Endeavors Spring 2012
A Letter from Lane R. Earns, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Endeavors, a magazine dedicated to recognizing the professional accomplishments of the faculty and instructional academic staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The magazine has grown out of efforts led by the Provost’s Office and the Office of Grants and Faculty Development to showcase the exceptional work being conducted by faculty and staff across our campus.
Read the entire letter here.
by Grace Lim and Jay Vickery
scaling mt. trashmore
On this day, James Feldman and his students will climb atop Winnebago County’s tallest peak. It isn’t too windy; it’s also not too hot. The students may not appreciate those weather details yet, but Feldman knows, they soon will.
On this day, Feldman is teaching his students a lesson that cannot be replicated in the classroom. He has taken his Campus Sustainability class to the Winnebago County Landfill. “There is no more tangible way to understand the problems that we have with waste management, and the problems that we have with over-consumption than by standing at the top of highest point of Winnebago County,” says Feldman, an associate professor of Environmental Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. “This is the tangible place to experience what it means to consume like an American.”
Dr. James Feldman with students at the base of the Winnebago County Landfill.
At the base of the landfill, the students pile into two vans to follow a waste management worker in a pickup truck up and up the mountain of trash, which measures about 135 feet high or as tall as a 12-story building. When they get to the peak, the students, usually a chatty bunch, stand silent, taking in the sight before them—trash and more trash. The lunar-like landscape made up of monochromatic specks of brown stretches across the horizon. Flocks of seagulls search for food among giant bulldozers compressing the ever-growing amount of waste.
Students’ reactions vary from those who turn green, repulsed and unable to stand the stench to those who are excited to how trash is converted into methane gas. But the overall message is clear: The residents of Winnebago County produce a lot of trash.
“Standing on a mountain of trash and seeing all the junk that’s there and smelling the junk, it’s such a powerful experience,” Feldman says. “It’s really an instructive way to spend a class period.”
Since 2004, Feldman has been teaching students to think critically about complex problems that face the world. He is a charter member of the Campus Sustainability Council and co-author of the Campus Sustainability Plan, a comprehensive plan to guide the University’s sustainability initiatives. He is also a 2011 Edward M. Penson Distinguished Teaching Award winner and the author of A Storied Wilderness: The Rewilding the Apostle Islands, which was released in spring of 2011. For the school year 2011-2012, Feldman is on sabbatical, conducting research on his next project—the history and sustainability of radioactive waste management.
History and the Great Outdoors
Born to an attorney and a social worker, Feldman always had an affinity for history and nature. He never lacked ideas for grade school essays because he could always find something to write about relating to either topic. His love for the good earth and all her stories was further cemented when he went to Camp Nebagamon in Northern Wisconsin as a youth. “We would go canoeing and hiking,” he recalls. “I just loved those kinds of trips.”
While majoring in history at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Feldman returned to Camp Nebagamon every summer as a wilderness trip leader. It was that point he realized he could turn his passion for nature and history into a career. Feldman went to graduate school and earned his master’s degree in history at Utah State. After being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1996, he spent 15 months in New Zealand studying environmental history and politics of the island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. His work not only dealt with environmental policy but historical questions as to how a treaty from1840 (Treaty of Waitangi) still affects New Zealand’s indigenous people today. It was in New Zealand that Feldman discovered how he could turn his interest in nature and history into social action. “The work that I did there really convinced me that there was a way to make historical research applicable to modern issues,” says Feldman, who earned his doctorate in American history from UW-Madison.
Lessons from the Past
Students, Feldman says, must study what has transpired to understand what is happening now to the environment. “Students come into the classroom assuming that history is history and doesn’t matter today,” he says.
The students soon learn how wrong their perceptions are. “We are today still wrestling with the same kinds of issues that people wrestled with 20, 50, 80 or 100 or 200 years ago,” Feldman says, adding that in his Environmental History class he challenges his students to look at landscape and cities from a historical perspective. “Why are cities set up the way that they are? Why are streets laid out the way they are?”
Critical examination on the students’ part may lead them to think about how to address current environmental issues. Kaci Worth, an environmental studies major with a minor in history, credits Feldman for making her aware about how the way she lives her life could have great consequences. “Jim stresses the importance of being an involved citizen and makes you think about how your actions impact the world in ways more complex and far-reaching than one would originally imagine,” she says.
Student Kyle Sandmire was so taken by Feldman’s History of the American Wilderness class that he plans to attend graduate school to further his environmental studies. “From Dr. Feldman’s class I learned how to critically analyze historical texts as well as finding connections between wilderness conservation efforts in the past as well present,” he says. “Dr. Feldman inspired me to always take a deeper look into any written claim to best develop my own opinion.”
Going Green: Dr. James Feldman has helped UW Oshkosh become a leader in sustainability.
Feldman thrives on that kind of student feedback. “One of the most exciting things about being a teacher is when you can see that your students are having that kind of A-ha! moment where they are getting it, where they are starting to look at things in a new way because of the things they are learning,” he says. “When I think about what I want my students to take out of my classes, it’s less about specific names and dates and places and much more about the big picture. There are huge problems out there that need to be solved—global warming, industrial agriculture, over-consumption and so on.”
Quite simply, Feldman would like his students to think critically, to see relationships among complicated issues. “If we can teach our students to think about how their own behavior and the behavior of their communities, their states, and their countries are fitting into the bigger picture, then we have started down the path toward change, change that will really make a difference,” he says. “We have started down the path toward sustainability.”
More than Being Green
For Feldman, sustainability means a lot more than simply being green or caring about nature. “Being sustainable means recognizing the interconnections between our environmental, social, and economic systems,” he says. “You don’t go to college to learn prescriptive behavior like ‘you should recycle more’ or ‘you should buy organic food.’ Sustainability needs to mean something more. To be sustainable, we need to learn to act in ways that are not just environmental responsible, but also in ways that make our communities socially just and economically secure.”
Trash and More Trashl: Dr. James Feldman near a pile of trash that will soon be put into the landfill.
To that end, Feldman has been a driving force in helping the University be as sustainable as possible. Since 2008, he has co-led three Winnebago Sustainability Projects, which are faculty development workshops to coach colleagues on infusing the concept of sustainability in their courses.
In April 2011, The Princeton Review listed
UW Oshkosh, for the second year in a row, in its “Guide to 311 Green Colleges,” a spotlight of colleges and universities in the United States and Canada “that demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities, and career preparation.”
“I think there is no question we are the leader in the UW System,” Feldman says of the University’s sustainability initiatives. “I think we are one of the leaders in the country in the sense of the kind of school that we are.”
Though Feldman is passionate about sustainability, he is quick to point out his own shortcomings. “It’s easy to walk around and see examples of unsustainable behavior and bad behavior relative to the environment,” he says, adding, “but I have too many things that I have to change about myself for me to start getting judgmental about anybody else.”
One thing Feldman has to contend with is his commute to Oshkosh from his home in Madison where he lives with his wife Chris Taylor, who is an Assemblywoman for the 48th district, and their two young sons, Sam and Ben. “I have a long drive to work and emit carbon to go teach about global warming,” he says wryly. “Until I become perfect, I’m going to keep my soapbox pretty small.”
Feldman knows he risks leaving his students feeling powerless when confronted with society’s environmental ills. “These are stories about how we have taken this beautiful natural world and just driven it into the ground,” he says. “That’s a bear to teach, and it’s a bear to learn and you can see the students sometimes just getting beaten down.”
Feldman, however, helps his students combat that bleakness with ideas for social action. “I always like to end my classes with at least some discussion about what you can do or what needs to change,” he says.
Feldman, too, is doing his part to make the world a better sustainable place every time he steps into a classroom. “I have a chance to make a difference and the most direct way that I feel like I can do that is through my teaching.”
Student reporters Hannah Becker and Nate Cate also contributed to this report.
In this video, Professor Feldman discusses his work in environmental studies and his students share their experiences in his class. Produced by Hannah Becker and Nate Cate.
by Ron Basler
Student Multimedia Reporter
setting the online course
In 1996, the dean of the College of Business at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh approached J. Ben Arbaugh, then a junior faculty member, with a challenge: create the first fully online course that would provide the same quality education of a traditional classroom.
This was before Facebook. This was before Google.
Arbaugh’s online education experience at that time was limited to reading journal articles about this type of education delivery. He jumped at the chance. “Everything I had read at the time said this would be the wave of the future,” he says. “I concluded I could not afford not to be a part of this.”
At the Faculty Scholarship Recognition Luncheon: Dr. J. Ben Arbaugh, a John McNaughton Rosebush Professorship recipient, chats with Linda Freed, Director of the Office of Grants & Faculty Development.
The class Strategic Thinking, a 1.5 credit course, with 25 graduate students began summer of 1997. As with any new venture, Arbaugh had to work out the kinks involving the inordinate amount of time spent to prepare for a new way of teaching and learning. Since that first class, the College of Business has expanded its online offerings to eight MBA courses on a rotating basis, as well as almost two dozen electives each semester.
UW Oshkosh business professor Alan Hartman, the then-dean of the College of Business, credits Arbaugh with much of the College’s online education success. “I do not think the faculty would have accepted online delivery if he had not shown its effectiveness,” Hartman says, adding that the College was one of the first AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accredited schools in the area to offer classes online. “I remember being at a meeting of Midwest business deans in 1997 when someone asked who was offering classes online—two deans raised their hands, Whitewater’s dean and me.”
Since 1994, Arbaugh has been teaching students on- and off-line about project management and international entrepreneurship. He is a five-time Academy of Management Division best paper award winner. He authored Online and Blended Business Education for the 21st Century (2010) and co-edited Student Satisfaction and Learning Outcome in E-Learning: An Introduction to Empirical Research (2011). In the fall of 2011, Arbaugh was awarded the John McNaughton Rosebush Professorship Award, the highest award for faculty at UW Oshkosh.
Using Business Sense
Born to a longtime grocery store owner and a customer service representative in South Charleston, W. Va., Arbaugh had little idea which career path he’d take after college.
He did know this: he did not want to go into the family business of running a grocery store, where he spent much of his mid-to-late teen years working as a bagger. However, he did learn a valuable lesson while working for his dad. “When I was at work I needed to be fully at work,” he says. “That idea was instilled in me by working in my father’s business.”
When Arbaugh attended Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., he first focused on computer science. He soon switched to management and thought about a career in academia after taking a class from a certain economics professor. “[He] was the first professor I’d observed that made the idea of being a professor seem attractive,” says Arbaugh, who remembers the professor’s relaxed teaching style and ability to convey content in an engaging way. After Arbaugh earned his bachelor’s in business administration in 1984, he briefly worked for the Kmart Corporation and then was accepted into the U.S. Air Force officer training school.
While serving, Arbaugh worked as a project manager in weapons systems acquisitions logistics at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Arbaugh’s job was to manage equipment that supported the Maverick anti-tank missile system by working with
civilian contractors. The Maverick, which is still in service today, is a guided air-to-surface missile used primarily to destroy tanks.
“I was doing project management before project management was cool,” Arbaugh says. After serving four years Arbaugh decided to leave the Air Force as a first lieutenant to pursue an academic career. Arbaugh attended graduate school at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, earning his master’s in business administration in 1989 and received his doctorate from Ohio State University in 1994. That same year he came to UW Oshkosh. Three years later, he designed and taught the first fully online class for the College of Business.
Leveling the Learning Field
Through the years, Arbaugh knows there are education skeptics who say that online courses cannot truly replace the traditional classroom experience. Those people, Arbaugh says, “are uninformed.” Research has shown evidence to the contrary, he says.
Online courses offer benefits that are often missing in traditional classroom settings, he says. “Classroom discussion often awards those who are the loudest or who gets their hand up quickest rather than the ones with the most reasoned and thought-through response,” he says.
For students participating in online discussions, everyone gets a shot at being heard.
The online setting allows Arbaugh to use a wider variety of resources that can be found on the web. As with regular classroom discussions, Arbaugh may have to deal with students who go off-topic during class, but that is all right with him. In many ways, he says, those moments initiate further learning.
For example, a student in his Personal and Professional Development graduate course recently mentioned the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. In response, Arbaugh posted an article that presented an alternative view of the book in hopes that students will realize the importance of seeing things from multiple perspectives. As the author or co-author of more than 50 refereed journal articles, Arbaugh often shares his research findings with his students. “If we as instructors aren’t drawing from the learning and education research in our respective fields, then how are we advancing things beyond?” he says.
A Researcher’s Mind
His colleague Barbara Rau, professor of human resources at UW Oshkosh, says the students have benefited greatly from Arbaugh’s scholarly work. “As a teacher, Ben has excelled in online instruction by taking what he has learned from his research and incorporating it into the online classroom,” she says. “He truly cares about improving management education not just for himself, but for all of us who teach in this field—always keeping in mind that it is the students who ultimately have the most to gain from these improvements.”
Alvin Hwang, chair of the International Business Programs and professor of management at Pace University in New York, agrees. “Dr. Arbaugh is an authority on hybrid learning research with many publications in top management and educational journals today,” says Hwang, who has co-authored numerous papers with Arbaugh.
Spending Time with Family: Dr. J. Ben Arbaugh volunteering with his family at his son's football game.
“He is held in high esteem by many academic professionals in the Academy of Management, Decision Sciences Institute and various other educational bodies that have recognized his contributions to hybrid learning research and use of technologies in education.”
In addition to his teaching duties and research, Arbaugh has served as editor of the Academy of Management Learning and Education Journal, a highly esteemed journal whose mission is to advance the knowledge and practice of management learning and education. After December of 2011 Arbaugh will step down as editor, fulfilling his three-year term. He still plans to be part of the journal as a contributor.
Teaching Life Lessons
Arbaugh doesn’t have complex teaching objectives. “I teach students how to think for themselves, think about their lives, and to consider how they might apply and improve project management practice in their organizations,” he says.
For a graduate course, Arbaugh has students write a Professional Needs Assessment and Development Plan, a living document of what they need to do to achieve their goals or dream jobs. For this project Arbaugh is not a teacher, but a life coach for his students. “They’re not course assignments but rather they are goals and objectives for the whole of life, both professionally and personally.”
He cautions his students who take their plans too seriously and feel letdown if they fail to achieve their goals within a certain time frame. “A former pastor that I had made a comment once that people tend to overestimate what they can do in a year, but underestimate what they can do in a decade.”
To the students, who try to cram everything in the first 12–18 months, Arbaugh asks,“ Why are you in such a hurry? Is it going to kill you if it waits a year before it gets done?”
When asked if he had written such a plan years ago, he laughs and shakes his head. “It would not have looked like what I am now.”
He is grateful for the opportunities afforded to him as a professor and management education scholar. He says he could not have achieved as much as he has without the help of his wife, Paula. “I would not have been able to do what I have done [professionally] without her stabilizing hand on the home front,” he says.
When Arbaugh is not teaching or doing research, he enjoys spending as much time with his family as he can. He volunteers as the score/time keeper for 8-year-old son Aidan’s football games, where he sits in the press box with his other sons Alex, 13, and Addison,11.
Arbaugh has no regrets in choosing the path he has taken. As he looks at all his professional accomplishments, he says aside from his family, “the things I am most proud of are things that get translated back to the College of Business.”
Student reporter Isaac Federspiel also contributed to this report.
In this podcast, Dr. J. Ben Arbaugh discusses his book titled "Online and Blended Business Education." Produced by Ron Basler.
by Brad Beck
Student Multimedia Reporter
teach the children well
Judith Hankes moves around a classroom with confidence. She strides in the aisle asking, “If the child was not able to read and could only listen to the question, how would the child think about what was being asked?”
Hankes’ task at hand is to get her students, all future teachers, to think like a first-grader. She asks Tommy Giljohann, a junior, to come up to the front of the room to work on a math problem. The air shifts as another student reads the math problem out loud. Giljohann, acting as a first-grader, hesitates as he moves the small blocks.
In the classroom: Dr. Judith Hankes leads a lecture to future teachers.
Hankes watches closely, allowing the students to figure out why some math problems, based on the way they are written, pose greater challenges than others. It is hard
to imagine Hankes, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, doing anything but what she is doing—teaching future teachers how to teach.
Since 1995, Hankes has been teaching mathematics methods and classroom research courses at UW Oshkosh. She is the author of numerous articles dealing with multicultural education issues and mathematics. She is the co-editor of two books, Changing Faces of Mathematics: Perspectives of Indigenous People of North America (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) and Using Native American Legends to Teach Mathematics (Honor Press). She is also the co-author of Lost and Found and Found Again (Whales Library), a primary-level mathematics curriculum resource text and game.
Hankes’ teaching career spans 30 years and includes primary-level classroom teaching, counseling of at-risk students, coordinating gifted and talented programs and mathematics in-service education for public and tribal schools nationally.
Poor and Privileged
The daughter of a grade school dropout and a high school dropout, Hankes had no idea that higher education was even a possibility. Her father, Charles LeRoy Towne, an orphan, ran away from his foster home in fourth grade. Although he had no birth certificate, Charles was identified as Native American, but was told
to pretend to be Italian so he’d escape the backlash of
not being of European descent. He survived by panhandling in the streets of Chicago. At 19, Charles Towne married 16-year-old Ruth Florence Ovit, a Swede and also an orphan.
In 1931, the two made a home by clearing and homesteading a 26-acre island on the Fox River in Oswego, Ill. He did odd jobs; she raised chickens and sold eggs and goat milk. Ruth gave birth to seven children on the island. She birthed two of them alone after Charles left the island to get Doc Perkins, the last family doctor in the state of Illinois who made house calls on a horse and buggy. With little money, the Townes paid the doctor with butchered chickens.
Transportation on and off the island was not always easy. The quickest route was using a boat that could take them from the island to the mainland in about five minutes. When the Fox River was frozen, they’d have to trek about a football field’s length on the ice where the water was shallowest.
Although her parents lacked a formal education, Hankes credits them for instilling in her a lifelong love for learning. “Neither Mama or Papa gave any thought to having their children attend college,” she says. “But they were both readers, and they often read aloud.”
And the lessons they taught her were not found in most elementary schools. Her father taught her to trap and skin muskrats. He taught her engineering by building a swing bridge from their home to the high bank on the mainland. As a small child, she walked across the wooden boards and held woven iron cables while the water flowed beneath her. Her mother read and wrote poetry and encouraged her children to explore the world.
When Hankes entered school, she was in for a rude awakening. “I had school children say unkind things. One boy said, ‘Tell me what is your home like.’”
With great joy, Hankes shared the beauty of her island home, the vines and trees that grew all around. The boy sniffed and said, ‘Oh, that’s not what my mom said. She said you live in a dump.’”
Those hurtful words of a child still remain fresh in Hankes’ mind, but she is able to chalk them up to ignorance. Her childhood was idyllic in a sense, one spare of material luxuries but full of love, wonder and learning. “We didn’t have shoes to wear, but we had exotic pets,” says Hankes, who had a pet monkey and parrot. “I felt very privileged; never did I feel poor.”
Sticks and Stones
Still, the idea of going to school was hard on young Hankes. School, to her, was a place where children can be cruel to those who are deemed different. “I would have stomachaches and manage to throw up in the morning to convince my mom that I was too sick to go.”
The winter months on the island made it even more difficult to get to school. During one harsh winter day when she was 8, she and her brother Ted trekked across the ice, with their mother leading the way. The Towne children had already missed too many school days that winter. “We broke through the ice halfway crossing, and Mom had to keep breaking the ice ahead so that my brother and I could wade behind her.”
Museum Living: Dr. Judith Hankes teaching children in the Aurora Historical Museum.
They made it across, soaked and frozen. After warming themselves in a neighbor’s home, Hankes and her brother finally made it to school, two hours late. Rather than being greeted with sympathy, the Towne children were met with contempt. “The teacher, who was also the principal, shamed us,” Hankes recalls. “He said, ‘You Towne children are going to amount to nothing because you can’t get to school on time.”
The teacher pointed to another student. “She lives twice the distance you do, and she is always here early,” he said. That girl was also the wealthiest student in the class.
Hot with anger and embarrassment, Judy shot back, “Mr. H, you are the most stupid teacher I have ever met.”
The class fell into shocked silence. Then the teacher said, “Miss Towne, into the hall!”
Eight-year-old Judy Towne spent much of her time that year in the hall.
Path to Learning
Hankes lived on the island until she was 11 when her family moved to Ladysmith, Wis., where she met her first great teacher. “My sixth-grade teacher, Ruby Taylor, was a masterful teacher. It was a wonderful sixth-grade year, but it was the last good year of school I had,” Hankes says. “A good teacher makes a big difference.”
Hankes’ journey into academia was filled with detours that included dropping out of Andrews University in Michigan after a year, getting married to Jerry Hankes and having three children, Bret and twins Kurt and Karla. She and her husband worked as live-in caretakers for the Aurora Historical Museum, a large Victorian mansion built in 1857 in Aurora, Ill. Every spring and fall Hankes would guide about 4,000 visitors through the museum. “I would hold up an antique object and ask students to tell me how it might have been used,” Hankes says. “I had a great opportunity to teach through inquiry.”
She eventually earned her bachelor’s degree from Aurora College in Illinois, her master’s degree from the University of Washington and her doctorate from UW Madison.
Hankes’ childhood, rich with knowledge and exploration, provided the stepping stones that she used to reach her educational goals. However, her own nuclear family situation pushed her into her field of study. Both her husband and youngest son, severely dyslexic, were dismissed by an educational system that lacked the tools to teach children with special learning needs. “My husband and my son formed who I am as a teacher,” she says.
Since completing her doctorate in 1995, Judith Hankes has been teaching educators about mathematics and giving math workshops across the country. Though Hankes is not one to brag about her many accomplishments, she does take pride in this. The child that was told she’d amount to nothing is now a contributor to progressive education research. With a hint of a smile, Hankes says, “Here’s Judy Towne, this little river rat person, now sitting with some of the greatest scholars in math education.”
The Power in Teaching
Currently, Hankes prepares teachers who work with special education children to use an inquiry-based approach to teach math. The special education teachers in the past were seldom taught this approach. “More often, they were taught to give children crutches, rhymes and tricks to get through,” she says. “Those are not life skills.”
Teachers these days, she says, have to deal with diverse learners—from a dyslexic learner to a child coming from Somalia who can barely speak English. She hopes her students take away much of the same ideas and lessons she learned from her parents. “A healthy mind thrives on learning. Therefore, the opportunity to learn, really learn concepts and big ideas, is critical for all children.”
When she became a teacher, Hankes says her parents were both pleased. When she became a professor, her mother would brag, “Judy teaches teachers to teach.”
While Hankes can’t undo the wrongs inflicted on her by the teachers of her youth, she can help shape the teachers of the future. She wants her students to know that they hold great power as teachers to nurture their wards. “[Teachers] are given the opportunity to empower children, to develop their minds through learning,” she says.
For Hankes, that power must be used for the good of all children—from the most privileged to the most disenfranchised. In recent years, Hankes’ research focuses on a segment of the population that is close to her heart—the Native American children. “Native Americans are among the least likely culture groups to choose careers that require math knowledge,” she says.
Hankes aims to turn that trend around. The life lessons Hankes would like to pass along are simple. “What is important in life isn’t material wealth,” she says. “Rather, it’s liking yourself, believing in yourself, knowing that you can solve problems, take care of yourself and contribute to the care of others. That’s being empowered.”
Student reporter Noell Dickmann also contributed to this report.
|Dr. Judith Hankes often holds teacher workshops to introduce different methods of teaching. Read what some of her workshop participants have to say about what they took away from the workshops. Read on.
by Morgan Counts
Student Multimedia Reporter
Before every class, UW Oshkosh professor Larry Carlin psyches himself up for the next 60 minutes. He mutters to himself as a performer would before stepping on a stage or a football player before he sprints onto the field.
“Here we go,” he says before the clock starts. “There is a challenge before you.”
To his students, it is another hour of philosophy; to Carlin, it’s game on.
Carlin, a 2011 Edward M. Penson Distinguished Teaching Award winner, has been shaping the minds of young philosophers at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh since 2000. He relishes in the A-ha! moments when his students realize that philosophy is not only about dead men talking and that it is an integral part of their everyday lives.
“I say, ‘If you major in philosophy, upon graduation, you will receive a deep six figure salary,’” Carlin deadpans. Then he lets out a big laugh. “No, that’s not true. Here’s what’s true: Contrary to the myths, philosophy is very practical in the sense that it puts our most important beliefs on the table.”
It is easy to fall into Carlin’s spell. He speaks with the passion of a leave-everything-on-the-field coach. “These are the kinds of beliefs you use to confront your most important experiences,” he continues, his voice rising. “These are not the normal, everyday beliefs. These are the critical ones we argue about, the ones we hear about these days, all the political turmoil in Madison.”
Summing the evaluation of these issues into a few lines can be difficult. Carlin winces when asked for a simple explanation of “philosophy” because the definition found in dictionaries always falls short in his world. “If I had to put it in very few words I would put it as this: philosophy is the crucial examination, the critical study of our most fundamental beliefs.”
Carlin defies anyone to label beliefs in religion, morality, politics, society, science, humanity and other hotbed topics as trivial. “They are what motivate you and frame your outlook on life’s most important matters. They determine how you vote, what kind of roommate you will be, how you spend your Sunday mornings, how you raise your children, what kind of friend you are.
“Indeed, they are the very things that make you the person you are,” he stresses. “How could an intense study of those beliefs be a waste of time? What could be more practical than an evaluation of those beliefs?”
Balance Sheet to Socrates
Carlin has not always been a Plato-spewing proselyte. “When I was coming out of high school going into college, I was convinced I was going to be an accountant,” says Carlin, who earned his undergraduate degree from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., his master’s degrees from the University of Houston and Rice University, where he also had earned his doctorate in philosophy. “Of course I was convinced of no such thing; I thought I wanted to be an accountant.”
The son of a long-time Philadelphia Eagles executive and a registered nurse, Carlin was the one in a family of seven children to question everything. He loved to find out how things worked, why things worked. He read every one of the Encyclopedia Brown books. His toy box was filled with science lab kits.
|In this podcast, Dr. Laurence Carlin talks about what sparked his interest in philosophy and the challenges he faces teaching it. Produced by Michelle Peplow.
“I wanted to be a scientist and play with test tubes and microscopes,” Carlin says. “I was a very curious kid, and I had the support around me to nurture that.”
Despite his attraction for asking questions and seeking answers, Carlin headed into college with his sights set on a career of crunching numbers. Or so he had thought.
“Thanks to the general education requirement, I had to take a course in humanities,” Carlin says. “I think it was on the recommendation of a friend to take Intro to Philosophy because he found it rather interesting.”
“Rather interesting” would turn out to be an understatement. “It changed my life,” he said in complete seriousness. “I fell in love with it.”
That course sparked something he hadn’t felt before. “I took another course, The History of Ancient Philosophy, and I remember being riveted by the story of Socrates, his arguments for free speech and how he died for the cause.”
Three weeks into his second philosophy course, Carlin changed his major. “I traded in my balance sheets, which were never balanced, for the collected works of Plato.”
Now Carlin says he spends his time sharing his love of philosophy with others, many of whom may begin as philosophy skeptics.
He often starts his first day of his Introduction to Philosophy class with these questions: “How many of you, honestly, are here against your will? How many are here because you have to satisfy a general requirement, and the truth is if you did not have to satisfy the requirement, you would not be sitting here now?”
More often than not, more than half the students would raise their hands. Undaunted, Carlin always follows with a line that generates a laugh every semester. “Good, at least little more than half of you are telling the truth.”
In the Beginning
Carlin wastes little time tackling the big questions of our times. On the first day of his Introduction to Philosophy class, he throws his students off guard with a doozy: “Is there a God?” From there, he’ll walk the students through the critical arguments for and against.
Carlin is quick to say that he never reveals his personal beliefs. “I tell my students from day one that your professor believes nothing for purposes of this class. I tell them that I am the messenger. It is my job to relay both sides.”
On the Receiving End
|Students share with reporter Michelle Peplow what they took away from Dr. Laurence Carlin's classes. Read on.
The result, he says, may lead to more questions. “We must not mistake not having an answer with lack of progress. Those are two entirely different things,” he says firmly. “If you are forced to re-conceptualize your belief system based in lieu of further evidence, you’ve just been educated, haven’t you?”
No Podium Here: Dr. Laurence Carlin keeps his students engaged by his active lecturing style.
His students, in fact, become more knowledgeable in their uncertainty. “We work very hard at critical thinking, at distinguishing bad arguments from good arguments, at putting a controversial view on the table and saying ‘What’s a good way to weigh the evidence for and against this view?’”
Carlin, who is loath to stand behind a lectern, likens the study of philosophy to a team sport. “It involves an active exchange of ideas. You want as much information as possible if you’re going to engage in critical thinking and look at arguments on both sides.”
During a recent lecture in his upper-division Philosophy and the Scientific Revolution class, Carlin discussed Galileo’s natural philosophy. Teaching, for Carlin, is a physical activity. He prowls back and forth, punctuating points with his hands in the air, pointing at the students. “Are you with me?” he bellows.
Carlin reads excerpts from The Essential Galileo, a letter written in 1613 from Galileo to his former student, Benedetto Castelli, a mathematics professor at the University of Pisa. Even while reading, Carlin is poised for action. Book in hand, arm bent at an angle, Carlin looks like a sprinter ready to take off.
Woe be the student who appears less than totally engaged. At one rare lull point, Carlin stands up and says an apparent non sequitur. “What does Mrs. Carlin say?” (He later explains that Mrs. Carlin in this case was his mother who had an arsenal of sayings for many occasions.)
In unison, the students respond, “If you are going to soar with the eagles, you can’t hoot with the owls.” That meant, get enough sleep so you can be prepared for class.
He smiles and punches the air once again. “That’s right! Now what is Galileo trying to say here?”
The Game of Life
Carlin confronts big controversial issues every class period. However, the issues that plague the non-academic in him are much more pedestrian. Carlin and his wife, Stephanie, are parents to three active children: Nathan, 9; Maxwell, 7; and Sophie, 4.
“Like every parent, we wonder if we are doing the right things,” he shares. “Are we setting the right rules? What will be the consequences here? Like any parent, I think the biggest concern you have in your life is your children. You want to be a good parent, you don’t want to fail your children.”
Carlin knows better than to seek definitive answers for his parenting questions. For now, it is enough to be involved parents and to see that their children are growing up happy, healthy and loved.
Dr. Laurence Carlin coaches his son's fourth-grade football squad.
In spring of 2011, Carlin coached a kindergarten/first-grade softball team. He currently coaches his son Nathan’s fourth-grade tackle football squad.
Like any coach, Carlin never knows what to expect heading into a new season, especially with youngsters new to a sport.
“The first day of practice you can take nothing for granted,” he says. “If they hit the ball, they start running toward third base carrying the bat. You really have to start from square one.”
Carlin takes the same let’s-start-with-square-one game plan with philosophy neophytes. “When I teach Intro, many are already convinced before I say a word that it is boring,” he says. “Can I change their mind about philosophy? Can I get them interested in something that, beforehand, they thought they could never be interested in?”
Carlin takes great joy with teaching successes big and small. Whether a student grasps a difficult concept or realizes how engaging philosophy can be, he sees each accomplishment as another player running toward the right direction.
The struggle to get there is something Carlin can never give up. “I have never gotten tired of philosophy. I continue to enjoy the challenge and I love interacting with students.”
Mastery of the course material is important, Carlin says, but more important is their ability to be better and more knowledgeable defenders of their own views.
If Carlin’s students were to walk away from his class with only one lesson learned, he knows which lesson he would want that to be.
“I hope that they take with them the belief that what we are doing is important, that thinking hard about religious beliefs, political beliefs, these controversial issues, is relevant, is worthwhile,” he says, adding with a big grin, “and frankly, can make your head a happy place to live too.”
Student reporter Michelle Peplow also contributed to this report.
|Discovering New Worlds
In this podcast, Professor Carlin discusses the importance of studying abroad as well as his own study abroad programs in Scotland. Produced by Morgan Counts. Original music by UW Oshkosh music composition student Grace Hennig. Photos courtesy of Laurence Carlin. For more information about Dr. Carlin' s upcoming study abroad program, please visit Reason and Religion in 18th Century Scotland.
by Noell Dickmann
Student Multimedia Reporter
nursing a dream
UW Oshkosh assistant professor Judy Westphal credits a summer spent caring for an elderly woman as the impetus that pushed her into the health care field. “I wanted to be an archaeologist,” says Westphal, who grew up on a small farm in New Franken, Wis., a rural town outside of Green Bay that boasts of a lone stop sign and two bars.
As the oldest of nine children, Westphal dreamed of going places beyond the boundaries of her parents’ 50-cow dairy farm. Thus, the dream of archaeological adventures in faraway places. However, the summer when Westphal was 13, she was offered a job “babysitting” a 90-year-old woman. “I thought it sounded better than staying home, milking cows and baling hay,” she says.
Five days a week, Westphal biked 3 miles to Mrs. Becker’s home by 8:30 a.m. Then she’d make breakfast, bathe and dress the nonageneraian, do light housekeeping and laundry, and make lunch. As part of her care-giving duties, the teen also learned to play Canasta, and learned to play the card game well enough to lose with skill and grace. Before Westphal left at 4:30 p.m., she’d make dinner and then bike back home.
“I did this for one summer and my pay for that wonderful position was $3 a day,” says Westphal with a chuckle. “I thought I was quite wealthy making $15 a week.” Westphal paused, looking away. “I owe that family so much more because it really launched my career into health care and, eventually, nursing.”
Dr. Judith Westphal lecturing to students in class.
Back to School
Westphal has taught in the College of Nursing at UW Oshkosh since 2008, after spending more than 25 years in the health care industry as a nurse, a nurse administrator and a hospital executive. After her initial foray into elderly care, she abandoned her archaeological dreams and dove into nursing because she liked the hands-on aspect of the job. “With nursing you could get closest to the patients, and you could maintain that contact for a longer period of time,” she says.
Nurses, she says, play a crucial role in a patient’s life. “When I talk to my patients, the difference was the nurse,” she says. “That’s who made the difference in their care. That’s who was with them in the middle of the night, in the afternoon, early in the morning.”
Westphal received her nursing license from Mercy Medical Center School of Nursing in Oshkosh, then her bachelor’s of nursing from UW Oshkosh in 1983. After taking a semester off from school, she started the master’s degree program at the University. There, she helped obtain official status for the Eta Pi Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the nursing national honor society, for which she served as its first president. She did this while working full time as a nurse on the medical unit at Mercy. As a busy married mother of an infant son, Westphal resolutely took one class per semester until she earned her master’s degree in 1990.
Teaching on the Job
After three years of working at Mercy, she was asked to assist with an orientation of new nurses. Westphal credits this as the start of her role as a teacher. “When I started working with those new hires, that truly was my entrance into teaching. It was one-on-one small little groups but I enjoyed that immensely,” she says. “That brought me the most joy and satisfaction.”
A year later, she became head nurse of the medical unit. While she had enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with the novice nurses she felt a need to do more. She decided to go back to school. As she pursued her doctoral degree at UW Madison she continued to work full time.
However, she found it difficult to navigate between the two worlds of student and hospital administrator. Westphal, at that time, was a vice president for Affinity Health System, where many of her colleagues didn’t understand her desire to return to school. (Her two children, Collin and Darice, were already grown, and she and her husband, Daniel, have settled comfortably in Oshkosh.) “These were really two disparate worlds,” she says of her professional life and her student life. “It became clear to me that I was not going to stay in management and leadership indefinitely, and that I was going to be moving into education.”
She did indeed make the shift into education. Westphal finished her doctoral degree in 2008 and obtained a position teaching at UW Oshkosh that same year.
Teaching to Care
As far as the classroom goes, she wants her students to be able to learn from her as well as she learn from them. “When I work with students in my classroom one of the first things I try to establish is respect, my respect for them and their respect for me. I have knowledge about certain things. I have experience in certain areas, but they have knowledge and experience in areas that I am not familiar with so we can learn from each other.”
Former student Emily Weiss, who earned her master’s degree at UW Oshkosh in 2011, is a big Westphal fan. Weiss, who is a family nurse practitioner in Portage, Wis., took several classes from Westphal including Research in Nursing and Health Care Policies and Procedures. “I use Judy’s knowledge she taught me every day,” Weiss says. “I honestly don’t know if I would be where I am today without Judy Westphal.”
In addition to teaching, Westphal keeps busy with her research. She is currently doing research using a national sample survey of registered nurses, nurse leaders and nurse educators. She is most interested in succession planning and management, which ties back to her early supervisory experiences. “It’s descriptive research,” she explains. “What does this population [of professionals] look like? Are they young, are they middle-aged? What’s changing with this population over time? I think we need to understand what is happening with the group over time so we can understand where they’re going.”
Joys and Heartbreaks
Westphal no longer does the one-on-one patient care, but she plays a big part in growing a new crop of health care givers. “In health care nurses are the linchpin,” she says. “Without nurses I think our health care system would really crumble because they connect things together.”
With a growing, aging population, nurses are needed more than ever, Westphal says. “The health care system is complex, it’s cumbersome, it’s convoluted, and you need someone to help you sort through that,” Westphal says. “Nurses are the only health professionals that function as an advocate for the patient, and patients need advocates at times.”
Research: Dr. Judith Westphal, a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Scholar, shows her findings on a pilot study at the Provost's Teaching and Learning Summit.
Westphal does not glorify nursing to prospective students. She tells them it’s a tough job, not for the faint-of-heart. “It will require a lot of hard work to successfully navigate through a nursing program, but...” she says with a big smile, “the rewards are endless and stay with you for a lifetime.”
For Westphal, she still remembers certain patients who have left an indelible mark in her life. One patient, a young mother who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion in the 1980s, was one such person. “Many times, as nurses, you can help an individual successfully navigate the illness or disease,” she says. “They might come in with a broken limb. We set the limb and pretty soon they can walk on crutches and they are able to go home.”
But this case was different. The woman, who was about the same age as the nurses, didn’t have much time to live. “It was in the 1980s, and we didn’t understand what HIV was at the time,” Westphal says, her eyes welling with tears. During her final two months, the woman stayed in isolation at the hospital. But Westphal and the other nurses made sure that she had quality time with her husband and kids. After the woman died, the grief-stricken husband thanked her and the other nurses. “I had not gone to a lot of funerals of patients. That one I did attend,” she says. “We got back more than we gave.”
Despite the tragic outcome in that case, Westphal was reminded of why nurses do what they do. “The pure honesty of that feedback with patients and their families at moments of crisis really is what drives most nurses to keep going and do it day in and day out,” she says. “That’s the positive kind of reward.”
Making a Difference
Westphal may not have seen the world from the eyes of an archaeologist, but her reach as a nurse educator knows no boundaries. She knows what she is doing matters. “In my small sphere of influence, I can make a difference for individuals,” she says. “It may be a difference that I realize, it may be a difference I had no idea I touched or influenced. Perhaps all of us as we journey through life are influencing in ways we do not understand at all.”
She pauses. “I know that it’s my job, my purpose to keep doing what I’m doing right now and I know my work is not done yet.”
Student reporter Amy Wasnidge also contributed to this report.
The following are the lists of achievements of the faculty and instructional academic staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The lists, which are in PDF format, are divided by Colleges. Please note, information was provided by academic departments. Achievements included were those taking place between June 2010 and May 2011, excluding forthcoming publications, book/cd reviews, blogs, panel chairs/facilitators, Wisconsin conferences, and collaborative research grants. If there are errors or omissions, we apologize.
Endeavors faculty profiles can be found here.