I am from a strong work ethic, Michigan family. My father attended one course at Henry Ford Community College before he was drafted into the Vietnam War. My mom helped my dad run his carbide gage making business through the years. I am an only child.
They told me, "No pressure, but try college."
I swam in a sea with thousands of students just like me but by commuting and working full-time, I was able to realize a degree without an extravagant amount of debt.
After graduating the University of Michigan-Dearborn, I worked at Atlantic Records for several years. The glamour of doing standard office work for people way more fortunate than I, eventually had me reevaluate my life's path and intent.
I never thought graduate school was for me. A chance meeting with an Eastern Michigan University faculty member who told me I could do my master's degree focused on new technology changing consumption patterns excited me. But I couldn't afford the tuition. I found a Teaching Assistant position, which paid tuition and gave me $350 every two weeks to live on. This was the first time in my life that I found education truly exciting. No more Scantron tests and faceless large lecture courses. I could focus on my interests and read and think and write.
It was an honor.
Two years later, and with a master's degree under my belt, that was remarkably easy to obtain, I learned about the possibility of earning a Ph.D. I met a professor at Bowling Green State University who was interested in my music, creativity and business underpinnings. Another Teaching Assistant deal was signed. This time $450 every two weeks and free tuition. I was ecstatic.
I received my Ph.D. in 2008 and, after receiving the degree (and our daughter's birth one month later), my life instantly was weighted with the thought of "What next?" My academic colleagues were accepting assistant professor positions and talking up the benefits of full-time tenure stream academic posts as I was teaching eight courses a semester throughout Michigan as an adjunct lecturer while installing drywall and showcasing my long engrained "measure twice, cut once" mentality. I felt disempowered. Rejection letter after rejection letter for full time positions piled up. I was teaching 8:00 a.m. morning courses, early afternoon courses and evening courses that went until 10:00 p.m. That particular trifecta of scheduling is not meant to be taught simultaneously by the same individual at three different universities. At that point, I practically lived in front of an audience of 25 people.
It was draining. And I never saw my family.
I knew I had to do something different. It was a slippery slope. I needed a change and a way to identify my uniqueness. I started writing in my car (since I never had an office as an adjunct) and between my never-ending courses was my only time for this new (and hopeful) endeavor. I wrote about new technology changing communication patterns and creativity, I wrote about new media paths for smaller more sharable files and the global education shift due to online learning. I kept writing and researching and sending the pieces out for potential publication.
Rejection, rejection, rejection.
Finally, I wrote a piece entitled, "Download Illegally: It's the right thing to do," that looked at the different mentalities of my high socio-economic students at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan, who illegally downloaded all the software and media they needed and my less socio-economically advantaged students at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, who were forced to buy the needed media due to less sophisticated internet education. I submitted the piece to Huffington Post as I was leaving to travel to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan to attend a mandatory unpaid two day "boot camp" conference for adjunct instructors. On the second day of the conference, in a painful meeting about learning management system usage, I received an email from the editor saying the piece went live that morning. Walking into the hotel lobby and logging onto a community computer, I saw my piece was front and center on Huffington Post's main page, but also on Wall Street Journal and Google News.
Nearly immediately, it had 80,000 likes and was trending.
That was the beginning of any sort of traction. A small start. It also could have very easily been the end of it all if it wasn't for being proactive. A week later, I emailed the Huffington Post editor saying that I was thrilled of the traction the piece received and, more importantly, that I had a bunch of other pieces I'd love to share. He said, "Yes."
I was in.
My academic friends asked, "Are you getting paid for all this?" Of course, my answer was a resounding "No." But I didn't care. I was desperate for a way to communicate to a large segment of people and finally found it. And after about 20 pieces were published, I started to get contacted to travel and talk about education's role in global society, regional creativity's similarity between music and new technology and businesses creative paths forward.
And I was loving interacting with so many unique leaders.
As I covered more around music and regional creativity, I met a documentary film director, Tony D'Annunzio, who was at the beginning stages of a documentary that would become, "Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story." He was looking for an interviewer and field producer. I was lucky to get the opportunity. I quickly found myself sitting across from Slash, Lemmy, Roger Daltrey, Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper and countless other successful musicians interviewing them about how one small club in Detroit directly influenced rock music's trajectory. And, more importantly, this experience was my gateway into seeing the depth of work and impact associated with creative film pursuits. The production lasted four years. Tony's film won countless awards as well as an Emmy.
Now, my cachet from writing in media broadly allowed my applications for assistant professor positions to have more oomph. In 2012, I received my first full-time assistant professor position at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. Quite the change from Detroit. My family and I now found ourselves living four miles away from the nearest human up a Class 4 seasonal road. The college (a small liberal arts college) eventually became a struggling financial entity, but the faculty and region were amazing. Ultimately, I accepted an associate professor position at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. This new position gave me the time to write in media and also create a documentary, "Paywall: The Business of Scholarship," focused on showcasing the exclusionary (and high cost) practices many higher education institutions perpetuate by putting large for-profit corporations, like Elsevier, in a leadership position for research journal creation, dissemination, and access.
At Clarkson, I served as professor and chair of the Communication, Media & Design Department starting in 2017. I was honored to lead a great team of 17 media-orientated faculty toward common goals.
I was once told that academics should reexamine career pathways for micro adjustments once every five years. Nearly on cue with that cadence, I was given an opportunity for more macro focus within Arts & Sciences, helping guide eight distinct departments toward better strategy, marketing efforts, and recruitment pathways.
As an associate dean for the School of Arts & Sciences, I love the breadth of talents and student opportunities I get to champion. I also have the trust of getting to see through ideas I make on scraps of paper into real life value. I’ve been active in creating 2+2 agreements with community colleges, creating more international partners, and showcasing the amazing things our institution accomplishes to other like-minded universities and driving up our academic rankings as a result.
I always tell students I’ve found life to be like a pinball machine. You think you are headed in one distinct direction—but, instead, like the pinball ball— you bounce off the rubber band, shoot up the roller coaster rail, and unlock hidden points and levels never imagined upon the initial pull of the lever. I think the pinball analogy also is a great way to equip higher education graduates for the future. Teach them how to be continual learners, have confidence in trying new endeavors, and be willing to see evolution as an asset to their career journey.