Category Archives: PFPF16

When Tragedy Strikes

Today, as I am sitting on campus at Virginia Tech, my heart goes out to the students, staff, faculty, and friends of Ohio State University with the scary and sad events that occurred today. While I was not a student at VT during the tragic day of April 16, 2007, I was a graduate student at another university. As students, we are all connected in some way; it is very much our family. As a student at VT today, we remember and have programs and systems in place. We will not forget what happened. It is still something that is talked about, felt, and mourned.

It was comforting to hear that the OSU student notification system was working and did a good job of sending out that safety warning. As I type this, sitting only a few hundred yards away from the memorial of the people who died at VT in 2007, I have gratitude that others have learned from the tragedy from VT and other schools who have had these critical incidents. Because of the tragic events in the past, there are safety systems, notification systems, and thoughts put into maintaining the safety of those who are on campuses around the country – and hopefully around the world.

As a counselor, I feel deeply for those who were impacted in today’s events. There are so many people that were impacted and not just the ones who received a physical injury. I hope for healing for the injured and healing for those hurting. Please be aware of the ambiguous injuries that others may have experienced. Having the violation of feeling safe in classrooms, on campus, or at work can cause problems too. Ask if others are ok, seek counseling if you need it, and know that there are places you can go for assistance.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of OSU and their community. Be safe out there everyone.


YOUniversity…my wish for higher ed

Let’s face it, as I am rounding out my 9th year in higher education and seeing the terminal degree end in sight, I have witnessed and experienced a lot of higher education. Now my educational path has not been linear or short, as I took a few years in between each phase of my stints in school. I have been at the community college level, four-year private liberal arts college, graduate school at a larger land-grant HBCU, and now at an R1, land-grant, very large university. All of these occurred in the decades of the 90s, 2000’s and now 2010’s. Much has changed in the learning environments and in the world overall.

So if I had the opportunity to change one thing about higher education, what would I choose? I asked around, looked up some stuff (like any good researcher) and discovered a few things that others recognize: reducing costs, make it more accessible, make it harder to get in so the degrees are more valuable, focus on major/minors and remove the ‘core’ courses, make it more real-world, etc. All of these are great things. But when I stopped to really think about it, what would I want different, based on my experiences and knowledge?

Then I remembered some of my first experiences in higher education. I was SO young and did not know much about secondary school. I am a first generation and while I did have some cousins who had went through college, their wisdom and experiences were not shared with me. It all started with a substitute advisor I had, who basically laid out my first year in school. Not until the start of my second quarter (it was on a quarter system at the time) did my actual advisor let me know that I had chosen a difficult path with all the courses I selected. I did not know I could choose to take things slower, or at different places. In my inexperience, I thought it was like high school – you took the classes they told you and it all covered the same type of material. The following year looked a little bit different and when I went on to complete my four year degree several years later, I looked at education in a very different way.

All that being said, I would wish for higher education to teach students that their education is about themselves. That the courses should be more clear in description and content; perhaps even how it will be applicable to the individual. Offer an orientation course on how to choose a major, how to select classes, and career counseling before getting so far in on some courses you have ‘lost’ time. Now what I am saying, I know is sort of being offered, but how many of us know that this stuff is available at the start? Usually you only know, if someone who has been there, tells you or if you have had the unfortunate experience of getting really lost and find yourself in these offices.

Too many times, I hear young adults picking majors or “careers” that they truly know nothing about; or have chosen these because “it was expected” of them. There is the mindset that a four-year degree is just what is done following high school, if you’re lucky. I just don’t think that higher education is really for everyone. It is not a one-size-fits-all. I think you must want it, seek it purposefully, and alter it to your own specific needs. Higher education, in my opinion, should help out the students to tailor their education to their needs. Education should enlighten your mind, spark your interest in learning, and help you learn to explore deeper and further. I disagree with education being about “higher ed = higher pay”, because that is not always the case.

I wish that higher education would be about creating the best learning environments for those really seeking knowledge. To be those places of refuge where we can go to dive deep into the well of our areas of study. Where there are those excited about teaching us how to seek the depths of our own journey and inspire us to continue to explore. Places where we can be surrounded by others who are passionate about their own studies and encourage each other to rise to new heights. Safe spaces that challenge us on our own thinking and expand our minds and hearts as we learn. I wish that higher education would provide students with the opportunities to come to know that education is about the person and is not a product. We enter as one person but should not come out the same, we should come out with a richness and greater capacity for our own continued self-exploration.

So, that is my wish. Who knows if it will come to fruition. After all, I do have a magic wand, but it is plastic and as I tell all of my clients – the magic is all in the person holding the wand. Perhaps it has always been up to me, to make my education and experiences into my own personal journey. Perhaps that is the truth for us all. Our education is in our own hands…maybe my experiences in higher education taught me that after all.

I Am Woman, I Am Wise

The lyrics written by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton decades ago, still ring true. “I Am Woman” is a song worth revisiting (or possibly hearing for the first time!) but I say this not to ignite a fire. Rather I say I am a woman, an adult learner. Please do not teach me in the same methods you would a child. We are not the same. Nor are my other adult learner counterparts. We are wise, treat us and teach us accordingly.

So what is the big deal? Adult learners have different learning needs than children. Sadly this is much overlooked. Even with the teaching strategies…called pedagogy. Pedagogy is more commonly known as the art or science of teaching, as cited by The root of the word in Greek is child tutor. While we know that adults continue to be mentally capable of learning well into middle adulthood, we have not always recognized that adult learners need something different.

In my world of counseling, there are thoughts about ways people learn. There are behaviorists, such as Skinner, Pavlov, and Watson; who posit that learning is a process of reacting to external stimuli. There are the cognitivists, such as Piaget, Bruner, and Kohler; who stand behind learning being a process of acquiring and sorting out information. And there are the constructivists, like Dewey, Vygotsky, and Kolb, who define learning as a subjective, reality-based process of constructing knowledge.

With all that being said, it was not until Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory, which is synonymous to Adult Learning, focused on the adult as a learner. Knowles pointed out the term andragogy, which has the Greek root of man, which is defined as the method or techniques to teach adults. Adult learning shifts from being a dependent personality towards more self-directed independence; thus a shift in the methods of educational needs as well.

Knowles pointed out various characteristics of adult learners and their needs, which Deb Peterson does a good job covering. Adults need experiences and freedom to learn in our own ways. We are motivated to learn different from children and we apply our knowledge differently.

Prior to my time at Virginia Tech, I had not really thought much about the educational frameworks which my professors utilized. Odd, sense most of my higher education has occurred after I turned 25. However, I recognize this need (if not demand, at times) in my students. Sage on the stage is not the preferred, or wanted, method within higher education. Sadly it is what most of us as learners know; so we repeat back what our experiences have taught us, even if it doesn’t really fit. When I have had some of those other learning methods employed in my classes, I have learned and retained more. Things made way more sense and I immediately knew ways to apply that learned knowledge.

So I urge all instructors to keep your audience in mind. Adults need something different than children. Strive to teach us in ways you would treat us. As mature, capable adults who gain knowledge through both our personal and environmental experiences.

What’s a MOOC?

What is a MOOC? No that was not a typo. MOOC is an abbreviation for Massive Open Online Courses. The infographic here is one that does a good job of explaining the basics of MOOCs.

Basically, these are online courses that you can take for free (the open part) and potentially get college credits. There are a lot of reputable universities and colleges that offer these types of courses.

Personally, I can see where these courses can be fantastic if someone wishes to learn some about a particular topic, but may not have the time or resources to seek out a face-to-face class at a higher education institution. Having courses available for free and accessible whenever, wherever has helped liberate learners who have internet access. Sometimes, there are courses that do have feed, specifically if working towards a degree, certificate, or accreditation.

MOOCs have kicked up higher education a notch. People can have access to high quality materials prepared by excellent teaching faculty from some great higher learning institutions. MOOCs should be considered when exploring for educational needs,¬† continuing or enhancement education purposes, and perhaps even for the joy of learning something new! Explore what is out there for yourself, you may be quite surprised. ūüôā

Fear Not Counselors – Embrace Technology

When you mention technology, counseling or counselors are not the first fields of images that pop into mind, right? But, as a counselor, we need to embrace the technology and leverage it for our advantage. If not, we may be growing further behind in the business and educational worlds.

First of all, I will share that for over a decade I worked for a large company in the information systems and technology department. When I returned to school for my Master’s, I had a lot of inquisitive looks and questions because it was not for technology but rather for mental health counseling. It seemed odd as the “computer people” aren’t always associated with the warm and fuzzies. Generally they are not “people” people. True, I brought a uniqueness to my department there and I’m bringing that same uniqueness to my department at school.

Initially I had some blank looks when I shared my background (and previous life) but now I am becoming the go-to person about the technology and ways to advance our counseling profession. The value of blending these two worlds for me are becoming more valuable by the moment.

Technology and counseling can work together in beautiful ways. We can use technology to teach; through recording sessions, sharing on-line gems about counseling topics, creating tools to explain systems or theories, and blogging about our ideas to share knowledge. Counselors can use technology with clients to teach about various topics, complete on-line assessments, and collect paperwork electronically. Counselors need to learn to plug in to reach their clients in new and helpful ways. Some are doing so through distance counseling, educators are doing it through hybrid courses or on-line programs. Even many of our requirements for continuing education can be done on the web today.

Our challenge is to push the boundaries even more. Let’s look for more ways to fold¬† technology into the classrooms, the counseling rooms, and other educational settings. This is a topic that is near to my heart and I have much to say…but I will share more at a later date. For now, I will continue to look for opportunities to learn, stretch, and grow in this area.

Information & Education on Open Access

Open access, there has been a buzz of talk about this lately, but what is it actually? Open Source defines it as “the practice of making peer-reviewed scholarly research and literature freely available online to anyone interested in reading it”. It is the hard work and endless hours of research being accessible to everyone. Currently many of the articles are published in the peer-reviewed (others from the field have read and approved) scholarly (think costly and generally only available to those in education or research) journals. Most do not have access to a multitude of the scholarly journals unless you are¬† working in research, are employed by an institution of higher learning, or are a student of an institution of higher learning.

How come? Cost is the biggest factor. As an independent counseling practitioner, I did not have the resources and funding to purchase journals or pay for memberships to organizations who provide these as part of their benefits of inclusion. My focus was on my clients, my practice, and my community. Unfortunately, before re-entry into the university, had I wanted to pursue research or read up on the most recent studies, I needed to be connected to someone else who had access.

Why is open access important? By making the latest research openly available, new and creative ideas can grow from synthesizing the information known with the possibilities of what could be known. When it comes at high monetary costs, it limits those who have access and thus limiting the possibilities.

Who doesn’t want the information openly available? Good question. Many could say that because of the costs of publishing and distribution, but with the internet that cost has shifted to the technological. Some argue that there is prestige and honor in the exclusivity and rigor that goes into having articles accepted and published in the costly scholarly journals. While I can somewhat agree, because anyone can put anything on the internet, (as you can see by the fact you are even reading this!) it does not make it good, right, or valuable. Arguably there are open access journals that have peer reviewed processes and standards before publishing online.

It is taking some time, since this began in the early 2000’s, to get more in agreement with open access. Not all areas have their own open access journals. Counseling is one of these fields, as there is little out there. However, I did find an open access journal that is relevant to the topics in counseling. Society, Health, & Vulnerability is an open access journal that is interdisciplinary. It is based out of Norway and is peer-reviewed.

Open access does not always mean that your work has no value or that it is not your proprietary work. Do some research and reading. Investigate. Change your minds. If some of the leading and respected names in the various fields would start adding open access journals to their list of considerations when trying to publish, these journals would continue to grow in prestige. Maybe open access means a shift in the academy as a whole to a more open minded mentality.

Diving Deeper on Diversity

Recently in my preparing the future professoriate class, we had a brief discussion about diversity and inclusion. It is not a foreign topic at Virginia Tech, but the word “diversity” itself can send people into a more tense state. I find it interesting that many times initial thoughts are anxiety provoking when diversity comes up. True, discussing diversity can be a sensitive topic.

Perhaps we should change our thinking about diversity. After all, we want it, seek it out, and demand it in some situations without a second thought. For instance, lots of people appreciate a wide range of opinions and input when it comes to building. We expect to have experts in architecture, electrical, land grading, carpenters, and the other array of necessary engineers to make buildings safe and functional. Our first thoughts when the word ‘diversity’ is mentioned are often not aimed toward working expertise, but rather are more toward the social.

I recently read the article “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” in Scientific American. Katherine Phillips, in 2014, wrote that diversity in work groups can enhance creativity and that even “simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think.” The article continues to discusses some wonderful studies done in a social aspect about diversity. Studies that support diverse groups being more open to the expectations of different perspectives.

A homogeneous group may be easy, but it can be bland. Diversity can be more work, in that we must make more of an effort to understand others and be considerate of alternative ways of action or thought. That is the place where we can grow and open our minds to worlds we may not have previously considered.

In my world of counseling, we listen with the intent to learn more wholly about our client. To gain understanding, seek insight on their perspectives, and learn about their perceptions. I appreciate having different perspectives, attitudes, understandings, and people who are different than me around. There is no way I can know everything and have experienced everything, therefore I rely on others to help me interpret the world.

Shades of Grey

What would you do?

If you were feeling pressured to conduct research, publish your findings, obtain grants for funding, and all while juggling all your other responsibilities at work in order to keep your job, would you stretch yourself to a point of misrepresentation of the truth? Would you round up/down numbers in efforts to make your work presentable? Publishable? Does it really make much difference when you are only sharing information about your research work?

This is much an all too familiar situation in higher institution and research labs across the globe. With pressures to “publish or perish”, make-it-work moments, and being stretched thin, many researchers can walk a think fine line into unethical territory.

After recently reviewing several case summaries published by the US Health and Human Services Department by the Office of Research Integrity I was shocked to see just how much misconduct has been caught, researched, and corrected. Many fine researchers have had to retract statements about their work, agreed to punitive administrative corrective actions, and have to maintain a higher level of scrutiny for various imposed time frames.

In my profession, as a Licensed Professional Counselor, we have a code of ethics and professional standards which we must abide. These are outlined by the American Counseling Association (ACA) which most professional counselors are members. Even without membership in the ACA, these are the ethical codes and professional standards we are taught in our master’s level training programs.

If we are charged as researchers, would not our basic moral code be to “do no harm”? Does it make a difference depending upon the area of research? Do our subjects of study make a difference? Are there implications of our research that could cause harm to others if published or not published?

In my opinion, there are many things that really raise a multitude of more questions. As a health care professional, it is my first responsibility to do no harm. As a researcher, this code of ethics and professional standards still take precedent over my research agenda. Fortunately I know that my profession is ahead of the curve than others regarding ethical obligations and standards. My hope is that as these infractions continue to occur, that more areas of research will adapt their own, or strengthen their current, code of ethics and professional standards. For without this, it breaches our faith – in research, in helping, and in mankind.

Bigger questions for me are, if as a researcher in the face of an ethical situation:

  • Do you even know when you are in an ethical situation?
  • Do you know what to do?
  • How do you avoid the quicksand and make the best ethical decisions?
  • Is there a governing board within your profession for reviewing these?
  • Are there places for the researcher to turn for help navigating these issues/decisions?

A Night at the PFP Improv

Alan Alda, research, and graduate students. What do these three things have in common? The commonality of these come down to communication. Alan Alda, whom many know from his years of service as “Hawkeye” from the television show “M*A*S*H” is an actor/director/writer whom has always had an interest in the world of science. After hosting PBS’ Scientific American Frontiers for several years, he wondered if there was a better way for scientists and researchers to talk to others outside of their fields of study about the work they were conducting. With his background in acting, he helped to create the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science which provide workshops that employ theater improvisation activities to help scientists communicate from in a more personal way and easier to understand language.

Improvisation is being able to create without previous preparation. For many researchers, who can get bogged down with logistics and technical jargon when trying to discuss their work, speaking about something on the fly to a group does not invoke a happy feeling. How often is communication lost when researchers do not speak in a common language for those not in their field? The researchers do not want to “dumb down” their work to explain things on a simple level. The listeners do not want to “ask dumb questions” if they do not follow. What happens at the end of this conversation? Both may walk away not understanding what just occurred nor how to correct this for the future.

In my world of counseling, it is not so out of the ordinary to need to communicate complex counseling theories and terms to non-counseling trained individuals. As a researcher, I have more advantage that my audience largely consists of others. I am learning the language of research, so I can better communicate with my other scientific peers. But yet and still there seems to be that barrier of communication wherever we go.

Anxiety, apprehension, and eventually laughter were things experienced during an improvisational workshop in an effort to unlock the tensions to better aid in communicating science I attended recently. Based on the theater improvisational games utilized in the Stony Brook and Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, me and eleven of my PFP classmates (who come from all different disciplines) had the opportunity to get silly with each other. We all had to shed our fears and step into the “now” of the moment. Only our facilitator knew what we would be doing next. She had us make funny sounds, act things out with our bodies, have others share our own stories, and led us in other exercises to shake us out of our comfort zones.

I learned a lot about my peers in those moments. Regardless of our disciplines or areas of research, we are all people whom are passionate about our work. We all want to be heard, understood, and appreciated. When we let our guards down and open up to the vulnerability of sharing our heart, or our passion for our work in this regard, that some incredible magic can occur. As we “got out of our head” and became present in the now, communication became more personal and simple. We saw and heard each other as people and not lost in our own thoughts of “how can I explain and give them information about” their topic.

Perhaps the improvisational actions got us all out of “performance mode” and more into a real space of who we are as people. Maybe next time I need to speak with a group to communicate my research, I will run through an improv game or two with someone so I will not step in front of my group as “drkare” here to talk about the impact the counseling environment can have on individuals. But rather step out as “just Karen” and speak with them honestly about my passion for why I am a counselor and how it can help others.


I get asked the question a lot by those not in academia, “Why are you getting a PhD?” Initially, I know my answer. It is something along the lines of: wanting to study my subject deeper, learn how to better serve my clients, increase my opportunities in the counseling arena, and work toward a sense of completion of what I initially set out to learn.

However, after reading a few articles this past week, I hatracksve found myself contemplating not just ‘why’ but ‘how’ I am getting my PhD. Don’t get me wrong, I know the steps and stages to the process in my program (course work, experiential internships, preliminary¬† examination, dissertation); but rather I am examining how my experiences at VT are preparing me for my future career aspirations.

I have always viewed education as something you do for yourself versus something you do to help you get a job. So after reading an article in Nature magazine titled “The PhD Factory” from 2011, I took pause. The article discusses how the world is now producing more PhDs than ever before, but there are fewer jobs for them all. With tenure track jobs at universities reducing, salaries not being competitive for the length of time in education and cost of education, and training not matching external available jobs, I wondered if this will have an impact on my education and potential career course. What I previously read, was once again reiterated about tenure track positions in academia being reduced through the In Academe, the Future Is Part-Time posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education. These videos and article echoed the statements that graduate school may not fully prepare graduates for the job markets, there are decreases in tenured positions at higher learning institutions, and the majority of the teaching workforce is made up of adjunct teachers. What does this mean to me as a future PhD, future counselor educator, and counselor?

It leaves me thinking that I do need to look to the current professors and adjuncts to redesign their teaching programs to include a wider workforce training and change the way learning looks to the students. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching does great work in trying to meet their students in productive and creative ways to enhance their learning opportunities and decrease frustrations. I see much of that same outlook mirrored in the teaching I am receiving at VT. However, I also need to take a look at how I am learning and search for opportunities to creatively enhance what is being offered towards my specific career goals. The onus is not singular, but plural, I think. It is between me and my learning institution to make the most of my education.

VT is offering me some wonderful ways to reboot my career, aim me in various directions, and open so many doors that I never even knew existed. I am seizing the opportunity to figure out how this applies specifically to me and find ways to tailor it to best fit. The best thing of all is that I am at the correct place, with the correct people, to help me. The PhD process is not the most easy and may not be best suited for everyone. It stirs many questions, causes GREAT reflection of self/others, and does promote much growth.

Does this change my response to the initial question I get posed frequently? Why am I getting my PhD? All of the stuff I said before still applies. Although now I will add to that reply with: I want to widen my knowledge of teaching and learning, grow my understanding of how I learn, and figure out ways to incorporate all of that to help myself and others. Will this all translate to the future career aspirations? I do not know. As I stated earlier, I believe education is for the self. While I may reap the career rewards of the education, it really condenses down to the impact it all has on my mind; making every moment and penny very well invested.