You Found Me! (Your Weird Professor)

Each year I try to write something on my blog right before school starts up again. This past week has been pretty crazy as I juggle multiple roles while making sure everything is set for Monday when I step back into the classroom for the first time since the end of April. And tomorrow I get to take on a fun new role – the guy helping to drive the Peoplemover during Move-in Day. It’s been busy, but I still found some time to put together this post. This year I’ve decided to write it to the students who will eventually find it over the next few weeks – those intrepid individuals who think “Wonder what’s on my professor’s blog” or find a link to this on social media. So allow me to introduce myself, using photos!

This is me, in my official Delta State faculty photo. It was taken in August 2014, and since then I haven't lost any more hair. So I'd say that's a success.
This is me, in my official Delta State faculty photo. It was taken in August 2014, and since then I haven’t lost any more hair. So I’d say that’s a success.
This was the first college classroom I ever taught in, Schrank Hall North 452. I was hired in Fall 2001 to teach A+ Certification, an entry level computer technician course at The University of Akron, and in February 2002, I taught my first solo class in this room.
This was the first college classroom I ever taught in, Schrank Hall North 452. I was hired in Fall 2001 to teach A+ Certification, an entry level computer technician course at The University of Akron, and in February 2002, I taught my first solo class in this room.
I've always been a bit of a computer geek. This is a picture of the last 'regular' cell phone I owned in 2002. Been on a smartphone ever since (Yes, smartphones existed before the iPhone!)
I’ve always been a bit of a computer geek. This is a picture of the last ‘regular’ cell phone I owned in 2002. Been on a smartphone ever since (Yes, smartphones existed before the iPhone!)
I finished my Bachelors degree in Psychology in 2004, my masters degree in 2007, and (pictured here) my doctorate in 2009. Here I am with my dad (on the left), and my mom on the right. The guy in the middle with me was my advisor in graduate school, Dr. Jasper. Advisors can become family - I still see mine regularly at conferences, and we catch up every other month or so via email.
I finished my Bachelors degree in Psychology in 2004, my masters degree in 2007, and (pictured here) my doctorate in 2009. Here I am with my dad (on the left), and my mom on the right. The guy in the middle with me was my advisor in graduate school, Dr. Jasper. Advisors can become family – I still see mine regularly at conferences, and we catch up every other month or so via email.
As I said earlier, I've been at Delta State since 2014, and have gotten to do some really fun things in that time. Last spring we took a group of Psychology students down to New Orleans for the Southeastern Psychological Association meeting (SEPA). Pictured here are the students, along with a few other DSU faculty (Drs Zengaro, Beals, and Zengaro).
As I said earlier, I’ve been at Delta State since 2014, and have gotten to do some really fun things in that time. Last spring we took a group of Psychology students down to New Orleans for the Southeastern Psychological Association meeting (SEPA). Pictured here are the students, along with a few other DSU faculty (Drs Zengaro, Beals, and Zengaro).
I still get some time away from work though - here is a picture of my wife, Karey, and I from our trip this summer to Pensacola Beach (We were celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary). If you happen to visit the Teacher Education, Leadership, and Research department, you might meet Karey - she's the senior secretary there!
I still get some time away from work though – here is a picture of my wife, Karey, and I from our trip this summer to Pensacola Beach (We were celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary). If you happen to visit the Teacher Education, Leadership, and Research department, you might meet Karey – she’s the senior secretary there!
This fall is shaping up to be awesome - in addition to being a professor in the psychology department, I'm also the coordinator of the First Year Seminar program and the Okra Scholars program. This means you'll probably find me in many random places around campus, but I'm always happy to answer any question I can regardless of where you physically find me.
This fall is shaping up to be awesome – in addition to being a professor in the psychology department, I’m also the coordinator of the First Year Seminar program and the Okra Scholars program. This means you’ll probably find me in many random places around campus, but I’m always happy to answer any question I can regardless of where you physically find me.

So there is a quick photo summary of your crazy professor. I’ve been teaching for a long time, but I’m still learning every day.  If you happen to read this, come up to me and tell me! Its not weird to “stalk” your professor (here or on social media) – we’re all human and we like to learn about other humans. That’s why I went into teaching and psychology in the first place! Have an awesome school year everyone!

Spanking is Wrong for These Three Reasons

As a psychologist, I often am asked questions related to children, child rearing, and development (Despite not being a developmental psychologist!). As a generalist in teaching psychology, I do my best to give researched and nuanced answers. One comment I often get from students and parents alike is that they disagree with most experts on spanking. They believe it’s an effective form of punishment and (in some cases) have told me that they will not change their mind. I figured today I’d take some time to explain the reasons why spanking is wrong, giving you a chance to think about them and debate.
Continue reading “Spanking is Wrong for These Three Reasons”

Defying Classification

I’m writing this post, the first in over a month (my bad!) from a hotel room in New Orleans. I’m down here for the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) conference, having brought with me 5 of my undergraduate students from Delta State. The conference seems to be having the desired effect – students are excited to see the very real possibility of themselves presenting material here in subsequent years. What seemed big, ominous, and unknown, is now something they see within reach. It means a lot more work for myself in terms of advising students, but it’s work I’m happy to do. 

  
The topic of this post isn’t about my academic pursuits, or the symposium that we presented on perspectives on a campus shooting. While the symposium was a success, thanks to the lead author Sally Zengaro, and my collaborators George Beals and Franco Zengaro, there isn’t too much I can say about it that hasn’t already been said. And while the academic nature of the conference has been fulfilling (I’ve seen some interesting talks, and gotten some ideas for my own research as well as my students), it also doesn’t merit my putting electronic pen to paper. My topic tonight is the one part observation of human behavior, and one part my own warped philsophy of the world. And it’s best summed up by the title, Defying Classification.

Psychology conferences are interesting places. Scores of undergraduate students looking to get their feet wet, teams of graduate students trying to be noticed on a larger stage, and professors presenting either to fulfill pre-tenure obligations, out of respect for their science, or out of love for their field (Sometimes all 3!). You tend to notice trends in how they walk, talk, and appear. Undergraduates dress in typical teenage and early 20’s style, with some (who were clued in, like my students) dressing slightly nicer and more professional. Graduate students tend to dress in the most professional attire, with professors taking a more laid back approach. Professor standard attire for men tends to be jeans or slacks, with a button down shirt or polo, and occasionally a sport coat. No suits, few ties. We look, more or less, like grown up versions of our undergraduate students. Other conferences differ slightly – the business school crowd dresses more formally, and I assume other professional schools clean up a bit more than us ratty PhDs. 

Today I was wearing my standard professor uniform: Khaki cargo pants, black shoes, dark blue Carhartt t-shirt covered by a black polo shirt. On my belt I had my camera in a case and my cell phone in a holster. I like to keep my pockets open during conferences to (a) have a place to put my room key without depolarizing it and (b) have a place for business cards and my conference name badge. After the last session tonight, I went out in the same ‘uniform’, adding in a black 2600 hat. I tend to shy away from logos, but I make an exception for brands I like to show support for, and 2600 is a publication I feel is important to the technology community.

Anyway, I proceeded to ‘take myself out on a date’, (because I’m awesome and I’d date me if I were single). I hit a few shops, watched some dueling pianos, caught the sunset over the Mississippi River, and picked up a gift for Karey and a birthday gift for a friend. On the way back to the hotel, I decided to get some food, but didn’t feel like having anything fancy. When you’re alone, sometimes all you want is something simple. Tonight I thought of something I hadn’t had in awhile: Popeyes Chicken. So I wandered over to Popeyes, walked in, placed my order, and walked back out. Holding my drink and Popeyes bag, I noticed a shorter scrawny gentleman come quickly up to me on my left. “Cocaine man, I got good cocaine”. I shrugged him off, and wandered across the street wondering if dealers with subpar products strategically make fewer promises. As I got nearer to the other side of the street, a security guard from one of the hotels spied me and asked “Hey, are they busy in there tonight?”. I replied “No, they’re pretty open” and she thanked me. 

It was then that it hit me: I looked like a security guard or a bouncer. I had things on my belt, I had a black polo on, I had cargo pants, I had a black baseball cap with some strange number on it, and I had just bought food in between two other similarly dressed gentlemen who were off to work at different places according to their polo shirts. The lady who put my food in my bag at Popeyes asked how my day was – I had replied “Busy”. She replied “The more you do the more you make, huh”. I absentmindedly agreed, despite the fact it isn’t too true for me. I am huge, a trait normally found in private security personnel. As I came into the hotel, I realized that absolutely no one on the street would have guessed I was a professor, or a scientist, or a published author, or a computer programmer. I looked like a security guard, and likely New Orleans local. 

And I’m just fine with that. The point of this long rambling post is simply that joy can be found – true, unabashed joy – in simply being yourself. If you defy classification, than so be it. If you are the epitome of who you’re supposed to be – own that too. Be the professor with the tweed jacket and elbow patches (on a side note: I hardly see those anymore). Be comfortable in your own skin, and let others think what they may. Honestly I like blending in – it means people are more likely to treat me as a peer and tell me their story (After all, that’s why I got into psychology in the first place). Others prefer to stand out, signaling to the world that they are individuals. Both mindsets are perfectly fine. And switching day to day is allowed. What you shouldn’t allow is yourself to be consumed by the tyranny of the shoulds, to use a term from Karen Horney. Be all the bouncer professor you can be.

(But stay away from cocaine, good or bad!)

Why Academics Need Branding

Today, many professors share the same responsibilities as our counterparts in other industries. We need to answer emails, attend mandatory HR trainings, and have conversations about recruitment, retention, and image. But one thing we don’t usually have is the staple of many in the working world: An ID badge to be worn while at work. At the most, we have something like this, a name badge used during “open-house” events where members of the public, or new students, may be in attendance.

My Delta State name badge

When asked* to wear our badges, we generally grumble and dig them out of our bags or desk drawers, reluctantly put them on, and wander out to the event.  Most professors consider them a nuisance, however I’d argue that, when used effectively, they are far more important than we think. They are a visible way we show our affiliation, at a time when higher education (whether it wants to or not) needs not only affiliation, but brand presence.

How does a name badge advance a brand? Well if executed poorly, it doesn’t. I’ll give you an example of good execution (in my opinion) first. At Delta State, all of our name badges have the same size, shape, and style: Black lettering on a gold background. Each year there are very subtle differences depending on the shop that we order from, but unless you hold badges side-by-side you won’t really notice the font shift, bolder letters, or 1-2 point size differences in text. When ‘outsiders’ come to an event, all Delta State faculty and staff are immediately recognizable about a mile away, which means that people have no trouble asking us questions ranging from “Where are the bathrooms” to “Do you teach here?” to “Can you tell me about the XYZ program?”. We appear organized because our badges match, even if sometimes we might not have all the answers. Last week, for example, a new orientation student who was visibly confused flagged me down asking for help understanding her schedule. 2 minutes later and a quick look at her schedule and she was off happily, profusely thanking me.

Contrast that to a previous institution I was at where name badges were a very informal thing. Each year the design changed rather markedly – the background was white one year, red another, white again the next. Sometimes the logo of the school was on the badge, sometimes it wasn’t. Folks who had been around 10+ years had a much older design with just a single bar and their name, while newer badges had the same information mine does above. And unless you mentioned it a few times, you might not even get a badge (I never did), even as a full time faculty or staff member. While I’m sure the administration cared about them in theory, in practice it was a free-for-all. To the public, this sends a message of disorganization (Which at that school was more accurate than desired), and while we had a quality product to offer, we didn’t appreciate how the little details mattered.

The DSU Division of Counselor Education & Psychology at the Greater Memphis National College Fair, September 2014.
The DSU Division of Counselor Education & Psychology at the Greater Memphis National College Fair, September 2014.

At DSU, branding seems to be doing it’s job in terms of recruiting students in tough times. Last year we had our first year with increasing enrollment in over a half-decade, and we’re hopeful for another increase this year. When we go to academic / college fairs, our tables look uniform, our faculty and staff are easy to spot, and we project an image of professionalism that many other institutions lack. As academics, our number 1 priority is, and always will be, providing a quality education to our students. But we cannot become so jaded as to believe that appearance, marketing, and branding have no impact on our abilities to do our jobs. People notice if your logos are different, business cards vary greatly, and name badges don’t match. And what can admissions folks tell to those people when they ask “Will my son be able to graduate in four years or will an advising error happen like it did to my daughter at ?”. They can assure them that we take advising seriously (and at DSU we definitely do), but if it looks like they can’t even coordinate their own letterhead, will they be believed?

** I originally wrote “required”, however if you’ve spent time in academia, you know that there are always a handful of professors that will laugh in the face of such ‘requirements’.

When Humans Make it LESS Creepy

I was born in the forgotten generation – those not quite old enough to be Gen X, but those definitely too young to be a Millenial, an era some have called the Oregon Trail Generation. As such, I share some traits with either generation, and have some unique ones of my own. And sometimes I think I’m the only one who sees the odd mashups of both.
Here’s my example for today: The “Aversion to Talking to People” of the Millenials versus the “Computers are Tracking YOU” paranoia of Gen X.

I admit that I do enjoy not having to make awkward phone calls or initiate conversation with strangers – I share that with many millenials raised on instant Google gratification. I’ll do it if necessary (or get someone else to, just ask friends of mine that had to ask someone to take our picture at Graceland last week when I chickened out), but I’d prefer to avoid dealing with humans for needs, instead dealing with them simply for wants. (In other words, if you want to become friends, I’m up to chat all afternoon – but if I need to call you to ask what time you close tomorrow, I’m not that excited).

Now let’s contrast that with the “Computers are tracking you” paranoia of many Gen X’ers (and older). I’m not a huge fan of things like loyalty cards that track my purchases, but I begrudingly use them to get small discounts at the grocery store. Recently our local grocery store started sending coupons to us in the mail (I say recently, but it could have been several years ago, my wife would know for sure. I stereotypically leave most of the couponing to her). Upon the arrival of the latest batch, my wife said “I think they track what you buy and send you the coupons you might actually use”. I agreed that this would be a smart move on their part, and that it actually sets up kind of a win-win situation. Store has a greater liklihood of me buying something because it’s something I like and I have a coupon, and if I was going to buy it anyway, I get a small discount (I suppose if I were a big impulse shopper, this would be disastrous, but thankfully I don’t tend to be).

This got me thinking – for many older folks, a local grocer (physical person) who knew them by name, knew their likes/dislikes, and offered them discounts would be a valued shopkeep, something lamented when they were replaced by a big-box grocery chain. Yet those same people find it creepy when a computer tracks their purchases and targets them with coupons or ads, essentially providing the same service. Somehow it’s less creepy if it’s a person doing it. Contrast that with the Millenial attitude that dealing a person is more uncomfortable than a computer, and you have a strange cohort effect. Older generations find it creepy if it’s a computer, younger find it uncomfortable if it’s a person, and vice versa.

I, for my part, shall continue to straddle the two generations, embracing my Oregon Trail-ness while teaching (mostly) Millenials. And continue to notice strange inconsistencies like this one, which I shall report to, no doubt, millions of interested readers!

Academia Public Service Announcement (APSA): How Graduate Admissions Work!

As someone who knew nothing about college before stepping on a college campus, day 1, I sometimes find that things I take for granted now were completely unknown way back then. This mostly occurs when I see people on social media make comments that I shake my head at and say “Uh, that’s not how it works”. So I’ve decided to write up a few of these “Academia Public Service Announcements”. 

The first one, below, talks about how one gets into graduate school. I see a lot of comments to my seniors that go something like this:

“Oh, you met the requirements – you’ll be able to get into any program you want!”

or 

“I’m glad you chose where you want to go, they’ll take you for sure”

Both of these statements slyly imply something that isn’t true: Graduate admission is NOT like applying to college. It’s way more traumatic 😉

Here’s what I mean: The typical undergraduate admission process goes like this:

  1. Student finds college he or she is interested in, and checks admission requirements.
  2. If student meets requirements, and school is not ultra-selective (and unless you’re in the Ivys, not many are), student applies. If school is ultra selective, student must decide if the admission liklihood is worth the application hassle!
  3. Student may have a few hoops to jump through, but in the end they are offered admission.

In this scenario, the school is admitting hundreds (or thousands) of students, and unless they’re very selective, they will take anyone who meets their requirements. Schools want to take as many as possible, that’s how they get tuition dollars!

Graduate admissions tends to run like this:

  1. Student finds program he or she is interested in. Programs exist within departments – the goal here is not to find a school you want, as much as the program you need to go into a career you want to enter. So don’t tell your friend or child “Why would you want to go THERE?!?” – they didn’t pick the school, they picked the program!
  2. Student does a lot of research on that program, reading all those web pages that most glance by (i.e. faculty profiles, degree requirements, etc…). Student hopefully identifies 1-2 faculty members in that program they would want to work with. 
  3. Student applies and must meet minimum qualifications for that college or university’s graduate admissions. Assuming that they meet those, the graduate admissions group forwards their application on to the program.

This is where people often get confused: They hear that their’s (or someone they know, a son’s, daughter’s, friend’s) application has been forwarded on and assume they have some small level of acceptance – but in graduate admissions, the graduate admission group has very little power over who gets in! They simply check qualifications, gather the paperwork together, and forward it on.

It’s all about the actual program’s graduate committee and faculty – if they think the student would be a good fit (Most important), and they’re taking graduate students (Some professors skip years taking new students), then they may offer an interview to the prospective student. Remember, each program is only going to take 5-10 students a year across all faculty members in it. Their goal is NOT to take as many students as possible – especially if they have funding available – most PhD programs do not want to take people they cannot fund (i.e. give a tuition waiver / award an assistantship to)

So in reality, meeting the minimum requirements only means that they could offer you admission. But to gain admission, you must…

  • Have a strong background in specifically the areas they’re interested in. A good major and overall GPA is nice, but if you did poorly in the specific class that aligns with the research you’d be doing, there is little chance you’ll get in.
  • Have good recommendations from faculty at your current school. Typically 3 letters of recommendation are required.
  • Have good interviewing skills so that when you talk with your prospective mentor (i.e. the man or woman who will control your life in graduate school) you sound somewhat eloquent and vaguely insightful (I phrase this as such because few undergrads are super-super strong – faculty look for the potential to be excellent, but understand you’re not excellent yet!)
  • Be willing to relocate to a school that you may never have heard of if they have a good program.
  • Be lucky: It comes down to a numbers game as well. I’ve seen excellent students turned away because the assistantship lines have been reduced and the faculty member can’t fund them, and thus doesn’t want to work with an unfunded student.

So next time a friend of yours tells you they’ve been looking at grad school, wish them good luck, but hold off on any congratulations until they tell you they’ve been offered admission!

Information on Geek Squad Badges From An Insider!

As regular readers of this blog know (Hi Nate… and maybe 1-2 other people who’ve stumbled in the door from time to time…), I collect badges, including name, store security, and Geek Squad varieties. About a year and a half ago, I posted on a counterfeit Geek Squad badge that I’d come across, and at that time I invited former or current Geeks to fill me in on anything interesting going on in the world of Geek Squad badges. Today a reader sent me some interesting information, and a few photos I’d thought I’d share.

First, before I share some interesting badge info, I’ll share the new badge finishing process. If you look at my badges, you’ll notice I don’t show the back of them. This is because… well… it’s the back – who wants to see it?!? But it turns out the backs tell an interesting story. Here is the back of an old style badge, the Pre-2012 Blackminton badge that is well known to collectors.

Now take a look at the counterfeit badge back

It’s hard to see the differences, but you can tell a slight lack of countour, due to the lower quality. Interestingly, a few months after my article, a Twitter user tweeted myself and Robert Stephens taking credit for the fake, claiming he had made it using a CAD tool. If that’s the case, it may be that his fabrication process, not being based on a mold, had some imperfections.

Anyway, as I’ll detail below, post-2012 badges have a radically different back:

Quite a shift from the Blackminton style, although given the wear scenarios discussed in some of the internal documentation provided to me, it makes sense since overall Geek Squad appears to be favoring a “pocketed” badge more than a worn. The flat back design is popular with LEOs who will carry their badges in a case as opposed to on a uniform. 

The front of the badge remains largely unchanged post-2012:

You’ll notice I’ve sanitized the image to protect the identity of my source (the images are used with permission, however I don’t want anyone getting fired!). Obviously this looks a bit less defined than the older style, but is more consistent with a pocket-able badge.

Now for some interesting information on the badges. Previously you had to be a Geek Squad agent in certain positions in order to get a badge. In 2013 and into 2014, the rules were changed along with the badge design. Responding to what was considered an “outdated badge process”, Geek Squad Management decided to change the requirements to: 18 cumulative months in a geek squad role to earn the first badge, and six consecutive months in a role for any subsequent badges. Given the high turnover in retail, these benchmarks make a lot of sense. 

Along with the changes come a massive reduction in badge titles. Gone are the “friendly” titles like “Double Agent” or “Deputy Counter Intelligence”. Now all badges will have one of 6 titles: Autotech Agent, City Agent, Covert Agent, Field Agent, Precinct Agent, & Agent Defender. This change was done to reduce the number of “one-off badge titles”, which should prevent employees (“agents”) in the same position having different badge titles. 

Further documentation provides justification for the newer look, addressing criticisms that the “new badge was worse quality than the current badges” by explaining the quality level is the same, the badges are die struck and have a “hand relieved antique patina”, and has jewelers lacquer applied to it for protection. New badges are 65% copper, 18% silver, and (ominously) 17% miscellaneous.

So there is your Geek Squad Badge update (for the 1-2 other collectors on the planet). I’ve noticed a few of the newer styles rattling around eBay as of late, and may pick up one or two at some point. I don’t want to get into a Pokémon style “Gotta Catch ‘em” all mentaility though!

Thank you to my source for providing the photos and information below (If he/she would like to be named, I’ll gladly put his/her information here)!