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!
What a busy fall… Unfortunately, it’s become normal and perhaps even desirable to be busy in today’s world. Still, I resist. I relish free mornings and nothing to do on Friday nights. That being said, it’s hard to think of a better adjective than busy to describe my fall. Here are a few scattered updates:
I finally like D.C.
It took me a year and a half but I’ve settled in. I’m growing to appreciate the unique culture, people, and places of Washington, D.C. More importantly, I’ve connected with a group of misfits in the area. This patchwork community includes ultimate frisbee players, people I knew in Chiang Mai, grad student friends, colleagues, and housemates. If I’m honest, the largest category is people I knew in Chiang Mai – most notably of whom is Dan, a law student at GW, who lived in Chiang Mai for two years and left about the same time. He and I get together just about every week, go to various lectures together, and discuss books. It’s refreshing to have someone like Dan who knows my Chiang Mai and D.C. selves.
Ideas are the stuff of life.
It’s no coincidence that I’m back in university instead of working in a “real job.” There’s something in my core that thirsts for spaces where I’m constantly engaging with a host of ideas and perspectives. It’s likely that part of my subconscious believes a “real job” will strip me of being able to spend a couple hours a day reading various articles, books, and essays. At GW, I had a great semester of coursework in predictive designs, qualitative methods, and HRD along with my work as a graduate assistant. I also worked on a couple of academic projects in my free time. I am privileged and grateful.
Mid-semester break to Asia.
A cancelled conference in Macau turned into a fun mid-semester break to Asia. Since my tickets were purchased, I was able to go on the trip to Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand anyway. This allowed me to spend time with my girlfriend Khai and meet amazing scholars at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in Bangkok. This was my first trip back to Asia after leaving in August, 2014. I’m planning to return again in March.
What an exciting time to live.
Another sign that I’m embracing the life of D.C. is that I’ve become fully immersed in many of the issues of the times: race, police brutality, religion, political correctness, politics, and more! I’ve been reading with a voracious appetite and am having some awesome conversations. I love striking up conversations about current events! I’ve subscribed to a variety of news outlets, and I’ve read some amazing books. I can’t pick a favorite but I loved The Wayfinders by the anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis. See the tab “What I’m Reading” for a full list of books I read this fall. I’m also currently reading a novel called Revolutionary by Alex Meyers (thanks Aki S.) about a woman who dresses as a man and joins the revolutionary war. Meyers brings his unique perspective as a transgender man in a way that illuminates the lived experiences of the protagonist.
To live simply.
I live in a basement in an old row house 15 minutes from the metro in the Park View neighborhood. I ride my bike to work and enjoy the fresh air. I am in a relationship with a remarkable woman. I am filled with gratitude. Recently, I had the chance to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. I was reminded of the enduring struggle for civil rights and the vital necessity of movements like Black Lives Matter. As a straight, white, American, educated male, I am the beneficiary of immense privilege in this society and world. I choose not to ignore that reality and seek to learn more everyday how privilege affects my life and the lives of others. My hope for this new year is to use my life to serve others, live simply, keep growing, and work to make the world a place where all people are treated with respect and compassion.
This month I had the chance to facilitate a discussion at GWU on the new report “School Performance in Context: Indicators of School Inputs and Outputs in Nine Similar Nations” put out by the Horace Mann League. The main author is Dr. James Harvey, Executive Director of The National Superintendents Roundtable.
The report attempts to add complexity to international standardized test scores by viewing them in their broader contexts. The six dimensions in this report are Economic Equity (economic inequality, children’s poverty, infant mortality, intergenerational mobility), Social Stress (violent death, death from drugs, immigration, adolescent births), Support for Families (family benefits, benefits for young families, access to preschool, child neglect), Support for Schools (expenditures on schools, expenditure effort, class size, teacher workload), Student Outcomes (elementary school reading, secondary school reading, school completion) and System Outcomes (years of education completed, possession of secondary diploma, possession of bachelor’s degree, global share of high achieving science students).
The nine countries analyzed in this report are Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The United Kingdom, and the United States.
The report lacked clear justification as to why these dimensions and measurements were chosen except to say they were chosen with the help of an advisory panel. While it did not attempt to make any causal (or even correlation) between these dimensions and their educational outcomes, there was one key takeaway:
The process of education is complex and should be looked at within its broader historical, economic, political, and cultural context. Nothing happens in a vacuum. This report helps expand the conversation about education by looking at the education systems of these 9 countries not only by their PISA scores but with a few more added dimensions.
As an aside, Dr. Harvey is a delightful person, and a group of us who helped with the event had lunch afterwards courtesy of Dean Feuer. I am grateful to be be here at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at GWU.
Sometimes the best books are the ones you end up reading somewhat arbitrarily. A book such as this for me has been The Life and Work of George Boole: Prelude to the Digital Age by Desmond MacHale. George Boole, as you may know, is the founder of Boolean Logic and Boolean Algebra. Perhaps one of those rings a bell. In short, the mathematics he worked to develop is noted as vital to the creation of digital technology today.
I came across this book at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland where George Boole was a professor. UCC is celebrating the bicentennial of Boole’s birth this year and came out with a new edition of this book to celebrate. I was at UCC for the European Human Resource Development (HRD) conference and thought it would be a nice break from the deluge of HRD presentations. The book is written by a mathematics professor at UCC, which made me wary of its readability. I have been pleasantly surprised by the book’s prose and in-depth research. More than that, I have learned a valuable lesson about what it means to be a scholar.
Throughout his life, George Boole had a voracious appetite for reading and was a self-directed learner. Despite being known for his work in mathematics, he was quite the generalist. When he opened his own school at age 20, he wrote, “I believe that there are very few studies so remote from each other and so unconnected that they may not in some way be made to contribute to their common furtherance” (p. 27). At a young age he taught himself history, philosophy, ancient languages, and of course math. Here is a short timeline of his life by UCC:
The most fascinating thing about his life to me was the fact that his formal education ended at age 16 and he eventually became a professor in mathematics at UCC without any formal higher education. Instead of attending university he felt obligated to work to support his family. Ultimately, he became a professor through his merit as a mathematician. He was well-connected and respected in the mathematics community in Europe at the time and his colleagues gave him strong recommendations for a university post in the new Queen College in Cork. His story of perseverance, love of learning, and passion for service is inspiring. And here’s the big takeaway for me:
George Boole’s life reminds me that a scholar is not someone with fancy degrees. Rather, a scholar is someone who curiously and passionately delves into a subject with the hopes of making contributions to knowledge in the service of others.
Isn’t it funny in life how sometimes the things we read without any obvious reason to do so end up being the more inspiring than we could have imagined?
It was a fantastic summer. Khai and I gallivanted around the US visiting friends and family, my brother was married in Portland to a wonderful woman, Emily, and I was able to work on some exciting academic projects. Alas, summer is ending and year two of my doctoral studies has begun.
Here I am with some of my classmates and friends at GW.
Photo Credit: Dollaya Hemmapattawe
As a Graduate Assistant (GA) in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at GW, I took part in our beginning of the year orientation. Those of us who have a year or more under our belts were asked to give advice to incoming GAs. One memorable piece of advice from my first year as a GA that came up again this year was to “Remember to put on pants.” A senior GA had told us the year before that just because GAs work flexible hours and might not need to leave the house, it is still important to wake up, get ready for the day, and put on pants.
We went around the room and each gave a few pieces of advice. There was a “saturation in the data” after about four people but I was able to share these tidbits of advice as a GA this past year:
- Be flexible. Depending on your adviser, things may not be clear cut. The tasks and responsibilities you’re asked to carry out may not fit neatly into your schedule, and they may require you to move some things around, especially when you have a journal/conference deadline. Personal boundaries are important but sometimes the job requires some extra flexibility.
- Be organized. We have to do year-end reports so have your template up and fill it out as you go. This way you won’t have to recall all the things you did this year when the time comes in the spring.
- Do things the way your adviser wants them done. If you’re a GA in a doctoral program you probably have figured out an effective system for getting things done. That’s great. Your adviser may have a different way of doing things. Regardless of how you think something should be done, if your adviser insists it’s done one way, do it that way.
I am so grateful for the wonderful year I had with Dr. Maria Cseh. Sadly, she’s on sabbatical this year. The flip side is I get to split my time with two new faculty members this year – Dr. Shaista Khilji and Dr. Neal Chalofsky. More on that later. Until then, here’s to marvelous beginnings!