20 Years at Marshall… Time for some Thank Yous

I was sitting here tonight and it hit me that Monday marks the start of my 20th fall semester at Marshall University. Twenty years is a long time, more than half of my life, and when I started thinking about everything I have been able to do and accomplish in those twenty years, I thought that it was time to thank a few of those who helped me get to where I am today. First and foremost I would like to thank God for everything I am about to say as without Him in my life I would be nothing.

I came to the university as an 18-year old Freshman in August 1992, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do for a career, but knowing that I wanted to play baseball. I was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to play baseball for two seasons at the university. Sure, I only played in 4 ballgames, but the memories are still fond to this day. Thank you Coach Howard McCann for the opportunity.

As an undergraduate, I floated around during my first couple of years switching from Math Education to simply Math and then to Computer Science. I will not mention any names but I guess I should thank two of the Math professors at the university that I had as an undergrad that helped convince me that I no longer wanted to major in math and instead, move to computer science. It took just a little over 5 years to graduate with my BS in Computer Science but that degree served as the basis for where I am today.

While an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Michael Little, my present department chair/boss/friend who hired me to do some programming work on a grant he had been awarded for developing computer simulations for educating WV elementary students. That position led to me meeting Dr. Jan Fox during a presentation one day. One of the boldest things I have ever done was walking out of a class as an undergraduate after that presentation to go find Jan and ask about a job she had mentioned in the meeting. Funny thing is, as I was leaving the classroom and headed down the hall, she had been coming back up the hall to find me regarding that job. She went on to hire me as the very first instructional technologist at Marshall University. Thank you Jan. After graduating and working for Jan, the university was in the process of creating the Center for Instructional Technology. I remember taking another chance and seeking out one of the Vice Presidents at the university as a 23 year old kid asking what it would take to become the director of that Center. Thank you Drs. Larry Froehlic and Dennis Prisk for taking a chance on me. Their requirement – start my masters immediately, which I did, immediately, as in 3 days after graduating. My first semester in graduate school also opened the door to teaching as Rhonda Scragg and Kim Preece from Marshall’s Community and Technical College took a chance on allowing me to teach an intro to the Internet course for the CTC. Thank you ladies. So here I was, 23 years old, director of a department at a major university, teaching my first college class, working on my masters, with a child on the way. Ironically I taught my first class 14 falls ago and Michael will be 14 this winter. He was born the day before I gave my first final exam, which was also the day I was supposed to take my first oral final exam in graduate school. Memories.

What I realized while teaching that first class was that I truly enjoyed teaching, which I had once thought I had wanted to do but was unsure of myself. Then, by December 1997, I was sure. I loved my job as the Director of the Center for Instructional Technology, but it was not allowing me to do what I liked to do the most –program and teach. I loved watching students learn, to help make a difference, to share knowledge. I trained faculty, made policy, oversaw web development at the university, and led the crusade in brining WebCT/Blackboard on to the Marshall campus as the director of instructional technology, but it wasn’t all hands on, which is the way I teach. After nearly 3 years of being the director, finishing my masters, and teaching a course each semester, I found an opening on campus within the Integrated Science and Technology department as a professor teaching computer and IT courses. Once again, I will be forever grateful to Dr. Sarah Denman-the provost of the university at the time I was hired, Dr. Tom Storch-the dean of the College of Science at the time, Dr. Bill Denman-chair of the Integrated Science and Technology Program at the time, and Dr. Michael Little. After being offered a faculty position, I was having second thoughts and doubted myself. I was simply scared that I was making the wrong decision, but it was a simple 3 minute conversation that I had with Dr. Little one day at the back of the Morrow Library in a light drizzling rain in June 2000 that convinced me that I would do well. I have reminded him of that conversation several times. After joining IST, it’s the camaraderie within the department that has kept me there, including “the boss”, Wanda Dyke.

Today I can honestly say that I truly enjoy teaching. Something I have come to realize over the last 14 years as a college professor is that there have been many influential teachers in my life who I have modeled my teaching style after, which have helped me be successful. How does one measure success as a professor? I feel that a college professor can know that they are successful through their evaluations, by their student reviews, their graduates’ comments, and in my case, by being named a Pickens Queen Professor of the Year at the university in 2005. I have been fortunate enough to earn the respect of my colleagues over this time and I was able to do so without being overly cocky and pushing my agenda in anyone’s face. After all, I was a non-traditional professor, one coming in without a PhD. I learned from my mother and father early on that one should do their job, do it to the best of their abilities, earn others’ respect, and then people will learn to trust and rely on you. Something that my father may not realize today is that he has played a very large role in my success, not only through life’s lessons that he taught me over the years, but silently with his style of teaching and his sense of humor that he took to the classroom. He is the basis for my approach to the classroom. Thank you dad, and congratulations on your retirement after 40 successful years teaching young minds yourself.

Others who were influential were those who brought enthusiasm, fairness, honesty, and a caring attitude in to the classroom, such as Dr. Hisham Al-Haddad, Dr. David Cusick, and Dr. David Hatfield. Sure even the good ones can come across tough at times, but so do I. Others were also very influential for the opposite reason, meaning they were such a negative influence that I promised myself that I would never treat my students like we were treated in class. I will spare everyone the names. I actually laughed while creating this because some of my students have accused me of being unfair in the past, but they have no idea who I truly am or how much I care or how I am approaching their learning. I may come across early on as someone who doesn’t want to talk to students, who doesn’t want to help them, etc. but it’s all part of the learning process for them. I know how to get students to step out of their comfort zone and begin to learn on their own, all the while still leading them to the answer, just not giving it to them plainly. Just ask my upper-level students and graduates, many of whom have spent hours upon hours in my office just talking, getting advice, learning, etc.

A round of thanks would not be complete without the mention of what took place in the middle of my teaching career. I was approached by the aforementioned Dr. Denman, Dr. Frances Hensley-Associate Provost, Dr. Joe Bragin-the dean of the College of Science at the time, and Dr. Donna Spindel to help the university with data reporting. Little did I know at the time, but taking on this responsibility for the university in preparing reports and data from the university’s student information system would eventually lead me to exploring, pushing, and stretching the limits of what I could do or what the university wanted to allow me to do at the time in creating BERT (Banner Extraction and Reporting Tool). Silently the evolving BERT system lead to the creation of BRITE Development LLC (Business Reporting and Intelligence Tool for Education). BERT/BRITE is my proudest accomplishment while working at the university and is currently used on a daily basis, averaging over 1500 report outputs per day and is an ever-evolving tool that is being added to constantly and is currently under development to be sold at other universities.

Looking back on the 20 years of the professional side of my life in just a few moments is breath taking. I’ve accomplished a great deal while at Marshall University and have learned that great things can and do happen at the university. Here’s looking forward to the next 20 years on campus and dreaming of what can be accomplished.

Leave a Reply