At a time in my life (age 68) when many of my contemporaries have already retired or are contemplating shortly doing so, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
I currently teach U.S. History at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian university in southern California. But as you will see from this "About Me" sketch, in many ways my background and current interests make me more of a business executive or International Relations person than just a narrowly-defined U.S. History professor.
Why is this wiki entitiled The Learning Professor?
Since I exhort my students to pursue the exciting path of being life-long self-directed learners, I need to role model for them such a path in my own life.
The title of this wiki--The Learning Professor--is meant to be descriptive of my approach to learning.
Will Richardson had a wonderful recent blog post suggesting that teachers should see themselves not necessarily as master teachers but as master learners. His suggestion resonates perfectly with my own inclination.
To my delight, Michele Martin has commented insightfully (here and here) on the current applicability to our lives of Donald Schon's The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Some years ago, Schon's book helped me understand why I always felt a misfit. I have never seen myself as academic as most professors, but I have routinely been more academic--and thus more of a continuous learner--than the normal executive.
My Formal Learning
My focus in this wiki on the self-directed aspects of our learning should in no way be taken to mean that I disdain formal education. I have a great deal of it myself:
- Bachelor's degree (Phi Beta Kappa) in International Affairs from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (1965)
- MA in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh (1966)
- MBA in Finance from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business (1970)
- PhD in U.S. History from the Claremont Graduate University (2008)
Now, some highlights of aspects of my life that have shaped my approach today:
An "Army Brat" in Virginia, Germany, and France
My father was a career Army officer, a combat veteran of both World War II and Korea. We moved a lot: I went to 12 schools in 12 years. Fortunately, my parents gave me (their only child) a zest for learning about each new place and for anticipating that each new home would bring fresh adventures.
Two parts of the world anchored my growing up days: Tidewater Virginia and western Europe.
Tidewater Virginia. We spent much of my early years stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, the exciting historical area around Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown. Another posting, that at Fort Story (on Cape Henry next to Virginia Beach), provided a connection to my current U.S. History profession that I could have little expected at the time: Our house on base was less than 100 yards from the site where those who eventually settled Jamestown first made landfall.
Western Europe. Our assignments in Virginia were interspersed with two years each in Mannheim, Germany (7th-8th grades), and Paris, France (11th-12th grades). Those years made me into a Western European wannabe; I hoped to live and work in France. Though that wish has not been fulfilled, it still fuels my zest for keeping up with languages.
Initial Academic Foundation: International Affairs and Political Science
College and graduate school choices made long ago [without much reflection then] still factor into what I choose to study today and the items from our history that I concentrate on in my teaching.
While majoring in International Affairs at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, I took Army ROTC. Pertinent to my future leadership roles, in my senior year I was fortunate enough to serve as overall commander of the 475-person Army ROTC Cadet Corps. At graduation, I was commissioned as an Infantry Second Lieutenant. Even as an undergraduate, I wrote term papers on insurgencies, thus hoping to prepare myself as much as possible for likely service in Vietnam.
But one part of me thought I had to go to graduate school as my classmates were doing. At that time, the Army permitted deferments of my active duty obligation. So I began a Ph.D. program in Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. This became another of those roads not fully taken in my life. It is ironic that some 40 years later I was finally able to finish a Ph.D. During grad school at Pitt I thought then that I did not—ever, ever—want to be a professor. But SURPRISE: now "I are one!"
A Summer Job at Jamestown led to the Blessing of a Wonderful Wife
During two summers in college, I was fortunate to have a job as a costumed interpreter at Jamestown Festival Park. Carole Wilson came there with her family. We met, corresponded (no cell phones then!!) after she returned to her home in New Castle, Pennsylvania, fell in love, and--I am shortening the story here--eventually married (in 1966). Great love story, huh?
I consider one of the main joys of my life (besides receiving the gift of becoming a Christian) that of remaining happily married to Carole. By the way, she is the talented one in our family. Well educated in a formal sense (she received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from U.C., Berkeley in 1986), she is also, like me, a continual learner. She is currently Professor of English and Director of Faculty Research at Azusa Pacific University.
So here is another unexpected connection: Little did I know when I met Carole at Jamestown that she would be my spouse for 45 years and that I would become a U.S. History professor and be talking about Jamestown in my classes.
Military Interlude: Vietnam
I found it difficult to be in school with the Vietnam war on. So I finished my M.A. at Pitt, but asked the Army to call me in for my required two years of active duty.
I spent the two years of active duty (between 1966-1968) initially in stateside assignments: Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia; troop duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Vietnamese language study at Fort Bliss, Texas; and advisor school at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Then I served a tour of duty as an advisor to the South Vietnamese army (initially in Rach Kien district in Long An province, then at Song Be in Phuoc Long province). My time in Vietnam provided me with a further cross-cultural experience and exposure to another language (Vietnamese--in addition to my previous work in German and French). My French-language facility turned out to be a plus in Vietnam since many of the older officers in the South Vietnamese army with whom I worked had previously fought alongside the French against the Viet Minh.
Stanford Business School
As we now discuss in my U.S. History classes, the year 1968 was a tough one for America: the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.
In September of that year 1968, I returned from Vietnam. Three weeks later, I began the two-year MBA program at Stanford Business School.
Stanford was for me a time of reverse culture shock. On the first day of classes, war protestors had pulled down the American flag and raised the enemy flag on campus. (To their ever-loving credit, members of the Stanford football team assaulted the demonstrators, took back the flagpole, and once again raised the American flag to its rightful place.)
How tough a change the MBA time was for me, not just with societal issues but getting back into the academic groove, in fact in a whole different type of groove. Business school was not like my previous higher education: no more 30-page term papers, extensive book lists, and required citations of academic forerunners. Stanford Business School--at that time--was case studies, short papers, group work, and quantitative analysis (not my bag, either then or now!). The learning emphasis was always: you are the VP (for whatever); what would you do now?
After graduation in 1970 from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I served for five years as a commercial loan officer in the San Francisco financial district--first with Bank of America, then with Union Bank. What an exciting phase in my life. The required blend of finance and marketing was perfect for my temperament. But going further in that career was not to be.
Becoming a Christian
In 1975, my life changed. I "got religion."
I transitioned from big banks and a career defined by the world's standards of "success" to being faithful to a new "calling." I began a new phase in my career, this time as an executive in Christian higher education, spending seven years at Simpson College (a college of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, then located in San Francisco).
My self-directed learner impulse gripped me. As a financial professional, I wanted to get better at accounting, "the language of finance." I took a several year career detour and worked in an accounting firm. I was fortunate in passing all four parts of the CPA exam on the first attempt. Here is another example of my self-directedness. I studied on my own for that exam and did not take the usual CPA exam review course.
Frustrated at the time at not being able to keep up with my German and French, I began studying Spanish on my own, traveled several times to Mexico City to work on the language, and even attended for some 18 months (as the only Anglos in the congregation, my wife and I were warmly welcomed and encouraged) a Spanish-speaking Southern Baptist church in the Mission District of San Francisco. I have continued to enjoy both continued study of Mexico (and am even teaching a college course on Mexico during this Spring 2012 semester) as well as the beautiful Spanish language.
Azusa Pacific University
After the accounting phase of my life, I resumed my financial executive trajectory, this time at Azusa Pacific University (APU), where I served as Vice President for Business and Finance for over six years.
At that point, what had seemed a straight-forward (or at least a normal) financial executive career path was turned topsy-turvy for me when our then-University President made changes in his administrative team. I was replaced as the Vice President for Business and Finance.
I elected to remain at APU, but as a professor--a position I never thought I would want.
A faculty position in the Department of History and Political Science Department was created for me from scratch. This new job forced me into another--incredibly difficult--career shift. Self learning once again. APU faculty members then (and now) were required to teach eight courses per year. So, prior to any graduate school, I began teaching courses in U.S. History, American Government, and Comparative Government.
Ultimately, as part of my contract, I was required to begin a Ph.D. program. So while continuing to work as a full-time faculty member at APU, I pursued my Ph.D., which I finally completed in U.S. History (in early 2008) at Claremont Graduate University.
Peter Lang Publishers recently published my dissertation (as it was written) in their Studies in Church History series: The book title is The Protestant International and the Huguenot Migration to Virginia. [For details, please visit this Library of Congress Permalink.]
The book received the National Huguenot Society Book Award for 2010.
Continuing Language Study
During the 7 years it took me to complete my Ph.D. dissertation, I taught myself to read in two additional languages (Dutch and Italian) besides the French, Spanish, and German I could read in already.
I still try to keep up with reading these languages and work daily on improving my aural comprehension of them (iPod for Dutch, French, German, and Italian; cable TV for Spanish).
Nothing may ever result from all of my continuing language work, but as a minimum, I want to be positioned to do further research in European archives.
But most of all, I hope to be respected by European scholars in my field as an American who cares about learning their languages.
A Connected Educator
During what turned into a twelve-year long Ph.D. process of course work, exams, and dissertation, I had to put my teaching on auto pilot, relying on more a lecturing, teacher-centered classroom style.
Now I have embraced technology, hopefully in a measured, sensible way. Elsewhere, I have detailed several important influences in my conversion experience to teaching with technology.
To further my teaching effectiveness and integrate technology into my work flow, I continue to develop this blog and my wiki (similarly titled The Learning Professor). In addition, I have added both Twitter (@LearningProf) and Facebook to my online presence.
My thanks to Darren Rowse, Sue Waters, and Larry Ferlazzo for the following blog posts which guided my approach to this "about me" page.
1. Darren Rowse
His Own "About" Page: Becoming a ProBlogger—A Story in Many Parts
Specific Posts relating to writing an "About Me" page:
2. Sue Waters
3. Larry Ferlazzo.