“Roger, go at throttle up.” — Commander Dick ScobeeSTS-51-L.

Today I showed a The New York Times documentary from June 2014 titled “Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: Major Malfunction” in my MGT 205, Organizational Behavior class at the American University in the Emirates.

The documentary is about the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia disasters; it explores how poor decision-making resulted in the death of the astronauts in both ill-fated flights.

Notably, the documentary is complimented by an article about the same subject matter from January 28, 2016 titled, “The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, 30 Years Later.” I shared this article with my students to provide background information and to ensure their understanding of both tragedies.

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In addition to watching the documentary and discussing the article, I asked my students to get into small groups. I then gave them a worksheet with the following five questions to pair and share:

  1. What was the external image of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) before the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986 – and how did that influence the internal culture at NASA?
  2. How did the need for NASA’s Space Shuttle program to be self-funded influence it’s organizational culture, managerial operations, and decision-making process – especially as it relates to their willingness to take risks?
  3. How did pressure to launch the Shuttle and “amorally calculating managers” result in the death of the 7 astronauts?
  4. What changes were made to the Shuttle program as a result of the Challenger disaster? Did any of the recommendations address changes that needed to be made within the culture at NASA?
  5. What were the similarities between the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia disasters? Why did NASA’s engineering culture, leadership philosophy, and safety policies still cloud its decision-making and lead to the second disaster?

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After 30 years the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster still brings tears to my eyes; I was 11 (almost 12) when it happened and it affected me profoundly. It shattered my innocence.

The Columbia disaster was equally as emotional, though by that point, I had experienced many other trials and tribulations of adult life, so it was a less shocking. Knowing that many of the same organizational issues caused the loss of a second Shuttle and her crew made me equally as frustrated and sad.

As a child of the 1980’s, the Space Shuttle program was a pivotal part of my early life experiences; it defined my generation to a large degree. When Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, it signaled the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Although a troubling topic — one of my students commented that it was “heavy” — challenging my students to think about something significant revealed many insightful observations. They were intrigued and engaged; I’ve never had a class as quiet as the one today.

Moved to Dubai @ Facebook 20140908On September 8, 2014 I opened for Lady Gaga.

Well, not exactly: I landed in Dubai, UAE a few hours before Lady Gaga also arrived in Dubai for a concert at the Meydan Racecourse (on September 10). And so began my expat adventure as a full-time business professor.

In the 12 months since I have exponentially grown personally and developed professionally. While I had previously traveled internationally, my experience was limited mostly to short trips to a handful of countries. Those early overseas trips certainly exposed me to a more global perspective, but living overseas has allowed me to experience a different mindset entirely. Embracing the unknown was challenging, but, ultimately, rewarding.

As a lifelong learner, living and working overseas has been especially refreshing and rewarding. What better way to continuously learn than by putting yourself in a totally foreign situation and challenging yourself to adapt? To celebrate my first year as an expat, below I have shared one memory from each month — technically there are 13 memories, but consider the inclusion of September 2015 as one extra for good luck!

  • September 2014: Began teaching undergraduate business courses at Jumeira University.
  • October 2014: Celebrated Halloween by taking a dhow cruise on the Dubai Creek.
  • November 2014: Visited to the 148th floor observation deck of the Burj Khalifa (555.7 meters high)!
  • December 2014: Experienced my first desert safari on UAE National Day.
  • January 2015: Drove to Abu Dhabi and experienced Ferrari World and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
  • February 2015:  Traveled to nearby Oman for a short visit with friends.
  • March 2015: Attended the First International Conference on Sports Management and Sports Law.
  • April 2015:  Visited Los Angeles and went to the Dodgers opening day game with my son.
  • May 2015: Published my first book, “edX E-Learning Course Development” via Packt Publishing.
  • June 2015: Supported the Commemorative Air Force’s restoration of C-47 “That’s All, Brother.”
  • July 2015: Began teaching one part time marketing course at American University in the Emirates (AUE).
  • August 2015: Drove to Al Ain, the second largest city in Abu Dhabi and the fourth largest city in UAE.
  • September 2015: Began teaching marketing and management courses full-time at AUE.

The past 12 months have been a great adventure; I’m looking forward to the next 12 months… and beyond!

On Saturday, September 2, 2006 I “officially” enrolled in my second career: teaching. It was on that date that I taught — of all subjects — my first traffic school class! Crammed with 40 students into the meeting room of a motel in Woodland Hills, CA without working air conditioning on a 100+ degree day —  it was almost literally trial by fire!

After Teaching a Public Speaking Class at National University in Los Angeles, CA (10/29/2010)In the five years that followed I have matured immeasurably as an instructor and managed to forge my own path into the world of academia. I now teach a variety of on-line and on-campus marketing, management, communication and writing classes (in addition to the occasional traffic school class).

The schools for which I now teach include UC Santa Barbara (Extension), UCLA (Extension), National University, Strayer University, and Axia College of University of Phoenix.

While teaching at these (and other) schools, I’ve had the privilege of learning with students from countries including Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait,  Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Russia, Spain, Taiwain, the Philippines, and Turkey.

For those of you curious about how I have found my way to teaching opportunities, my most common methods are through personal referrals, social media relationships, postings in the Education/Teaching Jobs section of Craigslist, HigherEdJobs.com and the jobs section of the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

Although I am dedicated to continually improving, I am confident in my abilities to create curriculum, inspire my students and manage a classroom. My students respond positively to my methods and I appreciate their consistently positive reviews. I’ve also become quite adept at driving all over Southern California to teach! On a related note, I am grateful for having taught traffic school: it helped me develop a casual, yet professional style in my classes.

Feeling Content Before Teaching a Class at DeVry University in Bakersfield, CA (1/27/2009)Numerically speaking, by my estimation, I have taught more than 150 classes (roughly 115 college level classes and 39 traffic school classes) and have learned with approximately 2,200 students! I am honored to have shared a learning experience with so many students and look forward to the individuals with whom I will have an opportunity to learn in the next five years!

Speaking of which, as a lifelong learner, I embrace Søren Kierkegaard’s idea that “to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner.” I join with my students on a journey towards generative learning which, according to Peter Senge, “enhances our capacity to create.” Learning generatively connects existing knowledge about a subject with emerging ideas about it, resulting in a more personalized understanding. In a classroom, a generative learning approach encourages students to individually engage material rather than passively listen to lectures.

It is for this reason that I am motivated by the motto “semper discens, semper faciens,” which translates to “learn continuously, live generatively.” To help my students learn generatively, I avoid assignments that require repetition of information in deference to papers, presentations and projects that provide a platform with which they can confront personal or professional issues. When possible, I customize curriculum to meet the needs of each class and am responsive to change throughout the term.

Acting as a “guide on the side” and not a “sage on the stage,” I combine learning with laughter and encourage students to pursue their individual ideas. Having taught students of various ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, I am especially sensitive to the diverse challenges with which my students might be contending. Considering this, I believe an educational environment should encourage students to compete with themselves, not with each other. Learning should create community, not competition. When one of us succeeds, all of us succeed.

After Teaching a Marketing Class at UC Santa Barbara (10/28/2010)Interdisciplinary by nature, I teach courses in business, communication, English, technology and traffic safety. While each discipline is distinct, I consider their common intersection with humanity, technology and industry. I often include elements of one or more of them in every class, regardless of its primary focus. I encourage my students to shatter preconceptions and create meaningful knowledge.

In summary, although it can be as challenging as it is rewarding, teaching allows me to help shape the lives of others while giving my life greater meaning.