Back to school…

This is my first semester “back to school” in quite some time.  I’m finishing up my undergrad, and have a good bit of “core” classes to finish as well as a sprinkle of classes related to my major, Interdisciplinary Studies / Organizational Administration.

So, to help reengage the brain, I decided to start off with classes “Developing a Civil Society” and “Globalization and Diversity”, in addition to a couple others to complete a full-time status.  I chose these two classes specifically because of how they tie into the world today.  During this political climate, I wanted a civil way to discuss some of the concerns I have with the direction government and politics are heading.   The divide seems to be between so many Americans, including members of my own family.  I have to say; these classes have not disappointed me.

In “Developing a Civil Society” we are discussing things like solitary confinement and incarceration.   While watching a PBS Frontline episode, “Solitary Nation“, I was horrified to see the effects of leaving people in solitary confinement for times exceeding 10 years!  The impact of punishment on people exceeds cruel and unusual; and the ability to acclimate people back into society or general prison population has a lasting impact.  My eyes were widely opened diving further into prison problems reading an article in the New Yorker, “The Caging of America”  and watching videos like “Incarceration Nation”.

We have a true prison population problem.  The number of juveniles, minorities, and re-entries into prison shows a system that is not working well.  We have the highest prison population of any developed country.  An example of questions our professor will ask to generate good conversation are, “Has the privatizing of prisons contributed to these problems?”   “How has racial profiling, the war on drugs, and other political movements impacted this mass incarceration movement?”  While the class did not discuss solutions, just becoming further aware of these problems encourages me to support a different way of thinking and really question the current process, along with the impact and the cost to society.

The other class, “Globalization and Diversity” has really brought my attention to the relevant issues of trade with the European Union.  But the more shocking and troubling awareness came when I did a recent paper on one of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945

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in countries such as Yemen,  South Sudan, and Nigeria.    The food insecurities, starvation and cholera outbreak is leaving over 20 million people to die.  The all too common conflicts of the world leave food and access for assistance unobtainable.

While these are difficult conversations to have around your dining room table, I’ve really enjoyed the classroom environment to discuss real world problems of today.  I’m truly enjoying my pursuit of my undergrad, and being “back to school”.  I’m looking forward to the Spring semester, when my class load may be more focused on my major.   But in the interim, taking these two classes was a great way to get reengaged and truly got me thinking again.


Putting Interdisciplarity to work for college students outside the classroom

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I recently read an article by Sarah Knapp & Renee Merges (2017) An Evaluation of Three Interdisciplinary Social Science Events Outside of the College Classroom, College Teaching, 65:3, 137-141, DOI:10.1080/87567555.2016.1244655, that really summed up the advantages of bringing different disciplines together.

The article broke down three different interdisciplinary events where students from the criminal justice and psychology field participated.  The three separate exercises  were using a “synthetic interdisciplinary approach”, while looking into occurrences of bystander apathy as related to the Kitty Genovese tragedy; participating in a competitive game similar to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”; and a panel discussion on mental health and criminal justice with professionals from various fields.

Following each exercise,  students answered a series of questions using the “Likert-scale”, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), and two open ended questions.  The results are found in three Themes.

Theme 1: “Students enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and work with students from other disciplines.”     Theme 2: “Students felt that the structure of each event optimized their ability to learn from each other and from experts in each field.”  Theme 3:  “Students found the activities to be peer-centered and fun, yet appreciated the serious nature of the events that they were celebrating.”

Overall, the students who participated in the exercise(s) were happy to work with people outside their field.  The exercises brought out an overlap between disciplines, and it helped show potential multidisciplinary career paths.   Students felt “challenged and excited” to learn from each other.  Instructors took away the importance of collaboration, and value of their peer’s experience.   In addition, professors discovered a budget friendly approach to a non-traditional learning style, and an opportunity to get away from the routine of lecture based learning.

I found the article very relevant of today’s workforce.    The article reminds me of fun ways to integrate and intersect disciplines, along with the value of attending professional conferences and community events.

I think applying these sort of learning opportunities throughout college academia would better prepare students for career decisions and choices, increase professional development throughout universities, and widen perspectives of college majors and disciplines.

Using Incident Command System (ICS), and learning from it

When I was stationed in California during 1997, there was a significant Mystery Oil Spill  that was leaving tarballs along the California coast from San Francisco, north to Oregon.  Oil was coating wildlife, leaving a destructive mess and killing thousands of birds and seals.  It’s far reaching impact concerned environmentalist, residents, and authorities.  It was during the Coast Guard’s response to this mystery spill, that I first worked utilizing the  Incident Command System (ICS).  This concept was developed in 1968 to assist firefighters and address problems that often occurred due to  “communication and management deficiencies, rather than lack of resources or failure of tactics.”

I had been properly trained to use ICS.  However, field application and training can vary, and as a newly assigned member at the Marine Safety Office of San Francisco Bay, I was a bit “wet behind the ears”.  After being placed into a watch rotation for the spill response, I quickly learned my role.  I was most impressed by watching the role of local, state and federal agencies all come together to provide expertise of weather, tides, historical knowledge, spill response and clean up tactics best applied to the varied area(s).  This was a live, and unfolding use of multiple disciplines coming together to serve, and truly being transdisciplinary to not only identify the source of the mystery oil, but minimize the impact to the coast of California and quickly address clean up and wildlife concerns.  The multiple agency response lasted several months and was intensely followed by the local community.  The impacted region included a large shipping port, an area of affluent recreational boaters and high tourism, and environmentally sensitive coastline.

photo courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

The ship responsible was later identified as S.S. Jacob Luckenbach, which sank in 180′ of water 17 miles off San Francisco, in 1953.  When it sank it was carrying  457,000 gallons of bunker fuel.  It has been linked to both disasters of 1997-1998 and 2001-2002.  An estimated 51,569 birds between 1990 and 2003 were killed, including 31,806 Common Murres and 45 Marbled Murrelets; and 8 sea otters.

During other assignments, ICS was used to bring together multiple agencies and expertise to not only respond to an oil spill, but to handle the needs and preparedness for when a potential disaster could occur.  We used ICS during events such as the World Series, the New York Marathon, the President’s Inaugural Parade, and all natural disaster preparation and response.  ICS is used today by state, local and federal agencies from FEMA to Fish & Game, your local fire department and all military services.  ICS was one of my first exposures to a Unified Command, and is a great example of Interdisciplinarity.  I’m very pleased to take these real life experiences from my career, and see how bringing multiple disciplines together and being Interdisciplinary can be applied to my education.


Administration is at the cornerstone of every business

The discipline of Administration is as traditional as apple pie.  Administration, linked to such formal Academic Programs of Business Administration, Human Resources, and Management, is relevant to most any company, University, small or home based business.  It is the cornerstone that holds up most foundations, corporations and businesses alike.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) photo by Derek Σωκράτης Finch

Many of the academic classes that complement an administration discipline include: business statistics, economics, marketing, law, accounting, finance, communication and operations management.

Without Administration, I don’t think we could have a fully functioning organization or business, it would be fragmented.  Administration may not be the most sexy part of a company, but without it, there would not be a fully functioning company with cohesion.  Administration brings together business goals, procedures and policies.  Administration impacts businesses from a wide range of avenues, from personnel matters, to budget planning and execution, cost saving measures, product development, and marketing.  Administration can include support of contract negotiations and awards, staff management, and implementation of new technologies.   Administration is wide reaching in the functionality of a business.

But one discipline alone may not be enough.  And in today’s business world and competitive markets, combining disciplines to make a more Interdisciplinary approach allows collaboration to problem solve, expand learning, and increase professional growth.

Keeping current with administration trends, I follow various publications and media outlets such as Forbes, New York Times Business, National Public Radio and Business Week.  I also find articles in Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and their HR Magazine to be great resources.

Interdisciplinary Studies, my past, present and future.

For me, Interdisciplinary Studies is a representation of who I am.  It accurately reflects how I spent a military career, how I will complete my long time education goal, and how I will enjoy my future through volunteerism, and community service.

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Education is not one dimensional, at least mine hasn’t been.  Education is full of various opportunities, the variety of curriculum in itself, the format of learning, and the application of the applied knowledge.

As a transfer student coming to Plymouth State with “a lot” of credits, I have a multi discipline approach and a lack of specialization down to a “T”.  As Moti Nissani states in “Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinary”, “All too often, experts forget that “problems of society do not come in discipline-shaped blocks” (Roy, 1979, p. 165).”   I can say in response, neither has my formal education, which is precisely why the Interdisciplinary Studies program appealed to me, and seems to be a perfect fit.

My education and training has evolved from a traditional public school system, to specialized training throughout the military, to various job titles and positions.  It also included community college along the way, and multiple levels of career progression and responsibility.  At present day, I am working my way through the web of college level classes, the required Directions and Clusters, and working to finish a degree to both satisfy academia prerequisites and represent my own interest; demonstrating multiple disciplines, Organizational Administration.

Now that I am retired from the military and focusing on giving back to my community, I can especially identify with Vartan Gregorian’s, “Colleges Should Reconstruct the Unity of Knowledge”.    Where he says, “Instead of helping students learn and grow as individuals, find meaning in their lives, or understand their role in society, college has become a chaotic maze where students try to pick up something useful as they search for the exit: the degree needed to obtain decent employment.”   While I am done with a satisfying career, I am looking to use my knowledge and degree to further contribute in ways with the Town of Sandwich Conservation Commission, the Sandwich Fair Association, and the Over the Hill Hikers.  Groups and organizations which I am currently active with and serve as with Secretary, Chairman and “Den Mother”, a more distinguished term for organizer.  As you can see, my life is truly Interdisciplary, even after retirement.  But the focus of both Organizational and Administration, are fully representative of my career, education, and interest, from past to present, and I anticipate a long future ahead.

Interdisciplinary Degree, Organizational Administration

Tracy Ripkey, YNCM, USCG (ret)

I am a recently retired, 26-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.  My profession while serving the Armed Forces was Administration and Personnel.  Specifically, I was a Master Chief Yeoman, which is a Senior Enlisted member representing the top 1% of the enlisted ranks.

While I served, I had the opportunity to take a few CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exams, attend Community Colleges, and collect years of “hands on” military experience at over 12 duty stations throughout the United States.  These transfer credits quickly accumulated to over 130.  While the military experience is a bit more complicated to put into a standard major, having the opportunity to work on an Interdisciplinary Degree, reflects what my professional career has been all of my adult life.

Different duty stations brought on different job opportunities.  I was the Supervisor of a 9-person Administrative Staff in Detroit, Michigan; an Executive Assistant to the Senior Leader of the Coast Guard in Washington D.C.; an Office Manager for the Legal Staff at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT; a Data Analysis and Workforce Forecasting Specialist in Washington D.C.; and a Policy Expert on Joint Travel Regulations representing the entire service at the Pentagon while working with Department of Defense (DoD) counterparts.  These are just a few highlights during my career, which have led me to pursue an Interdisciplinary Degree in Organizational Administration at Plymouth State University.

After working with Admissions and faculty advisors to best capture what my Yeoman experiences in the not-for-profit military sector mean in academic language, I came to realize that while my military experience is indeed organizational and administrative, it is clearly not in the for-profit business sector, and does not properly entail the depth of focus that would be covered in a PSU business degree.  Realizing that my experience neither falls precisely into a Business Administration or a Management major; an Interdisciplinary Degree plan seemed to be the right fit for me. Not only does an Interdisciplinary Degree in Organizational Administration represent where my experience is, it is a well-rounded degree that features elements from both established majors, but is unlike anything currently offered.  This program more appropriately clarifies my expertise and experience without inappropriately implying a level of business expertise that my training and experience do not demonstrate.

In “What is a Yeoman“, I have included what the Joint Services Transcript describes as the duties of a Yeoman and the different levels of competencies.  In academic terms, this would be close to a syllabus, or criteria to which I have been judged as fully competent, and have performed those duties and responsibilities.  This applies to some of the transfer credits I have received and is relevant towards my major, Organizational Administration.

The remaining classes I plan to take to compliment my major, Organizational Administration, are:

  • Business Statistics,
  • Macroeconomics,
  • Society, Ethics and the Law,
  • Interdisciplinary Studies Senior Seminar.

I chose these courses not only to fulfill the Connections at PSU, they are Organizationally focused, and will bridge the connection between my professional experience in the military and fully prepared me for future opportunities to utilize my education in the civilian world.  Business Statistics BU2240, will bring my experience from when I worked in Data Analysis and Workforce Forecasting, into today’s business world, including services improvement and marketing research.  Macroeconomics EC2550, will prepare me more for the profit based world, and engage me in thinking of the relationship between such factors as short-term fluctuations in national income and long term economic growth.  Society, Ethics and the Law CJ3150 will bring everything together to include today’s workforce issues, focusing on ethics as it bears on social problems and the law.  Together these classes, coupled with my Administration background will have prepared me for graduating with an Interdisciplinary Degree in Organizational Administration from Plymouth State University.

Completing my degree has been a long-term goal that I’ve always looked forward to finishing.  The Montgomery GI Bill / Veterans Benefits, allows me to pursue this dream, and continue to enjoy retirement and volunteer activities in my local community.

Interview with Mr. Christopher Soule, Social Studies Education, Teaching Lecturer

Mr. Christopher Soule

I am enrolled in Mr. Soule’s first class that he is teaching at college level, Globalization and Diversity.  Chris is a full-time teacher in Wakefield, New Hampshire, at the Paul School, where he teaches 7th and 8th grade Social Studies.  Chris started his teaching pursuit at Plymouth State University, and went on to complete his Masters in English Education with a focus on Teaching of Writing at PSU.

I asked Chris, do you have a mentor? Chris replied that he has been lucky to have many mentors along the way.  “I am most grateful to the work of my good friend, Pat May, who is a geography professor at PSU. When I was an undergrad, he was in charge of the Social Studies Teacher Cert program so I had him for several classes.  He helped introduce me to National History Day, a program I use in my classroom, and generally provided compassionate guidance and wisdom as I was just stepping off to become a teacher.  He and his wife came to my wedding and we remain good friends.”

My next question for Chris was, “Do you collaborate with anyone on your work, and if so, how do you find that beneficial?”  Chris responded, “My friend Greg, who teaches social studies in Virginia, and my friend Gavin, who teaches science at the same school as I do.  If there is a current event question (such as, how should I approach this sensitive topic happening now) I call up Greg and we talk.  On a typical day, Gavin and I are some of the problem-solvers at our school, working to help our students fundraise for their class trip, challenging each other to think of new ways to teach, and generally keeping each other fresh and positive when a school year starts to wear on us.”

I ask Chris, what career fields, other than teaching, are “hot” in today’s workforce that are within your field?  He answers, “Anything having to do with “fringe” students is big.  By that I mean school professionals dealing specifically with students that have significant disabilities or emotional/social needs is a career that is high in demand.   Such as, special education, some specially trained tutors, reading specialists, speech and language, and school psychology.  Another buzz word in education right now is STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”

I then asked, “What courses should students who major in Social Studies Education consider taking OUTSIDE of that department?”  His answer did not surprise me, because I find his classes to be very engaging and energetic.  His answer was, “I believe a good history teacher is a good storyteller. You have to get students invested in the story or else they will fall asleep. I would advise someone headed out to teach history to take some writing courses or public speaking courses, to build your confidence speaking in front of an audience.”

My next question for Chris was, how familiar are you with the  Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) program?    He tells me, “I learned what IDS was by accident.  I took 2 sociology courses as an undergrad and thought the material was fascinating.  I almost changed my major and while I was researching possible shifts, the possibility of somehow combining sociology with social studies education as an IDS major was an option.  I ended up sticking on my path. Teaching forces me to be interdisciplinary…I teach technology, writing, art, math, social skills, etc.  I think the future of college is indeed interdisciplinary. PSU’s Cluster approach seems to indicate this.”

I also ask Mr. Soule, what professional associations are you affiliated with?  He tells me, “ National Writing Project is a nationwide group of professional development centers for teachers and writers. Their unofficial motto is basically “teachers of writing should be writers themselves, and the best teachers of teachers are teachers”. I attended a 5-week intensive 9 credit course in 2013 that kicked off my master’s work and have been connected with them ever since.”

And in closing, I ask if he has any advice he would give to college students today?  He provides me some specifics:

1: Don’t do any homework on the weekend…do everything by Friday night so you can actually relax Saturday and Sunday and be fresh for the week.

2: Volunteer to go first for any project presentation…set the bar, then sit down and relax while everyone else goes.

3: Remember what you are there for…do the work. The friends and social stuff is fine in moderation, but it won’t save you from crippling debt or put you ahead in the job market the way some scholarships and a summa cum laude diploma will.”

Good advice, Chris.  I will take that to heart!  Thank you.

You can catch Chris here at PSU or in Wakefield, where he lives with his wife and fellow school teacher, Kristin.  You may even find them out with their new puppies who are training to be therapy dogs, or perhaps on the local ski slopes.  Chris is a great addition to the staff of PSU.  I’m certainly enjoying his teaching style and the passion he brings to a late class each Monday night.




The Master of Your Own Domain

I couldn’t resist a reference to an old “Seinfeld” episode in my title, but on the topic of students building and maintaining their own website, and blog, I’m 100% onboard.  A bit intimidated by the learning curve; but to have complete ability to control my web footprint from developing a website and blog, to maintenance and future ownership, while preparing me for further use in a growing technical world, thank you!


In “The Web We Need to Give Students”  it discusses the The Domain of One’s Own initiative at University of Mary Washington  where, “Instead of focusing on protecting and restricting students’ Web presence, UMW helps them have more control over their scholarship, data, and digital identity.”  A welcome change from past years.

One hurdle that is brought up in “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” is “many students simply want to know what their professors want and how to give that to them.”  Empowering todays students with design concept and ownership is a link to overcoming stagnant learning.

“Do I Own My Domain if You Grade it?”   states that, “Giving a student ownership over data means nothing if it doesn’t allow them to determine that data.”…  “Promoting digital ownership is different than assigning work in publicly accessible spaces.”  Which leads me to my point of, it’s one thing to allow the creative ownership of a domain and blog, but it’s another to dictate what shall be placed upon that website / blog.  For a professor, to manage students posts to an audience of one, is still defeating the purpose of a web footprint and creative expression.  So are you truly free to be the “Master of Your Own Domain”, or is it within the confines of academia and related course work?