Toxic Mentoring

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a someone who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling positive behaviors. This relationship is extremely important for a multitude of reasons, primarily because the behaviors the learner acquires early on will stay with them through out their career. Effective mentors understand that their role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee. Unfortunately, not all mentoring experiences are positive.

As with any relationship, the mentor/mentee relationship has the potential to be dysfunctional or toxic. A toxic mentor is a term often used to describe a relationship that hinders or suppresses student learning, creates a dependency on the mentor, and results in diminished self confidence on the part of the learner.

Toxic relationships impact the learner and those around them, some of the resultant impacts are:

  • High turn over
  • Low worker satisfaction
  • Lateral violence – acts that occur between colleagues (e.g. bullying)
  • Fear and insecurity
  • Sabotage
  • Negative impact on health
  • Depression

Types of Toxic Mentors

The Avoider

avoider The Avoider is a mentor who is neither available nor accessible to the student to set and review their practice and goals or to provide support, challenge, and role modelling. Sometimes these mentors are over-committed, but that’s not an excuse for being non-communicative. Occasionally the realistic excuse of being too busy will hold water but the regular occurrence of this phenomenon indicates a mentor who is not at all committed to the task.

The Blocker

blocker2 The Blocker is one who hinders the learner’s development in a number of ways such as preventing them from accessing learning, over-supervising, or by withholding knowledge or information. They may also actively refuse a students requests for help or experience.

The Dumper

sinking The Dumper embraces the “sink or swim” mentality and will often deliberately leave the learner in situations where they are out of their depth and offer little to no assistance. This can obviously be dangerous and can have a huge negative impact upon the students’ confidence. This type of mentor will also take little responsibility for organizing meetings or learning experiences, leaving up to the student.

The Destroyer

inferior The Destroyer will use overt challenges and uses tactics such as humiliation that set out to destroy the learner’s self-confidence. At its worst this is done in public and has a huge impact upon confidence. Such mentors can also have a tendency to an over-inflated view of their own level of competence and can regard themselves as experts. One of the best parts of being a mentor is embracing the many challenges which students present as well as welcoming questioning minds and the desire to learn from the students. Once this the desire is lost the mentor needs to reconsider their role.

Habits of Toxic Mentors

  • Works with student much less than 40% of the time.
  • Frequently cancels meetings.
  • Regards student as a care assistant.
  • Will not let student do anything unsupervised.
  • Does not take account of level of learner.
  • Does not find out students learning needs.
  • Puts student in difficult unsupervised positions.
  • Does not broker learning experiences.
  • Frequently asks others to ‘look after’ the student.
  • Leaves the student to arrange everything.
  • Does not engage student in reflection on experience.
  • Feedback focuses upon the deficits and “weaknesses”.
  • Does not help with action plans.
  • Takes no responsibility for student learning.
  • Doesn’t attend mentor updates.
  • Is unfamiliar with the students paperwork and assessment.
  • Rarely aware of the evidence behind their own practice.
  • Does not acknowledge students prior experience.
  • Reluctant to embrace change.
  • Displays unprofessional behaviour.
  • Does not link work well with the multi-disciplinary team.

Dealing with a Toxic Mentor

To be clear, just because your mentor has any one of these tendencies does not necessarily make them a bad person or a bad mentor. Dealing with a toxic mentor is particularly complicated for graduate students due to the huge power dynamic. Often times the mentors are the ones who determine your success at the university which makes it especially easy for them to be taken advantage of. If you feel that your mentor is hindering your ability to succeed there are a few things that you can do.

  1. Consider a co-mentoring option to diversify
  2. Talk to your mentor directly about your concerns
  3. Talk to your university ombudsperson (Graduate Student Ombudsperson at Virginia Tech)

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Together We Rise

Together We Rise (TWR) is a non-profit organization located in Brea, California. Their vision is to improve the lives of foster children in America, who are often forgotten and neglected by the public. Through collaboration with community partners TWR is able to bring resources to foster youth and use service-learning activities to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system.

The state of Virginia has over 1,300 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. We have nearly half a million children in foster care in the United States, 1,600 of them enter the system every day with only what they can fit into two garbage bags. These children are being taken away by strangers and put into other strangers houses. They have often witnessed traumatic experiences like their parents getting arrested. What happens to them now can impact the rest of their lives.

The Sweet Cases program through TWR aims to change the way that kids experience foster care. Check it out;

To learn more about Together We Rise or to help out please visit


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I have had to deal with feeling oppressed and hated many times before – largely because I am engaged to a woman (not just any woman, arguably the most wonderful woman on this earth.) I am supposed to be understanding of other people’s opinions. However, when you have people telling you that your way of life, and basically your existence is wrong, it’s kind of difficult to be objective and not have any emotions invested in the conversation; so what does one do in this situation?

1. Recognize the hate speech & oppressive language

Let’s begin by defining what hate speech is; Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults individuals or groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.
Below are some examples of hate speech:

• Racist or xenophobic cartoons
• Anti-Semitic symbols
• Ethnic slurs or other derogatory labels
• Burning a cross in the yard of an ethnic minority
• Politically incorrect jokes that target the disabled or the aged
• Sexist statements
• Anti-gay protest signs and chants

Oppressive language is any word that uses an identity or an identifier of belonging to a certain group (class, race, sexuality, ability, gender, etc) as a negative or undesirable quality.

• “Asians are bad drivers.”
• “You are very ambitious for a girl.”
• “That’s stupid. That is so gay.”
• “You gave this to me, don’t be an Indian giver.”
• “I don’t want to do that assignment! It is retarded.”
• “I love you man, no homo.”

2. Recognize the origin

Do the comments you find offensive come from a place of genuine ignorance? Now – I don’t mean bigotry parading around as ignorance, I mean honest lack of knowledge or information.
When I was a freshman at community college I wrote a paper on the harms of LGBTQ conversion therapy after watching the movie “But I’m A Cheerleader” starring Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall. We had to do peer reviews and discuss these papers with others in the class. I never disclosed to anyone in the class that I was a lesbian because quite frankly, it was none of their damn business. Until one day a woman who was about 20 years my senior and extremely religious and conservative with whom I was acquainted with through several of my classes read my paper and started saying that conversion therapy was such a great thing and so on in direct contrast to my paper. Eventually the conversation warped into how homosexuality is a sin and the Bible states that all homosexuals are evil etc. Well – I allowed her to finish her Bible backed rant, after fighting the urge to Alan Rickman my table,
I simply asked her, “Do you think that I am a good person?”
Her response was, “Yes, of course I do.”
Then I asked, “Would you consider me a decent human being?”
Her response was again, “Yes.”
Then I asked, “If I were to tell you I were a lesbian, would that change any of those things about me? Would I still be a good person in my heart?”
By the end of the conversation the woman was in tears – she had never [knowingly] met a gay person before. She was basing her opinions of a whole group of people on imaginary generalizations from a 2,000 year old book.

3. Interruption

Let’s look at an example of oppressive language and go through the steps of how to successfully interrupt the oppressive language:

Ask clarifying questions
Example language: “You’re Middle Eastern? Really? It’s so good to know there are actually decent Middle Eastern people out there.”
“What do you mean by that?” or “Can you repeat that?” Often makes the person think twice about their choice of language.

Speak from personal experience
Example language: “I don’t want to do that assignment! It is retarded.”
Saying something in response to this such as, “My friend’s kid has Down Syndrome. Do you think you could find another word to describe something that you don’t like? “

Use statistics or facts
Example language: “That makes me want to kill myself!”
“Killing one’s self is nothing to be nonchalant about. 30,000 people die from suicide each year leaving millions affected by the experience. Mental illness is a serious issue.”

Use humor when applicable
Example language: “Asians are bad drivers.”
“Oh you think Asians are bad drivers? I saw your attempt at parallel parking yesterday and it was nothing to shake a stick at.”

Make positive or validating comments when interrupting
Example language: “Why can’t we just forget about slavery? It’s been so long, people need to get over it.”
A response along the lines of, “Hey, you’re really intelligent and open to new ideas, which is why I feel comfortable talking to you about this …” will go a long way in starting the conversation.

Use “I statements” and don’t accuse or attack
Continuing from the previous example;
“… I feel that we can’t forget about slavery because it was essential to the foundation of our nation, furthermore, there are still racially motivated inequalities that plague our country which we cannot afford to ignore.”
This gives you ownership over your feelings and doesn’t come across as accusatory or demeaning.

Give an invitation to dialogue
Example language: “Oh, they’ll get in anywhere you want. They got [high SAT score] and there’re black!”
Request that this individual expand on that thought – “do you think you could explain what you mean by that?” Things will probably get a little bit awkward.

Be non-judgmental
It is exceeding difficult to be non-judgmental, particularly when the comments are about a group you identify with personally. Remind the person that you’re not attacking them and it’s not personal, and this is an ongoing process for you as well.

Things to remember

1. Interrupt yourself
Catch yourself if you find yourself using oppressive language out of habit.

2. Interrupt others, but do it kindly.
Always think well of others. Remember to practice compassion, and interrupt in the way that you feel most comfortable/prepared, when you feel able.

3. Share and keep the discussion going
Spread the word about privilege, language, and compassion. We have to all do our best to make the world a better place for all who live here.

4. Let the hate flow through you
Not like what Darth Sidious meant when he said “let the hate flow through you” – I mean let it leave you. Do not hold on to it and let it bring you down. Use it to turn the tables (not like Alan Rickman) and introduce new inclusive ideas to someone who was previously not knowledgeable of these ideas.

Posted in DiversityF15, Journal | Leave a comment

Domestic Terrorism – An Institutional Problem

I should be preparing for my oral prelim right now. It’s in 4 days – and I can’t focus. I can’t focus because this world is a mess. I am frustrated beyond belief with everyone and everything. We’ve had more mass shootings than days in 2015, and this doesn’t sit well with me and it should not sit well with you. Our government officials send their prayers to the victims of gun violence and their families that have been torn apart by the selfish acts of a few people, yet they continue to do nothing. I’m not going to sit here and tell you we need to take away people’s guns or demilitarize police – that is not the point of this post.
Our government is made up of elected officials – these people are the same people that attempt to (and often successfully do) capitalize on the economic disparities between “us” and “them” working every angle to their advantage. These guys have been historically creating an unequal playing field for all of us – turning us against one another so that we don’t see where the real problem is (elected officials).

Terrorism n– the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Oppressing the rights of women on the basis perceived religious values.
Oppressing my friends and colleagues of color solely based on the color of their skin.
Expressing xenophobic views in order to oppress people from other countries because the establishment is terrified of people who aren’t just like them and those who weren’t born into the same position of privilege and power are by definition inferior to the wealthy, white, American, male.
We have domestic terrorists right here – running for the highest elected office in the country, sitting in congress and the senate RIGHT NOW, acting as CEO and fund managers of our major companies. Hiring those who will further their practice of corruption and institutionalized oppression. Using fear as a means of crowd control and hiding behind the first amendment while spewing bigoted filth into the media for all the world to see. Being bigoted is not a right – it is a character defect. To see another human being as anything other than an equal is a flaw that needs to be rehabilitated.
People are suffering as a result of the actions of our politicians and by our lack of action. Thoughts and prayers are doing nothing, we have reached a point where we cannot allow this political fear mongering to continue. We need to make a change – we need to educate. We need to understand that the world needs unification now more than ever. We need to let go of the idea of individualism and focus on collaboration and caring for one another. We can’t go on living this way – we need to be invested in the well being of our neighbor (locally, regionally, nationally, and globally) we need to care about each other. It doesn’t matter if we have different religions or skin colors. It doesn’t matter if we dress differently. Our hearts all beat the same way (by and large) and all people are deserving of compassion and care.



Posted in DiversityF15, Journal | 1 Comment

Exam Deflation & Imposter Syndrome

I took my prelim over the Thanksgiving break. Monday – Saturday. 6 days, 5 questions. 144 hours of anxiety-ridden hell. When an experience like that is over many people who haven’t experienced such a process before would expect one to feel elated and happy. Instead typically people tend to feel deflated.


I was warned by my advisor this would happen after my dissertation defense for my PhD, but NO ONE warned me about this for my Master’s defense and my prelims. Apparently, this whole post-::insert major event name here:: stress/depression thing is actually real and experienced by many people. Especially those who are work and project driven, which many folks who have chosen to go into higher education are. After completing the written portion of my prelim I was struck with these feelings of imposter syndrome and just flat out self doubt. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is the feeling of being an intellectual phony. It is characterized by feeling unable to take credit for accomplishments, academic excellence, and recognition, as well as dismissing success as simply luck, good timing, or perseverance.

Its tough to have to give yourself a pep-talk every day to get through your PhD. I have to remind myself constantly my committee members who prepared some very insightful questions have tens of years of experience under their belts where as I am a novice expert. I chose to work with these people because I felt they would help me to become a better researcher and because I valued their opinions. They would not have agreed to work with me if they didn’t think I was capable of succeeding. They will not be malevolent, but they will challenge me.

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PhDs & Kittens

I am a PhD student, I also run an animal rescue, Crazy Cat Lady Animal Rescue. Before the animal rescue was formally off the ground several folks in academia suggested I wait until after my PhD program to start this rescue. Well, if you have read any of my previous blogs I don’t have blanket rule for taking advice and clearly their advice was not heeded.
Fostering kittens and running an organization has taught me many things that you can’t get from a typical PhD program experience. Here are a few of those things:

1. How to care for something while accomplishing your goals

Many of us have had pets, but not in this capacity. The rescue has had kittens come in with their umbilical cords still attached, eyes closed, and ears folded down. These babies were no more than a few hours old. When kittens are that small they need their mother; they can’t feed themselves or keep themselves warm. They can’t even use the bathroom on their own so if you don’t want them to smell like gross little hamsters you have to bathe and blow dry them too. They require a lot of time and attention. Coordination is key in these situations – luckily for me and my fiance (who is also a graduate student) one of the rescue’s other board members is a vet tech so these little guys get to go to the vet clinic and be cared for by all of the employees there. We all come together and team feed them in the evenings when we have them because one tiny kitten is a huge time suck – 6 tiny kittens needing to be fed every 4 hours is a recipe for disaster.


2. Your work is not the most important thing in your life

I will never forget to leave the office to feed my animals or let them go to the bathroom. Why? Because I now have many living, breathing things that depend on me to care for them. I must be their guardian and advocate. If I haven’t finished what I needed to do by 5 or 6 PM (depending on what time the last one leaves the house) I leave and take my work with me and I’ll finish it after my critters are cared for.

3. The importance of communication

Communication is essential in any relationship – but when you have two graduate students in a relationship it become so much more important. We have to discuss our schedules and plans – who is coming home to let the dog out. Who has class at what time, who is going to a research symposium when and so it. This is probably the most exhausting part. Keeping up with each other’s schedules. We haven’t had a miscommunication over scheduling with our animals in the last 2 years ::knock on wood:: hopefully we can continue this habit of good communication when we have kids because honestly I know our work lives will slow down but kids will make up for it with all the stuff they’re doing.

4. When to panic and when to ride it out

Having an animal that is suddenly symptomatic is really scary, especially because they can’t tell you what hurts. It’s a challenge sometimes to know when to rush an animal to the emergency vet and when to just stick them in the bathroom with the shower running to help them drain their little heads. In cases of dealing with animals and academia knowing when to panic and when not to panic comes from experience. It’s helpful to have someone knowledgeable that you can ask for advice about what you should do.

5. The importance of taking breaks

Typically they’re forced on you by cats at your peak moments of productivity, sometimes they’re there to remind you of the power of the cat nap. Regardless, breaks are essential to let your brain reset and we should probably all be taking more of them. I take breaks from my PhD work to do rescue paper work or just pace around the house/office. It’s important to give your brain a break once in a while. Otherwise it’ll turn to mush.

6. Dealing with change

Life as a foster parent is never static. We’ve lost animals due to pneumonia and genetic disorders. We’ve had over 100 animals adopted through our rescue and go to great homes. When one animal leaves your care your house feels really empty for a little while until another animal comes and takes it’s place. It keeps you looking forward to the next event ready for whatever life is going to throw at you.

Fostering is awesome and although it takes a whole lot of time management, I’m learning a lot and gaining a lot more.

Posted in Journal, PFP15F | 1 Comment

Future of Higher Ed- Bye Bye Bell Curve

Grading on a bell curve is quite possibly one of the biggest abuses of the curve (next to measuring IQ). Some proponents argue that grading on a bell curve fosters competition – however, we get away from the point of education and the focus of the exercise at hand becomes competition rather than appreciation of the subject matter itself. Teaching, is sort of like therapy in that it is a direct intervention and the best result finds that everyone is excelling. In bell curve style grading professors believe that we should have a few but equal numbers of A’s and F’s, more but equal numbers of B’s and D’s, and more C’s.

bell curve

Using the grading curve encourages students to focus on the rewards of learning (extrinsically motivated) rather than the personal satisfaction of learning. Even if students do well in these classes they don’t attribute their success to their own knowledge, they attribute it other’s poor performance.

The American Society for Engineering Education says that grading on a curve – or left of center grading is common in engineering curriculum and is actually quite harmful. Students don’t know their standing in the course until the end of the semester. Lack of information upfront can cause ill-informed enrollment decisions, not to mention a bunch of undue stress.

Some faculty members argue that it’s character building or a way to build coping skills, sure I could see that. Maybe, in a parallel universe where character building involved the complete destruction of one’s character. They rationalize it based on the fact that, “I’ve done it, everyone else has done it, so you should do it too.” I mean, it really is a bummer for you that you had teachers that didn’t care (or didn’t have time) to reevaluate their teaching methods to see if maybe something else would work better. If my students are consistently getting 30% on exams that means they are not comprehending the material. Instructors certainly shouldn’t be setting traps for their students in their classes that are designed to make them [the instructors] feel better about themselves while simultaneously tearing down the students. Otherwise we’ll have egotistical, competitive academics…. oh wait.


If this philosophy were applied to a drug treatment program or some other form of direct intervention we would have an equal distribution of people committing suicide as we do succeeding in a treatment program. I believe that if you teach well, organize your courses, and intervene as soon as you see students start to slip you should see less distribution in your student’s grades. I want my students to learn and to learn well – no student should have a normal curve imposed on them.

Posted in PFP15F | 4 Comments

Service Learning is a service to all

John Dewey was a proponent of progressive education observed that students tend to learn and retain information more effectively when they learn through a cycle of action and reflection. His views differed significantly from the prevailing educational approach, which required students to absorb information and reproduce it for a test. He understood that learning and doing are immediately connected – allowing students to personally experience what they are learning greatly improves the quality of their learning experience. Education should be catered toward the student.

Pragmatism was first popularized by William James, pragmatists believe that teaching must be combined with action. In other words, book smarts isn’t enough. Education should drive the student to do something and become someone with the information that they receive. A pragmatic education will give the student an opportunity to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. While pragmatism also values understanding theory, traditional classroom concepts, it maintains that the theory must hold value. For pragmatists, there is no point in simply learning a set of rules.

When you combine the progressive and pragmatic learning styles you have service learning. A method of learning that combines classroom instruction with meaningful community service.

Examples of Service Learning:

Volunteerism – acts performed out of free will without expectation of recompense and is generally altruistic in nature.
Community Service – quite similar to volunteerism, the main difference being that it is said to “involve more structure and student commitment than do volunteer programs.”
Internship – provide students with more experience in various fields. Students gain a more measurable benefit from this aspect of service learning compared to volunteerism and community service.
Field Experience – Generally more materially beneficial to the student. Provide students with co‐curricular service opportunities that are related, but not fully integrated, with their formal academic studies.

Key Components of Service Learning

Identify a community need
The service learning is happening in a community. The needs of the community must be identified before performing the service learning, this allows for deeper thought into the broader impacts of the service and what the actions of the student’s means for those they are trying to help.

Curriculum implementation
Service learning must be integrated with the curriculum where there is a clear learning outcome and the learning experience from service learning will contribute to their curriculum. This is highly beneficial to students because they learn that knowledge is transferable form one situation to another. Such as designing a webpage for a non-profit (coding in HTML & CSS), going door to door for a political campaign (communication skills), or volunteering at an animal shelter (animal care skills).

Students must be prepared for the task of service. They must understand the importance of service learning, their responsibility towards a community, and the expectations towards the learning process. Having adequate understanding of these things will not only make the students better professionals, but better citizens. All professionals must be able to understand what their responsibility is toward the community that they are serving.

Systematic Reflection
Reflection between the curriculum and the student’s service experience. Reflection can happen before, during, or after the service learning process. The step allows for students to think critically about their experiences.

By learning and doing the service students will see responsibility to the community. They also identify their duty as a citizen to contribute to society and make it a better place for everyone. Their involvement enables students to understand their impact on society in a more meaningful way than just discussing it.


Service Learning in Higher Education and STEM

The core purpose of service learning is to equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being provided and the learning that is occurring. All four types of service learning can and should find their place in higher education, even high school education. In undergraduate education students are focused on getting internships and field experience for the purpose of becoming more marketable and getting a job after the completion of their baccalaureate degree.

The humanitarian opportunities within the sciences are often overlooked and undervalued in higher education. Engineers Without Borders is one program, Engineering Service Corps is another; sometimes the work requires travel outside of the country, other times it doesn’t. Engineers have useful skills that can be transferred across a wide variety of disciplines – so even if opportunity (or desire) to travel out of the country isn’t present, there are plenty of other ways an engineer’s skill set can be applied. I believe that service learning should be integrated into more throughout the structure of higher education in order to drive the point home, scientists and engineers do not work on problems in isolation that strictly affect an anonymous group of people. They have skill sets that can help people in their own communities if they are educated in how to apply them appropriately.

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Listen [or don’t listen] to your mother!

My entire life I’ve heard over and over again the phrase, “Listen to your mother.”
Those who raise us are our earliest teachers, and often have the biggest influence on the adults we become. I don’t know if my mother intended for me to be a hell-raiser strong willed child (and adult), but I very seldom listened to my mother. Apparently we didn’t get along too well from my infancy up until my twenties; just a few weeks ago she was telling a story about how as soon as my father would get home from work she’d hand me to him and say, “Here, you take her.” To that my father would just laugh and say, “It’s like spending a day with yourself, isn’t it?”


We spent a lot of time at the beach. I’m not sure where this picture was taken, but here is a picture of me and my mom. Don’t we looked thrilled?

Granted my life wouldn’t have turned out quite the way that it did if I had blindly followed my mother’s advice as some children tend to do which is an interesting path to wander down. First a little background – I graduated from an alternative high school, I wasn’t in a position to go directly to a four year institution in any capacity. Community college was the best option for me. I wanted to be a Marine Biologist so I tried to figure out the best way to do that – my mom suggest that I go into a more in demand field.


Path 1 – Mom’s Suggestion

Path 2 – Alex’s CC Decisions

HE out of HS

Go to Delaware Community College

Went to Maryland Community College



Started in Ocean Studies, switched to Biology & Environmental Science because I had a strong connection with a particular instructor

>Extra Curricular


Softball & Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society



Honors/Awards, Leadership Training, Scholarship Opportunities

4 Year Institution

Get a job that will pay you to get a BS

Applied to 4 schools


Accepted with Scholarship to: Richard Stockton College, University of Tampa, & Coastal Carolina
Accepted without Scholarship to: West Virginia University

So – I have my acceptance letters in order of arrival; Stockton, Tampa, Coastal, WVU. I had my heart set on Coastal for such a long time (SHARK WEEK!) – but I was accepted to WVU and their Honors College (the fact that I graduated high school was a surprise so this was HUGE) to study Biology. I was extremely conflicted about what to do. I was aware of the cost of getting a four year degree. It scared me especially being in 20 years old and having a better sense of the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees. I didn’t know what to do – I called my mom while she was at work and just started crying. All she said was, “It’s your decision and we’ll get you through no matter where you decide to go.”

That’s what I needed to hear. I needed to be given permission to take this huge financial risk on my education and I needed to feel that my decisions were supported and valued. I’m so glad she’s what she said, because if she hadn’t said that I probably would have went with the cheapest school and this wouldn’t have happened.

I went to WVU starting in Fall 2009 – I had a rough first year it turns out that the pedagogical differences between community colleges and undergraduate lecture halls can have quite an impact and my love of Bio was lost in the bad teaching with good intentions. A series of domestic abusive incidents by my then [ex] girlfriend from home prevented me from attending several of my classes due to the anxiety of potentially seeing her. My GPA at the end of the semester was a whopping 1.64. Spring of 2010 it was suggested to me that I take a much easier course load and even consider changing my major. I thought about it – since I never talked to anyone about my relationship situation except my family and close friends that I was just dumb and shouldn’t be taking those classes. Fortunately for me I decided despite my bad grades (and the advice of the athletic department advisor) to take Calc 2 because I was tired of my then [ex] girlfriend (and company) telling me that I was bad at math and that I should just accept it and that I’ll never be good at it.

Guess what, I wasn’t all that bad at it. I mean I wasn’t great at it, but man did my confidence go way up. I had a really awesome teacher (Krista) which helped a lot. Once I learned how I learned my grades shot up toward the end of the semester. Krista gave me a boat load of confidence in an area where I had previously been uncertain, and essentially gave me what I needed to help make another huge life decision.

I changed my major to civil engineering without consulting anyone other than essential personnel (and ultimately evolved to the opinion of my mom for different reasons [?]). Since the rest of my schedule was so simple for that semester my GPA had been inflated to a cumulative 2.53.I was admitted to the College of Engineering with no issues for Fall 2010. The first summer my [ex] girlfriend left Morgantown I broke off that relationship so we had 3 months and over 400 miles between us. I met someone new – who was and is wonderful. She’s positively brilliant, supportive, and was crazy enough to agree to marry me. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet this wonderful, wonderful woman if I hadn’t gone to West Virginia.

From the time I switched to the COE I managed to have at least a 3.0 GPA every semester, one term I even made the Dean’s List. I graduated from WVU in December 2012 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. I graduated with just under a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Which really isn’t that bad considering where this all started.


If I hadn’t gone to WVU my major switch to engineering wouldn’t have happened – which means I wouldn’t be studying at Virginia Tech right now. I wouldn’t have met my best friends – I wouldn’t be involved in animal recuse (there wouldn’t be a kitten trying to steal my pen and attempting to co-author this blog post). My life would have been TOTALLY different, and I don’t mean different as in bad, I just mean not this.
I value and I am thankful that I have acquired many of my mother’s traits, and I am thankful that many of the things that I have learned in my experiences can be transferred to my practices as a professor and academic.

Be confident, stand your ground, but know when to pick your battles

Sometimes it’s hard to be confident, I can think of a handful of times in the past year where I needed to be the expert on something and was extremely nervous about it. When I feel like that I give myself some advice that my mother gave me (modified to suit my needs); I put on my sharpest suit, and I drop those facts like they’re hot [dress to impress and tell it like it is].

On occasion you will have disagreements with your boss and colleagues. If it’s really important – fundamentally essential to you, stand your ground and fight that battle. Otherwise, it’s important to be bipartisan and to hear all sides of the issue and be ready and willing to compromise. Because being the middle child of a middle child came with no perks my friends.

Learn to filter

Sometimes people give you advice that makes things better for them; like that guy who told me not to take Calc 2 – it would have inflated the GPA of the team and the athletic department, and if I failed he would have probably been reprimanded for allowing me to take the class. So ultimately I did what I had to do and it changed everything.

We live in a world where we have the opposite issue of everyone before us – we have entirely too much information coming at us; not all of it right, not all of it useful. Learning to weed out what is useful is essential to being successful and relatively efficient.

Model the behavior you want to encourage

This brings me back to something I’ve been harping on a little bit lately, empathy. It is important to have a genuine concern for your own well-being but also the well-being of others. I think that nowadays everyone is so concerned with looking out for themselves that they become disconnected with the well-being of others. My mother is a nurse – she modeled the behavior that was encouraged all my life by caring for others, beyond the nameless, faceless patients at the hospital. Both my great grandparents were on hospice care. I watched as their condition deteriorated and as my mother, aunts, grandmother, and other relatives cared for them relentlessly in their home right up until the end.
This can be practiced in the classroom too – be the kind of person you want your students to be. If you want your students to be punctual then don’t be late. If you want your students to feel relaxed and welcome, make it so!

In conclusion – Don’t listen to your mother, but pay attention you might learn something.


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Inclusion & the Academic Glass Ceiling

It is difficult to imagine yourself in a position where we haven’t seen someone like you before. One example of this that comes readily to mind is a woman president. We have Hillary R. Clinton again vying for the nomination of the Democratic National Party and despite what CNN and other news outlets (Time Warner) would have you think, folks are having a hard time seeing her in that role of president. Even the feminists ::gasp!::

Consider all of the privilege HRC has come from. She’s a white woman, well off, EXTREMELY well educated. HRC is a brilliant attorney, there is no doubt about that after watching the entire 11 hour Benghazi committee. She’s part of a political dynasty, she has a long list of credentials that would certainly make her qualified. So what is it about Hillary?


More accurately, lack thereof.

In times of hardship and struggle we are so quick to go for force. Seldom do we take the route of compassion.

In academia the university sometimes feels like its own little country; we have our President, our VPs and Deans, the BOV, and our Department Chairs. Seldom are the faces of the university structure ones that haven’t come from the very pinnacle of privilege. We have an underrepresentation of faculty of color and women.
I really like what Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did with
his cabinet . I think his cabinet could have done with a little bit more diversity but he has made a huge step in the right direction- just saying, if any representatives of a particular political party happen to win the 2016 presidential election, I know where I’m moving.


Within the structure of the university people haven’t learned to be empathetic because they haven’t had to (or it has been to their advantage not to). Sometimes to be empathetic means abandoning logic, I would disagree. Being empathetic toward the feeling and hardships of others is in fact one of the most logical things that we can do. The time is now – it is time to EDUCATE. The time is now – to have new students learn about institutionalized socioeconomic disparities between racial groups and how that is relevant to the power structure they’re looking at and why that isn’t right. The time is now – to remind everyone why stereotyping isn’t an okay thing. The time is NOW – to make people aware of their implicit biases and privilege so we can live in a more holistic and inclusive society. Only once those folks who don’t get it (which seem to also be the same folks making the rules) understand that the glass ceiling has not been shattered for women by HRC and other presidential hopefuls just like it has not been shattered for my brothers and sisters of color by Barrack Obama can we truly make moves that affect the policy and face of the university structure as a whole.



We can’t just sit back and be content with talking about inclusion, we have to embrace the inclusive mindset.
We have to embody it, become it, and act because until we actually do something – we’re still doing nothing.

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