About Me

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I am a wife, mother, instructor and PhD student of Health and Interpersonal Communication. My research is located at the intersection of health, identity and discourse and is informed by my background in Organizational Communication with an overall objective of addressing inequities in healthcare access across populations by examining communicative processes that contribute to institutionalized inequities. My hope is to contribute to an understanding of the relationship between micro/macro level discourses within the healthcare system to improve patient access to quality care across populations. This will include research aimed at improving communication among medical providers, between medical providers and patients, between healthcare institutions, and between health institutions and individuals.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Re-Envisioning Context Through Curiosity, Humility, and Imagination

I've been giving a LOT of thought to context lately. It changes everything. I mean, this is pretty obvious--most of us acknowledge that nothing can be understood absent its context. We know this. We all know this. Nothing can be understood independent of the circumstances. No act. No decision. No utterance. Nothing can be judged in absence of the context in which it is situated. And that's the trick, isn't it? If context is necessary to interpret--whose context provides the framework from which we interpret what we observe? I would argue that more often than not, we impose our understanding of the context on those whom we observe acting and making decisions within their own contextual frame...and that's a problem because our frame of reference, our understanding, is not the one that is driving the thoughts and decisions that went into the act that we observe. Our context--our frame of reference--our life experiences--is what we use to interpret the actions of others. It is this interpretation that yields judgement...was it right or wrong? Was it moral or immoral? Was it selfish or selfless? Was it the act of a good or a bad person? It's how assign valence to our own and others' actions. These are big questions that inform major ideas about who another person (or group) is and what another person (or group) stands for in our eyes. Those personal judgements drive private and ultimately public discussion...and these discussions drive social structures and social policies--which in turn shape interpretations...contexts. And so the cycle goes--actions--people--groups--are judged outside of the context in which they make decisions to act because interpretation of action occurs within a different context in which action takes place. These judgments are communicated, reified, and eventually lead to static personal and social opinions about others --judgements devoid of the localized context in which the actual person or group lives and functions every day. Thus, we've effectively stripped the actions and decisions of others from the contexts in which they were enacted, replaced those contexts with our own, passed unfair judgment on those actions/behaviors/people and ultimately groups of people that serve to inform personal and public opinion.

How can we address this? I would argue it all begins with fostering curiosity, humility, and imagination in our relationships with others. First, we have to be curious enough about other people's perspectives and lived circumstance to explore the possibility that the context in which we live and make decisions every day may not (and likely does not) reflect the context in which those with whom we relate operate and make decisions every single day. Second, we have to be humble enough to respect and accept the fact that the framework and context in which we make decisions each day is not superior to the context of another. We need to be humble and be curious enough to seek out and attempt to understand another person's perspective--not just that they may see an issue differently than us, but that they experience an issue differently than us. And that makes a BIG difference in the evaluations and judgments that we can/should make about others. Third, we need to develop and enact our imaginations. We may not be able to truly know another person's circumstances having never really lived outside of our own--but one of the beautiful gifts we have as human beings is the gift of imagination. It is through this gift that we have the potential to extend our understanding beyond our own experience. This gift is rarely used in this capacity--but I do believe that this is one of the fundamental ways in which this gift can and should be used in service of others.

I guess as I wrap up this semester and think about how the things I am studying, learning, and thinking about shape my personal life and my role as a Mom, I once again see the power of interpersonal communication to change lives. Right now, that power shines through in this way and it illuminates a real need to foster my own and my children's capacity to develop and use their imaginations in service of others.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

MOM PhD: 3 Years Later

As I get ready to begin my final two semesters of course work on my PhD, I find myself looking back on how things all started. My husband and I  had always planned for me to pursue my PhD, and, when we were first married, I left my career with State Farm to pursue my Master's degree--a major leap of faith for us both. Before completing my Master's we had our first child. 2 years later we had our second child, and 2 years after that we had our third. My whole world was focused on raising these beautiful kiddos and I didn't have time to think much beyond that. I had earned my Master's and was teaching for the University, and I was crazy busy.

When my husband and I first decided that I would take the plunge and continue the pursuit of my PhD, I'm not sure that either of us were ready for all that it would entail, and we both knew it. At the time, we had a child in 3rd grade, one in 1st grade, and one in pre-school (half days). I applied to the program here at UNL and waited with baited breath. When we received the notice that I was accepted into the program, Julia and I went out together to get our ears pierced--something I figured would be a fun way to remember that day as a major family accomplishment. This blog--MOM-My Own Mind--was born that day as well with my very first blog post entitled "Pursuing A Goal".  It has documented the sometimes painful balance between trying to be the Mom I wanted to be and trying to be the Academic I wanted to be--a tension that defines my reality each and every day.

This blog has served to help me navigate the tension inherent in my role as a part time PhD student, full time college lecturer, wife, and mom to three incredible kids. As I read back over the posts, some are highly personal reflections while others are academic observations and musings as I sort through concepts and ideas that I've encountered throughout this program. I didn't realize when I started this blog how much it would reveal about my values, priorities, and interests--nor did I realize how much it would reveal about my growth throughout this journey.

As I finish out my coursework this year and move into the next stage of this educational journey (comprehensive exams and dissertation), I find myself yet again modifying my approach to balancing my role as Mom and Academic. This year, the kids and I have decided to make a standing "homework date"-- we're picking one evening a week to go to a different place and study together--I'll write, they'll do homework...we'll see how it goes...I'm also trying to make time and seek out opportunities to volunteer with my oldest, Julia, at local wildlife conservatories--not because it in any way furthers my own academic pursuits--but because it furthers HERS. I want my kids to see what they can do--and that I support what their dreams are...

This blog has become somewhat of a lighthouse for me as I continuously challenge and fine-tune my perspective and I'm energized by the knowledge that though much about my perspective has changed, the core of my perspective has remained consistent throughout this journey. It provides me with a sense of clarity and purpose as I finish out this first leg and move into the second leg of my program--and I suspect it will continue to provide the clarity well into my life post PhD.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cancer in the Family-A Personal Reflection

I have a little story to tell-- a story of childhood cancer. I'm not a major player in this story, but I've been forever changed by it, and, since this  is my personal blog, this particular telling centers on my very small role in the courageous story of my niece and nephew, Megan and Noah Ford. I have spent a good part of my summer attempting to raise funds for my 12 year old niece who is struggling in her battle against an aggressive and rare form of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For more on her struggle, see this news story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umWWN-yJmcc

She was diagnosed in February just after her 12th birthday. This type of leukemia has a high likelihood of recurrence even if remission is achieved. Megan was fortunate to achieve remission after a long series of chemotherapy treatments, blood transfusions, bone marrow biopsies and, ultimately an experimental "magic bullet" cocktail of chemotherapy that involved intensive in-home iv and oral chemotherapy in addition to her weekly chemo treatments in the clinic. We were so thrilled to hear that she achieved remission and that she could move onto the next phase of her treatment--a bone marrow transplant. Again, Megan was fortunate that her 9 year old brother, Noah, was a perfect match and so he has stepped up as the hero of this story by donating the life-saving bone marrow for his sister. Megan is 9 days post-transplant right now. We are all anxiously awaiting news that the transplant was successful and that she will accept Noah's marrow and begin generating her own white blood cells. She is in an immense amount of pain as she struggles through mouth sores that prevent her from eating (but do not prevent the hunger pains). This will be Megan's life as she continues through this struggle, and things will continue to be difficult in the months and even years to come. All of this will present financial challenges to Megan's family--her father and my brother, Tom and his wife, Tara, and her mother, Linda. 

Being away from my family--living in Lincoln and not right there in Des Moines where all this started and where it will continue once Megan returns from the University of Minnesota, has been heartbreaking for me. I hate that I had to watch my brother struggle through his daughter's cancer diagnosis and treatment from a distance. Those times where he would just drive and park and cry because he was so overwhelmed and he didn't know where to go with all of his emotion as he tried to be strong for his kids. I hated that I couldn't be there every day to give Megan a hug, or share a snarky story with her. I hated that I couldn't sit down with Noah and offer him encouragement when I knew how scared he was to undergo this procedure. Getting a sliver is a big enough deal, but donating bone marrow?!? I hated that I couldn't be more present for the struggle they were all going through. Families are, of course, more and more geographically spread out and this experience is not unique to me--but it is new to me. There's always things you hate to miss when you don't live close to family, but offering support to a young family member that is so sick--watching the struggle from afar knowing how limited you are to help--that's heart wrenching. So, I got busy doing whatever I could that would offer some relief to my family and help me claim some agency in this process--I started raising funds.

Raising funds for medical expenses and expenses associated with making sure Megan's family can support her throughout her care and recovery has been an incredible job--one that is simultaneously humbling and inspiring. It's not easy to ask people to support someone--but when a family is faced with this level of medical expense, we have little choice. We have to humble ourselves and ask for support. Humility is a virtue, and one I'm learning and re-learning throughout this fundraising experience. But, for every person that shoves Megan and Noah into a generic category of needy kids, (ie--one classic response "there's a lot of sick kids out there, ma'am") there are so many others who go out of their way in ways that inspire my faith in humanity and help me to see the beauty in the people all around me. This experience has changed me--and it will continue to change me. I embrace that change and hope that it results in benefiting not only Megan and Noah, but others who, like our family, will be blindsided by the most unimaginable news and be haphazardly thrown into the harsh world of childhood cancer.

This story, though is not mine--I am playing a very small part in the much bigger story of Megan and Noah--their bravery, sacrifice, love, and hope through this struggle. And they are playing a part in helping us to see what childhood cancer looks like up close and personal. As hard as that is to see--it's important to recognize and accept that this is an experience that you cannot turn away from. Not one of us can. The effects of disease and illness on families, psychologically, emotionally, physically, financially, relationally--cannot and should not be ignored. Families are increasingly finding themselves in this or similar situations.Though this is something I have long been studying--Megan and Noah personify clearly why I do what I do as a professional and, honestly, as a person.

 To follow the REAL story here, go to Megan's Mountain on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/megansmountain

And, since my small part of this story is one of raising funds, I would be remiss if I didn't offer you an opportunity to contribute. If you can donate, please do so here:  http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/megan-s-mountain/177733.

And, if you are so inclined, please share this story with others--the more help and support for these brave young kids, the better. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Almost 40...

In a few days I will be 40 years old. 40. I can remember various times in my life growing up where I would dream about what my life would be like when I got to certain ages--18, 21, 25, even 30. But never 40. 40 never seemed like an age worthy of dreaming about. In fact, it always seemed like an age of regret--an age where you take stock of all that you haven't yet achieved in life. Trouble is, I can't really think of anything that fits that bill..

At age 40 I have a beautiful family centered in faith. A wonderful husband who supports me, my dreams, our kids, and our family as a whole. He is completely focused on our family and our family's future. I have three beautiful, healthy kids who make me laugh and make me proud every single day. They love themselves and love each other and I do believe each of them sees that they have their own unique purpose in this world. We have wonderful relationships with our extended family and amazing friends. I love my career--I get to teach, research, and learn for a living! It doesn't get any better than that. I'm pursuing a lifelong dream in the form of earning my doctorate. I have a healthy appreciation for the beauty of the world around me and I am increasingly taking time to soak that up and take all that in.

I recently did an interview with a woman my age who wasn't supposed to live to see 40...and she cannot wait to celebrate her 40th birthday. I've got to say--I'm pretty damn excited to celebrate 40, too--there's a lot to celebrate and for that I am so very thankful!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Contradiction or Consistency?

So, part of the process of education and growth (should) involve self-reflection. As a Catholic who is an Academic, I am sometimes asked how I can rectify my passion for and belief in the value of critical thinking and the reification of power structures that subordinate and marginalize whole groups of people with my utter and complete faith in a religion that has historically been associated with the very oppression with which I am so concerned. Further, I am asked how I can rectify distinctions in my beliefs about justice, fairness, tolerance and equality with a religion that is so socially divisive.

These are tough questions to answer. These differences and discrepancies are difficult to understand myself, let alone explain to others. But are they? One of my most fundamental beliefs is that we, as humans, hold a necessarily incomplete view of the world. None of us have all the answers, and the pursuit of knowledge is not so much about getting THE answers as it is about expanding our perspectives beyond our own inherently limited point of view. We are incapable of knowing THE truth as individuals--our perspectives are far too limited. It is through OPENNESS to other viewpoints and a WILLINGNESS to allow those perspectives to change us that we can get beyond our own limitations in understanding the totality of the world around us. Together we have the opportunity to go far beyond what we can understand as individuals---but only if we respect the viewpoints of the other even (perhaps especially) when we disagree with it. That is our challenge--and our opportunity--to get beyond individual limitations in understanding. And, to be honest, that really is central to my faith as well--so, you see--the core of my academic and faith lives are truly complementary rather than contradictory.Sure there are points of contradiction--absolutely. And I work through those the best way I can using the insight I have and seeking additional insight.

This felt contradiction is not an uncommon experience-- I'm not alone in subscribing to what often appear to be two distinct and conflicting ideologies. Those that are the most harshly judgmental about this regularly display subscription to inherently oppositional ideologies-they are just not has hotly contested as is religious ideology. These individuals tout the value of openness and reflexivity all the while remaining steadfast in their very often narrow slice of academic expertise and demonstrate a distinct unwillingness to hear another's academic point of view. Expertise and the need to demonstrate that expertise as a scholar can inherently limit our ability and willingness to be open to changing our own position--and very academics inherently balk at this given the vulnerability associated with it.

Further, we often see discrepant discourses being invoked in our classrooms to justify vantage points--sometimes lauding and embracing the discourse as the final word in the matter and other times holding it at arm's length while we criticize it for its dominance and marginalizing effect on other discourses. Strategic invoking of discourses to make a point or criticize an idea is very often a conflictual enterprise.

So, I guess my point here is--perhaps we are better served to focus in on the contradictions we invoke in our own thinking rather than on the contradictions we THINK we perceive in others. Because, I would think that it is in challenging ourselves to identify the potential consistencies that we cannot see in the apparent contradictions we are so adept at seeing that we can grow beyond our own limited thinking...which is, after all, the whole point.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Time is sort of a big name for a blog post. I mean...really, you could pretty much write about anything and label it time, couldn't you? Time transcends everything and means both everything and nothing at once.So, I guess I'll start this blog post off with the enormity and frivolity of its title. Time. Keeps on tickin' tickin' tickin...into the future...

Seriously, though, as I age I realize just how strangely poignant and meaningless time is. I'm turning 40 this year. And my kids are no longer little- I can see them becoming young adults. Jason and I end our evenings talking as much about coordinating kids activities and reflecting on daily struggles and daily "funnies" as we do about how much our bodies have changed. Speaking of that, my body moves very differently as I age--and it protests far more often than it once did. It aches when I move in ways it never did when I was 38. When I get up from a comfortable chair, I walk with a certain level of stiffness. There is far less bounce in my step and far more...Frankenstein type movement. Is it my age? Is it my lupus acting up? Is it the fact that I've been so busy with kids activities and conversations and PhD pursuits and work obligations and general life responsibilities that I've had no time to keep up with my forever intended but too often ignored of late work out routine? Should I simply stretch more?  Is it none of these things? All of these things? I don't know. And I honestly don't have time the really think about why--the fact is, I am more stiff and less flexible than I once was. I don't move as fast, and my body does protest more than it once did. I'm not in tip-top shape. And my kids are older--and that makes me...exceptionally proud. They are no longer under foot (generally speaking) but beginning to make their own ways--and, though, of course, each makes and will continue to make mistakes, they make no more mistakes than I do each day. And, painful as it is, they are learning from them. Thankfully, we've been given the gift of time to learn together and from one another as a family.  To reflect together. To think through things together, to make changes together, to take another's perspective, to challenge each other. That all takes time.

Over time, my children require me in different ways. They no longer need me...or want me...to tell them how to manage things. As time moves forward, they need me to give them room and to be there when they succeed...and when they fail. They need me to be there...and to not be there at the same time. Time has changed the way my children want and need me in their lives. 

Though I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, it's not an illness that will cut my life short--it may change how I do things from time to time, but it doesn't limit my time with my family. Time. It's at the center of it all. I might have more aches and pains. I might not have the body I had when I was 25 or 30.  But, my body, despite the changes it has imposed on my life, has not denied me time. And I am so thankful for that. I have the time to teach, learn, grow, and love my family. My body has given me that. That time might be a bit more painful, a bit more of a struggle from time to time because of the lupus--but it's there. And I couldn't be more thankful for it.

So, as time marches on, I realize two things about it. First, It forces changes. Change in our relationships, changes in our bodies, changes in ourselves. Those changes are ours to manage (or not), and our management or mismanagement of them shapes who we are becoming. Second, it is beautiful. It is through the effects of time on our relationships, our bodies, our minds, and our emotions that we evolve as individuals, as partners, as parents, as children, as spouses, as friends, as relational partners. The passage of time is not something to lament, despite the cultural tendency to do just that. We should reflect, honor, and learn from our past as we live our present and embrace our future. But to mourn the passage of time and its effects on our selves, bodies, and relationships, inhibits our ability to value and to find joy in our present and to fully embrace our future. The changes in our lives (physical, relational, cognitive, emotional) as time moves forward are the very thing that shape the way we create our future with others.

This particular post is not well organized--nor is it as well articulated as I would like it to be--but, it's merely a thought being put into words on a personal blog at 11:00 at night. It's doing for me what it needs to do--I hope it does something for those that read it. Embrace the passage of time and who you become as it happens--your value is not measured in terms of who you were--but who are becoming.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Distinctions in Orientations Toward Collegiate Learning

As I wrap up yet another semester I am increasingly aware of the possibility that the years I've spent teaching may be culminating in a bit of cynicism about the youth of today. It's certainly possible--these last few weeks I've found myself making more observations about the poor, entitled attitude of a vocal minority of my current students, increasingly lamenting the shift from personal responsibility for performance and quality of work to the general expectation that any effort at all equals A+ work and anything short of that kind of assessment is a major injustice. I suspect it's a combination of these things--I am getting older and less tolerant  of excuses for poor performance--particularly when that excuse shifts the blame from student to teacher/university/etc--and I'm much less tolerant of what appears to be a growing trend re-framing the function of higher education from education to something you tolerate so you can make more money. Though not a new observation (Deetz (1992) highlights this in his book Democracy in an Age of Corporate Colonization) it is an idea that is becoming increasingly salient to my professional experience in collegiate education. For students who frame the college experience in this way (certainly not all students--but a growing and vocal minority), I am not someone who brings them new ideas and helps them challenge old ways of thinking---I am someone who stands between them and the best possible job. My assessment of their work represents a ticket or a barrier to their overall goal. I am not their partner in their education and growth, I am one of several obstacles they need to overcome to get to the real money.
After taking great pains to be available throughout the semester to students in office hours, by appointment and over email, I maybe heard from 3 of my students. These three students, not surprisingly, did very well in the class. The ones that never showed up to office hours, never emailed with questions, never asked to see me by appointment, never asked questions at all--some of them did not do so well. And, then we hear things like "my professor didn't do this...my professor isn't flexible...my professor blah blah blah"--and too seldom we hear things like "I was too....I should have done this differently...I didn't give this enough attention...." I heard things this semester ranging from "You are going to make me lose my scholarship" to "You are going to cause me to be homeless" to "You are going to make me not graduate". Never once did I hear "I should have done this differently...". The shift in orientation toward college as something you tolerate so you can get out and make money obliterates the notion of personal responsibility. How can a person learn when they take no responsibility for the process of learning?

College as a tool for the job that will yield the most money is not a framework conducive to teaching--and certainly not one conducive to learning. I can teach you how to communicate in ways that will make you more successful in any workplace that you can imagine in this framework, sure--but, if that's all you're in it for, you're missing the big picture that I am offering you. You'll walk away from my class with a toolbox of communicative strategies that will be useful for you--but you'll miss out on the depth of knowledge that facilitates that kind of personal and professional growth that leads to long-term success and that contributes to/complements the learning you should be doing in your other classes. You'll get what you need to get through my class--the bare minimum. And you will have cheated yourself out of the real gem that college can offer you.

In fact, I would argue that this framework/orientation toward college produces students that are, for all intents and purposes, uneducable. Don't mistake this claim to mean that these students can't learn the material in the book and what I list out for them in lecture--sure they can. The system of education through which they were socialized has prepared them well enough for that. I can teach these students the concepts associated with the concrete learning objectives of the course. Where they are woefully ill-prepared is integrating what they are learning into who they are and letting that change them and their overall outlook. Because they've learned that they are always right--and education is simply something that makes them "more right". Education is a growth process--not simply an accumulation of knowledge. It is painful--beautifully painful. It is a process where, when at its best, you learn all that you don't know alongside that which you know.

The growing trend toward education as a stepping stone to a high paying job stunts that educational process and reduces it to the mastery of concepts. It cuts out the student's ability to integrate learning concepts with personal and professional growth. You cannot force a student to learn--that has to be something that student embraces on her or his own. It doesn't matter how good or how poor a teacher you are, if the student isn't there to learn, that student isn't going to learn. By the time these kids come into my classroom, I work with them for 16 weeks--mine is one of many classes they take, and I am one of many professors they engage (or fail to engage) with in one of several semesters of their collegiate life. If they don't come to me ready and willing to learn, I am not able to do for them as their instructor near as much as I could (and want) to do for them. 

Their framework of what college is, and therefore what I am to them (partner or barrier), sets them up for success or failure, both in terms of the course and in terms of their overall collegiate education. I would much rather my students see me as their partner, and engage my course as an opportunity to learn the concepts AND the to see the world through different lenses--challenge their current perspective and broaden their worldview, than as a barrier that needs to be managed who simply hands out grades.

The question, then, is how do we facilitate the development of an orientation to college that facilitates this type of in-depth learning? How do we create an orientation in our kids that promotes education rather than one that inhibits it? Well, as a parent, I can say the first thing that we do is teach our kids that education is valuable in and of itself. That a child's future and talent is worth the work they put into their education and that is enough. I can't tell you the number of parents I've seen that pay their kids for each A they earn. Kids are then motivated to do well in school to earn money, or a toy, or some other external reward. Education and accomplishment in the classroom should be a reward in and of itself. If you begin teaching kids at young ages that the only reason to work towards good grades is to earn some external material reward--you've already begun shaping them towards being consumers of education rather than as learners. They are being set up to minimize the value of their collegiate experience. There's no more sure way to teach your kids that education doesn't matter--money does, than to reward grades in that way.

Kids are often taught that you should fight for higher grades if you don't feel you get what you deserve. And, there are times that it is important for kids to learn how to assert themselves. Sometimes a mistake is made, and the student presents an argument that is well supported, timely and respectful that results in a satisfying, educational conversation. Other times, a student doesn't like his or her grade, but, upon critical reflection of the grade and the feedback s/he sees that the grade reflects the quality of the work--and lo and behold, learning happens. Yes, assessment is also part of the learning process. Sometimes, a low grade is a catalyst for learning--and that's what we're all in this for, right? Those are students that have learned to take responsibility and who embrace learning.

Some kids--those that have trended toward this new framework for college as a means to an end-- have not yet learned when this is and is not appropriate. Kids with this mentality have learned that the more you complain, the better off you are. Many kids are learning that if you don't like your grade, complain about how unfair it is, blame the professor for being unclear, insult the class and the person teaching it, throw a tantrum to see if they can get a few extra points.  Those kids don't get very far. They fail to recognize the expertise that their instructors/professors possess, and, in failing to recognize it, they shut themselves out of an opportunity to learn from it. It's sad. And frustrating. For all of us--students and professors alike.

What I am saying here is not anything new--these trends have been developing for several years (again, I direct you to Deetz, 1992). Anyone teaching in a collegiate environment today has undoubtedly experienced this to some degree. This semester, I saw much more of this than in semesters past--perhaps it was an odd semester, perhaps it is a trend that I can expect to continue. Perhaps I am just getting less tolerant of it as I continue to teach semester after semester. Whatever the case may be--the trend is there--and it's not a healthy one for those who value education. I should be clear that the majority of students still seem to value education for education's sake. It's the growing, vocal minority that seems to have caught my attention this semester. I sincerely hope this particular minority sees the significant disadvantage at which they are putting themselves before they graduate so they can unleash the full potential of their collegiate experience.