Time flies when you’re having fun — or at least when you’re blogging, right?

Image by profivideos from Pixabay

It was on this day in 2007 — September 19 — that I launched this blog, Doctorious, with my first post, “Welcome to Doctorious!” This anniversary is unique in that it is the first during which I finally find myself enrolled in a doctoral program that fulfills my December 2008 “PhD-Day” declaration.

Despite having a desire to pursue doctoral studies since embracing my scholarly side during my MBA program, professional concerns and personal challenges twice delayed my dreams. My personal challenges began in 2006 and have, thankfully, started to subside.

The first interruption to my doctoral education occurred in April 2007 after I completed two semesters in an EdD program in Organizational Leadership at Pepperdine University. My doctoral journey was again diverted after starting a PhD in Human and Organizational Systems at Fielding Graduate University during the fall of 2007. Interestingly, this blog was launched during my New Student Orientation at Fielding.

Despite my many challenges, I never lost sight of my dream to earn a doctorate; it has always been the one goal that keeps me focused and positive — even during the darkest of days. My circumstances led me to explore the expat option which has been my life since 2014.

Living and teaching in Dubai provided me with the readiness, resolve, and resources to earn my doctorate. In Dubai I was further fortunate to find my fiancée, Sylvia, in Dubai; her support and sensibility is the foundation of my faith and fortitude. Living and teaching in Dubai provided me with the readiness, resilience, resolve, and resources to earn my doctorate.

Notably, it was through my affiliation with the American University in the Emirates that I learned about the PhD in Business Administration offered by the Bryan School of Business and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in which I am now enrolled. I have long searched for a PhD that was credible, affordable, and flexible — and this program is perfect in every way!

Designed to prepare students for an academic career at a major college or university, this 60-hour, research-focused, cohort-based program provides a broad overview of all areas of business, while also customizing their area of focus on strategy, international business, or organizational behavior. Impressively, this is the first — and only — AACSB-accredited online PhD Program in Business Administration.

I plan to conduct my research under the guidance of the expert faculty at UNC Greensboro to ascertain the significance of education in preparing entrepreneurs to conquer challenges that they will face in the future and to design strategies that enable them to do so. While most existing literature seeks to understand how and why entrepreneurs innovate, it has often neglected the role of education and the significance of the environment in which entrepreneurs operate.

In the long-term, the economic growth of a region depends largely on whether the students of today are properly prepared to develop innovative solutions for the future. It inspires me to consider that my doctoral research might contribute to the success of UAE’s efforts to establish itself as a hub of innovation, not just in the region, but worldwide.

Langston Hughes, in his powerful poem, “Harlem,” asks “what happens to a dream deferred?” Fortunately, my determination during the previous decade resulted in a reversal of fortune; I am now finally ready to resume – and, more importantly complete – my doctoral journey.

Previous posts celebrating an anniversary of this blog include:

“Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Four years ago today — on September 8, 2014 — I stepped off a United Airlines 777 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and took the first step on my journey as an expat in the United Arab Emirates. The 1,461 days since have been filled with exponential personal development as I have continuously challenged myself to be a better version of me. Not every lesson has been successful; some took several tries to get right and others are still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, I am progressing personally and learning to reframe a challenging situation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

Being in Dubai has also allowed me to develop professionally in ways that would not have been possible in the United States. After teaching marketing and management classes for the past three years in the College of Business Administration at the American University in the Emirates, the start of this academic year marks my shift into the College of Education. I will now teach five sections of the following three courses:

  • HAP 200, Happiness Studies
  • INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • TOL 200, Tolerance and Diversity

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In related news, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education selected me as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 applicants to join “Cohort 3” of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.” The program provides curriculum, programs, and networks to equip the next generation of UAE leaders with an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset to ensure the country’s ongoing economic achievement (this is directly linked to the INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship course I am now teaching).  It also included an educational visit to Stanford University this past July 10 to 13, 2018 for specialized training in design thinking, the conceptual foundation of the initiative.

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Unfortunately, while being overseas opens opportunities that were not possible for me in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max. Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. It is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends for my physical absence in their lives. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Overall, I remain grateful for my expat experiences in Dubai. I also look forward to the future with optimism and excitement, despite not being fully clear about what it has in store for me.

If you want to learn more about my expat adventure, I suggest the following posts:

Innovation is the engine of opportunity. At its core is a commitment to experiential learning that encourages critical thinking and creative problem-solving while also engaging soft skills.

uae_innovates_qrThis mindset is fundamental to the future of the United Arab Emirates. So much so that, it is part of the ‘United in Knowledge’ pillar of Vision 2021 which focuses on innovative Emiratis building a competitive economy.

Emphasizing it’s importance, H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum explained, “Innovation is not an option, but a necessity. It is not a culture, but work style, and governments and companies that do not innovate risk losing their competitiveness and falling far behind.”

Having taught INV 300, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the American University in the Emirates since 2018, I am fortunate to actively participate in this process. In support of my engagement in entrepreneurship education, on May 31, 2018 I was selected as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education to join “Cohort 3″ of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education Program.”

Some background on the program:

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What is design thinking?  According to Coe Leta Stafford, Managing Director of IDEO U, “design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.” Fundamentally human-centric, it encourages organizations to focus on their customers first; this leads to the development of human-centered goods, services, and processes.

Design thinking is about solving problems for people by asking questions differently. Essentially, it provides a pathway through which you can improve your creative process — and turn an idea into action.  The entire design thinking process is comprised of five stages: 1. Empathize, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype, 5. Test.

According to the Stanford d.school publication. “An Introduction to Design Thinking: PROCESS GUIDE,” the five stages of the design thinking process can be explained as follows:

1. Empathize: Learn about the audience for whom you are designing. Empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process; it is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them.

2. Define: Construct a point of view that is based on user needs and insights. The Define mode of the design process is all about bringing clarity and focus to the design space. It is your chance, and responsibility, as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context. After becoming an instant-expert on the subject and gaining invaluable empathy for the person you are designing for, this stage is about making sense of the widespread information you have gathered. In a word, the Define mode is sensemaking.

Ideate: Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions. Ideate is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.

3. Prototype: Build a representation of one or more of your ideas to show to others.The Prototype mode is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution. In the early stages of a project that question may be broad – such as “do my users enjoy cooking in a competitive manner?”

In these early stages, you should create low-resolution prototypes that are quick and cheap to make (think minutes and cents) but can elicit useful feedback from users and colleagues. In later stages both your prototype and question may get a little more refined. For example, you may create a later stage prototype for the cooking project that aims to find out: “do my users enjoy cooking with voice commands or visual commands”.

A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with – be it a wall of post-it notes, a gadget you put together, a role-playing activity, or even a storyboard. Ideally you bias toward something a user can experience. Walking someone through a scenario with a storyboard is good, but having them role-play through a physical environment that you have created will likely bring out more emotions and responses from that person.

4. Test: Return to your original user group and testing your ideas for feedback. Test mode is when you solicit feedback about your prototypes from your users and have another opportunity to gain empathy for the people you are designing for.

Testing is another opportunity to understand your user, but unlike your initial empathy mode, you have now likely done more framing of the problem and created prototypes to test. Both these things tend to focus the interaction with users, but don’t reduce your “testing” work to asking whether or not people like your solution. Instead, continue to ask “Why?”, and focus on what you can learn about the person and the problem as well as your potential solutions.

Ideally you can test within a real context of the user’s life. For a physical object, ask people to take it with them and use it within their normal routines. For an experience, try to create a scenario in a location that would capture the real situation. If testing a prototype is not possible, frame a more realistic situation by having users take on a role or task when approaching your prototype. A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better.

To further understand design thinking I invite you to view the following video, “The Design Thinking Process;” it cleverly and clearly explains the five stages in just under four minutes.

The main priority of the Year 3 project is to ensure the sustainability of the innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum in the UAE, with an additional focus on developing a core group of Program Ambassadors to deepen the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship education in the UAE. Year 3 program components are organized into 3 categories:

  1. Create and Develop an I&E Curriculum
  2. Support the Teaching of the I&E Curriculum
  3. Facilitate the Growth of the I&E Ecosystem

It is my honor to represent the American University in the Emirates as a pivotal part of this initiative and I am excited to contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship educational efforts in the UAE!

Teaching is a profession that can be as challenging as it is rewarding, but every now and then I am reminded why I chose this professional path.

In May I received a kind and heartfelt email from Omran Al Farsi, a human resources student at the American University in the Emirates. He had been  a student in my Principles of Management class during the spring semester which had recently concluded. 

The students in Omran’s class, which was one of my smallest at AUE, were uniquely mature and engaged; it felt more like a masters degree class than an undergraduate one.  We spent many of our class periods in the food court discussing management articles from the Harvard Business Review. It was refreshing and revitalizing.

And so, in some ways, I wasn’t surprised to receive a message from a student in that class. However, I was nevertheless surprised, inspired, and energized by Omran’s email; it was exceptionally thoughtful and sincere. The text of his message follows.

It is my pleasure to share it with you below:

“If my educational journey taught me two things, it would be the importance of knowledge and the person who is giving you that knowledge. Thus, I am forever grateful to you and appreciative for your mentoring throughout the course. You have taught me so many things academic related and in leadership on a personal level. I never heard your name mentioned without students and instructors complimenting you as a person and instructor. I found out why when I first attended your class. You have one of the most pure and kind hearts I have ever encountered in my life.” — Omran Al Farsi, Human Resource Management Student at American University in the Emirates

Today I celebrated my 44th birthday filled with gratitude.

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There are many different definitions for the word gratitude, both traditional dictionary interpretations and more advanced explorations from the field of positive psychology. One that feels especially insightful is offered in a Harvard Medical School article titled “In Praise of Gratitude,” which explains it as follows:

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness… Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

I have overcome a great many emotional, financial, and physical challenges in the past dozen years. I am nowhere near where I planned to be at this stage in my life; some days it’s hard not to feel frustrated with what I’ve lost and what I’ve missed. However, I am actively rebuilding my life and resetting myself on a course that will lead me to a better version of myself. Gratitude is a key concept to my achieving this goal.

As I’ve gotten older I focus less on celebrating my annual journey around the sun with things than I do with people who matter most in my life. I am fortunate that, through my expat experience, I have found true love with my fiancée, Sylvia. Through her loving guidance and sincere support I am finding faith. This has empowered me to appreciate what I have and to not dwell on what I don’t.

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With her I have discovered that, sometimes, even a simple prayer of thanks before a meal can  help me see things in a more positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

I am also grateful for my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max; they are both uniquely talented musicians and incomparably exceptional individuals. I am proud of their ability to overcome developmental and physical obstacles with which they have dealt. My love for them knows no bounds; they are my anchor and my inspiration.

Unfortunately, being overseas opens opportunities for me that are not possible in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my sons. This is the biggest Catch-22 of my being abroad: I am better positioned to help them while being very far from them.

I find myself frustrated that I am unable to live the lesson I learned from my maternal grandfather, Papa, “spending time with someone special is worth more than anything that person could purchase for you.” But after repeatedly trying to make ends meet while doing what I loved in the United States fell through I looked abroad for a way to meet my personal obligations while pursuing my professional aspirations.

Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. If I had one birthday wish it is for them to understand the myriad personal and professional reasons why I relocated. I realize that might be harder to do now, but it is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Nothing can make up for not being “there” in person, but I pray their hearts remain open to my love and their spirits stay strong during my absence. I look forward to a time when we can celebrate our birthdays — and our everydays — together again. Time stands still for no man (or his sons) and, as I experience my “children growing up, old friends growing older,” I hope too much experience doesn’t slip away.

I recognize that life is about love; each day I strive to create more of it for others and make the most of it for myself. It is my intent to make sure the love I take is equal to the love I make. I don’t always succeed, but I try my best. Every day I plan to be better than I was the day before — for myself, for my loved ones, and for my God.

We all have a limited time in life to make the most of ourselves and do the most good for those we love. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I am endeavoring to overcome my past failures while focusing forward on emerging opportunities. All the while I am trying to live in the moment and remain grateful for all that I have.

I suppose that’s how the circle of life is meant to spin, right Simba?

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Happy 14th birthday to my sweet and smart son, Jacob! He has overcome many challenges in his short number of years, but he has always been happy and kind to everyone, confronting his issues with grace, determination, and humor. A natural musician he plays piano and saxophone, making the world more melodic and meaningful in the process. It’s challenging for us both with my living so far away, but he is always close by in my heart (along with my younger son, Max). I am so inspired by the person Jacob is and the man he is becoming!

Expat marks the spot?

Sheikh-Mohammed-3-FingersThree years ago today — September 8, 2014 — I first set foot in Dubai and took the first of many steps that have led me to my new life as an expat. Although emotionally anchored to my two amazing sons in Los Angeles, Jacob and Max, Dubai has revealed to me new friendships and opportunities I could have never realized in the United States.

Included among these opportunities is the very real possibility that I can finally earn a PhD, thanks to the American University in the Emirates (AUE). On a more personal level, my time in Dubai has opened my heart to new love, which has in turn filled me with hope and faith, two things with which I have long struggled.

I am thankful for Jumeira University, which first opened the door to this incredible experience, AUE for providing me with the next step, and for everyone who played a part in my process of self discovery and development. I am also filled with pride for my sons’ accomplishments and appreciation their increasing ability to understand why it was necessary for me to go overseas; despite being far from them physically, they are always close to my heart.

Most notably I am grateful to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of Dubai, for making Dubai a place where even the wildest dreams can come true.

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Two years ago I began my journey from California to Dubai. I took two United flights on September 7, 2014: one from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD); then my second from IAD to Dubai International Airport (DXB).

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After flying 9,357 miles and traveling nearly 22 hours — including an almost 4 hour delay in Dulles  — I arrived in Dubai the evening of September 8, 2014. Coincidentally Lady Gaga arrived that evening for her first UAE concert ever two days later.

My time in Dubai has presented me with many challenges and many rewards as well; it’s certainly shaped me as a person and a professional. I have been enriched with memories and moments I would have not encountered elsewhere. Being an expat has been a notable time in my life; I am fortunate to have experienced it.

Having taught only adjunct prior to leaving the US, I experienced an evolution from “feral to formal” (as I call it) at two universities: Jumeira University and now American University in the Emirates (AUE). I am grateful for those experiences and treasure the time I’ve had here; I feel I’ve made a difference and made an impact.

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The biggest challenge and source of uncertainty for me has been not being present in lives of my two sons, Jacob and Max; especially Jacob, who turns 13 on the 10th (which was my first day at Jumeira University in 2014). I’m mindful of the short number of years I have left until they leave for college.

I’m at a point of pause as I determine my next steps. I am unsure where I might find myself in the future and what I might be doing; remaining here is an option as well. I have enjoyed living in Dubai — where Bedouin meets Blade Runner (my idea for a new tourism slogan; what do you think?). It is a crossroads of cultures and has given me an experience unlike anywhere else.

So, here’s to two years; may the next two — wherever they are — be as meaningful and memorable! To further explore my experiences in or about Dubai, please read the following:

The Pod(cast) people have returned!

satisfactionistThe second part of my appearance on The Satisfactionist Podcast with Ben Olmos has been published. Be sure to also read the blog post about my first appearance.

Once again it was a great experience and, it appears Ben and I might collaborate on future episodes of the podcast; more to come soon!

This is the second of two podcasts in which I will appear (the previous podcast was published one week ago). My interview begins at 22:58; listen to it on SoundCloud below or you can also hear it on Stitcher.

Topics tackled in this episode include:

The “Gig Economy” and my “minor league pitching” experience teaching traffic school where I developed my classroom management skills. This lead to my adventures as an adjunct instructor for 9 years — during which I have taught 3,000 to 4,000 students in 70 courses (with numerous sections) at 16 different universities in 2 countries.

This lead to my work designing curriculum and developing courses that I taught and those I was specifically contracted to create without teaching them. We chat about my favorite word — rubrics — although, as an instructor, I am careful about when I use them to limit students from obsessing about matching their rubric to a specific grade.

We then discuss how I found my way to Dubai where I have been teaching marketing and management courses since September 2014. My expat experience was inspired by the possibility of my participating in a program with UCLA Extension in which I would teach for 30 day cycles in Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, that opportunity never came to fruition, but it did make me realize there was an entire world of opportunities outside of the United States — including two opportunities in Kabul, Afghanistan that I decided to pass on.

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We then explore my exceptional experiences living and working in Dubai where I have been widely welcomed by the local population and individuals from elsewhere who call UAE their home. I share details of driving the roads and roundabouts — including some Google Map misadventures!

I discuss the surprisingly temperate weather during the winter months (mid-October to mid-April) along with other aspects of daily life, including the impressive integration of SMS functionality and mobile phones into everything from paying speeding tickets to paying to park.

I also elaborate on my admiration for my students and the effort they invest into their education; they take their role as the next generation seriously and are focused on being prepared for the responsibilities with which they will be entrusted.

Notably, a large percentage of students at my current university — American University in the Emirates (AUE) — are Emirati (approximately 70%) and most of the remaining percentage are from other Arab countries or elsewhere in the world. In total I have students with 30 different nationalities here. It’s a wonderfully worldly experience!

Although it is challenging to be so far from my 10 and 12-year-old sons, traveling 8,000 miles from the life I had known to finally find a foothold in the life I had fruitlessly worked towards in the United States.

Similarly, contrary to the absurdity of the current election cycle in the United States, my experience in Dubai has been a rewarding and enriching one; I am grateful for this unique opportunity and am making sure to maximize the moment.

edx_logo_finalLastly I introduce and explain the ways my book, edX E-Learning Course Development, can be used by teachers and trainers to prepare, produce, and promote a course on edX or Open edX.

I explained my unique approach to starting each chapter with an anecdote, quote, or pop culture reference, additionally outlining how I worked from edX technical documentation, rearranging and re-imagining it in a way that aligns more accurately with the way an individual would create or convert curriculum.

We then boldly go on to discuss my experience as an extra on the upcoming Star Trek Beyond movie where I was on set for 17 hours straight!

Beam me up!