Connecting with your professors can benefit you in the classroom and beyond. Read this series to dive deeper into the minds of our professors and get answers to some fun and interesting questions. We asked professors to reflect on their career, advice for students, non-academic hobbies and interests.
Where does your passion/inspiration for your work come from? Is it why you entered your field?
Although I couldn’t have articulated why I was drawn to the social sciences earlier in my life, and my doing so was initially driven by somewhat vocational and practical interests that aligned with an interest in public service, I think it really boils down to my wanting to understand people better, so I can teach students to do the same, and we can collectively work toward making the world a better place. Growing up in a working class family instilled in me a strong value of championing the underdog. This theme has resonated through my life in the people I most identify with and the subjects in which I’ve become most interested. I’ve always been drawn to the ‘outsider’ and ‘injustice’ in our society. Likewise, I’ve always been appalled by the lack of humanity both our institutions and individuals can show. My studies and disciplinary foundations (sociology and criminology) have allowed me to better understand how society, institutions and individuals culminate to produce injustice and cruelty, and what we might do to produce a more humane, just and equitable society. My research and teaching have given me the opportunity to share my thoughts with the intent of getting others to think critically about societal problems.
What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were entering grad school?
For students pursuing their masters degree, I’d say that I wish I would have taken even more courses to build my technical and research methods skills than were required. These skills have afforded me so many unique opportunities in both practice and research, and even my personal life. For Ph.D. students, I’d say that I wish I would have known how important academic networks and mentoring are, and the importance of carefully selecting where you earn your degree based on the broader reputation and prestige of the school you attend (in your discipline) and who is in residence there that you can work with and be mentored by. I kind of stumbled into a really great program close to where I was living (Washington State University – Sociology), and happened to find a great mentor (Viktor Gecas), but wish it all would have been a bit more purposeful in retrospect.
What is your favorite quote?
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” I try my best to “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” as the bumper sticker rendition of that quote reads. I also like a couple quotes by Lincoln: “A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones.” And, another by Lincoln: “The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” -Ghandi
What is your research/teaching philosophy?
Pretty simply – ‘If it ain’t a challenge, it ain’t worth it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ In almost all my courses I begin with having students read a piece by Mortimer Adler entitled “Invitation to the Pain of Learning.” There are a few lines in there about how we have no qualms accepting that it takes hard work to get into shape or earn money, but somehow, we’ve let ourselves believe that education should always be ‘fun’ and ‘easy’ – forgetting that intellectual growth and development require tough work, in fact some of the toughest work we might endure as human beings – that of critical thinking and questioning our deeply held beliefs/views. Don’t get me wrong – I also believe education can be/is a lot of fun – and I think many students would say that they have a lot of fun in my courses, but it comes along with a lot of hard work and preparation at the foundation. And, that reminds me of another of my favorite quotes: “Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles.” –Mortimer Adler (philosopher of education). Luckily for me – there are a lot of things over my head – so I’m sure to have a lifetime of work.
The same underlying principle is true of my research philosophy – I pride myself in taking on challenging questions and methodological/measurement approaches, often at my own expense in terms of conventional measures ‘productivity’ (i.e. quantity). But, I’m proud the research I’ve published applies unique methodologies and addresses tough questions, even if it’s tougher to get placed. For me, it’s always about what’s interesting and challenging to me over what’s going to make other people happy. In sum, I’ve never been very good at taking the path of least resistance – which reminds me of another of my favorite quotes: “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream” – Malcolm Muggeridge (satirist). Maybe I’m not as bad with quotes as I think I am J.
If you were not a professor, what would you be?
I might like to own a small business that has some sort of food or drink focus. Maybe a micro-brewery, coffee, chocolate or wine shop, or maybe even a bed and breakfast.
What is your favorite non-academic reading/interests?
I’ve always been really fascinated and interested in self-reliance and especially traditional methods of food production. I grew up with the wilderness at my back door in Montana and spent a great deal of time exploring it and developing a great appreciation of nature. There’s something about the ‘back to the earth’ mindset that’s always been appealing to me, perhaps because it represents a simpler form of existence in which a lot of the big structures and institutions play a less pervasive role in our life and the possibility that we can more easily connect with one another and nature on a basic human level. I’m absolutely fascinated by shows like Naked and Afraid and would love to learn more about primitive survival skills. Otherwise, I enjoy spending time with my wife, daughter and dogs, and gardening, cooking, fishing, hiking, camping and hunting, when I have the opportunity. I also find post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature and film very interesting/entertaining as a way of looking at our society counterfactually. I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead franchise!
What was your first concert?
Pearl Jam at the University of Montana
Where have you lived outside of Colorado?
Montana and Washington
What is your ideal vacation? Or where do you like to travel?
I’m a big fan of the adventure travel concept and just like exploring new places, cultures and peoples, and historical sites. I always try to plan out my vacations based on my own research of the area and develop my own itineraries to see things that are often off the usual tourist path. Air BnB and the like have been a great development! I’m an especially big fan of trying authentic local or regional food and drink – about 75% of travel anywhere for me is about the food. I’d love to learn Spanish and see more of Latin America, but there are so many places in the world I’d love to travel and experience it’s hard to name them all.
What gets you up every morning? What keeps you up at night?
Lately it’s my 6 month old daughter on both ends of the day. But, more metaphorically, I’d say that what gets me up in the morning is the excitement of what opportunities and surprises each new day will bring. Life is a constant adventure and I really like watching it unfold and trying to live in the moment as much as possible (although this is admittedly hard for me). I’m especially interested in exploration, discovery and figuring things out – I can’t resist a challenging question, problem or project. What keeps me up at night is probably all the injustice and inhumanity I see in the world – the utter failure of people to live and let live, have compassion towards others who are not like them, and simultaneously see and think about how their actions, or inaction, can affect others – both positively and negatively.