Category Archives: Uncategorized


I became the director of PSU’s General Studies during the summer of 2006 and became of sole advisor for the program in the fall of 2009. To this date, I have received no formal training in advisement. (As soon as I say that, Heather Eckstein will remind me I attended one of her workshops back in ‘11, but if she did, I don’t remember it.)
I’ve had no formal training as an advisor, and for years I said that I really didn’t use my advisor when I was an undergraduate. I studied the catalog, filled out my 8.5 by 5.5 enrollment card, put it in front of my advisor, and he signed it.
That is all true. But that having been said, I did have an advisor.
My parents didn’t have college degrees, so my brother and I didn’t have their help, but our neighbor was a couple of years older than us and was going to college. When I told him I was going to be a math major, he told me that I was lucky. The math major at my alma mater only required 32 hours (or 36, I am getting old) and it counted College Algebra and Trigonometry. Since I’d had both of those in high school, my friend said that I could just re-take those, sand-bagging them, and sail on through with a cheap degree.
It made sense to me, then a rather idiotic 17-year-old.
I went to enroll for summer school, and talked Mr. Kenneth R. Brady, who was then the interim chair of the department. I told him the math I’d taken and then informed him of my plans to start with College Algebra and Trigonometry. Before those words were done echoing around his office, I’d been disabused of that notice.
I was told that I would be taking Analytic Geometry that summer so that in the Fall I could take Calculus I to be followed by Calculus II in the spring. Then in the following I would be able to take Differential Equations and that would put me in good stead where I could do papers at the regional mathematical conferences and get some exposure to the local grad schools.
That was a whole new world that I was ignorant of and my neighbor was ignorant of.
We on this campus have opportunities to open doors for our students just the way Mr. Brady did for me. There have been times when I’ve been worried about being presumptuous or pushy. I thankful that Mr. Brady pushed past whatever qualms he might’ve had.
Advising is an important part of what we do, and we do it by establishing the right sort of relationship with our students. We can help them through the system of the university; we can help them see the opportunities in a larger world.

–Bobby Winters, Associate Dean


Bicknell Family Center for the Arts: Music in the Linda and Lee Scott Performance Hall

As director of one of the several ensemble areas in the Department of Music, I am perhaps in a unique sort of “before and after” position with regard to the phenomenon of assembling a group on the main stage of the 1,100-seat performance hall for a musical production.  For some of us in the PSU choral program, our first experience with this space was, to say the least, a bit unconventional.  In December, 2013, we collaborated with Crossland Construction for the production of a video Christmas greeting.  Despite the frigid temperature at the construction site, the students took their places on the unfinished stage during a performance of Silent Night.  The juxtaposition of singers in their formal wear—while positioned on and around ladders and scaffolding, entirely illuminated by candles—was absolutely stunning.  And, even though we could barely feel our toes when we finished the filming, we all knew that we had just been treated to a very special glimpse of what the future would offer those of us who are fortunate enough to be involved in music-making at this point in the history of Pittsburg State University.

Some 363 days later, on December 7, 2014, we found ourselves reassembled in this space, now transformed into a magnificent performance hall, for the official ribbon cutting ceremony.  It was the choir’s privilege to perform for this glorious occasion, and in that moment, as we sang for the thousand people who had come together to join in celebrating this important event, we reached a new level of understanding of—and appreciation for—the magnitude of this accomplishment. The completion of this space is the realization of a 30-year dream on this campus.  From the perspective of the Department of Music, this new chapter is unparalleled in our experience, and we can hardly wait to turn the next page and begin holding our larger performances in this extraordinary facility.

That moment has now arrived, as our spring semester events will begin to fill the hall with rehearsals and performances of all types.  Although some of us will likely have to pinch ourselves once in a while to realize that this is no longer a dream, but rather our wonderful new reality, we will soon feel at home in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts.  Most importantly, we will forever remember and appreciate the extraordinary work and generosity of those who came together to make this happen.

Susan Marchant

Professor and Interim Chair

Department of Music

The Dotty and Bill Miller Theater

Come February 26 of 2015 Pitt State Theatre will open their first production in the new Dotty and Bill Miller Theater in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. For the first time since I arrived in 1999, and for at least a decade prior, we don’t have to worry about hauling scenery from campus to Memorial Auditorium or building a set in the Grubbs Studio Theatre, a place so small and with such limited lighting positions that performing on the stage is much like standing in front of a bank of cars with their headlights on bright.

Instead, we will be in a space designed to work with artists and not against them; where dreaming and imagination can be put in play at full speed; where creativity is the starting point of a theatrical process instead of a skill set needed to get around insurmountable obstacles; where audiences and performers can, in comfort, share the same space and mutual energy generated by live theatre. Standing in the house or on stage as the final touches are put on the building, it is hard not to be brought to tears of joy over this intimate yet magnificent performance space.

I am certainly not alone in my anticipation. Our students are quivering with the excitement and anticipation of getting to work in the new space. For many of them who have been told there is no future in the arts the Bicknell Family Center is a validation of their passion and creative drive. It is a testament to the belief that the arts hold a sacred and important place in any community. Indeed, as recent statistics have shown, citizens who are active in the arts are 14% more likely to be engaged in their communities than others. I cannot wait to have the theatre students engaged in all the tasks and processes that go into the development of a production or the running of an arts center. They will leave this campus fully prepared for a life in the arts and for the creative professions they have selected.

As for me, I can’t wait to hear the applause, sighs, laughter, tears, ooohs and aahhhs that live theatre brings. What a beautiful facility for artists, students, and community! We will dream bigger , learn more, and enrich each other more fully and beautifully than we could ever have guessed.

Cynthia Allan

Chair, Department of Communication

Director of Theatre

Bicknell Family Center for the Arts: From the Artist’s Perspective

I have toured the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts this week three times this week. If I am being honest, I look for excuses to have Joe Firman, Director for the Center, put me on a tour. Each tour has been a completely different experience. Each space looks new with each tour I have taken as the contractors are working furiously to complete the building. Of course, I am primarily going to the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts to see one space in particular – the still to be named large visual arts gallery space.

The large gallery space will be the most frequently visited and recognized aspect of the Bicknell Family Center of the Arts by the general public related to the visual arts. Exhibitions housed in the large gallery will be of national and international caliber providing public access to artwork and high-end visual cultural experiences not possible within a two hour drive from Pittsburg. Imagine being able to see original works by artists such as Honoré Daumier, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Andy Warhol or exhibition of works by John Henry Belter, Herter Brothers, Stickley Brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles & Ray Eames, and Frank Gehry among others.

The 3,300 square feet of gallery and walls have you bend slightly backward to see the ceiling that is 40 feet above you. ‘Impressive’ does not quite relay the excitement you feel standing in the space. When I stand in the space, I see the future. The future exhibitions, the future artists working in the space, the future community laughing and enjoying the artwork and events. Naturally, being an educator, the image of students is the strongest image. When I look at the space I see my students not just in the space, but beyond it. I see them working in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Whitney Museum or at their reception for their exhibition in a major gallery or institution. The Bicknell Family Center of the Arts is in my heart first and foremost as a beautiful and brighter pathway to my students’ successes.

Rhona McBain
Associate Professor & Chairperson, Department of Art
Museum of Art, Director

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Run You Clever Boy and Remember

When email first came to this campus, I had to walk from my office–then in Yates Hall–over to the computer services office in Kelce to check whether I’d received anything.  I did this every week whether I thought I was going to get an email or not.  If I had and if it had a file attached, then I had to use the special program Kermit in order to download it.

That was more than twenty years ago and a lot of things have changed.  But not the password I used to get into that account, it is the exact same one. I’ve gotten away with it because I am singularly unimportant, but the truth is my days are numbered.  The game has changed.  There are server farms in China and Eastern Europe which are at work trying to hack everything that can be hacked.  A million monkeys on a million typewriters will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. A server farm and advancing technology will eventually hit any fixed target.

This means you have to present them with a moving target, i.e. you have to change your password frequently.  “Frequently” is somewhat nebulously defined, but unless you are a Joshua Tree, it probably means more than every twenty years.  The issue with changing passwords frequently is that you have to remember them.  Frequent change can make you want to write it on your wall with a sharpie.  But don’t do this because it is bad.

The solution isn’t a sharpie, but rather, a mnemonic.  This is a trick for remembering, like a pass phrase.  In Doctor Who, the comely Clara Oswin Oswald, one of the Doctor’s companions, was challenged with remember rycbar, so she devised the phrase “Run you clever boy and remember.” That is one way, but not all of us are as creative as the comely Clara;however, this does point to another way.  Come up with the phrase first and make the password from it.

For example, “Run you clever boy and remember” can become rycb&r.  You can also choose to capitalize one or more of those letters in some fashion you can remember.  Inserting extraneous numbers in some memorable way is also good.

Of course, you don’t want to use the phrase that I just did. You need to come up with your own.  Be cagey and don’t let anyone know it.  People can be very clever how they get information from you.  Your phrase should also be longer than this and allow for putting numbers and special characters like &%# and so forth.

Bobby Winters

Associate Dean

Student Accommodations


Imagine the following situation. It’s the first of the semester.  The campus is bustling with activity.  Your classroom is chaos because there are half a dozen students who are trying to get your attention for one reason or another.  

You are surrounded by people.  Behind them, there is a person who needs to see you, but there is a wall people that separates them from you.  This person has a disability.  It might not be visible.  It might be the sort of thing they don’t like to talk about in public.  It might be something that hits them in the face every day of their life and they are just tired of dealing with it.

They look at you; they look at the wall of people; they decide to put the conversation off for another day when there aren’t so many people.  

But there never is such a day.

Accommodations are awkward.  We spend a lot of time organizing how we teach. We create systems.  We optimize those systems.  We get the system running smoothly, and we don’t always act in the most positive way when we are asked to make exceptions.

Students sense this and they don’t like being the exception.  It is just a fact of their existence.  It is very easy for them to walk away.

We all have our teaching philosophies and our classroom strategies. Many of you have created mechanisms for this particular situation already, and if you have, you are welcome to share them in the comments below.  But one thing you can do is simple.  On the first day of class, after you are satisfied most of the students have arrived, call the names of the students in your class about whom you have accommodation letters and ask them to come talk to you after class.  

You don’t have to say why; they will know.  It’s not a difficult thing to do, but you have helped them over the wall.  Once you speak with them, then you can work out what will work best with them.  Find out what they need, and tell them what you need.  Create a relationship with them.  Doing this as a part of your regular routine, puts you in the driver’s seat…and helps the student meet his educational needs.

-Bobby Winters

Course Design


I don’t know how many of you came into the university without any teacher preparation, but I will own up to it.  Beyond a one hour seminar I took as a first year GTA, I never had any formal preparation for the classroom.  I taught my students the way I was taught.  I used the structures and techniques from the teachers that I liked.  I taught the material that I had been taught, or that I had learned on my own, but I did it without any planning. It never occurred to me that I should plan.

This changed during my first sabbatical.  I went for an entire year and taught one course to pay for the other half of my salary.  I taught engineering mathematics and as a part of that I was given a syllabus.  I also was told about the testing center:  If I told the folks in the testing center ahead of time, I could have them proctor my exams and not worry about having to make special allowances for make ups.  How cool is that?

But to take advantage of this, I had to set exam dates a semester ahead and divide up the topics my students were responsible for, so I could teach them within those dates.  I discovered that this was absolutely liberating.  When I brought this practice back to campus, I discovered that my students here loved it.  My student ratings went up, and it made teaching easier.  

It was so much easier that I was able to continue teaching even during the semester when my third daughter was born.  My students remarked on how well prepared I was even though I was not able to do any preparation that semester; I was barely able to stay awake.  I had organized it all the year before.
I do not look back with pride on the fact it took me until my first sabbatical to discover this, nor am I particularly proud that I only recently discovered the name for this sort of thing:  Course Design.

Let us take it as an axiom that knowing your academic subject is essential.  However, as a teacher knowing your subject is pointless if you are not able to transmit it to your students.  Intentionally designing your courses with the needs of the student in mind is a great aid to that transmission.

It’s just a good thing to do.  Students who are already organized will be able to plan their study better.  Those who are not will benefit from seeing organized behavior modeled for them.  In addition, if you begin the design of your course with your goals in mind, i.e. your student learning outcomes,  that makes your personal assessment of the course easier.  If you’ve planned what you are trying to do, you will have a better idea if you are achieving your aims.
In short there just isn’t a bad thing about it.

Quite frankly, I consider the hard part of the class to be over after I’ve got the dates for the assignments set.  This is a few weeks before the semester begins.  After that, it’s  just a few hours a week talking to enraptured young people and a little grading.  Okay, maybe they aren’t enraptured, but at least they have a chance to prepare for what is coming.

I would welcome comments, public or private, on techniques/structures you use designing your courses.

Bobby Winters

Shared Governance

Throughout my administrative career I served in two colleges that include the Military Science Department.  Both colleges have regular weekly Department Chair meetings and often entail discussions of shared governance topics such as faculty evaluation, establishing policy, making decisions concerning resource allocation, or other factors affecting working conditions for faculty.  I always find it interesting to watch the Military Science Chair when these discussions occur.  I now have worked with four different Military Science Chairs and I’m convinced their reaction is not a matter of personality but one of organizational philosophy.  It is humorous to see the looks of disbelief, amazement, and downright skepticism as the rest of us openly negotiate and include faculty in discussions of how they will be evaluated, what their workload looks like, along with other policies and conditions impacting the working context.  Apparently, and it really does not need to be said, the military looks at organizational structure and function from a different paradigm.


I also have friends working in the private sector.  Many businesses and corporate entities do not practice or value input from those on the front line.  In fact, shared governance and responsibility is neither a priority nor practice in many, if not most, sectors of our economy.  Working in academia, particularly in a tenured or tenure-earning position, is unique for many reasons, one of which is the basic principle of shared governance including the right, privilege, and responsibility for faculty involvement in many aspects of fundamental decision-making at a university.


I often am asked to find faculty to serve on various department, college, and university committees, task forces, and work groups.  While most faculty willingly accept these requests, it is not uncommon to hear other faculty resist service and balk at being on yet another committee. 


While shared governance through university service might be considered drudgery or the work of others, I think it is important to remember the unique nature of our occupational structure in contemporary society.  We primarily are governed by ourselves and colleagues.  We all have the privilege, as well as responsibility, to provide thoughtful input on policies, procedures, evaluations, and other elements having profound influence on the quality and condition of our work environment and university organization. 


Faculty workloads are expected to balance teaching, research/scholarship, and service.  We need to realize university service is not only an expected part of our workload, but represents participation in a shared governance paradigm that is long-standing, valued, and a unique characteristic of a university.  While contemporary higher education is rife with problems, issues, and reasons to be disgruntled, there also is something very exciting, rewarding, and special that comes with working in a context where we share and explore ideas and intellectual stimulation.  We have the opportunity to work with young (and not so young) students in a teaching and learning context, continually experience the thrill of discovery inherent in research and scholarship, and provide meaningful input on the policies, structure, and processes impacting the quality of our work environment through shared governance.

 Karl Kunkel

One Piece at a Time

I love that old novelty song “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash in which he describes the process of stealing a Cadillac from the GM factory in bits over the course of years.  The folks at the factory didn’t even notice it happening because it was being snuck out in lunch boxes and the like.  When he sat down to put it all together, however, the pieces didn’t fit.  The design had changed over the years, so there had to be some modification.

The classes we give our students are sometimes in a similar situation.  Even the traditional students come to us from many different high schools.  Their teachers have received their educations from different universities at different times.  The non-traditional students have often received their education piecemeal before coming here.

There is a problem with a lack of uniformity to be sure, but even if all of our students took all of the same courses with all of the same teachers, they would have different levels of preparation because, well, people are different.

This presents a challenge for us as teachers.  We would love to have uniformly prepared students from well-funded schools.  It would also be nice if they were all straight-A students with 30s on their ACTs.  

The reality is far more interesting. Our students are unevenly prepared and many are the first generation from their families to go to college and are having to figure out the process without help from family.

What I say next I have to say carefully because learning is always the responsibility of the student, but we as teachers have an important job in helping our students to bridge the gap.  This shouldn’t be interpreted as lowering standards; a diploma from PSU should mean something.  It is much more difficult than lowering standards would be.  We have to maintain standards while helping the students to find their ways toward them.  

This may be by establishing relationships with your students.  It might be by providing them structure.  Over the years I’ve been impressed with a large number of our faculty each doing a great job in his/her own unique way.  There is such a diversity of excellence that I can’t pick out a single one of them to say, “There! Do it that way!”  

The commonality is in caring. I can only follow their examples by caring the way they care.  We care about our students so we care about our teaching and this leads us to work on our teaching.  We can help them put the pieces of their education to get a Cadillac at the end.

–Bobby Winters

Demystifying the Assessment Boogey Man

Conducting assessment is a common and pervasive theme in contemporary higher education.  Based on my experience, this word can strike fear, apprehension, and sometimes outrage in the minds of many faculty.  A common question is “why should we engage in assessment?”

Unfortunately, many faculty believe assessment only is necessary because some external entity expects or demands it.  The outside entity could be an accreditation body, a state legislature, or central administration at the University.  While this tendency to blame assessment on outside forces exists and essentially makes assessment a “boogey man,” I believe it is important for faculty to demystify the process by embracing program assessment as an intellectual, empirical, and scholarly activity designed to provide us with feedback on what we are doing well as well as indicate areas we can become better at fostering student learning.  Assessment should be about our teaching and scholarly habits, and not about vulgar accountability.  The basic question really should be are our students learning what we think we are teaching them.  I believe this basic curiosity should be at the core of every faculty member who takes teaching seriously.

The assessment process should begin with program faculty having an honest discussion of what they believe students should learn in their program.  Then, the academic methodologist in us should come out as we derive techniques to gather data to determine how well our students are learning what we want them to know.  If analysis of these data shows students are indeed learning what we believe important, we have validation for current pedagogical techniques and curricular offerings.  On the other hand, if data demonstrate areas for improvement, we should use our knowledge of both the academic discipline and teaching approaches to improve the student experience, ultimately benefitting our students since they more effectively will be learning and doing what we value as a result of this principled inquiry and reflection.

Assessment should not be seen as an interrogation or threat.  It should not be framed as a “spotlight” intended to expose our weaknesses, cut our budgets, or otherwise be an enemy.   It should be kept fairly simple and straightforward where faculty in the program ask for answers to empirical questions about program outcomes using an intellectual and scholarly search for truth consistent with the manner we conduct our discipline-based inquiry.  We should avoid “assessment elitism,” understanding that almost all of us suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when it comes to leading and conducting assessment.  This is not about finding fault, it is about gaining traction by collectively striving for honest attempts to empirically evaluate the effectiveness of student learning in our programs.

If done correctly, assessment can be something owned by the faculty, conducted with a scholarly search for answers to interesting and important empirical questions, and involving the ultimate benefit of allowing us to become more effective at teaching our students what we deem important for them to know.  Let’s confront this boogey man and make the reflection process center on what we value while doing it for us and not for the external forces.

Karl Kunkel