Endeavors Spring 2013
A Letter from Lane R. Earns, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affair
Welcome to the second 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.
B.S. Sridhar, Ph.D.
College of Business
by Grace Lim
the teacher’s son
On the grounds of the National Primary and Middle School in Bangalore, India, B.S. Sridhar reflected on his father’s lessons:
You need to be a life-long student to be a productive citizen. You need to live a life giving back to the community.
On that pleasant January day in 2012, Sridhar, an associate professor of business at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and his siblings stood on the grounds of the school that their father founded more than 75 years ago. They saw their father’s life’s work in the shining faces of more than 700 students. The Balakuntalam siblings, five total, were back in India to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of their father, who passed away in 1980. They came back to honor the man, who taught them to value education for themselves and others by establishing the Srividya Foundation, which will focus on making educational opportunities available to children who cannot afford them. The foundation’s first order of business is to provide uniforms for the students at the first school that their father founded.
Sridhar and his siblings did not want to make a big fuss over their return to the school. They had just wanted to drop in, reminisce a bit, then leave. But when word got around that the sons and daughters of the founder, Balakuntaalum Sundareswara, were on the campus, the school canceled classes and held an impromptu welcome presentation.
Sridhar was touched beyond words. He said his father would have been terribly embarrassed by the attention, but would have loved that the school is thriving and the children are learning.
And he would have loved that his son Sridhar is continuing that tradition of cultivating young minds.
Sridhar was born in Bengaluru, the capital city of the Indian state of Kamataka, which is situated in southern India. His father was a trained child psychologist, but chose to go into education. His mother, a consummate volunteer and avid reader, provided the steady hand in the rearing of five children. His mother was the only daughter of an affluent businessman and came from a family steeped in community service. When Sridhar’s parents got married, his father did not want the customary dowry that is provided from the bride’s family. “My father who was an idealist wanted none of that. He said, ‘Just come as you are,’ which meant that my mother had to give up a lot of her comfortable living,” Sridhar says. “As a Gandhian, my father could go into the field and pursue his vision, but the person that kept the family intact and gave him all the support was my mother. We owe a lot to her.”
Sridhar says his father trained teachers and taught high school for a few years, but was disenchanted with the quality of educational foundation the students had prior to entering high school. His father took a 50 percent pay cut so he could start a kindergarten and middle school. That school, the National Primary and Middle School, opened in 1937. After a few years, the family moved from town to town while the father promoted his educational visions. Sridhar remembers several schools that were so impoverished that the students had no furniture. But the children were not lacking education-wise because of teachers who truly cared.
Since that first school, his father had helped found several more schools and until his death continued to train teachers and mentor many others. “He firmly believed that you cannot really educate students unless the teachers have had good training and preparation,” he says.
Education was paramount, Sridhar said. His parents’ home was filled with books and news magazines. “We did not have a radio in our house until I was 12,” he says. “I did not grow up with television.”
His parents often hosted well-known Indian poets, authors and artists, and encouraged the children to interact and engage with the guests. They were followers of Mahatma Gandhi, who valued education and culture. “That was invaluable,” Sridhar says of lively dinners and friendly debates with guests. “That was huge as an education.”
Arts and Science
Sridhar enjoyed and excelled in school. He knew what society’s expectations were of him. A professional career that begins with engineering school, medical school, something of that ilk. However, that was not what interested Sridhar. “I took science, I enjoyed it, but I had never any inclination on becoming an engineer or doctor, which for the larger community is almost taboo,” he says.
“How could you not think of becoming an engineer or doctor?” well-meaning friends and relatives would say somewhat incredulously. Sridhar smiles broadly. “For me, liberal education was more fun.”
He “dabbled in literature” while majoring in physics and chemistry and minoring in mathematics at Bangalore University. Between his undergraduate and first graduate degrees, he was selected as a Naval Aviation Cadet Officer. He was one of 16 people out of 7,000 applicants accepted into that program. After 18 months, an ear problem grounded his flying days. He then made the transition from science to management.
That switch wasn’t too hard because he had always exhibited leadership qualities even as a boy, from leading student organizations, fundraisers, participating in music competitions, debate, and plays. In college, he competed in literary debate in three languages. (He has comfortable fluency in five languages.) “Leadership came very naturally for me,” he says. “So, to me, management is about leading people and leading organizations.”
|In this video, B.S. Sridhar talks about the importance of liberal arts education. Video produced by multimedia news intern Noell Dickmann.
After his stint with the Navy, Sridhar immersed himself in the world of business. He has worked as a personnel officer, personnel and administration manager and chief personnel manager for several large companies in India. He earned his first of three advanced degrees, a master’s of arts in personnel management and industrial relations from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India.
Teaching as a Vocation
He had entertained the idea of teaching, having participated in employee training sessions at various companies. However, he had a different view about teaching as a vocation than his father, who had viewed teaching as a calling. His father’s life and career choices meant the family lived in poverty. Rich in ways not measured by money, yes, but poor in reality, nonetheless.
Sridhar says he has a more pragmatic way of looking at life than his romantic father. “I was looking for an opportunity to be gainfully employed and be comfortable,” he says. “I wanted something that could balance my economic needs as well as my professional needs.”
He began questioning his career path. His wife, Sandhya Sridhar, worked for a bank as a Selection Psychologist; he was head of HR for a large company. They have two children and lived a comfortable life. “I said, ‘Money and power is good, but is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?’ The answer was, ‘No.’”
He thought about what he liked to do–learning and teaching. He could have stayed in India to do just that, but he felt he would have to give up too much to do so. But teaching in the United States, now that had promise.
He made his way to Columbus, Ohio, on straight immigration to study organizational behavior and marketing at the Ohio State University where he earned his M.B.A. and doctorates. (His wife Sandhya Sridhar also earned her doctorate in business there, and now also teaches in the College of Business at UW Oshkosh.) Soon after graduating in 1987, he landed a teaching position at UW Oshkosh, where he has earned numerous teaching honors including the Excellence in Teaching Award, Management & Human Resources Team (2007, 2011) and Beta Gamma Sigma Professor of the Year (2003, 2006). “In the U.S. you have a fairly decent standard of living as a teacher,” he says with a smile. “Teachers are still not compensated well compared to a plumber or an electrician. On the other hand, I can’t complain. My needs are minimal and I can have fun with teaching.”
At UW Oshkosh, Sridhar teaches both graduate and undergraduate students. He is the founding advisor of the International Business Club, which began in 2001. Bryant Nankee, a senior majoring in marketing and minoring in global business, says Sridhar’s teaching have helped him with his current position as a marketing intern at Oshkosh Corp. “A lot of the course material has allowed me to better understand how to communicate with employees and customers of Oshkosh that are of different cultures,” says Nankee, who is also the Treasurer of the University’s International Business Club. “Wanting to pursue a degree in the international field, I can take away many of the subjects he teaches and be able to use them in the future.”
Kathryn Simon, a marketing senior and President of the International Business Club, says she is struck by Sridhar’s willingness to help. “Dr. Sridhar has taught me the power of connecting with people,” says Simon, who is working as an intern at New North in De Pere, Wis. “He has shown me that it is important to make connections with business professionals. I truly value his advice.”
Tim Fliss, who earned his MBA from UW Oshkosh in 2000, says he often uses Sridhar’s lessons in his job as Vice President of Human Resources at Bemis Company, a multinational company and major supplier of flexible packaging in Neenah, Wis. “Dr. Sridhar used several effective teaching and facilitation techniques to push us out of our comfort zones and think about new possibilities,” Fliss says. “This experience had a profound impact on me and was a catalyst that resulted in several years of rapid personal and professional growth. I also have used many of Dr. Sridhar’s concepts and techniques as I coach and develop leaders in my role as Vice President of Human Resources at Bemis Company.”
In September of 2012, Sridhar passed his quarter-century mark as a professor at UW Oshkosh. His commitment and passion to teaching remain as strong as ever. “There is not a semester when I don’t take a close look at my syllabus and the contents,” he says.
One student recently inquired about an upcoming Spring class. “He sent me an email about three days ago saying, ‘I want to be prepared for your class. I know you are a tough task master, and I want to use these three weeks to prepare.”
Sridhar took the student’s request to heart. “The last two days I updated my entire course content, and my wife was saying, ‘I thought you wanted to relax,’” he says with laugh. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to send him a bad syllabus.’”
Sridhar still keeps current with his field with outside consulting projects. He works with local companies in the Fox Valley including nonprofits like the Leadership Oshkosh, Paine Art Center, Oshkosh Symphony in Oshkosh and several small, medium and Fortune 500 companies in the area. “The reason I consult is not because of the money because money comes and money goes,” he says.
He says he is a better teacher when he can bring real-life experience into the classroom. “You gain more credibility when you are conveying abstract concepts like strategy, culture, motivation and leadership” he says of his consulting work. “You get a chance to test your concepts, test your techniques. You can bring the experience to validate or invalidate the textbooks.”
Sridhar wants his students to the see the world from different perspectives. In one recent MBA online class, International Business, he posed a question to his graduate students, “How do you market pizza in Kenya and Nigeria?”
For two days, the students, all in their 30s, engaged in a lively online discussion about the unlikelihood of marketing to people who “lived in trees,” had no infrastructure or need for such modern goods. “They had so many solutions and preconceived notions,” Sridhar recalls.
Then the teacher taught them a lesson with simple YouTube clips. He posted videos of modern supermarkets in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria. “The students were shocked,” he says, chuckling. “They said, ‘We don’t have supermarkets like this in Appleton or Oshkosh.' Suddenly they started thinking about these African countries as having great potential for business.”
|In this video, B.S. Sridhar explains a program he works with called IndUS. Video produced by multimedia news intern Noell Dickmann.|
If there is one lesson that Sridhar stresses to his business students, it is this: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
He wants his students to understand that best-laid plans often are rendered useless because they are not in sync with the culture of the organization. “The hardest thing for an organization is building and sustaining desired organizational culture.” In other words, people. How do you attract and retain people, the right kind of people with right kind of values, beliefs and talent,” he says. “They have to understand that people are your most important asset.”
Though both his parents passed in the 1980s, their lessons on education and community service still resonate in Sridhar. “They’ve taught me that learning is fun and that you grow by giving,” Sridhar says.
He lives those lessons daily. He teaches, keeps current in his field, and he gives back to the community by volunteering in many organizations. He has served as president of the Oshkosh Area United Way. He founded Seva, a volunteer group that serves lunch at the Salvation Army in Appleton every Saturday since 1993. He co-founded IndUS of Fox Valley, Inc., a volunteer organization whose mission is to promote “Indo-American friendship and goodwill by serving the community through social, cultural, educational and charitable activities,” and has served as its founding president for six years.
Since 1999 IndUS produces an annual cultural extravaganza that includes an exhibition, musical and dance performances and a multi-course authentic Indian dinner prepared by a renowned chef. The past five years, the gala has been held at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton and has attracted a sell-out crowd of 400 attendees.
It is in this venue that another side of Sridhar appears, one that his parents had cultivated when he was young and engaged in lively debates with authors and other creative souls. He has written, directed, and produced two plays, three dance-dramas, and seven musical-dance revues that have been staged in Oshkosh, Appleton and Madison.
For the most recent one in November titled “The Mysterious World of Indian Mythology,” Sridhar wrote and directed the dance drama. The dancers were from Kalaanjali School of Dance & Music, Madison, and Kanopy Dance, the resident dance company of Overture Theater of Madison. Only hours before the main event, Sridhar was going over the final blocking with the professional dancers from the Kalaanjali. His body swayed with the music, his arms flowed in time as the dancers swirled and twirled on stage.
“I am a great believer of liberal education so for me the liberal education has continued,” he says, adding that the business world would benefit greatly from people who embrace the arts. “A liberal education widens your mind. It teaches you how to learn. Art, music and literature are symbiotic with what I do as a professor of business.”
He doesn’t mind the long hours and the stress that comes with producing the cultural program at the annual event. “I learn so many new things,” he says. “It’s actually quite selfish on my part because I always come out ahead. I continue to grow.”
research mattersby B.S. Sridhar, Ph.D.
My current research interest lies in gaining a deep understanding of the impact of organizational culture and organizational mindfulness on effectiveness of nonprofit organizations in the context of social entrepreneurship. With decline in governmental revenues, and the increasing unemployment, societies around the world are facing severe cutbacks in social, educational and health services. Some nonprofits, faced with their declining donor base, and increased demand on accountability, are transforming themselves into social enterprises (SEs). Social enterprises pursue a triple-bottom line approach of people, planet and profits.
Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC
College of Nursing
by Hannah Opacich and Alyssa Volkman
Student Features Reporters
On the wall of Kimberly Udlis’ office is an untitled poem written by a patient on July 22, 1994. On that day, the patient had been told by his physicians that he needed open-heart surgery, after a less invasive procedure had failed. Udlis, then barely one year out of nursing school, held his hand after he was given the news. They talked a bit about the surgery, joked a bit about their favorite hockey teams and then she finished her night shift.
“It wasn’t anything special or out of the ordinary,” says Udlis, now an advanced practice nurse prescriber at Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, Wis., and an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
But to that patient, Udlis was special and her care of him was extraordinary. In the poem, the patient wrote the following:
|Dr. Udlis with her mother, Patricia Noble.
“...when in my sadness I reached out
and you took my hand and comforted me.
Once upon a time happens frequently in fairy tales and infrequently in life.
And this is one of those times.
You touched my life,
And I’m the better for it.”
Almost two decades have passed since Udlis cared for that patient, but she can recite those lines from memory. For her, that poem serves as a framed reminder of the importance of what she does as a nurse practitioner and teacher.
“It’s what I see when I walk into my office right behind my desk. It reminds me that everything you say matters or what you don’t say, sometimes, matters,” she says. “What was like such an insignificant moment to me had great impact on someone else. ”
The Healing Profession
Udlis grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, a city of 75,000 in the province of Ontario, Canada. Her father worked for the Canadian government and was the local administrator for Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services. Her mother was a branch administrator for a life insurance company.
While both parents wholeheartedly supported Udlis and her brother’s educational journeys, Udlis credits her mother for instilling in her a passion for nursing. Her mother, Patricia Noble, rose from an entry-level job at an insurance company to become a top executive. But, she says, her mother really wanted to be a nurse, but had to defer that dream when her father, Udlis’ grandfather, died unexpectedly when she was a child. With her formal education ending at high school, her mother found another avenue for the nursing dream.
|In this video, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh instructor Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC, tells what her favorite part is about being a nurse, what qualities she thinks makes a good nurse, and how her teaching is enhanced by her real world experience as a nurse practitioner. Video produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
“I can remember my mother always saying, ‘My daughter’s going to be a nurse, she’s going to be a nurse,’” Udlis says. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the word, ‘nursing.’”
However, when she was about 11, the idea of it being a valued profession came to the forefront. She had encountered two nurses who were caring for her grandmother. One was pleasant and kind; the other was not. “I remember wanting to be in a position someday to make a patient feel as special as the kind nurse did,” she says.
Udlis had always been a strong student and had a clear vision of her future. During orientation in her pre-nursing program at Lake Superior State University, one of her professors asked the future nurses, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
Udlis responded without hesitation. “I’ll be Dr. So-and-So. I’ll be married to somebody so I’m not sure what my last name will be, but I’ll have a Ph.D.”
All this from some fresh-faced freshman.
After graduating with her nursing degree, Udlis worked in a cardiac unit and later, in the intensive care unit.
She later earned her master of science in nursing degree with family nurse practitioner emphasis and her family nurse practitioner degree from UW Oshkosh in 1999. Two years later, she returned as a faculty member when Rosemary Smith, Dean of the College of Nursing, asked if she would be interested in teaching. Udlis was interested and has been teaching at UW Oshkosh since.
Through her unwavering focus, Udlis did fulfill her bold declaration. She earned her Ph.D in Nursing from Marquette University in 2009 and became Dr. Udlis. She married Seth Udlis, a family physician in Fond du Lac in 1996. Udlis has a stock answer ready when people impolitely question her career path and say, “Why don’t you just be a doctor?” With a doctorate in hand, she smiles broadly and tells them, “Well, I am.”
She has been practicing as Nurse Practitioner at Agnesian Health Care since 2007. Udlis equates her unwavering dedication to her education to a marathoner running the 26.2-mile race. “You don’t want to be asked at mile 20 how you feel, but you want to look back and say, ‘I really enjoyed my time in school. I got a lot out of my education,’” Udlis said.
Her sons, Eric, 12 and Ethan, 10, are fully aware of the type of work their parents do. “What happened to me as a child is already kind of happening to my kids whether we recognize it or not,” Udlis says. “We’re always talking about health care related careers. And even if the kids mention something as simple as ‘I want to be a doctor when I grow up,’ we’re already saying, ‘Be a dermatologist.’ Or my oldest son one time said, ‘I want to be an eye doctor,’ and we’re already saying, ‘Be an ophthalmologist!’”
Although Udlis and her husband have a great love and respect for the medical field, she stresses that they will let their children head into whichever careers they’d like. “We’re trying to support what their interests are,” Udlis says.
Healer and Teacher
Udlis receives self-fulfillment from the dual lives she leads. On Wednesdays, she works at Agnesian Healthcare in the Cardiology Department. On the other days, she is an assistant professor who teaches several grad courses—Clinical Management & Pharmacology, Advanced Epidemiology and Biostatistics and others at
UW Oshkosh. She also serves as the college’s assistant director overseeing the Family Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program. “I couldn’t imagine not practicing,” Udlis said. “I couldn’t imagine not teaching. My teaching makes me a better practitioner, and being a practitioner makes me a better teacher.”
When Udlis lectures, she includes real-life examples from her practice. According to the student surveys, her students learn better when she shares her professional experience as part of the lessons.
During a fairly dense endocrinology lecture, Udlis paused between slides and shared a quick anecdote about a patient, who was covered in tattoos. “I say ‘I’m going send you for some blood work’ and the guy says, ‘I hate needles.’” Like a practiced storyteller, Udlis smiled broadly at her students before finishing the story. “And I’m looking at his tattoos and they’re filled with ink and I’m like, ‘Really?’” The class laughed appreciatively.
Udlis has no problem sharing light-hearted moments from her practice in class because she wants her students to see the patients as people. “I think that it’s important that we role model well for our students, and that we show them that, as professors, we’re involved in a profession that we respect,” Udlis said. “[But] at work we tend to have a little bit of levity and a little bit of fun in-between patients as well.”
Nicole Brown, a former student of Udlis, likes the personal touch. “Dr. Udlis has laughed in every class at least once and has always made a conscious effort to make her students laugh,” Brown says. “Her lectures are full of anecdotal experiences and a wealth of knowledge. Dr. Udlis teaches in a way that students can understand, process and apply.”
|In this video, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh instructor Kimberly Udlis, Ph.d., FNP-BC, shares her most challenging and rewarding moments in teaching, and talks about her reputation as a "tough" professor. Video produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
Anna Christian, who graduated in May 2012 with a doctor of nursing practice degree, appreciates Udlis’ high standards.
“I have to honestly say that I don’t think I would have done as well or even finished this plan of study if it wasn’t for Dr. Udlis’ attention to detail and input into submitted work,” Christian says. “I feel very privileged that she was my instructor because of her unbiased input and understanding that all students come from different backgrounds and practice situations.”
Through student evaluations and scuttlebutt in the hallways of the nursing building, Udlis knows how students regard her. “I think I have developed a reputation for being a hard professor here and that’s OK,” she says with a smile. “When students leave my classes, they may be a little tired, but they will know what they will do as nurses is important and what they know is critical to what they will do.”
She wants her students to know that every day they work as nurse practitioners, they will make decisions, some tougher than others. “I tell them, ‘When you tell a patient, ‘I think you’re OK, I am not concerned about that, you are OK to go home,’ or when you tell a mother, ‘I believe your child is fine, the fever will pass, it will take a couple days,’ you have nobody standing behind you saying you made the right decision,” she says. “What you have are your knowledge and skills. People will listen and trust what you say. This is why the education is so important.”
Udlis is gratified when she hears from former students, now working in the field. “Every now and then you get a little thank-you note from a student,” Udlis said. “Somebody said you made a difference and it reminds you that ‘OK, I’m doing a good job.’”
In addition to her practice and her teaching, Udlis is also a researcher, having published and presented her work. Her research focus is two-fold; exploring health outcomes in cardiac patients and also examining outcomes in nursing education. She is currently a member of the Curriculum Leadership Committee for the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties as well as a member of Doctor Nursing Practice National Task Force for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. “The [research] that is nearest and dearest to my heart was the study that I did looking at the outcomes of patients with internal cardiac defibrillators because as a nurse practitioner I care for these people,” Udlis said. “It was a lot of fun to do because the results of the study were directly applicable to my career and practice setting. I hope to continue with it and further develop the technology on dependency concept with the patients.”
Fulfilling a Dream
When Udlis takes the rare break to reflect on her career path, she always goes back to the person who put her there—her mother. “I think she would say that I did the things she had hoped to do and always hoped I would do. She never misses a chance to tell me how proud she is, to the point where I often ask her to stop. But I try to remember that sharing the journey is important.”
With the idea of sharing in mind, Udlis established the Patricia M. Noble Scholarship in honor of her mother. The scholarship will be awarded to graduate students in the UW Oshkosh College of Nursing, with a preference given to the doctor of nursing practice students.
“My mother had these goals and aspirations, and then life circumstances presented barriers to having that education,” Udlis says. “Maybe if my mom had [this] opportunity at her time, her dream could have come true.”
On the scholarship endowment certificate are the words:
In honor of a mother’s dream and in gratitude for helping to make her daughter’s dream come true, the Patricia N. Noble Scholarship Fund was created in March 2011 for students requiring financial assistance in order to achieve their dream in nursing, despite adverse circumstance.
So what did the mother think of this scholarship, which was unveiled to her at Christmas 2011? The mother was touched beyond words. However, there was a tinge of regret, Udlis recalls. “True to my mother’s nature, the only thing she was disappointed about was that I did not put my name on the scholarship, but I didn’t want to put my name on it,” Udls says. “This is the way it is supposed to be.”
research mattersby Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC
Currently, I am involved in several research projects at various phases. I am very pleased to be leading two research teams of College of Nursing graduate students. One team is actively involved in examining the outcomes of care for heart failure patients. Another team will be exploring the evidence surrounding mandatory vaccinations of health employees.
Dr. Udlis lectures to nursing students.
Carmen Heider, Ph.D.
College of Letters and Science
by Noell Dickmann
Student Features Reporter
beyond the statistics
Carmen Heider stood behind the lectern and smiled broadly at the people gathered in front of her. Some were dressed in semi-formal attire; others were in matching blue-green prison apparel. On that day at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac, Wis., Heider, an associate communication professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, was celebrating her students’ success.
Half the class were known as “Inside” students, women incarcerated in Wisconsin’s largest female prison; the other half were UW Oshkosh students, known as “Outside” students. But behind the prison walls and in Heider’s eyes, they were all one and the same. Heider’s course is part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program, a national program that brings together college students and incarcerated people to learn about each other and to dispel myths and stereotypes.
“I am honored and very proud to be a part of this,” Heider said of the Inside-Out program. She unabashedly proclaimed this class as her favorite teaching experience because of the confidence it instills in the “Inside” students and the lasting impact it has on the class as a whole. She introduced two students who were chosen by their fellow classmates to give remarks at the ceremony that signified the completion of the program.
Shartina, an “Inside” student, shared how her life has changed through taking this course under Heider’s direction. “I feel as though I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, pushed to challenge my thinking,” Shartina said. “Inside-Out has equipped me with a broad base of knowledge, a motivation to live beyond the statistics... What is before me is far greater than what is behind me.”
Wade, a senior at UW Oshkosh, recounted how he was a little unsure about going to prison for a class and how quickly that apprehension went away. “As the weeks went on, Thursday was the new day to look forward to,” he said. He explained how the class gave the UW Oshkosh students a more accurate portrayal of incarcerated women than the stereotypes on TV, movies and in the general media. “Because of this class...those stereotypes are gone.”
|Carmen Heider with the students of the 2012 Inside-Out Prison Exchange class at Taycheedah Correctional Institution.|
|In this audio-only podcast, Carmen Heider tells why she teaches. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.|
Heider’s students at Taycheedah Correctional Institution won’t forget the lessons learned during the semester. At the closing ceremony, there was plenty of laughter and a palpable sense of camaraderie. The students knew the rules from Day 1–—no telling each other’s backstory, no sharing of crimes and misdemeanors, no last names. These restrictions allowed the students to feel free of the labels that unjustly define them.
While the students were friendly, there was a no hugging rule, even on the last day (though one “Outside” student managed to sneak in a few when no one was looking).
The “Outside” students said they gained a new perspective on the people behind the prison walls. The “Inside” students of the spring 2012 class said they felt encouraged and empowered.
“The most rewarding part about the class is to be able to feel like a human being,” said Enna, one “Inside” student.
Another “Inside” student echoed that sentiment. “It’s the one day a week I didn’t feel incarcerated,” Amy said. “I would be ecstatic the rest of the day after class.”
“Inside” student Ana noted Heider’s dedication - not just to the program, but to the content too. “She has this inner passion and fire,” she said. “She’s really devoted to what she does and that translates when she speaks.”
“Outside” student Nicole said she felt so inspired after completing the course with Heider that she decided to major in criminal justice. She hopes to some day work in a women’s prison.
Upon hearing those words, Heider beamed with pride. “This,” she said after the ceremony, “is why I do what I do.”
Since 2000, Heider has been teaching in the Department of Communication at UW Oshkosh. She is the author of numerous publications on women’s studies and rhetoric, and has received awards for her teaching including the 2005–2006 Wisconsin Teaching Fellow and the 2011 College of Letters and Science Community Engagement Award.
Tiny Town, Big World
Heider grew up in the town of Deshler, Neb. Her father was a livestock and crop farmer, her mother, a former elementary school teacher who left the profession to raise two daughters. The town’s population of about a thousand meant the farmer’s daughter was always finding ways to keep herself amused.
“I was outside a lot when I was little,” said Heider, who remembers building frog houses along a nearby creek and exploring the land with her dog. “My mom always said that I was good at entertaining myself.”
Heider learned at an early age that there was a big world outside her little hometown. She had the urge to see all of it–a trait inherited and nourished by her mother through family trips. She remembers one learning experience when she was about 10 years old, on a trip to Mesa Verde, Colo. The cliff dwellings of the Anasazi people there showed an entirely different way of life to Heider.
Every other year the family would travel to Colorado to see relatives; the years in between they would visit somewhere else, often national parks. “I think that sparked a lot of my curiosity,” Heider said. “Just learning about different things, seeing different things and realizing that not everybody lives the way we do in Deshler, Nebraska.”
Heider was a good student in high school, a social student, but a serious student nonetheless. She always enjoyed reading and analyzing different things, and she excelled in her English classes. One English teacher, Jeanne Weiner, introduced Heider to symbols through George Orwell’s Animal Farm. “I still have my notes from the class that I took with her,” she said.
|In this audio-only podcast, Carmen Heider talks about after-dinner speaking, a forensics event she took part in throughout college. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.|
Hooked on Rhetoric
Her interest in symbols would further ignite into rhetoric when Heider became a student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, majoring in speech communication and journalism. An undergraduate course required her to read The Language of Oppression by Haig A. Bosmajian, and Heider was hooked on rhetoric ever since. “It changed the way I thought about words,” Heider said of the book.
Her eyes burn with excitement as she explains the topic of rhetoric, which she said has two parts. First, symbols such as language, images and names make up the world. Second, rhetoric is designed to understand how these symbols function, how we make sense of the world through them.
Heider also took part in forensics throughout college. She did informative speaking, persuasive speaking and communication analysis, but her best event was after-dinner speaking. “It was humorous speaking and I talked about my hometown, Deshler,” Heider said with a laugh.
For the after-dinner speech Heider often used the hometown newspaper, the Deshler Rustler, as fodder, especially a section that highlighted important events in the town’s history. One headline from the past read, “The wholesale grocery company received a cart of bananas on Wednesday and a cart of grapes on Saturday.” Another headline from 1986 read, “Just what is a wild boar?”
“The overall point was that small, rural towns actually can be interesting places to live,” Heider said.
After graduating from UN–Lincoln in 1987, Heider worked for a few years at a bank doing collections and at a newspaper creating advertisements. It was during this time that she realized she wasn’t really doing what she wanted. “I felt like I wasn’t learning enough,” she said. “I missed being in the classroom.”
Her longing to learn propelled Heider to apply at a new master’s program in speech communication at Texas A&M University. Right away she knew she had made the right move. “I loved being able to spend my time reading the articles that were required for the class, writing the papers and just learning about things in more depth,” said Heider, who earned her master’s degree in 1993.
Her renewed enjoyment of the classroom made her start thinking about pursuing a career in academia. “It just seemed like a good fit,” said Heider, who then went on to Pennsylvania State University for her doctorate in speech communication, which she received in 2000. Heider started teaching at UW Oshkosh the
|In this audio-only podcast, Carmen Heider reveals what she hopes students take away from her classes. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
Heider has been teaching at UW Oshkosh for more than a decade, but has yet to grow tired of it. She stays enthusiastic by not limiting the learning to the four walls of a classroom. She has led several study abroad trips to Greece and Tanzania. “We can learn inside the classroom, but I think we can learn a lot of things outside of the classroom too,” Heider said. “The travel experiences or going to a prison can be really phenomenal ways to learn the subject matter in less traditional ways.”
The Tanzania trip is a journey that takes her students more than 8,000 miles from home–away from running water, away from people who speak English, away from comfortable homes and people who wear shoes. In Tanzania, the students are thrown into a desert of poverty, where lions and tigers roam free, where houses are made of sticks, where people get their dinner by a bow-and-arrow and where naked, starving orphans are covered in flies.
Well, not quite. Such misconceptions are exactly why Heider brings her students to the East African country.
While Tanzania does have its problems, Heider said, UW Oshkosh students can see first-hand how the people address them despite a lack of resources. During the three-week study abroad program, students saw the Tanzanians practice AIDS education, engage in a grass-roots fair-trade movement and observed local women learning trades to become self-sufficient.
Heider recalls an especially touching moment during the January 2012 trip to Tanzania. During a session with a local group of women in a very poor area of the country, the study abroad group learned how to hand-weave baskets. Even though the two groups of people faced a challenge–the Tanzanian women did not speak English and the UW Oshkosh students did not speak the local language of Swahili–they found a way to communicate with each another. “It was magical,” Heider said. “We connected, and that was really powerful.”
Even Heider was caught up in the moment; she purposely over-paid for a hand-made necklace and through a translator told the seller, who tried to give her the change, to “just keep it.” The woman was beyond grateful. “The expression on her face was like she had won the lottery and it was 11,000 shillings, which is probably $8,” Heider said. “I will never forget that.”
|Carmen Heider in Tanzania with UW Oshkosh instructor Liz Cannon, Ph.D., and a local student from Tanzania.
|In this audio-only podcast, Carmen Heider tells why she encourages students to study abroad. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.|
Whether it’s traveling, researching or diving into stereotypes, exploration spreads to every aspect of Heider’s life. Her husband Paul Czisny, a self-employed attorney, shares her passion. In the summer the two head southwest for hiking expeditions.
From getting married in 2004 at Yellowstone National Park to hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim, to the top of Mount Elbert (the highest point in Colorado), they can be found outdoors where the rocks are red and the mountain peaks scrape the sky.
While retirement is a ways off, they do share a dream of joining the Peace Corps together. “Being immersed in another culture for two years would be a powerful experience,” she said. “It would enrich my teaching and my research too.”
For now, Heider is happy researching, teaching and expanding her students’ worlds. “I hope I can help students step back and see things from multiple perspectives, and I hope that I can help students understand the importance of asking the “why” questions,” she said.
Heider has climbed part of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania; she has seen the struggles of society both in America and abroad. She has seen the good and the bad, and all that is in between the two, and has learned that people everywhere are typically more similar than different.
She said it is critical that students leave her courses with a broader understanding of the role that language and symbols play in shaping identities and communities.
“I hope students learn that language has consequences, and that those who have the power to control language also have the power to direct our attention and actions in certain ways,” she said. “However, if we change the language, we can change how we think, and sometimes, how we act.”
research mattersby Carmen Heider, Ph.D.
My current research
focuses on a book-length project based on the rhetorical analysis of 50
interviews I conducted with women in a maximum/medium security prison.
My goal was to gain an understanding of how incarcerated women perceive
their lives prior to incarceration, how they understand their
experiences in prison, and how they think about their lives in the
future, be it in prison or upon release. I also asked these women to
share the messages that they would like to communicate to three
different audiences: tax-paying citizens, individuals who work in the
criminal justice system, and girls or women who might find themselves in
circumstances similar to those that each of these women faced prior to
her incarceration. I am exploring the themes, metaphors, and
contradictions that emerge in their life narratives and their messages
to various audiences. My hope is that this project creates a space for
the voices of the incarcerated to be heard and to become more integrated
into our public discourse on incarceration, which might then have an
impact on reducing the number of women in prison.
Michelle Kuhl, Ph.D.
College of Letters and Science
by Samantha Anderson and
Brittany Lemmenes, Student Features Reporters
Teaching Through Stories
Michelle Kuhl is fired up. On this day, she is faced with this challenge: make Coming of Age in Mississippi, a 1968 memoir by Anne Moody about her life as an African American girl growing up in Mississippi, relevant to her students in this time, in this place.
She turns to the students in her African American History class, which is glaringly homogenous, and asks, “Is there a black experience, or is it unique to the individual?” The students divide into groups to dissect her question, and Kuhl works the room, making sure that each cluster is on track. She listens in, sometimes jumping in with a counter argument that gives the students pause.
One group ties the question to educational experiences. They share stories about their school life when they were kids. One girl talks about her small, rural, predominantly white school. Another, who went through the Milwaukee school system, shares the struggle he faced going to an overcrowded but terribly underfunded school. The teachers, he says, were overwhelmed and unequipped to control the students.
The 90-minute class started with a story about a black girl in Mississippi, but it ended as a conscious race experience. For Kuhl, the story served as a vehicle to get her students to think, to process and see life through different lenses.
Kuhl, an associate professor of history at UW Oshkosh, teaches through story. Whether it’s about the American Revolution or the backstory of unions during the Industrialization Age, her students learn history through her stories.
Kuhl’s storytelling ability runs in the family. Her father, Paul, a history professor, exposed Kuhl and her two siblings to educational opportunities, like trips to museums. Her mother, Sarah, was a kindergarten teacher and a natural storyteller.
Her mother would regal her with tales of growing up in Wichita Falls, Texas. Then she’d let her daughter take center stage so she could tell a story of her own. “That had a lot of influence on me,” Kuhl says. “I think that prepared me to be a history professor in a great way—that I spend a lot of my days telling stories.”
Kuhl took an interest in history at a young age, though she wouldn’t realize her true love for the subject until her college years. Her favorite book in second-grade was a biography of Harriet Tubman. She liked the adventure of the story: a slave woman who escaped from her owners, but risked her life many times by returning to slave country to rescue others. “I liked learning about injustice and overcoming it,” Kuhl says.
|Michelle Kuhl converses with students in a discussion group during class.
|In this audio-only podcast, Michelle Kuhl talks about how she responds to students who say history is boring. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
Kuhl grew up in Pfafftown, N.C., a town situated outside the larger Winston-Salem, a major producer in North Carolina’s cigarette industry. As a kid, field trips for Kuhl involved going to a cigarette factory, much like kids in Wisconsin go to dairy farms. She recalls going to the RJ Reynolds Co., which manufactured the iconic Camel cigarettes, and petting the life-sized camel made out of tobacco leaves in the company’s lobby. “They’d hand out packs of cigarettes to the kids as a parting gift and say, ‘Now remember, this is for your parents,’” she says with a laugh.
As a young girl, Kuhl realized that not all people were treated the same. When she was 6 and raised as a good Catholic, she declared at Sunday school that she wanted to be a priest when she grew up. The nuns were horrified and suggested she be a nun instead. Kuhl didn’t much like that idea. “I thought, ‘Who wants to be a nun?’”
She was constantly told she couldn’t do such things because she was a girl and given messages that a girl’s self-worth is related to her appearance. As a self-described organic feminist, she was never interested in the culture of waking up an hour early to do her hair and makeup like other girls in the 1970s. She never hid the fact that she was smart and didn’t understand why other girls at school did. In high school Kuhl joined the marching band and debate club and took accelerated classes. “I think I could win an award for nerd,” Kuhl laughs again.
Growing up in North Carolina also exposed Kuhl to racial issues as the state was in the middle of transitioning to integration. She rode one of the integrated school buses in the area, a bus driven by a high school student as part of his driver’s ed class. On this bus were students in both middle and high school, some of who claimed they were proud members of the KKK.
During one of the 40-minute rides to school, Kuhl, then 10, saw a group of white boys from the back of the bus hanging out the window, hollering and harassing a black woman and her teenage son as he went to get on the bus. The mother was so upset that she pointed a shotgun at them, which made the boys laugh harder.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is strange,’” Kuhl says. “I wasn’t scared of her... I was always more scared of the white boys.”
Women and History
Like many college students, Kuhl didn’t know what she wanted to do when she started at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, so she dipped into a variety of subjects she liked, collecting course credits across the board.
Sophomore year she took a U.S. Women’s History class that completely changed how she looked at the world. Finally she was given insight to the strange and confusing situations of her youth. In that class, Kuhl learned about how women had been in a subordinate position and was impressed by how they got out of it. She was hungry to learn more. “It helped me understand my life and the world around me,” Kuhl says. “It just helped make so many things make sense to me.”
By the time she was a junior she realized that she was accumulating more history credits than any other subject. She felt the same connection and clarity taking history classes she had felt that sophomore year. She became a history major.
At that time, North Carolina State did not have a women’s studies program. Undeterred, Kuhl created her own informal women’s studies degree. She did so by relating papers and projects to a feminist perspective. After graduating from North Carolina State University in 1991 with a bachelor’s in history, Kuhl was still uncertain on what path to take. She wandered for a while, staying with relatives in Texas for a year, then headed back to North Carolina. Back in Raleigh, she worked her way up in a catering business she’d been at throughout college. But after a while, catering wasn’t cutting it. “I missed the world of ideas,” Kuhl says. “And I missed thinking about how the world worked, and reading books about ideas.”
In order to fulfill her desire for intellectual discovery, Kuhl enrolled in graduate school at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and pursued studies in American History. By that point Kuhl knew she wanted to be a historian, and she chose to become a history professor. She received her master’s degree in 1995 and continued on there for her doctorate.
After she received her doctorate in 2004, Kuhl wrote many essays, including one that was published in Interconnections: Gender and Race in American History by Carol Faulkner and Alison Parker. She is currently working on a book about the anti-lynching movement called Manly Martyrs: African Americans and the Anti-Lynching Battle.
In Manly Martyrs, Kuhl wants to know how African Americans dealt with lynching. How did they experience, fight against and overcome it? “I think secretly I was hoping to find a story about women saving the day,” Kuhl says, “and though women were important in the struggle, I got more interested in questions of how manhood was being defined.”
|In this audio-only podcast, Michelle Kuhl explains what she would say to someone who asks, "There is not field of men's studies, why should women's studies be a field of interest?"
Kuhl began teaching at UW Oshkosh in 2004 after she was a visiting professor at Utica College in New York and the University of Texas at Dallas. Had she been asked as an undergraduate, Kuhl would not have wanted to go into teaching. She was more ambitious than that, or so she thought, at the time. Now, she appreciates the profession. “I think being a teacher is very ambitious,” she says. “You’re trying to shape people’s minds and teach them to think, so I have more respect for the profession now and see teaching as something that’s hard to do.”
She finds value in the dual roles that she plays—as a researcher and writer while alone, and that of a thought-provoking, idea-bouncer while in the classroom. “I really like that energy and that dynamic,” she says.
Plus, she is now able to find answers to all of the questions that have plagued her throughout life, especially from a feminist perspective. The life of a professor, however, is not always easy. Sometimes nobody reads the research that took months to complete, write about and publish. Sometimes students just don’t care about class. That’s why Kuhl has what she calls her “insurance against despair.”
On her University website page is a quote from John Hope Franklin, a renowned U.S. historian and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor, that serves as a reminder that all the work is worth it.
“I would only add that when one begins a poem, a hymn, a short story, or even a history, one must be optimistic about its completion and about what it seeks to teach. If one believes in the power of his own words and in the words of others, one must also hope and believe that the world will be a better place by our having spoken or written those words.”
Knowledge and Wisdom
After teaching for 13 years, Kuhl knows her goal when she faces a new group of students each semester. She wants them to come away with a combination of knowledge and wisdom.
In her mind, knowledge is timely, but wisdom is timeless. She says studying history exercises the mind in such a way that you have to think critically. “You have to imagine choices people have made, you have to think about a really different world, you have to look for patterns and evidence,” Kuhl says. “That kind of practice of doing history can create wisdom.”
But wisdom is not easily gained, and neither is an A in Kuhl’s classes, so she does her best to show students their work pays off in the long run. “I try to show students that it’s a process, it’s not just memorizing facts,” she says. “It’s not just one damn thing after another.”
She pauses. “History is making sense of what we know, and that’s more like a puzzle. There’s no right answer; everyone has to make sense of the past on their own terms.”
|Michelle Kuhl challenges students during a small group discussion.
|In this audio-only podcast, Michelle Kuhl tells a story about her favorite historical person. Pdcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
According to her students, Kuhl’s lessons have lasting effects. Journalism major Brittany Farrell left Kuhl’s class still thinking about what they had discussed minutes before. “I found the knowledge that Dr. Kuhl opened up to me carries into my personal life and guides me on certain issues outside of school,” Farrell said.
Jasmine Draxler, a history major, appreciated Kuhl’s vast knowledge about the subject of the class. “She really excels in teaching details about African Americans,” Draxler said. “More than what you would learn from a survey.”
In a recent student opinion survey, a student wrote, “Kuhl got me really interested in history. I wanted to do the homework. Helped me decide to get a history minor.”
But not all of Kuhl’s students are as enthusiastic about history. She teaches 120 students in two sections of her history survey class. At the beginning of each semester, she asks them how many students are taking the class because they love history, and how many are there only to fulfill a general education requirement.
Only a handful of students raise their hands for “love history.” “So I’m faced with four to six history fans, and over 100 people who just want to trudge through the course,” Kuhl says.
It’s a struggle to get students to care about history, but she finds fun ways to help them learn, like through song. Students often get confused about the Federalist, Anti-Federalist, and Jeffersonian political factions, so she asks them to pick a theme song that best represents the ideals of each and they sing them in class.
“I think if people are willing to sing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to represent the Federalists, or ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ to represent the Jeffersonians, then students feel my classroom is a safe environment to do something risky for the sake of learning,” Kuhl says.
Kuhl’s colleagues sing her praises. Kim Rivers, professor and chair for the history department, has worked with Kuhl for years and enjoys the directness of her associate. “Michelle is a dedicated teacher and scholar who always exhibits professionalism in the classroom and in the department,” Rivers said.
Stephen Kercher, associate history professor, admires the versatility in which Kuhl can teach a wide range of courses. “I’ve had the privilege of watching her teach, and it’s fair to say that she inspires envy with the way she relates to her students,” Kercher said.
Kuhl’s love of history is felt as strongly as home as it is as work. Her husband, Jeff Pickron, is a historian and lecturer at UW Oshkosh. Together they have two daughters: Clio, 10, and Eliza, 5. “I think we bore our children to death,” Kuhl laughs. “When we watch the news we contextualize everything. If they ask us questions such as why people wear shoes, we start back in ancient history and give them the history of shoes.”
As for her teaching, she finds her greatest rewards from students who develop a true appreciation for history. She recalls one student who told her at a history club function how much he hated her class, how she gave too much work and how she was too hard on the students.
“Then he said when he was studying for the final exam, he realized he loved the class, that he learned and understood so much,” she says.
Kuhl is happy when her students appreciate the lessons they learn in the time spent with her. She hopes they learn one more lesson, too. “Instead of accepting the world around them as inevitable and natural, they’ll realize the world constantly changes,” she says, “and it changes because people with visions shape the world according to their visions.”
Her wish for her students? “Maybe our students will roll up their sleeves and work to remake the world according to their visions.”
research mattersby Michelle Kuhl, Ph.D.
My ongoing research
interests center on race, gender, and violence in the Jim Crow period.
In the 1880s lynch mobs killed hundreds of people a year in the American
south, yet there was no outcry from the average citizen. How did people
who explicitly championed liberty and Christianity tolerate this
outrage? And how were activists able to challenge this complacency and
define lynching as a moral crime? I draw on newspaper articles, short
stories, sermons, organizational records, and images to chart the rise
of a powerful anti-lynching movement. Many of the assumptions embedded
in the practice and defense of lynching had to do with widespread
assumptions about race, crime, sexuality, and gender that were backed by
religion and science. The movement to debunk these fictions had some
well-known leaders such as Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.
DuBois, and Walter White. Many other lesser known people shaped this
opposition such as sociologists, newspaper reporters, Baptist ministers,
and of course, the numerous sharecroppers and workers who battled white
supremacy on the ground. In many ways the story of lynching at the turn
of the century provides a context for understanding modern day
practices and beliefs about violence, crime, race, and gender. Overall,
it helps us wrestle with the question: What do we tolerate as a society?
Student Assistant Features Editor Noell Dickmann also contributed to this report.
Patricia Scanlan, Ph.D.
College of Education and Human Services
by Tierney Cigelske and Samantha Diersen
Student Features Reporters
Frost fogged the windows of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Nursing Education building, where Dr. Patricia Scanlan, her graduate students, 10 children from 1st–4th grade and their parents were gathered for a celebration of literacy.
It may have been under 20 degrees outside, but inside, the warmth was felt as the elementary-aged students took turns reading aloud to the 30 or so people there. Each younger student was paired with a graduate student, who is working toward a master’s degree in Reading Education. For 13 weeks, they’ve spent time together exploring the world of reading and writing. Many of the elementary students had been reluctant readers, but you couldn’t tell from their smiling faces.
As she scanned the room, Scanlan’s eyes rested on the next reader, a boy named Tyler. Only 13 weeks earlier, Tyler avoiding reading. It was his least favorite part of the school day.
She looked at the third-grader, whose knees bounced up-down-up-down-up-down in anticipation for this next big step. He took his tutor by the hand, graduate student Lisa LeRoy, and together they faced the crowd.
Tyler opened his book, smiled and read the title: Looking at X-Rays. The boy looked up shyly, and turned the book so his audience could see the photographs showing X-ray pictures of a hand, a foot, and a mouthful of teeth. “Look at the hand. Look at the foot. Look at the teeth.” He continued confidently to the last page.
As soon as he finished reading, he closed the book, grinning, soaking up the applause.
Scanlan looked on proudly. She caught LeRoy’s eye and they too exchanged smiles. They knew how big a feat that was for the young reader. He wasn’t required to read that night. None of the young students had to. He and the others all chose to. Scanlan flashed back to what Tyler said to his tutor as they wrapped up the semester. The boy exclaimed, “I love reading! I don’t have to be done, do I?”
Scanlan, an associate professor in the UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services, treasures such moments. “These are the rewards of teaching,” she said of that moment. “It just doesn’t get any better.”
|Patricia Scanlan chats with a student and a graduate student tutor.
|In this audio-only podcast, Patricia Scanlan talks about what attracted her to the field of teaching. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
The Principal’s Daughter
Scanlan grew up in Preston, Minn., a city of 1,500. The only child of two educators, one of whom became her high school principal, Scanlan spent much of her young life resisting the idea of becoming a teacher herself. “My reluctance to follow in my parents’ footsteps was more my attempt at ‘being my own person’ than it was anything else,” Scanlan said. “My mom and dad were fairly protective, and I wanted the freedom to do my own thing. However, I really had no idea what ‘my own thing’ was.”
In junior high after reading a series of books, Clara Barton Student Nurse, Scanlan toyed with the idea of being a nurse–nursing and teaching were two popular options for college-bound girls at that time–but quickly abandoned that idea because of two reasons. “My gag reflex is pretty sensitive and I panic in situations that even hint of medical emergency,” she said, adding, “I was probably more drawn to Clara Barton’s love life than her work as a nurse.”
Scanlan credits her mother for instilling a lifelong love for reading. When she was in grade school, Scanlan had to read a minimum of 20 minutes every day during the summer. For young Scanlan, reading, prior to that summer, meant being placed in an average reading group, answering questions at the end of a story, and completing workbook pages. Nothing too exciting.
Something happened during that summer of reading. “The fact that what I was reading was supposed to make sense and communicate a message wasn’t something I learned until I discovered it on my own,” she said. “It was then that I found myself immersed in a book, unaware of the time and enjoying the story.”
As the principal’s daughter Scanlan felt, at times, as if she lived in a glass house. “It’s a small town, everyone knew the family, and I was the principal’s kid,” she said, adding that she was a student who was good at “doing school.”
Two high school teachers, however, forged her growing love for reading, and, in some ways, teaching.
Her English teacher, Mrs. Elsie Husom, assigned the students to read a book of their choice and then present it to the class. Scanlan and a friend read To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite. Scanlan played the song of the same title sung by Lulu on a vinyl record. She and her partner used the music as an interlude between parts of the story that they acted out. Their presentation received raves from the class.
Another teacher, Mr. Frank Jaszewski, who taught U.S. History, challenged her and the students to speak with authority on a current event issue. “I remember talking against the death penalty, and feeling quite brave about it,” she said. “I know Mr. Jaszewski was for the death penalty. I didn’t care. I respected Mr. J., and I trusted he would respect my ideas. I think I got an A, or maybe an A-, on the assignment.”
While those two teachers gave Scanlan positive learning experiences, she points to her parents as the ultimate paradigm for educators. “Despite my resistance, I think I am a teacher because of my parents,” she says. “Perhaps it’s a gift I inherited from them–maybe it’s even in my DNA.”
Learning to Teach
Scanlan left Preston to attend the College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minn., about an hour away from home. After earning her elementary teaching degree, she spent 12 years teaching in Catholic schools in central Minnesota. She earned her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction at St. Cloud State University and her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. (It was at Iowa where she met future husband Michael Ford, then also a doctoral student in education. Ford is a Reading Education professor at UW Oshkosh. They are parents of Vladimer and Pavel, both 21.)
Scanlan’s first position as a teacher educator was at Mankato State University in Minnesota. After a couple of years, she went to UW–La Crosse where she taught for five years and earned tenure. Then in 1995, she joined the Reading Education faculty at UW Oshkosh where she earned tenure for the second time. Currently, Scanlan teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in reading education.
|Scanlan with children from the reading program.
|In this audio-only podcast, Patricia Scanlan explains why she teaches. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
The Fox Valley Writing Project
When Scanlan is not teaching future teachers, she is teaching and collaborating with teachers as the director of the Oshkosh-based Fox Valley Writing Project, which offers professional development for teachers of writing as well as leadership development for educators. This is done through summer seminars, radio broadcasts, outreach programs and meetings. The Writing Project, which is housed in the College of Education and Human Services, also hosts young writers programs.
The Fox Valley Writing Project began in 1986 as an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a collaborative network that empowers teachers to grow as writers, teachers and leaders. Nationwide, there are 200 such projects; the Oshkosh campus site is one of four in the state of Wisconsin.
Scanlan believes that the field of education is always in a state of change. To address such changes, teachers must be constantly learning, Scanlan said. Her position as the director fits in perfectly with this philosophy.
“I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with the best K-12 teachers in the Valley,” she said. “My work is always new. It gives me ongoing opportunities to study teaching, to discuss professional reading, and to write about my own experiences and practice.”
Scanlan renews her passion for teaching each time she works with teachers at the Writing Project events. “That knowledge and teacher expertise is valued,” she said. “We have a lot to learn from each other whether we are elementary teachers, or whether we’re middle school teachers or whether we’re high school teachers.”
The centerpiece of the Writing Project work is the Invitational Summer Institute, a six-credit course in which teachers become part of a professional learning community, where they write every day, read professional literature, and inquires into their own practices. “Writing Project work is about problem-solving,” she said. “It’s about asking questions; it’s about inquiry.”
Through the Writing Project, teachers can solicit help from peers about teaching challenges or curriculum changes. “Teachers are asking how they can do something differently or do something better,” Scanlan said. “We’re always in the process of supporting one another and learning from one another.”
Growing Lifelong Readers
Once a week Scanlan and her Reading 410 students head to Webster Stanley Elementary School to participate in the Lighted School House Program, which matches future teachers with elementary students for an hour. During that time they read together and play word games. “Our goal for the elementary children is to have enjoyable, individualized reading and writing experiences that enable them to take on new learning,” Scanlan said. “Our goal for the college students is to provide them with the opportunity to apply their knowledge of assessing children’s literacy development and to use the results of those assessments to plan appropriate instruction.”
Program coordinator Kaytie Storms at Webster Stanley is a big fan of Scanlan and her students’ work with the kids. “They’re gaining the experience as future teachers and our students benefit because they get extra help with school that they can’t get during the school day,” Storms said.
At each tutoring session, which is held at the school’s library, Scanlan spends her time circulating among the clusters. At one table, Scanlan watched her student work with the younger child as they took turns reading aloud. After the younger student rushed through her section, Scanlan smiled and said, “Try it again. Take your time.”
UW Oshkosh student Jill Berens sat with a kindergartner reading I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. After Berens and the young girl finished reading, they practiced writing sentences using the words they read in the book and then wrote the sentences on paper hats. Scanlan approved, saying, “Jill was still teaching her, but she was using a fun activity to do so.”
|Scanlan works next to an elementary student and her gradute student tutor.
|In this audio-only podcast, Patricia Scanlan tells what she hopes students take away from her classes. Podcast produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
Scanlan’s own teaching experience spanned grade-school kids to adult professionals, however she believes teaching is teaching regardless of the student’s age. “Teaching means, first of all, knowing the students–both what they can do and what they are on the brink of learning–and then providing them the support that is needed to take on new learning,” she said, adding that support can come in the form of resources, the modeling/demonstrations, the coaching, the assignments, etc. “The thing that’s especially exciting about teaching adults who are tutoring children, however, is that it’s possible to observe a parallel learning process. The adult learns and that results in the child’s learning. It’s simply amazing.”
Growing Lifelong Learners
As an educator Scanlan wishes the same thing of all of her students. “I want my students to leave my courses with the sense of the importance of literacy in their own lives, and also with the knowledge that they are lifelong learners,” she said. “Once we allow ourselves to stop learning, we inevitably lose our effectiveness as teachers.”
Student Tyler Demeny has put many of Scanlan’s lessons into his teaching practice. “Dr. Scanlan has also taught me the importance of being an approachable teacher,” said Demeny, who is both a general education and a special education major. “She has taught me the importance of talking to and listening to students and showing them I value their feedback, concerns and input.”
Scanlan is heartened when she hears student feedback like that. While she encourages her students, who are new teachers, to be confident in their newly learned skills, she also suggests they temper their confidence with a dash of humility. “I want them to recognize that they still have a lot to learn, and to know that’s OK,” Scanlan said. “Good teachers ask questions, and they are always seeking to do what’s best for kids. That means teachers need to be learners. It doesn’t stop with the baccalaureate degree.”
research mattersby Patricia Scanlan, Ph.D.
Currently I am
studying the inquiry work of high school teachers who are participating in a three-year grant project (Wisconsin Improving Teaching Quality) from UW System. ELSAC (Enhancing Learning in Subject Area Classrooms) has provided professional development for content area teachers as they study how to use reading, writing, speaking, listening, and visual representations to improve students’ learning. With the support of a team of Fox Valley Writing Project teacher leaders and UW Oshkosh professors, the high school teachers have developed and implemented numerous teaching projects; they have also studied the work their students have done as a result of these projects. We are investigating the teachers’ work to learn about specific ways that literacy processes support learning in various content areas, and how the interrelationships between reading, writing, speaking, listening, and visual representations can deepen students’ understandings and their engagement.
Student Assistant Features Editor Noell Dickmann also contributed to this report.
The list is in PFD format. Please note, information was provided by academic departments. Achievements included were those taking place between June 2011 and May 2012, excluding forthcoming publications, book/cd reviews, blogs, panel chairs/facilitators, Wisconsin conferences, and UW Oshkosh Student/Faculty Collaborative Research grants. If there are errors or omissions, we apologize.