September 14, 2016
Much to my dismay, summer has ended and classes have begun again here at GW. I am so grateful to the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliot School for International Affairs here at GW for affording me the opportunity to conduct a research project this summer in Thailand and Myanmar through the Grant for Asian Field Research. What a wild ride!
As part of the project, I wrote and reflected on my experiences and project on the Asia on E Street Blog and on the Rising Powers Initiative Blog. Here are the following four posts I wrote if you’re interested in learning more about my summer:
Asia on E Street: Organizational Development in Thailand and Myanmar
Rising Powers Initiative: Want to Support Myanmar? Don’t Forget About Mae Sot
Rising Powers Initiative: Doing High Quality Research in Myanmar: Four Recommendations
In my free time, I did a lot of running while I was there. I’m training for the JFK 50 Miler on November 19 this year. I used my long runs as opportunities to share a little through video about my experiences in Myanmar. Many people can’t locate Myanmar on a map much less have a mental image of what its various cities might look like. Here is a short and limited introduction from my runs:
In Hpa An:
Wishing you all the best!
July 19, 2016
Spring flew by and I’m here now in Mae Sot – along the Thai-Myanmar border – working on a pilot study for my dissertation on organizational development in community-based organizations.
I’m grateful to the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliot School for International Affairs at The George Washington University (GW) for making this field research possible. I’m also thankful to Dr. Christina Fink at GW for introducing me to the grant, the wonderful people of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Payap University (PYU), and of course the leaders of organizations participating in this study.
I will be writing two more official blog posts to be published by the Sigur Center later in the project and will post links to those posts here but I also wanted to write about my experiences here as well.
The quick and dirty overview of my field research is that I’m here to do a multiple-case study pilot study of four leaders of organizations – two in Mae Sot along the border and two inside Myanmar. The purpose of this study is to see how organizational development in community-based organizations creates a lasting impact in communities in Myanmar.
My interest in this topic came from being involved in developing a Certificate Program in Organizational Development at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 2012-2014. Now studying my doctoral degree in Human and Organizational Learning at GW, I became increasingly interested in how – if at all – this certificate was having an impact on the organizations and communities in Myanmar and along the Thai-Myanmar border.
Thus, my research questions were formed to be something like: How do four leaders of these organizations use what was taught in the Organizational Development Certificate Program to serve the purposes of their CBOs and communities? How do the participants in the certificate program perceive the usefulness of the course for their work and lives? And lastly, how, if at all, has the certificate course contributed in any noticeable way to organizational change within these CBOs?
It’s been an great experience in cross-cultural planning finding the organizations and leaders to participate in the study as well as the best times and days to meet. I’ve been here in Thailand for nearly three weeks and learning a lot. So thankful for this opportunity. I leave for Myanmar on Friday.
April 28, 2016
Not too long ago we had the Educational Symposium for Research and Innovations (ESRI) here at GW, which is the student-led conference of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last two years in my capacity as proposal review board member, presenter, and all-around conference enthusiast.
My friend and colleague Lisa did a fantastic job organizing the event. Everything ran smoothly, the food was amazing, and there was a great exchange of learning. I was particularly impressed with the keynote speaker, Dahlia Schaewitz, from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) here in DC. She doesn’t have a doctorate which likely elicited some initial arrogant scoffs from the audience but her presentation was impeccable. She highlighted the importance of research for positive change in policy and practice specifically related to people with disabilities both in schools and in the workforce.
I also had the opportunity to present. I wrote a paper specifically for this conference on human resource development (HRD) in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It was well-received, although I think only a few people had ever heard of ASEAN.
I have been increasingly interested in this topic and have done some thinking about how regional economic integration brings up some significant HRD related issues. Earlier this month I also attended a meeting on Myanmar at the US-ASEAN Business Council, which I may blog about later. It reinforced for me all the complex issues – economic, political, and social – facing ASEAN and its member states.
Conferences are one of my favorite things about being in academia (second perhaps to reading). I love being a part of a learning community – sharing, questioning, making connections. I am fortunate and thankful to be here at GW. Looking forward to ESRI next year!
March 3, 2016
It’s been four months since the November elections in Myanmar that set the stage to hand over power from the largely military government to the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by long-time pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Expectations are high as the people of Myanmar and the world look on to observe the transition of power. This was the topic of a recent panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here in Washington, D.C. entitled Myanmar’s Burden of High Expectations facilitated by Vikram Nehru. The entire talk is available here:
The panelists included Mary Callahan, associate professor at the University of Washington, U Aung Din, founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma and senior adviser to the Open Myanmar Initiative, and Christina Fink, professor of practice at The George Washington University. I’ve gotten to know Dr. Fink through Chiang Mai connections. She has written extensively on Myanmar, including the 2009 book Living Silence in Burma: Surviving Under Military Rule, which I was glad to see a couple copies of in the Chiang Mai airport during my last trip.
Here are a few takeaways from the panel:
Mary Callahan shared the “serious pent up grievances” of common people like taxi drivers (amazingly she said she takes around 8 per day.) Her five issues to watch include 1) the dam decision, which she thinks will be delayed even further creating more tension with China; 2) military retirements; 3) the peace process, and whether it will be delayed or not; 4) important land issues; and, 5) the unfolding of the promise of more inclusive economic growth, which many people have yet to feel in their daily lives.
U Aung Din–a former political prisoner in Myanmar who fled the country upon his release–talked about the continual involvement of the military and problems in the judicial system which is “weak, poor, and corrupt.” In spite of challenges like this, Mr. Aung Din was confident that the Burmese people will be able to move forward.
Christina Fink talked about the NLD’s competence to run the government, the relationship of the NLD and the military, and ethnic inclusion. The situation regarding ethnic inclusion is incredibly fragile. Only one ethnic parliamentarian from Rakhine State was elected in November. Some ethnic leaders believe the NLD should not have campaigned in those states, which might have allowed more ethic leaders to serve in government.
Throughout the whole talk, a notable tension was the difficult place of Aung San Suu Kyi. On the one hand, she is seeking to change the constitution, especially the controversial Article 59 (f), which is an affront to the military. On the other hand she must work effectively with the military in the government transition and the peace process.
Overall, the talk was enlightening and important as we think about this transition. All the panelists are inspirational for me as I consider living a meaningful life as an academic and activist for social change in Southeast Asia and throughout the world.
March 2, 2016
What an amazing conference! Two weeks ago I attended the Association of Human Resource Development (AHRD) 2016 Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. I consider AHRD my professional home, and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations and presentations throughout the week.
I had the opportunity to present at the conference in three different formats. AHRD has informal sessions over breakfast and lunchtimes, so my friend and colleague Abdul and I presented a book review of The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. It was an interactive session with a handful of people with coffee and pastries discussing culture, global management, and the place of these types of quasi-research books within academia.
I also facilitated a roundtable discussion on some work I’ve been doing on millennial leadership development. This turned out to be my favorite session. There were about 15 people around a couple of big tables. I shared some of my work thus far and put forth some questions to the group. Then, we spent about 35 minutes in a brainstorm of possible research questions, theoretical frameworks, and methodologies one could use to study millennial leadership development. It was essentially the rough draft of an entire research agenda. Everyone was incredibly supportive and the session expanded my perspective on the topic.
The last day I presented a full manuscript, which was a conceptual paper on the concept of time and organizational change. I wrote the paper building on my foundations of HRD and human systems change courses at GW. I argued that as organizations have become more complex throughout history, our concept of time has also evolved. It was well received, and a journal editor approached me afterwards and asked me to submit it to her journal.
I went to as many presentations as I could and enjoyed talking with foundational HRD scholars like Gary McClean and Karen Watkins. While I was intellectually stimulated with topics like motivation in the workplace, the global skills index, and critical HRD, my favorite part of the conference was building relationships with the other attendees. Many of the people at AHRD attended the European HRD conference in Ireland last year, so it was fun to rekindle those friendships. On Friday we had dinner at a Thai restaurant. While talking about Buddhism, it dawned on us that we had a Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, and atheist among us. What great company!
The next day, a bunch of us doctoral students got together for lunch at an Irish Pub and we had seven different countries represented in our group. I loved the diverse interactions and discussions about HRD. For instance, a friend of mine from Ukraine shared with me some fascinating aspects of Ukraine’s political turmoil from his perspective. I’m looking forward to being friends and colleagues with these amazing people for many years to come.
AHRD truly embodies its focus on “rigor and relationships” and I am looking forward to next year in San Antonio. In the meantime, I have a paper accepted for the Asian chapter of the AHRD conference, which will be in Morocco next year at Al Akhawayn University. Check out this sweet video below. Who wants to join?
February 26, 2016
I remember picking up Freedom From Fear in 2009 off a dusty bookshelf in Chiang Mai and reading the powerful essays of Myanmar’s (Burma’s) pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It was in those pages my interest in Myanmar began. With a voracious appetite I devoured several other books by Aung San Suu Kyi as well as two biographies. Even though I was living and working in Thailand, there was something dynamic and compelling about the plight of Myanmar and the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.
At Payap University I listened to my Burmese friend share the story of her involvement in a relief effort after the catastrophic 2008 Cyclone Nargis. This friend encouraged me to visit Myanmar at the Karen Baptist Theological Seminary in Yangon where she taught English. In 2011, I took a short trip to the Land of Golden Pagodas, and it was life-changing. The people of Myanmar have been imprinted in my thoughts even since.
I was grateful in 2013 when the International Rescue Committee (IRC) approached Payap University (where I worked) to develop a certificate course in Organizational Development and offer the course to community-based enterprise (CBE) workers along the Thai-Myanmar border. We developed the courses, trained Burmese trainers how to teach the courses, and then followed up with site visits and mentoring. The following year, we were able to offer the courses at three locations inside Myanmar. I was fortunate enough to go on the exploration trip where we met with community leaders in Mon and Karen States and thought about how best to offer the certificate course.
Since moving to Washington, D.C. in 2014 to begin my doctoral work at George Washington University (GW), I have been thinking about how I can use my interest in Myanmar to serve its people in the future. Through a friend at Payap, I got connected with Christina Fink, a professor at the Elliot School for International Affairs at GW, and she has helped me stay involved by hosting informal lunches with people interested in Myanmar. I have also attended several lectures on Myanmar–specifically around the recent elections–at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Last fall, I was also able to attend an amazing event at GW sponsored by the GW Southeast Asian Association where they showcased This Kind of Love, an important documentary by human rights activist and filmmaker Aung Myo Min. Here is a video of Aung Myo Min speaking at Harvard Law School in October.
Aung Myo Min’s accomplishments in human rights in Myanmar cannot be overstated. Aung Myo Min was a member of what is called the 88 generation who participated in the protests which led to the violent government crackdown in 1988, and spent 24 years in exile in Thailand. He has been a tireless advocate for human rights issues, specifically around the LGBT community. If you have a chance to see the documentary, I strongly recommend it. It brilliantly embodies the paradox in activism of strongly standing for a vital cause while also gently and compassionately walking alongside the persecuted and the persecutors.
As I consider my life as an aspiring academic, my hope is to use my interests, passions, and developing skills as a researcher to support and serve communities, like those in Myanmar, in bringing about peace and sustainability in the world. I am eager and excited about the opportunity of returning to Myanmar in the future.
February 21, 2016
Last week, I attended the Doctoral Colloquium at the Association for Human Resource Development (AHRD) 2016 conference in the Americas in Jacksonville, FL. I will post more about the conference as a whole but first I wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting on the Doctoral Colloquium. The Doctoral Colloquium was a day and a half workshop for doctoral students in HRD or related fields to share our research ideas, explore our individual scholarly identities, and think about ways to chart a path for our academic careers. It was an interactive day and a half led by University of Maryland professor Toby Egan. Here are three reflections:
1. I was taken aback by the sheer warmth, care for relationship-building, connection, and compassion I experienced by the university faculty members present as well as by my fellow doctoral students. We spent a significant portion of time sharing and listening to one another in meaningful ways.
It was such a collaborative environment. Dr. Egan shared that the Doctoral Colloquium at AHRD has often been a place where longtime friendships have begun. This was exemplified in the fact that one of the faculty members assisting, Gary McLean, was once his teacher in the colloquium many years before. Two other faculty members in the room had gone through the colloquium together as well when they were students.
2. The faculty members were incredibly friendly and helpful throughout the colloquium. In addition to Gary McLean (a veritable giant in HRD), the faculty members who led the colloquium with Dr. Egan included Nisha Manikoth (GWU), Josh Collins (Minnesota), and Quincy Brown (University of Southern Mississippi). Then, in addition to those leaders, a group of other members came through at various times to contribute.
This included Jia Wang (Texas A&M) who led a workshop on writing, Jason Moats (Texas A&M) who talked about getting involved with Special Interest Groups (SIGs), and a panel that discussed developing a scholar identity, which included Jessica Li (University of Illinois Urbana Champagn), Seung Won Yoon (Texas A&M), and Jeff Allen (University of North Texas).
In addition to the panel, two journal editors came and talked about publishing and the importance of the peer-review process for generating high quality, original research. This included Julia Storberg Walker (GWU) who is the editor of Human Resource Development Review and Carole Elliot (Lancaster University), the editor of Human Resource Development International.
3. The third thing I would like to reflect on was the practical nature of the colloquium. Essentially, it was a day and a half of sitting down with a variety of impressive scholars in the field and learning skills and perspectives related to research, publishing, and meaningful life as an academic. For example, the research symposium allowed us to get into small groups with a faculty member and workshop our ideas.
There was a part where we each created a poster board to write out what we want to do in our careers, what steps we need to take to get there, what questions we have, and who can help us get there. Once we finished, the room flooded with other AHRD members who walked around our individual posters and gave us feedback. While many were helpful, Josh Collins–a young faculty member at Minnesota–was particularly supportive of me and offered some words of encouragement as I consider beginning my academic career.
Overall, the Doctoral Colloquium was an enjoyable time of focused, collaborative learning and relationship-building. I’m thankful to all those faculty members and fellow students who attended, and I look forward to seeing some of them at future colloquiums as faculty members.
February 21, 2016
How would you solve a complex social issue like high school dropout? How would you study it? It turns out, it depends a lot on the assumptions you have about the nature of the world. Without too much jargon, we call this set of assumptions about the nature of reality a paradigm, worldview, or philosophical orientation.
I’m a doctoral student at The George Washington University in DC, so I thought I would share an example about paradigms from my coursework from Merriam and Tisdell (2015) to help us unpack this a little.
So, the question is about high school dropout. How do we approach this from a research standpoint? Without being too reductionist, here are four different perspectives that reveal a lot about the paradigms undergirding the following four people:
Person 1 looks at high school dropout and says, “Hey, this might be the result of low self-esteem. To test this hypothesis, let’s make an experimental design using a self-esteem boosting intervention with an experimental group while having a control group with no intervention. Then, let’s test to see if the intervention in the experimental group makes a difference in lowering the dropout rate. If people with the self-esteem boosting intervention have a lower dropout rate, then that’s something that can be applied to similar high school populations and is trusted to reduce overall dropout.” Person 1 is what Merriam and Tisdell call a Positivist.
Person 2 looks at the problem of high school dropout and says, “Let’s take a different approach. Instead of doing an experiment like Person 1, let’s interview a collection of students we think are at-risk of dropping out of school or recently just dropped out. Let’s also observe students in classes and even go to some of their homes and interview parents and neighbors. Let’s collect all of these interview transcripts and observations and see if we can separate it into themes that help to tell the story about why these students are dropping out.” Person 2 is an Interpretivist.
Person 3 looks at the problem of high school dropout and says, “Let’s look at how the social structures of the school are set up in a way that some people are more privileged than others. Let’s look at the school protocols, systems, and mechanisms in the school and see if they connect at all to patterns of behaviors and attitudes in the students.” Person 3 is a Critical Theorist.
Lastly, Person 4 looks at the “problem” of high school dropout and says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s step back here. Why are we thinking about school in terms of someone who completes school vs. someone who drops out? Why are using words like ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’? We need to break down these dichotomies and look at multiple perspectives on what it means to drop out. Person 4 is a Postmodernist.
How do you fix a complex problem like high school dropout? It depends a lot on your assumptions about how the world works. Here you see four different perspectives based on different assumptions about the nature of reality. We all make assumptions about the nature of reality based on our experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds. Disagreements between colleagues on what the problems in our world are and how to solve them are often issues of differing paradigms and assumptions about how the world works. One of the great parts of life is learning about the assumptions in our lives. What are our values? What is our theory for change on a given topic?
Let the journey continue.
January 22, 2016
This post doesn’t relate exactly to human and organizational learning but I thought I would share this on my blog. I finally got around to editing the nearly five hours of video footage from my motorcycle trip through Cambodia in May 2014. My friend Davor and I went to Cambodia for two weeks to ride around the country in Honda 250 Baja dirt bikes. We started in Phnom Penh, traveled east to Mondulkiri, around the country to Siem Reap, down to Sihanoukville, and back to Phnom Penh. We ended our trip by playing with the Bangkok-based ultimate frisbee team (the Soidawgz) in the Mekong Cup.
At times, the trip felt like the greatest thing ever. Other times, all we could think about was finding food and a hostel. Riding a motorbike in an unknown place takes a lot of focus (especially off-road like on “the jungle road”). We used a GoPro camera with a chest mount and I think it would be cool to have a helmet mount.
I tried to incorporate as much speaking in the video as possible but I spent too much time filming the road and not enough time capturing the other aspects of the trip. And while I tried to keep the movie short, 13 minutes needed to be shared.
What do you think? Interested in coming on the next trip?
Check out the video:
January 2, 2016
If you’re a “normal” twenty-someone living in DC, you probably work for somewhere between $30,000-90,000, have a car payment, and have somewhere between $15,000-150,000 of student loan debt (and you probably have $2000-5000 of credit card debt… but hey, you’re “building credit” right?).
Just two weeks ago I heard someone in a doctoral program at GW nonchalantly remark that he had a quarter of a million dollars of student loan debt… The struggle is real. While I believe there are systemic problems in our society, I’m not waiting for a politician to fix things. At this point in my life, I’m working to dig myself out of “normal” by living a simple life.
What is simple urban living? For me, it’s living a meaningful, financially sustainable, and enjoyable life with the ultimate goal of serving others and the world. These tips won’t work for everyone but I thought I would share them with the hope of continuing the conversation and hopefully hearing what you do to live a simple life in DC. Like everything, take them with a grain of salt.
- Be radically aware of your finances. I check my bank account and student loan balances often. I have a budget on my phone and every time I make a transaction of any kind I document it into one of my preexisting categories. Awareness if the first step to simple urban living.
- Measure stuff. Whether it’s laundry soap, what you’re putting into you body, or how much time you spend doing a particular activity – try measuring it. Again, awareness is key. My housemates make fun of me because I make a plate of food that is carefully measured out (8 crackers, 10 almonds, etc.). Granted, it’s also because I stink at cooking… And yes, I bought my own sectioned plate.
- Drink less beer. In many ways, urban life these days seems to center around happy hour. My “Restaurants” category in my budget is always busting at the seems. Try keeping track of how much you spend on beer in a month and you be the judge. Is that how much you want to spend on beer per month? Have a budget and a plan, then adjust accordingly. Simple urban life requires being proactive, not reactive.
- Be intensely responsible for everything you own. Whether it’s shoes, books, phone, jeans, car, mug, carpet, or computer. Know your things. Respect them. Take care of them. Use them as long as you can.
- Ride a bike. Hear me out. In most cases, riding a bike is cheaper (no pesky $2.15 metro rides, $8 for 2 hours of parking, $14.75 Ubers). Riding a bike is better for the environment. Riding a bike is better for your body. Riding a bike in DC is faster than riding a car or riding the metro to most places from most places. For me, getting to work from Park View (outside Columbia Heights) to Foggy Bottom (a 3.5-mile trip) is 20 minutes door to door. The only way to beat that is if you’re a faster biker (Landon…). The only disadvantages as I see it is you have to save a little money to buy a bike ($200 for a good used starter bike look on Craigslist), and it can be a little cold in the winter and a little hot in the summer. If you can pull it off, it’s totally worth it.
- Find bits of extra work. If you have too much month at the end of your money, look into getting a second (or third) job. I wouldn’t recommend working at a fast food place if you can avoid it, but find a way to make some extra cash. Walk dogs, cut grass, tutor, write, edit, bartend a couple nights a week (this would cut down on beer costs), start a small scale business based on your passions, etc.
- Discover the love of reading and learning. Cheap hobbies are important. For me, this means learning to love and read books of all kinds! Borrow a book from a friend or library, or buy a cheap used one. Learn to love words, stories, and characters. It’s wonderful! And in DC we have tons of free lectures, concerts, museums, and movies in parks! Even the gyms in DC are now free!
What about you? What are your simple living tips? Obviously I am immensely privileged in this society as an educated white man from a supportive family but my hope is to use my gifts to live a simple, meaningful, sustainable, and enjoyable life, and help others do the same!