying the average veteran. Finally, I have never had a mental illness or experiences intense trauma while many veterans do. The PTSD and other related abilities will affect my daily life, but I have more to discover. I am not entirely sure of my “voice” yet, but I am still searching. My point: Shane and a veteran are not and will not be the same.

Course integration: Espoused vs. Theory-In-Use (Learning Paradigm)

If our espoused values at Virginia Tech center around the Principles of Community, then our responsibility is to maintain policies and procedures at the university and individual levels to demonstrate our commitment. Unfortunately, our theory-in-use reflects a rigid and inflexible, one-size-fits all model where each student is treated similarly (i.e., equality over equity). Unless of course, you are an honors student who gets more attention and support than the average student. If you are a marginalized group, do something or keep on waiting , because it can take some time before real changes are made.

Course integration: Environmental redesign (Educating by Design)

Did we ever consider using human-centered design principles to maximize environmental change? Probably not. After 4/16, my opinion is that there was one principle in mind: Prevent doors from being chained again. Instead, we needed to search the possibilities rather than simply reacting to an event. If the “clicking” sound of the door is this troubling to a student, how else could we imagine new handles for doors with a design thinking process that also maximized safety in order to meet more needs? Could we ask all types of students to work with an Industrial Design course to redesign aspects of campus for everyone?

Stay tuned. Over and out. 

Posted in Student Environment