My hope in writing this is to provide you with an understanding of who I am as a person. If you are interested in my professional identity or you are looking for a well referenced guide to my work with clients, supervisees, & students, then you will probably find what you are looking for on the pages of this site that detail my counseling, supervision, & teaching philosophies. If you are interested in what I have been up to professionally, check out my curriculum vitae.
So why write this section? I believe that my values and beliefs developed in the context of my life narrative as well as the cultures to which I have been exposed. I feel that by telling parts of my story that reveal factors that have historically motivated me that I can give you insight into my development as well as my overall world view.
I grew up in an affluent community south of Denver, Colorado. Despite attending what were considered quality schools during my childhood, I never really found my identity as a learner in the classroom. Memories of my education prior to college are filled with feelings of boredom as I copy definitions from the back of textbook chapters onto pieces of college-ruled notebook paper. Sure, there were some teachers that were able to ignite my curiosity, like my third grade teacher who helped my class to open a store that sold snacks to the rest of the school. However, these experiences are, to say the least, a minority of my memories.
Outside of the classroom I was a very active child. I loved spending time outdoors and would often go camping with my family on summer weekends. I have many fond memories of my brother and me engaging with the world around us – hiking, exploring rivers, catching crawdads, and trying to figure out how to care for orphaned ducks and rabbits. These experiences instilled in me a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to uncover knowledge. I never really understood the extent to which curiosity serves as a foundation for knowledge, until I got to college.
My freshman year of college marked the beginning of a long transformative journey. When I first came to the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) in fall of 2004 I had dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur or business person. I thought perhaps I could follow in the footsteps of my parents by going into the oil business. I valued money as a means to hold power and influence. I hoped to be successful, even if it meant scratching and clawing my way over a pile of people to get to the top. Fortunately for me, those privileged dreams began to crash around me after I met the person who would become my life partner, Ashley, who was studying psychology at UNCO. I remember getting lunch with Ashley one day during the beginning of my sophomore year of college at this tiny Mexican restaurant that used to be right next to the university campus, but since closed because of a difference of opinions between the owner and the health department. Anyway, I had just come from a wonderfully engaging class, in which we had been exploring business accounting and Ashley had come from one of her psychology classes. We were sitting at a cramped table chatting over smothered bean burritos when I realized that Ashley was actually interested in going to class and learning about psychology. I had never really considered the notion that going to class could be interesting. For me, it was always a formality that I had to complete so that I could be “happy” or “successful”. I had never really considered the classroom as a source of curiosity and knowledge.
After that conversation with Ashley I decided to change my major from business to criminal justice. As those of you who were living in the United States around 2004 might recall, Dog the Bounty Hunter was a fairly popular show at that time and he helped to spur my new choice of majors as I enjoyed watching the show and fantasized about how fun and financially rewarding stopping criminals could be. I would never get to experience chasing after a “bad guy” as after a single semester of taking criminal justice courses, I realized that I philosophically disagreed with the criminal justice system and punitive approaches to justice. I decided that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life hanging out with a click that I didn't fit into. That choice was reinforced when I realized that Dog the Bounty Hunter was relatively pretentious and explicitly racist.
People often remark that the third time is the charm and that was certainly the case with my search for an undergraduate major that felt like a fit. While I was enduring general education electives and criminal justice courses Ashley was still enrolling in and enjoying psychology courses. I decided that I would enroll in a few psychology courses so that I could make an informed decision about what major I wanted to switch to. The summer before my junior year of college I began taking psychology courses and loved them! I had gotten my first taste of formalized education as being transformative. While I was learning all sorts of factual knowledge, I was also building out my philosophical belief system. And I was excelling academically! From the time I got my first letter grade in fourth grade until my junior year of college I never thought that I could or would do well academically. Changing my major to psychology also had the nearly instant effect of transforming my GPA from around 2.0 to nearly 3.0. Next thing I knew, I was getting A's in nearly all of my classes and my cumulative GPA had passed 3.5. For the first time in my life I looked forward to going to school. I anticipated upcoming lessons and would eagerly prepare for them by scouring peer-reviewed literature that was foundational to upcoming course content. My teachers were guiding me down paths of inquiry that I had never dreamed existed. For the first time in my life I had the courage and self-worth to begin the monumental process of confronting the existential challenge of making meaning within an existence that is seemingly inherently meaningless. I began to construct meaning regarding the culture of my family and of the community I grew up in and I realized for the first time in my life that the playing field is not level and that I was given so many opportunities and privileges that I had never recognized. I am still intimately familiar with the queasy feeling of guilt that develops from the realization that I have privilege and power in ways that others do not. My whole life I had taken for granted the fact that I grew up in a house with literally hundreds of books. My family could go on vacation, could take me to museums, could pay for extra tutoring, could afford psychological testing to get me extra time on the SAT so I could have a chance to get into college despite having a high school GPA that could generously be described as lousy.
As these realizations continued to sink in I sought mentoring from my advisor, Dr. Doug Woody, who had a great deal of awareness regarding power, privilege, and oppression as he had been excelling at teaching Psychology of Prejudice for several semesters. Doug, Ashley, and I had many long conversations about different ways of viewing the world and the implications and consequences that accompany the use of a given lens.
While I was being advised by Dr. Woody I was given an opportunity by another of my professors, Dr. Marilyn Welsh, to help teach a laboratory section of a research psychology class, which turned in to my first experience teaching, and I thrived on it. Through this experience I was able to further develop my personal confidence and was also able to feel a sense of mastery as a student. Dr. Welsh taught me to give students feedback on their work and also helped me to uncover just how far out I had built out my personal knowledge.
While Dr. Woody and Ashley were providing scaffolding for my developing awareness of my personal culture and privilege and Dr. Welsh was scaffolding my developing identity as an educator Dr. Dave Gilliam was assisting me in growing and prioritizing my identity as a researcher. Dr. Gilliam provided Ashley and I with an opportunity to conduct highly structured quantitative research regarding the etiology of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. During the last year of my bachelors program I spent countless hours in the animal lab at UNCO, until I came to the realization that, while I really enjoyed quantitative research, conducting research on animals did not fit with my personal values and philosophy. I still take some grotesque pride in knowing that, should I ever need to, I can preform a Cesarean section on a mouse.
During my time as a student in the Psychology department I became acutely aware that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. I considered applying to the educational psychology program at UNCO as that would enable to to continue working with the faculty members that taught me to love school, teaching, and research. There was, however, something about educational psychology that felt restricted to me. I felt like I needed a career in the social sciences that would enable me to engage in diverse tasks across multiple settings, so that I could respond dynamically as my needs and world view continued developing. By then I had developed a strong identity as a learner and was beginning to develop my identities as an educator and researcher, so I knew that I would probably need to stay connected to higher education for the rest of my life. At the same time, I recognized that staying in education would result in my existing within and perpetuating a privileged system. I wanted real connection with real people and I also wanted to challenge myself. I started to explore graduate programs in applied mental health and decided that counseling psychology was not for me, as it seemed less challenging, multi-faceted, & in-depth than obtaining a practice specific masters degree in counseling followed by a doctoral degree in counselor education, which would help me continue to develop my research and teaching identities. I started the Professional Counseling program at UNCO in fall of 2008 and realized quickly that I had found a career that, in addition to offering me what I felt like I needed, could transform me more than nearly any other profession.
This narrative is being developed and will hopefully be available soon!
I still remember the feeling I got my junior year of college when I realized that I had transformed my identity as a learner. During high school I was encouraged to look at vocational schools instead of college as I had a learning disability that would keep me from being successful in a formalized education environment. I realized that a lot of the voices that had told me what I could not do were wrong. They didn't know me, rather, they created stories in which I was cast as a character who was at the mercy of the narrator. I am lucky as I would not have had this realization or awareness, had I not been exposed to amazing thinkers in a university environment. As a developing counselor educator I find motivation to teach and supervise in the belief that every person has potential, regardless of how they have been externally defined.
When I was younger I imagined my ideal adult life as one filled with leisure (and a McDonalds in my house...). I now realize that I am happiest when I have a sense of purpose, worth, and meaning in my life. Counseling, teaching, supervising, and conducting research all give me a strong sense of purpose and meaning. When I sit down to have dinner with family and friends, I don't want to be another voice at the table who makes meaning out of their job solely based on the extent to which their job can support their weekends. I am honored and privileged to feel a strong sense of worth and meaning from my work. While counseling, teaching, and supervising are quite challenging and sometimes result in my feeling inadequate, I consistently feel a sense of worth, purpose, and pride. I find that I hardly need to make my own meaning out of my work, as interactions with students and clients consistently provide a sense of purpose.
In my life I have, unfortunately, not spent a lot of time learning history. However, when I look back at the little history I do know, I see a consistent increase in awareness and understanding across time. I am motivated to continue the trend of increasing awareness and understanding, as these factors seem to me to be an engine that drives cultures forward. I draw motivation from a strong philosophical opposition to the notion that one person is of more value than another. As I developed my understanding of power and oppression I felt motivated to begin to transform the energy that accompanies the feelings of guilt I have regarding my own privilege and to transform that guilt into action to continue to develop awareness in myself and to work with others who may also be oppressing others without awareness to build knowledge regarding issues such as implicit power and oppression.
My Present Activities
I am in the fourth year of the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO; CACREP Accredited), have completed all of my coursework, and successfully proposed my dissertation. For my dissertation I am hoping to gain a better awareness of the experiences of older adults regarding their transitions into assisted living facilities. My intentions in gaining this awareness are first to provide counselors in training with knowledge and awareness that could inform their work with elders who are transitioning into assisted care homes and second to provide future cohorts of elders who are considering transitioning into assisted care access to information and resources that normalize some of their emotions and experiences. I hope to continue to build upon this foundational research by exploring counseling relationships, interventions, and outcomes in assisted care facilities.
During the course of my doctoral studies I have earned a graduate certificate in gerontology and have completed the coursework required to earn a doctoral minor in statistics. I am planning to defend my dissertation and graduate in Summer of 2016. My long term career interests include obtaining licensure as a professional counselor and pursuing a tenure-track faculty position so I can continue doing what I love: teaching, supervising, and conducting research. I am also interested in consulting with assisted care facilities to increase awareness of the role of mental health as a component in overall health and wellness, contributing empirically to the body of knowledge regarding multiculturalism, social justice, prejudice, and stigma, and building a small private practice focused on couples and group counseling. As I continue to gain experience as a counselor educator I plan to offer consultation services to assist other counselor educators and universities with the process of developing engaging Internet–based learning content.
I am excited to be in the process of working with my advisor, Dr. Betty Cardona, and Ashley to apply for a National Institutes of Health R03 grant. We hope to gain a better understanding of the intersections between cancer stigma and other stigmas and how these impact the experiences and care of cancer patients. We envision the result of this grant to be the development of training interventions for medical providers working with cancer patients.
In addition to teaching, conducting research, supervising, & counseling my interests include:
- Creative approaches to developing awareness, cognitive complexity, & higher level thinking skills.
- Social justice and multiculturalism.
- Novel and accessible approaches to data collection and presentation in qualitative research, particularly those that involve photography and video.
- Political advocacy. I am serving a second term as Chair of the Government Affairs Committee of the Association For Adult Development & Aging. I am passionate about gaining Medicare reimbursement for counselors.
- Critical, transformative, and constructive approaches to pedagogy.
- Systemic theory and counseling approaches.
- Group process.
My Personal Interests
When I am not doing school work I enjoy gardening with my wife, Ashley, and two cats, Darwin and Dorothea. We also love cooking what we grow! I relax with yoga, mindfulness, and taking advantage of living in Colorado by hiking, camping, and exploring the outdoors. As you may have gathered I like expressing myself through photography and am excited to be in the process of setting up my first dark room. I enjoy technology, particularly when it involves learning new skills, like HTML and CSS, which I used to build all of our websites.