The Undivided Life

I don’t know why this last blog post was is being so difficult to write for me… But the more I think about it the more clear that muddiness becomes. It’s that point in the semester where panic ensues almost everyday and where the rest of your life seems to just be placed on hold until you survive that last week of classes – where you’re living an UNDIVIDED LIFE.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I have been a fan of Parker Palmer’s since I found his book The Courage To Teach. It was in this book that I first learned about teaching from the undivided self and I have already put the book he mentioned about this topic in our readings on my kindle wishlist. As in teaching and in life, we are not at our best when we are divided. I am at my best in the classroom when I bring all of who I am into that room – when I utilize & talk about my Cherokee heritage and values, when I connect my life as a entrepreneur to being a student, when I give examples from all aspects of my life – not just the “professional” ones. I am at my best in life when I am fulfilling my responsibilities as a wife, as a student & teacher, as a business woman and as just a person. When I divide or deny an aspect of who I am for too long, I begin to suffer in all of those aspects.

And I need to create an environment in my engineering classroom that allows students to be their undivided self as well. There are things that I love to do or was good at when I started my undergraduate engineering career that I honestly think were drilled, taught, or just pushed out of me. I want my students to be able to be all of who they are in my classroom, to not have to suppress or push down their creativity, to not be afraid to have the conversations that need to be had just because “this is an engineering classroom”.

This is the goal in teaching the New Professional. We need to not only allow space for emotions and creativity in our classrooms but support and encourage it. There shouldn’t be a set of steps that must be followed exactly in order to find the right answer. Students should be rewarded for creativity – for innovation – for working through that problem in a new way. This comes out in both the Parker Palmer article and the Innovation articles. The New Professional cannot deny or ignore their emotions if they want to make real change in the world and in order to teach our students innovation we must teach them that the knowledge we’re teaching them is not the end all be all. Both innovation and this desire to make a difference in the world are common reasons students list for being interested in engineering in the first place. And yet, as seen and discussed several times before, something happens between them being freshman and seniors that changes their outlook entirely.

I believe we are disconnecting them from why they enjoyed and were interested in engineering in the first place through our current education style. We are telling them that emotions have no place in science and engineering – even though it was those emotions that led them to us. We are teaching them that the numbers do not lie and that all that matters is the right answer – but never letting them explore what that number means, never showing them how to tell if its even reasonable in real time, or discussing that engineering is always changing and this might not even be the way of doing things when they get out of school. They leave us without practicing innovation and as divided husks of the idyllic person they once were.

I know this is a bit of an exaggeration and isn’t true of every person or every institution but it’s the current system. And as Palmer discussed, we cannot change the system until we realize that we are a part of it and have power over it.

I can change how engineering is taught. I can welcome and utilize emotions in my classroom. I can utilize mindfulness and teach my students how to as well. I can have those difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion in engineering, what it means to be an engineer, and who can be an engineer. I can help them think critically and not just be passive banks in their education, depositing knowledge. I can live an undivided life and bring ALL that I am into the classroom and teach my students to do the same. To utilize their strengths, no matter what they are, to help them be the best new professional engineers that they can be.

If I can lift you today,
You will look back
And grab the hands of a thousand more.

That is the way
The Great Spirit would have it!
-Howard Rainer, Native American Poet

From Tired, to Hopeful, to Mad, to Empowered

There was so much goodness in this week’s readings. There was a whole lot of this going on during my reading.
Everything has just tied in perfectly to things going on in my life and world right now. If you didn’t read my blog last week I posted about how tired I was last week. I was exhausted from the pressure I feel to be a leader for my people and represent us well to the rest of the world. That was the beginning of the roller coaster of last week. We then had an amazing Tribal Leader’s Summit here on campus Wednesday & Thursday which was just amazing. It was incredible, moving, and also emotional. Then Thursday morning… This happened.

Needless to say, I moved from tired, to hopeful, to just plain mad. (I won’t rehash that transition here but it’s on my twitter if you’re looking for it. Haha.) I think I called my parents more last week just emotionally exhausted from it all then I have in a long time…
To then go from that to reading about Freire’s concepts and thoughts on Critical Pedagogy –
Every time I opened a new reading, I was like “YES! That’s me! That’s what I’ve been looking for! There’s actually research & practice that supports what I’ve been thinking about!”
I found this, “Liberation is akin to a painful childbirth that never completely ends, as oppression continuously mutates and morphs into unprecedented forms in new epochs. Thus, liberation is not merely a psychological change where an individual comes to feel better about herself. Freirean liberation is a social dynamic that involves working with and engaging other people in a power-conscious process.”
It’s never over.  Every day I have to put on my armor, rejoin the fight, and defend my existence not only to my oppressors but to myself. One of the readings explained “the oppressed, Freire frequently reminds his readers, have many times been so inundated by the ideologies of their oppressors that they have come to see the world and themselves through the oppressor’s eyes. “I’m just a peasant, or a hillbilly, or a black kid from the ghetto, or a woman, or a man from the Third World, or a student with a low IQ; I have no business in higher education.” This is actually part of what I was struggling with last week. Thoughts like “I have no business talking about this”, “I am not a leader”, “Is this really my place?”, etc., etc., etc…. So it’s not just outside influences that I am fighting against. It’s not just ignorance. It’s not just racism. It’s this internal inundation of what the world, centuries of assimilation, and generational trauma has told me what I’m suppose to be, do, or act like as a Native woman. I am reminded of something I heard Sherman Alexie tell me and fellow indigenous students here at VT when he visited – “Don’t give a shit about what other Indians think. If you can’t rebel against your own people, how can you rebel against the dominant culture?” So maybe the whole reason I don’t feel like a leader for my people is actually what makes me a leader?? Maybe the fact that I can leave my people, my traditional homeland, and pursue an advanced degree, that my ideas are a little different and a mix of contemporary and tradition, is actually what my people need of me?
So what does this look like in a classroom? It’s a classroom that doesn’t ignore, negate, or hide from the surroundings of the world. No matter what the subject, discipline, or setting. Too many times, engineering professors, at least in my experience, ignore what’s going on in the outside world for fear of it conflicting with the content or the “integrity” of the science/work. I have seen this for myself in the aftermath of the election in November. I had a graduate level, engineering class in my department at 9am Wednesday morning. A female classmate who I know identifies with the LGBT community quietly cried almost the entire class period and our professor just continued with class like all was normal, never acknowledging anything. This attitude has also been seen in the March for Science in their assertion that the march is NOT political and that these discussions – particularly in the area of diversity, inclusion, and the experiences of underrepresented scientists – are dismissed as taking away from the science itself. As I am not an expert on these topics and am just coming to the MFS game, I would direct you to Katherine Crocker, Isabel Ott, and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos. They discuss these issues with the MFS at great length eloquently and I really appreciate their voices. Freire’s ideas of Critical Pedagogy explain how these attitudes can actually hurt the “science” and the learning process. Freire argues that “education is always political and teachers are unavoidably political operatives. Teaching is a political act—there’s no way around it.”
To ignore the outside world, we are just “depositing” tons of information into our students and perpetuating the idea that this knowledge is static, unchanging, and that their role as students is merely passive vessels, meant only to memorize the content we’re sharing. We’re missing out on showing them how dynamic the world really is, the knowledge really is, and what it all means for society. One of the paper’s I’m reading for my engineering education class this week talks about how first-year engineering students report “enjoying engineering less and viewed it as less important and useful than they did at the beginning of that first year” (Jones, et al., 2010). Could this be tied to our ignorance of the world outside our engineering classrooms? to our not tied these engineering concepts to current events and scenarios? to just dumping information or wanting them to just memorize things?

I’m Tired….

I’m all over the place this week… Hence why this post is late… This is actually the week I was the most excited about when I first looked at the syllabus. But honestly… I’m just tired. I think that’s one of the reasons this post is late. I think another, that is strongly related to this tired feelings, is that I was expecting myself to have something profound to say about this. And really…

I don’t.

A lot of the time when this topic comes up in class, I feel this pressure to represent my people, speak up, and say something deeply profound. Most of the time, this pressure isn’t coming from anyone other than myself. I want to represent myself, my people, and my culture well. People are well meaning. They’re curious and they honestly don’t know so most of the time, I actually love to answer their questions. But right now,

I’m just tired.

I don’t say this to take away from anything we’ve read or talked about this week. I am actually really passionate about this topic as you might be able to tell from class. I really resonated with the “Reducing Identity and Stereotyping Threat” chapter. I think that’s because I’m still creating my narrative like the author mentioned towards the beginning. I did find it interesting that once again, the native experience is forgotten even in this article. Because of where I’m personally at right now, this actually hurts today. Because I feel like it reiterates the idea that it’s okay for us to have to endure this threat… I mean we’re the one race that it’s okay to characterize with stereotypical cartoons & sports mascots despite our continuing disapproval. As a group that gets forgotten, I’ve actually really started looking at making sure I include and look at everything in my classroom especially groups that I think continually get forgotten. Lately that has been in my work to make sure my classroom is accessible to everyone regardless of their abilities or capabilities and that my wording is welcoming. That’s why I used the word “Accessibility” in my syllabus instead of “Accommodations”. Accommodations has a more negative connotation and it is really just my goal for my class to be accessible. I’ve also been looking into Active Learning techniques and have been reading about how these activities are actually a nightmare for students with ADHD and other disorders that make it difficult to process information right away. I’m really disappointed I’m going to miss class this week… I know the discussion is going to be really good. But I’m actually going to be at the Tribal Leaders Summit here on campus with Virginia’s tribal leaders. I need to be there. Especially right now, with my state of mind. But I’m looking forward to being with you again next week. And I’ll leave you with this gif because I found it during my writing and just had to include it.

So they can grab the hands of a thousand more…

Image result for the ascent howard rainer

Grab hold,
And take this hand that
Reaches out to you.

Look up
Into my eyes;
My spirit
Cries out to you:
Friendship is my thought.

Let us climb
The jagged cliffs of life
And fight the ascent of
Opposition together.

If I can lift you today,
You will look back
And grab the hands of a thousand more.

That is the way
The Great Spirit would have it!

-Howard Rainer, Native American Poet

This is my authentic teaching voice. Since the moment my father showed me this poem when I was in high school, I knew that this poem embodied everything I am. It is the embodiment of ga-du-gi. Ga-Du-Gi is a Cherokee phrase/concept that loosely means working together for the good of everyone. It is woven into my DNA – into the fabric of who I am. That need for community is something I innately crave and without it I am not whole. It’s also something I’ve struggled with finding here at Virginia Tech but that’s a different post. But more importantly for this topic, it’s who I am, so it’s how I teach. It’s actually the whole reason why I love teaching. The problem is – this is not the norm in my field of stereotypical engineers who put up this wall between them and their students.

As I began to find my voice and place in my department here, I actually struggled with being different from those I was seeing in teaching leadership positions. Another phd student I looked up talked about not going to certain events because the students she TA’d might be there. In our TA workshop for the year, the professor leading it told us that we could be friendly but we shouldn’t be friends with our students. I understood their reasoning behind their comments but I started thinking…

“That’s not me. Is there something wrong with me?”

But then I discovered Palmer’s book “The Courage to Teach” and I started this journey on finding (no – recognizing) my authentic teaching self. Palmer calls it teaching from your authentic self which was honestly a major “ah-ha” moment for me. If I am not authentic to who I am as a person with my students, then I am doing them a disservice.

“Student see posing and posturing very quickly; do not be someone you are not in
your classroom” – Dr. Fowler

It will be felt – not only in the room – but in my soul. It’s like denying a piece of who you are and expecting to still be happy with life. For some, that space between them and the students is authentic to them. But it’s not for me. I need my classroom to be a community space where we can truly work together for the good of everyone in the room. I’m sure I’ll get some push back for this seeming utopian or altruistic but that’s my culture and if we can sustain thousands of years of systemic genocide doing things this way, I think I can make it, being true to myself and my voice, in my classroom.

“One of Palmer’s major theses is the idea that the more you bring yourself to your teaching, the better teacher you will be.”

This does not mean that there are no boundaries or order in my classroom. On the contrary, my classroom is based on mutual respect. One of the big takeaways I’ve gotten so far this year, is really to be upfront with your students in the beginning about why you’re doing the things you’re doing. You show them respect in sharing this information and journey of learning with them and when they that my purpose for these silly things I do is really just about helping them succeed, I have more of their respect as well.

This concept of ga-du-gi is also a really empowering one in the classroom. It means everyone is actively involved in their own learning as well as the learning of those around them. We learned a little bit about empowerment in one of the previous videos. When workers were allowed to work on whatever they wanted for a day every month I believe, the company saw more innovation then ever before.

“When we empower our students, amazing things can happen!”

So I’m still in the process of figuring out what this physically looks like in the classroom everyday, but I know that it’ll be real. It’ll be authentic. And it’ll be me. I can already feel my pedagogical statement forming and it’ll all be summed up into one word – “ga-du-gi”. So yeah, maybe it’s ideological or utopian to think, but I have to believe that one person can change the world and that that starts in our own classrooms.

Because if I can help, connect, or simply pull up even just one student in that room, they will reach back and grab the hands of a thousand more and that’s all I really hope for…

Woah… Just Woah…


Honestly, Kohn just kinda blew my socks off… There were so many moments where he really just knocked me off my game & really made me question my way of thinking… To tie back to previous discussions – that’s part of being mindful in your teaching though. Reading things, especially things outside of your normal way of thinking, and reflecting on it. This article was definitely an exercise in mindfullness for me.

“When school is seen as a test, rather than an adventure in ideas,” teachers may persuade themselves they’re being fair” – Woah…. This has been me lately… I literally had this thought this week… I’m currently working with our Senior Design class this semester and one of things I’ve been asked to do is develop rubrics for the course assignments. Previously this has always been a small class and it was easy for the professor to kinda just go with however he wanted to grade it that year. This year, the class size more than doubled and he wanted a little more structure that could be easily transferred from year to year. I discovered Canvas’ rubric setting and quickly fell in love. But one of the things I’m learning is that when I have a rubric that I’m grading from, my grading tends to be really rough… I tell myself that that’s the fair way to do it and that this is how the students can see up front how everything will be graded… But the more I read this article, the more I realized how this doesn’t jive with the rest of my teaching style. I’m very collaborative. I want to get to know my students and I really want to focus on how their learning the material and transferring it to knowledge instead of just memorizing information… I did struggle with the fact that this seemed to be written for students in secondary education but I can see in the effects of grading that he listed at the beginning in not only my students, but my peers, and even myself at times.

I do think grading has its place in higher education. (I definitely don’t think I could tell my department next year that I’m throwing out the gradebook for my class.) But I am intrigued by the applications for my classroom and combining these ideas with others I’ve seen to comprise my own “grading style” if there is such a thing. Through working on these rubrics for Sr. Design, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about what kind of assessment I want to in my class next year… The course I’ll be teaching is our Intro to BSE course which has both a lecture & lab component. I’ve been looking at in-class assessments, more problem-based lab assignments, and even lab quizzes to make sure they come prepared. This idea of not everything being graded is really interesting to me now. Maybe the lab quizzes can be self-graded at the very beginning so they can ask questions before we start about what they don’t understand.  The in-class assessments don’t need to be graded either and can just be for helping the students assess their own learning during the “lecture” time. “We Assess What We Value” and if what we value is students leaving our classroom being able to apply the knowledge provided to them in our course, being able to problem solve, or even just knowing how to learn then in the words of Kohn himself maybe “grading is problematic by its very nature” to what we’re trying to accomplish.

I’ll leave you with the one part in particular of this article that really struck me personally. It was the story of the student and his zen master. As a very goal-oriented person, I literally make goals everyday and I’m better when I make goals & deadlines for those goals. But it’s true. When you focus so much on how close you are to that goal, no matter how important, enlightened, or critical it is…

“If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task.”

Woah…. Just Woah….

Focused Awareness – Mindfulness in Life & Academia


Networked Learning

Networked learning is something with which I’ve only recently become familiar. The PFP and GEDI classes are the first courses I’ve taken where blogging was incorporated into the coursework. The more I learn about the concept and how it can work in the classroom, the more intrigued I am. There are definitely certain entities in which it works better – a graduate classroom such as GEDI or an undergraduate seminar class where the class is based around discussion of the material. I am curious how I can work blogging into my typical engineering classroom. In my Senior Design classroom that I’m currently working with, I can see a possible application in that they are suppose to keep an online engineering notebook during the course of their design as well as a website. We could incorporate the two things together with a blog portion of their website in which they control the narrative of their design project and process. In my intro to BSE course, however, I feel like Twitter might be a better option for integrating networked learning. I am not a big twitter person. I have an account but I haven’t used it for years. My handle still includes my maiden name so I think I might have to make a new one for my future career. Utilizing Twitter I could share articles about different things BSE engineers are doing, possibly facilitate class discussion, as well as tweet other insights during the regular guest lectures for the class. Utilizing Twitter is actually something I had never really seriously considered before this discussion but I think could possibly really engage my students in the classroom next year.

GEDI 2017 – Name Stories

What is the story behind your name?

Name: Qualla Jo

Who came up with it: Both my parents I believe, but I suspect my father had the most influence on it.
Meaning, significance and story: My parents named both my brother and I after a person and a place. I am named Qualla after the Qualla Boundary which is the area in which the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians currently lives in western North Carolina. I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and Qualla is also where we lived before the Trail of Tears.  Jo is my paternal grandmother’s first name and so I became Qualla Jo.