Center of Excellence for Teaching & Learning

CETL Podcast - Episode 11 - Cynthia Kimball Davis

Tony Pellegrini: Good morning friends and family at SUU! Tony Pellegrini here with another setting for our teaching and learning at Southern Utah University, what makes us unique, different, and special. We've got as a guest today Cynthia Kimball Davis. I'm going to let Cynthia tell a little about her background and her experience here at SUU, what makes SUU unique and special for her, and her teaching and learning. Cynthia, could you take a moment or two and introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself and what you do here at SUU?

Cynthia Kimball Davis: Absolutely! Thank you, Tony, thanks for having me. I love SUU I've been here, I'm going on four years, and I am the chair of the Integrative and Engaged Studies Department—it's a new role, and so in that we have Interdisciplinary Studies Department, Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Studies, Bachelors of General Studies, Masters of Interdisciplinary Studies, EDGE Program, Honors Program, things like that.

And so what I love at SUU and I love about teaching and learning is how supportive our administration is for our teaching and learning. They want us to do great things. As a matter of fact, one thing that I really kind of gravitated towards, that having a sense of belonging in our classrooms. And so for me, that is something that kind of taken on; I always want someone in my classroom, whether it's face-to-face or online, to feel like they belong. And so I do various different things to do that, but—so that's one of the things that I've gravitated to and really work to focus on and make stronger so that I can reach various students in different ways to create that sense of belonging.

TP: I've got to interrupt for just a second and give a personal example, Cynthia. You have my son Matt in one of your classes. When he started the semester, he came home, he said—he came by our house (he doesn’t live with us anymore) he came by and he said, “Do you know this Cynthia, Cynthia something-something Davis?” I said, “Cynthia Kimball Davis, I love her!” He said, “I love her too! She gets—” For some reason, you really connected with them, and as a dad, I have to say thank you! Thank you very, very much for the connections that you make with your students. It's so important to be able to feel like, “even if I've got a dad down the street, I've got a teacher who is happy to be involved in my life.”

CKD: Absolutely! Thank you for that, Tony. You know I realized that it's not anything that I've created up, but that if you know if you know student names and if you know something about them, and that makes a difference. But one thing that is really with a sense of belonging is giving positive feedback. And even in a syllabus: I had one student say that she had to reread the syllabus again—and I say this humbly—but she had to reread the syllabus again to, it said, “You will do great in this class, I just know it!” You give them that hope that they may not have going into a class and the fear that they have sometimes initially.

So those are some things that I’ve created a sense of belonging that I had worked to do in addition to one that's been really helpful is to use the pronoun “we.” I'll say, “We'll get through this! We've got this! We can do that!” especially with students who feel like, “How am I gonna get through this? I'm taking 18 credits, your class is just one among many others.” But when I use “we” it makes a difference; they don't feel alone, whether they're working on a project, whether they're in the classroom and they're in a group project, “we can do this.” And I see that in the face-to-face classes, and I also—and I think more importantly—it makes a difference in the online classes, using that pronoun “we.” So that's been one that's really helpful. Do you want me to keep going?

TP: Well, no, I think that's very, very powerful. I think that more and more we're going to see students at a distance that need the education that you can provide them, that we can provide them here and to understand that we're a part—we're in this together. It's not just us against them or us against the world, we're in this together.

CKD: Right.

TP: One little topic that I would like you to address that I think that is absolutely—first of all I have to say: four years! Holy cow, Cynthia, it seems like last night I was sitting across the table with you down the hall, down the street here in your past position. Time flies so much when you're enthusiastic and you have a powerful, positive perspective on where you are and where you're going, and time just seems to fly. But the example that I wanted to provide our listeners to, of you, is particularly regarding the comment stepping outside your comfort zone. You, from my perspective over the last four years, you've lived a little bit outside of your comfort zone; maybe just slightly outside of that comfort zone. But how does living outside that comfort zone help you to think better to change the way that you do your work?

CKD: I, you know—thank you, Tony—I love it because even though it might be, “oh, where am I going? what's happening?” it stretches us and we grow, and I think when we stretch and grow we become better teachers, we become better people, and it helps us in our leadership roles and our teaching roles. So I actually welcome that. I know sometimes it happens, change can happen, a lot more can happen at once than at other times, but I actually welcome it because it helps me become who I think I'm supposed to become and it helps me be better in all facets of my life.

So yes, absolutely in the last year I changed from a director position, a staff position, to now a faculty an administrative role and going through a tenure process. So sometimes that change is good and it actually—I've learned to embrace it instead of saying “oh my goodness what's happening here?” And I think—I've had some help with things over the years and that's kind of helped me, too. Instead of saying, you know, “what's going on here?” saying—especially even change here in positions—embrace the change, “what can I learn from it and what can I do with it?” And so that's what I've tried to do is, in stepping outside of my comfort zone with change, is what can I learn from this, how can I embrace it, and what am I supposed to do with this.

TP: That is wonderful! You know, so much we want to be able to control our destinies, to control our environments, to control the context in which we live, and quite frankly, sometimes it’s out of our control. We have to put faith in a higher setting or situation that good is going to come from this.

Cynthia, I just would like to ask you to just take another moment or two, share with any maybe new faculty or students that would be listening, thinking about coming to SUU: how can I succeed in this first year? What are some perspectives or guidance that you would give them to say, “hey, if you'll do X Y & Z, you can really make this a successful year”?

CKD: You know I think one of the key things, I tell this to my students, I say, “When someone asks you how you are, instead of saying ‘good,’ say you're ‘excellent.’ It will change you and it will change other people.” And it just has really made a difference. And I remember one of my classes everyone looked at me like, “are you crazy, lady?” when I first said that at first. But then when I would say it, I would ask it each time I saw them, and they would say “Fantastic! Excellent! Awesome!” And that actually set the framework for a great attitude and as they went forward into their other classes; and I even saw some of those words of evaluations that I got. So I would say that you know we're sometimes conditioned to say that I'm “good” or I'm “okay.” But to actually say “I'm excellent and I'm outstanding and fantastic.” Even if we don't feel that way, to put that out there, and then the more I learned, the more I say—and I've seen for my students the more they say it, they actually feel that way—they become excellent, they really do. And then the people that they communicate with, it's contagious.

So I would say, too, be hopeful, and when someone, just that one little thing for me, there's a lot of common answers that maybe other faculty say, that is one thing that I—create your own reality and make it a positive reality instead of, “Oh gosh, here I go again,” but you know, “I've got this.” And then—can I just say a quick story, Tony?

TP: Please! Please, please, please! I'd love to hear it!

CKD: One student that came in last semester, and she had gone and come back to school after years, and came into my office and was bawling and saying, “I can't do—I'm not smart enough to answer, to reply on discussion boards.” I said, “Oh my goodness, tell me about yourself.” And she told me about herself, I said, “You're more qualified and you’re experienced to give responses on discussion boards, probably been a lot of those people, this is their first time ever in an online class.” Well that student graduated successfully, is so excited and so much so, that she applied for a master’s degree here at SUU and wants to work here and get a job here. And her countenance—everything about her—because she chose to say, “I can do this.” And she actually created a sign for me that says “You Got This!” Because not only what I say—it wasn't anything I did, but the coaching that we can do to students, her framework, and her self-talk to herself made a difference that she changed just in her countenance. And she would begin to say “I can do this, I've got this!” Now she's going to a master’s degree, and now she even wants a job—she wants to be in this culture just from changing how she, her perception about herself and what she was saying to herself. It was amazing.

TP: Thank you so very much for that story. It made me pull up my credenza behind me, I have a little flyer and I'm going to take a picture of my phone at send it to you in a minute—and to any of our listeners, if you want to send me an email, I promise I'll share this with you. But it's a little card that says, “Ways and Words of Encouragement. Ways that we can encourage others: applause, high five, cheer, wink, approving, nod.” I'm not going to read them all to you, but words that we can use. “Well done! Remarkable! Super! You make a difference! I knew you could do it!” It just gives you on and on words that we can use, the vocabulary that we can use, even if we're not very comfortable with those, by using them and practicing them through the example that you provided just a moment ago—so powerful to change our own personality and the world in which we live.

CKD: Absolutely!

TP: Cynthia, thank you so very much for your willingness to participate today! I am grateful for your time and effort. We look forward to seeing you across campus, your smile and lifting us up with your positive attitude, and keep doing the great things you're doing, miss!

CKD: Awesome, thank you! You too, Tony! Thanks so much for having me!

TP: You have a great day! Thank you! Bye, bye now.