My research has three strands.
First, my most immediate work is in the role of narrative in the preparation of caring professionals: future teachers, educational leaders, nurses, social workers, and others who will work clinically with the public’s need in high-stakes (and usually low-resource) settings. In my five years on the faculty of the UNC School of Medicine I became interested in how effectively “narrative medicine” was being explored in medical education as a curriculum initiative to increase empathy attitudes, improve team communication (and thereby lower medical errors and increase patient satisfaction), increase cultural sensitivity, and (above all) combat burnout and compassion fatigue, especially among newer practitioners. When I came to Appalachian in 2010, I was thrilled to find colleagues in LES as well as the departments of English, nursing, and social work who shared my interest, and I set to work with them through the support of two Humanities Research Cluster grants. My research agenda seeks to establish the intra- and interdisciplinary value of narrative pedagogy in undergraduate professional formation. In 2013, I received nearly $5000 from the University Research Council in support of a mixed-methods project across nursing and teacher education to establish the impact of this work on empathy attitudes of future caregivers. We are working for the establishment of Appalachian as the national leader in the use of narrative pedagogy in professional education at masters-granting institutions.
Second, this interest connects to a larger thematic of all my work: understanding the challenges of sustainable practice. Since my dissertation, I have been interested in the ways that successful teachers bring “who they are to what they do:” the role of personal engagement in teaching, the ways that teachers decide what of their “real selves” to incorporate into their teaching persona, what to bring in and leave out. This theme saturates my teaching’s focus on autobiography and currere as a method for inquiry toward praxis. It is evolving into a quest to articulate a theory of “sustainable teaching practice” that bridges the curriculum and sustainability discourses as I am learning it on this sustainability-valuing campus. This strand will result in my forthcoming Information Age Press book, The Thing with Feathers: Hope, Beauty, and Sustainable Caring Practice, anticipated summer 2020. The book will seek to help teachers and educational leaders confront their despair and sustain their hope through experience with beauty in their lives and work.
Finally, I am developing an emerging interest in understanding the role of local solutions in the development of sustainable dispositions. This strand grows out of the American Library Association “Building Common Ground” grant that I secured in 2011 to support a year-long exploration of the issue of food insecurity in the High Country. This programming made the Watauga County Public Library as the center of a collaboration between the University Sustainability Office, the Appalachian Humanities Council, local pay-as-you-can restaurant FARM Café, and a host of other local sustainability organizations (e.g., Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Heifer International, the Elkland Art Center). The resulting events drew students and community together in an exploration of the importance of compassion in daily life and our shared interdependence, which in turn fed back into my class discussions and increased the service footprint of ASU students in the community. My investment in community solutions to pressing issues has extended to convening multiple campus-wide diversity events, including an observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of high country schools, teach-ins on LGBTQ+ safety and gun violence in schools, and the RCOE’s participation as a broadcast site for the national “Black Minds Matter” course.