We Have a System


A while back a student came into my office in order to complain.  I listened, and then I asked, “Is there anything else?”

He then launched into a far-ranging an disjointed tale of how he was being followed, photographed, and that his microwave oven was talking to him.

There were a variety of thoughts that went through mind at that point, the details of which I will leave to the gentle reader’s imagination. What I did was to pick up a phone and put the student in touch with the university’s counselling center and they were able to help him.

While I’ve always been aware of the strengths of the faculty at this university, as I’ve worked with a broader spectrum of our students, I’ve gained a greater appreciation of the system we have at the university to support our students.

Counselling is only one part of the picture.  The folks over in Career Services can help students put together a resume.  In the Writing Center,  they can help your student with–get this–writing.  And I could go on, but my purpose is not to give you an exhaustive description of the system in place to help students at this university, but rather to tell you there is one.

As they said in Close Encounters, we are not alone.

We are a part of a system and it is part of the job to learn about that system and the ways it can help us do the job better.  Yes, this is in addition to actually teaching classes, doing  committee work, and, heaven help us, do some scholarly activity.

While the university does provide orientation for new faculty, there are limits to what can be done in that setting.  We are independent, self-directed learners and must apply that to learning about the structure of the university.  One way of doing that is by asking questions.  Ask your department chair; ask fellow faculty; heck, ask me.

Although, there is nothing more important than what goes on in your classroom with respect to student learning, you are a part of a larger community.  By learning about that community and availing yourself of the resources it provides, you can do your job even better than you do now.


Bobby Winters


Scholar as Teacher

I will begin this as a confession.  My inspiration for becoming a college professor, my founding ideal against which I always measure myself is a character from fiction: the Professor on Gilligan’s Island.  That guy knew everything.  He was a scientist, a historian, a master of technology.

Of course that is silly.  The program had virtually no intellectual content, and I include “virtually” there as simply a wiggle word.  We also know that college professors specialize.  Physicists don’t teach history; philosophers don’t teach statistics.  Indeed, even within departments specialties make us distinct.  We aren’t content with a historian; we want who specializes in the history of Asia or East Asian or even Japan.

Yet I find that many of our minds wander beyond a narrow focus. I do know a physicist who is interested in history. I know a Professor of English who is interested in mathematics.  Quite frankly, I am sure that many of you who are reading this are identifying interests–profound interests–that you have that are beyond the narrow focus of your discipline.

That is because the university is a gathering of scholars.  We have minds that not only inquire deeply but range far and wide in our interests.  We are curious and have been educated in ways that help us to feed our curiosity.

Beyond being begin scholars, we are teachers.  We are called to take what we learn and share it with others.  This can be done in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels.  One important way, of course, is in the classroom.  We share the things we learn with our students, but I will offer my opinion that there more we do beyond that.  I think that it’s important that we share ourselves, our interests, our curiosity.

One of the word wars I fight is “education” versus “training.”  At the university, we must provide an opportunity for education.  Our students must be able to have the knowledge to succeed when they go out into the world, but they should also be able to re-equip themselves as the world changes.  They should become independent learners. They should be curious.  They should have the tools in hand to help feed that curiosity.

In my opinion, we learn this sort of thing from a model.  While I said in the first paragraph that I wanted to be like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, in reality I found other models among my teachers in high school and college and among my colleagues when I came to the university.

Like it or not, you are a model.  You will have influence beyond your life.  You are a scholar and a teacher.

Bobby Winters

Tenure-Earning Faculty Should Receive Frequent Targeted Feedback

How much feedback is necessary and important for tenure-earning faculty?  Procedures vary quite a bit across the country on how often, and in what form, faculty in a tenure-track position receive feedback on progress towards tenure.   According to the Pittsburg State KNEA contract, at a minimum tenure-earning faculty receive a second year letter providing an overall evaluation of their performance during the first couple years and guidance for the next three or four years on expectations for earning tenure.  In a number of cases there is no additional “progress towards tenure” report until it is time for the actual decision.

I believe maximum transparency is best, especially in the high-stakes tenure process, and favor a system with annual specific “progress towards tenure” letters from the Department Committee, Chair, and Dean outlining the candidate’s accomplishments to date and providing guidance in areas deemed falling short of adequate progress toward meeting tenure expectations.  Annual targeted letters from committees, chairs, and the Dean, each directly involved in the ultimate tenure decision, make it very clear to everyone how a tenure-earning faculty member is progressing.  There are no surprises in the end because a paper trail formed with feedback specifically tailored to assessing the candidate’s progress.  This approach protects tenure-earning faculty because it is extremely difficult for a department committee or administrator to provide yearly positive feedback and then reach a negative tenure decision.  On the other hand, annual feedback protects departments in cases where an underperforming probationary faculty member consistently is informed of areas needing improvement but does not take necessary actions.

The tenure-track process by its very nature is anxiety-producing for both junior faculty and departments/universities.  For junior faculty, there are profound implications for career and livelihood.  For departments and universities, there is a long-term, often permanent, commitment to continued employment and inclusion.  Further, contentious tenure decisions are some of the most unpleasant events in academic life should be avoided if at all possible.

It makes sense that providing annual feedback from all decision-makers is a clear method for both developing life-long productive autonomous colleagues, a primary goal of the tenure-track period, and creating a transparent process, which I believe we continually should strive to achieve in a university context.


Karl Kunkel

Student Ownership

Teachers are under great pressure for their students to learn.  On one hand, this is what education is all about: students learning.  But, on the other hand, those of us who teach find the pressure misplaced.  It’s like the old joke.  A parent is talking to the teacher and says, “If my son misbehaves just spank the kid next to him and that’ll do the trick.”  This action is somewhat misplaced.  The student has to be the owner of his education.

As teachers we were first students ourselves.  We know how we learned: by working.  There were late hours reading novels, struggling with papers, or pouring over equations.  But before we did all of this we had to take ownership of our education.  We had to decide learning was our own responsibility.

This having been said, let me start over.  As we were all first students ourselves, we all know there were teachers who reached us; teachers with whom we identified; and, dare I say it, teachers who inspired us.  These were the teachers who helped us to own the learning process.

Many of our students have taken ownership before they arrive on campus.  They are easy, and we would almost teach them for free. The rest are where we earn our pay.

Very rarely do we get the satisfaction of being the one person who will transition any particular student from the illusion of being a passive receptacle for knowledge into being an engaged learner.  Each of us plays a part.  I think that we play that part more effectively if we approach it intentionally.  This is to say that we must realize that there are students who are not engaged in their own learning process and to apply methods that encourage engagement.

I must say there was a time when I would have heard this and thought about those who learned to swim by just being thrown into a pool.  That is one way to approach the problem.  The trouble is that you might lose someone who with a little coaching might’ve made it.

How do we do this?  My approach is to provide a transparent structure.  I try to organize my lower division classes to be predictable so that my students can plan and be rewarded by planning. My idea here is that good behavior should be rewarded.

I would like to know whether others have thought along these lines and, if so, what they have done to promote student ownership.


Bobby Winters

If you can make it here, you can make it in New York

Tywan Anthony, a young man from New York City, got a degree in Political Science at Pitt State and is now taking NYC by storm.  Read about it here.

PSU Students Win Big in OK State PR Competition

Public Relations Students

Public Relations winners

Pittsburg State University students made a strong showing at the PR Competition of the 84th Annual Oklahoma Speech Theater Communication Association (OSTCA) Conference in Oklahoma City, OK over the weekend. Seven students from the Department of Communication competed in the 2nd Annual OSTCA sponsored PR Competition.

“This year the conference organizers changed the competition format, which made the event a bit more challenging,” said Alicia M. Mason (Asst. Prof., Dept of Comm). “Instead of sending “teams” of students to represent the university, upon arrival the students were divided into groups of 3-4 intercollegiate teams, who worked together on behalf of the client.”

Students from Rogers State University, Cameron University, Oklahoma Christian University, among others, developed promotional campaign solutions for the client Big Truck Tacos,™ recently featured on the Food Network. Students were briefed on the client, and given just a few hours to construct and present their promotional campaign solutions and strategies.
“Going to Oklahoma was something I was really excited for because I was ready to see just where I stood against other students in my field of study,” said Nadia Marji, (Sr.- Comm). Pittsburg State swept the competition, placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the PR Competition.
As a result of these students showing Big Truck Tacos™ intends to bring their crew and trucks to the campus of PSU. While no “official” date has been set, the home game on Nov. 12, 2011 appears to be a viable option. Thirty percent of the proceeds from the on-campus campaign will be distributed to the Department of Communication, and used to fund student scholarships in the PR/Advertising tracks.

“We were well prepared and received multiple compliments on our presentation skills, and the ideas we presented to our peers and the judges,” said Kasey Hockman (Sr.- Comm). “Pitt should be proud of the communication department and the great success we had, no other school was represented in each of the top three spots.”
In addition to the PR Competition, PSU Department of Communication students Jason Manhke (Sr.- Comm), and Rodney Kimlin (Grad Student, MBA), took the top prize in the poster session, which featured the applied academic undergraduate research students engaged in last fall, related to resource and waste management within the City of Pittsburg.
“This competition was a chance for me not only to apply the skills I have been taught inside the classroom, but an opportunity to learn from others and gain firsthand experience,” Kimlin said.

The Pittsburg State students who represented PSU at the OSTCA competition include: Katie Casterline (Sr.- Comm), Daniel Kilby (Sr.- Comm), Thomas Gregory (Sr.- Comm), Nadia Marji, (1st place in PR), Kasey Hockman (2nd place in PR), Jason Mahnke (1st place poster presentation), and Rodney Kimlin (3rd place in the PR, and 1st place in the poster session).
The Department of Communication at Pittsburg State University offers the Bachelor of Science (B.S.), the Bachelor of Science in Education (B.S.E.), and the Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees within a collaborative and collegial environment. Our top-ranked faculty are highly active in their professions and stress the importance of fusing theory with applied skill. Our majors number more than 250 spread across the seven emphasis areas of advertising, broadcasting, communication education, journalism, photojournalism, public relations, and theatre.

The department stresses an integrated and active approach to learning. The activities and programs uniquely available from the department reflect a multicultural and interdisciplinary perspective commensurate with the goals of a liberal education for students. For more details on the degree programs in the Department of Communication at Pittsburg State University visit the website: http://www.pittstate.edu/department/communication or feel free to contact the
department office at 620-235-4716, or e-mail comm@pittstate.edu.

LA Times Article Quotes Stephen Harmon

Steve Harmon, Associate Professor of History, is quoted here in an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Award-winning Professor

Jamie McDaniel, of the Department of English has won the Robert Hacke Scholar Teacher Award with his paper “An Example of Navigating Networks for Program Development at Smaller Colleges and Universities: Professional Communication, New Media, and Civic Engagement.” For more details, you may go to this link.

Todd Hastings at Crowder

Stephen Graham is awarded the Bronze Star

  Stephen Graham is currently in the position of Senior Administrative Assistant in the Music Department at Pittsburg State University. He is currently serving in the Kansas Army National Guard as a Sergeant and Squad Leader with the 226th Engineering Company out of Augusta, KS. In 2010 Stephen was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service. He was awarded the Medal on Sunday, April 17,2011. He has one 2- year old son, Sean Graham.