On December 1, 2008 I blogged about my doctoral dreams and how I plan to apply for programs starting on December 1, 2009 — my “PhD-Day.” I also featured photos and a video of a graffiti-laden delivery truck on which the letters “P-H-D” are spray painted on the roll-top door. I have decided to call this truck the “PhD-Mobile” (like “Batmobile” but for academics).

I have intermittently encountered the “PhD-Mobile” and interpret it as a sign that pursuing a doctorate is the right path for me. I started seeing this truck in March 2008 when I was driving to and from the DeVry Center in Bakersfield, CA where I have been an adjunct professor since October 2007.

I am sure these letters are just some tagger’s initials, but to me they represents my dream of earning a PhD by studying the impact of social media on the management and marketing of knowledge (possibly with a focus in the health care industry).

With regard to that process, I am now evaluating disciplines in which to conduct my research. The leading contender is Communication, although Marketing and Information Science remain possibilities. You can track my progress in my PhD-Day Diary.

After a long period during which I did not see the “PhD-Mobile” I saw it again during the morning of February 24, 2009! I happened upon it while driving on Interstate 5 North (near Pyramid Lake) from my home in Santa Clarita, CA to DeVry University (as has been the case in the past).

Here’s a video of the truck (in slow motion and intentionally without sound):

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A photo of the same truck follows. Note that the truck was driving so slowly in order to get this picture (after initially getting the video, above) I had to exit Interstate 5 at Pyramid Lake, wait for approximately five minutes and then, once I saw the truck pass by, re-enter the freeway.

PhDMV Take Two?

The timing of the sighting was auspicious as it was two days after my birthday and right after I had been evaluating my options. I had also taken a practice GRE on Sunday (my actual birthday) so my mind was very pre-occupied with thoughts related to the doctorate.

I guess this was a reminder that I am headed in the right direction!

I’ve previously mentioned the struggles my family experienced getting the Saugus Union School District to provide services we feel are in the best interest of our older son, Jacob (who received a diagnosis of autism in 2006).

I now have some great news to report: we “won!”

It was by no means easy, or inexpensive, but it was definitely priceless! Here’s the story in its entirety (I apologize for its length, but I hope my family’s experience might inspire and inform other families in a similar situation):

For two years after his third birthday Jacob was enrolled in Special Day Class (SDC) preschool programs to facilitate his development. He had two wonderful teachers — Maritza dela Cruz and Brianna Jones — and Katie Perry, an amazing teacher’s aide.

We were grateful for the services we received and credit those experiences, in conjunction with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services Jacob received from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) with a huge improvement in his speech and social awareness.

In May 2008 we began looking ahead to Jacob’s fifth birthday (September 10). That’s when things started to get “interesting.”

We had our first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting in early May (three more would follow). Much to our dismay the District’s “offer” was an SDC Kindergarten program with some “mainstreaming” (“some” meaning 15 minutes a day — if that).

At first glance this might not seem like a problem. For some parents this is an ideal placement. And, for some kids, it assuredly is. I would never claim our situation is “the” model for everyone nor would I judge another parents choice if it different from ours. Every child on the spectrum is unique. For Jacob, a SDC Kindergarten was simply not the right fit.

Through a combination of “parental instinct” and our interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), we felt the best “free appropriate public education” for Jacob was to hold him back one year in a typical pre-school setting with a properly trained aide to facilitate his social development (his main challenge now that his language has improved). We want him to be around peers whose behavior he can emulate and from whom he can learn.

We argued that, despite Jacob being chronologically five, since he was not developmentally a five year old, our request made sense. The District disagreed and stuck to their guns about the “chronological age” issue (at one point they even turned it around on us and used or terminology to support their point of view!).

So, we agreed to disagree, but spent most of the summer negotiating with the District to find a place for him in the quasi independent “Fun for Fours” program.

I even paid a visit the director of special educaton at the District to fully understand our options and to emphasize our desire for Jacob. We spent hours on the phone with District representatives. They listened, but took no action to indicate agreement. It sometimes felt like we were talking with ourselves.

As for the “Fun for Fours” program, we finally identified a campus at which he could enroll and he began in August. Notably, because the district considered him “school age” (and therefore qualified for kindergarten) we had to pay for his program at a cost of $116 per week. Not a huge sum, but in our situation it was a financial challenge.

Over the summer, we signed Jacob up for a summer camp program with typical kids at Creative Years, a wonderful independent pre-school in Santa Clarita. Each day he attended he was accompanied by one of his impressively trained therapists from CARD to ensure he was engaging properly and productively with his peers.

Jacob had a wonderful time and, by the end of the summer, had begun to initiate interaction with his classmates. (This fact was a cornerstone to the argument Heather and I continued to make to the District).

In August we also began treating Jacob in accordance with the Neuro Immune Dysfunction Syndromes (NIDS) protocol advocated by Michael J. Goldberg, M.D., F.A.A.P. NIDS are a classification for illnesses or disorders related to problems with the complex interactions between the central nervous system and the immune system.

The basis of NIDS is that many of the current diagnoses of autism are not actually autism, but are viral and fungal infections treatable with what might appear to be a strange array of medications for a five year old to take.

The main financial challenge with Dr. Goldberg is that he does not accept Blue Cross insurance — although he seems to accept almost every other insurance — so we are forced to pay for office visits out of pocket (a 20 minute appointment clocks in at $185). To date we have spent nearly $2,000 on appointments, blood tests and medication.

It is yet another treatment we can’t afford, but one we also can’t afford to forego. This seems to be a theme with special needs parents and we are no exception. You do what you have to do for your kids.

Fortunately, through a friend and fellow special needs parent we learned that, due to his diagnosis of autism, Jacob qualifies for Medi-Cal. So we jumped through the hoops and got him signed up. It has already helped mitigate the medication and testing costs associated with Jacob’s care.

However, we are still responsible for the office visits. But, what keeps us positive about this additional cost is that we have seen noticeable improvement in Jacob’s social awareness and interaction since beginning this regimen. Something must be working!

Note that, despite Jacob’s automatic qualification for Medi-Cal, our Regional Center representative never once mentioned it to us — we learned about this from another parent. Are you noticing a trend?

Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the DAN! protocol, which we experimented with for approximately six months starting in the fall of 2007. We spent hundreds of dollars on visits, vitamins and alternative treatments with little scientific measure.  Again, however, this was just our experience: I know some parents swear by DAN!

At the same time we began exploring our options with Bonnie Z. Yates, a special education lawyer who has a successful track record with the Saugus Union School District. She was unquestionably qualified, but she was also unfeasibly expensive: her hourly rate is $350 and the initial retainer was $5,000 — renewable in additional $5,000 increments. Ouch!

There was no way we could afford that price tag even though the proper placement for Jacob is priceless. Once again turning to our network of parents with children on the autism spectrum we were referred to Melonie Matjeka, a special education advocate. This was the turning point for us.

We officially engaged Melonie’s services on Jacob’s 5th birthday, basically signing over our $1,200 “stimulus check” to get the wheels moving. Given our situation it was tough to part with this additional income but immediately I sensed we were “professional grade.” To paraphrase a term made popular in the 2008 presidential election: Melonie is a pit bull with lipstick!

Without venturing too deeply into details I never quite understood and, to be honest, exhausted me when I lived through them, Melonie was able to zero in on every single error the District made while also maintaining a total mastery of every nuance of our IEP.

The District continued to stall and evade us, but this time they couldn’t get away with it. I was grateful for Melonie, but felt frustrated for the many families that do not use an advocate and get taken advantage of by school districts.

Although I can be cynical, it amazes me how easily and effectively a large organization (public or private) can take advantage of individuals.

Melonie was amazing. I still have no clue what half of what was printed in Jacob’s IEP really means, but I trusted her knowledge and judgment. Melonie’s measured, but meaningful interaction with the District kept the pressure on them, but in a diplomatic and productive way.

She was also very reasonable considering what we received for the “investment” in her services.  Including her final invoice, her services cost just over $2,000 — but honestly, she was invaluable. None of this could have happened without her intervention.

In late September we had another IEP, but were dismayed to realize that Jacob had not been properly assessed: we had no data with which to gauge his present status and no way to compare that against goals because they had not been properly defined.

After wasting our time and money, we set a date in November for another IEP. By this time an array of assessments were to be completed by District representatives to give us a better understanding of Jacob’s ability and potential.

Two months later, when the next IEP rolled around, we were again dumbfounded to discover that many of the assessments were hastily completed (one had literally just been finished minutes before our meeting!).

The reports were incomplete and/or inaccurate and did not include the full breadth of information required of such a document (e.g. parent involvement).

Given the lack of reliable data, and the District’s continued insistence that SDC Kindergarten was the right placement for Jacob, we set a date for yet another IEP in late January 2009 (eight months after our initial meeting).

By this point our heads were spinning: how many meetings would it take for the District to A.) get their act together and B.) finally see things our way? To facilitate the likelihood of the second happening, we took two important steps.

First, we had Jacob assessed by UCLA Developmental Pediatrician Dr. Kek-Khee Loo — Dr. Loo’s independent report supported our previously uncorroborated theory about the best placement for Jacob.

Second, we  asked Dr. Goldberg to outline his thoughts about the best placement scenario for Jacob in a formal letter. As was the case with Dr. Loo, the letter validated our initial assumptions.

Good to know our “parental intuition” was right all along!

So now, armed with evidence, on January 23, 2009, we headed back to what we hoped would be our final IEP, unsure what to think  but much more confident than we had ever previously been. We were cautiously optimistic.

Having prepared ourselves for another fight — or at least more disappointment — we were shocked when a District representative spent a good portion of the IEP reading from Dr. Loo’s report. Things were suddenly looking up.

The tide continued to turn in our direction and, by the end of the IEP, the District pronounced their agreement with the position to which we had steadfastly held onto since May 2008!

Notably, having recognized his current placement was indeed the most appropriate, the District is now covering the cost of the remaining week’s of Jacob’s preschool. This was a great financial relief as, up to that point, we had spent nearly $3,000 for Jacob’s tuition (we will save approximately $2,000 now).

We were both in shock and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure when to clap (so to speak) as I was not accustomed to this experience at any of our prior IEPs.  Fortunately, the other shoe has yet to drop.

We did compromise with the District on a few details, one of which was that we agreed to let a CARD therapist train a one-on-one aidethe District will provide (as opposed to the CARD aide becoming Jacob’s one-on-one aide). CARD will also provide oversight services and ongoing training as needed.

The District contracted with CARD to provide one month’s worth of training services which began on February 2, 2009 and we are now in the midst of that initiative.

This was possible, in part, because another student with this arrangement recently transferred into the District, so it set a precedent. Of course, were it not for an active and helpful network of advocate parents in conjunction with Melonie’s impressive acumen, we might have never known about this development.

Additionally, there was a “changing of the guard” within the special education ranks of the District, so that might have facilitated the change of heart. (Special thanks to Joyce Johnston, Director of Special Education and Erica Henson, Program Coordinator).

Lastly,  the current budget mess in California might have inadvertently helped our cause. Typically the District fights parents, making sure to beat us into submission through “due process” and other Draconian measures.

However, as was reported to us by another parent (the same one who recommended Melonie), at a recent meeting concerning budget cuts, the District made it clear that, to save money, they were no longer willing to as aggressively fight parents over special education issues. The new approach is to settle and mitigate overall expenses as much as possible.

So, due to some combination of all of the aforementioned issues, we have now gotten what we wanted. Things got moving remarkably quickly too. Since February 2, one of two expertly trained CARD therapists — John and Peter — have attended pre-school with Jacob.

Their responsibility is to facilitate his interaction with his classmates while improving how the aides interact with Jacob. They are also tasked with training the District’s chosen aide. John and Peter have a big responsibility, but I trust them completely.

Incidentally, the District aide’s daughter was a student of Heather’s when she taught kindergarten in the District several years ago. Additionally, Jacob’s teacher is the mother of the aide he had while in his second year of the SDC preschool program. Everything is interconnected it seems.

This is a learning and re-learning experience for everyone involved. So far the arrangement has been positive and productive for Jacob — though it has made the teaching staff at his school self-conscious and uncomfortable (CARD is very intense and demanding).

Personally, I think that, while well intentioned, the teaching staff is not accustomed to having so much expected of them (which is exactly why we wanted CARD involved in the first place). We will assess progress at the end of the month and determine our best next steps.

But so far, so good.

Considering the rocky road we took to get here, it is amazing how smooththe journey has now become. Of course, I can never fully relax, especially with addtional IEPs on the horizon.

Also, desite my gratitude for the District’s recent decision, I can never forget what they put us through for eight long months. Their antics cost us money we do not have — $5,000 to $7,000 — plus months of heartache and stress.

Still, while this doesn’t absolve all our challenges, it is a huge victory. I also remain grateful to the many individuals who helped us get to this point.  In looking back at this entire experience three words come to mind: persistence, patience and parents.

Only by working with and for each other can we give our kids the tools and resources they need to live their best lives. Whatever your  beliefs are about the causes and best treatments for autism, we must join together to support those who most need our help.

Love your kids and be loving to each other.

Today I begin teaching a buying behavior course at UC Santa Barbara Extension for the second time. The class runs for five consecutive Saturdays and concludes February 14, 2009 (Valentine’s Day — a “holiday” rich in strange and often irrational buying behaviors!).

I taught the course last year for the first time from January 12, 2008 through February 7, 2008. It was a challenging, yet enjoyable experience and I am glad to be going back again.

There was (and will again be) a large number of international students which makes for a uniquely multidimensional educational experience. It was enlightening learning about the different ways companies market in Germany, Brazil, Japan, Korea and myriad other locations around the world.

When I taught the course last year I had only been “officially” classroom teaching for a few months (I started teaching at DeVry University in Bakersfield in October 2007). So, I was still a little “green” or “wet behind the ears” (pick your euphemism).

Originally a second session was scheduled for the late summer of 2008, but the course was cancelled at the last minute. It’s hard to believe it is a year later: time really is flying!

This time around, I can leverage another solid year of teaching experience. On some levels it feels like a completely different course, but I’ve really just built up from the original foundation I constructed last year.  I expect it will be a much stronger effort that is ultimately more enjoyable and educational for my students.

Most notably, due to some budgetary issues, all Extension courses are now offered on the actual UCSB campus — so now I will be teaching on the very campus where I took classes more than a decade ago as an undergraduate!

I am again using the book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly,” by David Meerman Scott.

However, I have added a compelling new book from branding expert Martin Lindstrom, “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy,” which explores the fascinating world of neuromarketing. I will also have a guest speaker, Beth Mansfield, who is the Public Relations Manager for CKE Enterprises (Carl’s Jr.).

Incidentally I have come to know both David Meerman Scott and Beth Mansfield through my use of Twitter (Beth is the official “voice” of Carl’s Jr. on Twitter).  After some initial interactions with Beth I realized she was located just down the road from UCSB in Ventura, CA I invited her to come speak at my class — and she accepted!

I am definitely looking forward to this version of the class and excited about what the experience will be like. Interestingly, while preparing for it, I discovered a series of pictures I tool when I drove to and from class last year on January 19 (which is, incidentally, my younger son Max’s birthday).

I also realized that I never posted them online, so I have decided to do so below (note that last year my class was held off campus in Goleta, CA and not on the actual UCSB campus).  Without further adieu here are 20 pictures from a round trip journey on January 19, 2008 from Santa Clarita to Goleta, CA (and back):

Leaving Santa Clarita

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On the 126 Near Fillmore

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On the 101 Freeway North

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Alongside the Pacific Ocean on the 101 Freeway North

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Approaching Carpinteria

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At the Highway 217/101 Freeway Spit near UCSB

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Isla Vista!

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Glen Annie/Storke Rd — Where Extension Classes Were Previously Held

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Heading Back Home on the 101 Freeway South Near Summerland

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Just South of Carpinteria on the 101 Freeway

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Photos of the Pacific Ocean

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101 Freeway South in Ventura

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Merging Onto Highway 126 East Towards Santa Clarita

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Heading Home on Highway 126 Through Santa Paula

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Almost Home at the Highway 126/Interstate 5 Intersection

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Welcome to Santa Clarita!

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Driving to and from Bakersfield, CA across the “Grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 to teach at DeVry University presents unique challenges I might not otherwise encounter on a more urban commute. It’s not your typical drive, but it is reasonably painless and free of traffic.

However, there is one factor about commuting over the “Grapevine” that has the most impact on my ability to get and return home from work: weather. It is by far more extreme than weather even just a few miles north or south. I suppose being at an elevation of 4,000 feet might have something to do with that! Weather makes or breaks my commute — often without warning.

I’ve already driven through snow once this season (and drove through it three times last year on  January 23, 2008January 24, 2008 and February 4, 2008 — each time without chains). I’ve also driven through rain, sleet, wind and ever-changing combination of these and other phenomena.

For some strange reason I don’t mind the wild weather, though that might change if I ever find myself stuck for a few days in a snow drift!

On the morning of Tuesday, January 6, 2009 I drove through some outrageously thick fog while heading north to the DeVry University center at which I teach. I often drive with my camera at the ready (either the one in my Palm Centro or my woefully inadequate but somehow trustworthy Canon PowerShot A410) and that day was no exception.

I captured the photos and video below as I made my way to work roughly between Gorman and Lebec, CA.

Notably, I also encountered a similarly thick level of fog while coming home from work the afternoon of Thursday, January 8, 2009 — heading south and heading north — so I am unsure what the rest of this winter season has in store:

January 6, 2009

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

 

Adverse weather is not something we experience very much of here in Southern California.

Usually, whenever there is the slightest hint of moisture in the air our cadre of well coiffed weathermen, meteorologists (I forgot they have advanced training in meteors), start proclaiming armageddon and calling it the “Storm of the Century.”

However, the past few days have actually brought some wild winter storms to the area (see KTLA, KNBC, KCBS, The Signal and Los Angeles Times).

Weather has been a mess elsewhere too — across the country temperatures have plummeted as we seem to be deluged by some kind of nuclear winter (fortunately, without the nuclear part, but the result seems similar). Even Las Vegas is dealing with its biggest snowfall in 30 years!

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has now closed the “grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 (Castaic through Lebec) and also, quite surprisingly, the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) from Soledad Canyon in Santa Clarita through 10th Street in Palmdale. Several other major freeways have been shut down as well.

It’s been a wild few days.

Fortunately, I quite literally just missed getting stuck in this storm. I was teaching at DeVry in Bakersfield on Tuesday, December 16. In the afternoon, when I drove to campus, there was a light dusting of snow atop some of the higher points in the Grapevine. However, there was no immediate danger or impediment to my progress.

Here are some photos I took that afternoon with my Palm Centro and sent them to my Twitter account using a service called TwitPic. (Note: My orginal desire was to embed the images from my TwitPic account into this page and avoid duplicating them. Unfortunately, that only worked for a short time before the image seemed to expire — so I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the photos to WordPress):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Pyramid Lake: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Lebec: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Later that night, after finishing my classes I headed home. As I approached Lebec at roughly 11:30 p.m., the steady rain that began 30 minutes earlier in Bakersfield transformed into sleet. By the time I reached the Tejon Pass (elevation: 4,144 feet), I was driving into a steady flow of snow.

It got fairly dense at one point, and I became slightly concerned as I was driving my Scion xB and had no chains. Mercifully, the snow began to dissipate once I made it through Gorman. I continued onward and made it home without any problems.

Photos from that adventure follow (taken, as before, with my Palm Centro):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Hopefully my luck will continue the next time a big storm blows into Southern California! Either way I will be sure to post some pictures and/or video from the experience. Stay warm!

After twice trying to find a doctoral program that satisfied my intellectual curiosity while giving me the tools and credentials I need to become a university-level researcher and teacher, I’ve decided that the time is now for me to finally make it happen.

pic_phd_degreeTo anchor this desire to a tangible goal, I will give myself until Tuesday, December 1, 2009 to prepare and submit all of my applications to doctoral programs.

From this point forward I will refer to this date is my “PhD-Day.”

Why this date?

Simple: of all the doctoral programs that interest me, December 1, 2009 is the first application deadline for fall 2010 enrollment. This is the date on which I will finally take that “one giant leap” into my long awaited career in academia.

Although circumstances beyond my control were partially the reason behind my pulling away from my doctoral pursuits, I know now that I was also not clear enough about my goals. I just wanted a doctorate and did not give any meaningful consideration to the discipline in which it was anchored and how that would impact my future career options.

Previously I thought having a PhD qualified you to teach any subject, but I now realize that, with rare exceptions, the discipline in which you earn you PhD is the discipline in which you will concentrate your research and teaching.

Knowing the purpose of a PhD is to, as one of my colleagues comically suggests, know more about less, I must start with a question of “what” first, then determine “how.” I have therefore stopped first looking for a program (the “how”) that I will then try to make work with my interests (the “what”).

Instead I will take the opposite approach and first determine the topics I want to research and teach (the “what”) and then find a program that offered opportunities to study it (the “how”).

After evaluating what most interests me, I realized it had been staring me in the face the entire time: social media. I have previously mentioned my interest in this burgeoning topic in previous posts and in my list of research interests, so this is not breaking news by any means.

However, I have finally embraced the idea of studying it academically so I can understand it as a researcher and not just as a user.  Specifically, my research interest is to investigate the impact of social media on the creation and distribution of information.

What is social media?

I define social media as follows:

Social media includes information generated with and shared by individuals using various web-based tools including blogs, message boards, video sharing sites, wikis, chat, IM and similar technology.

I also feel it is related to concepts such as crowdsourcing and collective individualism.  Social media also touches on the idea of distributed computing, though in the case of social media the “nodes” are human and not computers.

In a more abstract interpretation, social media could also cross into the realm of artificial intelligence — especially as the tools we use to connect socially online continue to become more intuitive and personalized to each user.

The main use of social media is knowledge sharing among individuals for the greater good. However, it can also be leveraged (or exploited, depending on how you look at it) for commercial gain. Of course, marketing in this medium is not without its challenges and it certainly can’t be done in a traditional way (e.g. forced and artificial vs. the natural, organic feel of true social media).

Beyond products, people who participate in social media often market ideas or even products by the information they share (consider the metoric rise of Barack Obama who, despite your political persuasion, was impressively effective at using social media in his presidential campaign).

Social media can also be used as a training and development tool.  As a father to a child diagnosed with autism, I also wonder how social media might help my son learn social skills and share information in a virtual environment. As a parent, I have already been impressed by the power of social media to connect me with important information and individuals focused on autism.

I am also fascinated by the thought of using social media to enable many individuals to complete parts of a larger task (what first piqued my interest in this was when Steve Fossett went missing and there was an attempt to find him using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, even though that effort was not successful in finding him).

Clearly, social media can be both a communication tool and a marketing channel. I am interested in social media in both of its forms. It intrigues me that technology can so intensely enhance our human experience.

How will I study social media?

My investigation into current doctoral programs that include social media revealed it is relevant to several disciplines. Information Technology/Computer Science and Communication are the two I have most frequently found. Social media is also relevant to the disciplines of Psychology, Marketing and Sociology. Given the impact social media has had on the workplaces, Management is also a reasonable discipline in which to study it.

It makes sense that social media crosses into several disciplines — it is quite pervasive, but can also be investigated from many different angles. Perhaps what angles I want to study, or maybe how I want to study social media, will ultimately dictate the discipline within which I will investigate it further.

At the moment my assumption is that I will most likely be studying social media either within a Communication or Marketing program.

Where will I study social media?

Given my practitioner mindset and entrepreneurial orientation I would like to be able to teach in a business school. To do that I will need a PhD from an AACSB-accredited program.

However, given my background in communications and journalism I wonder if Communications would be a more suitable environment (especially since I am not as interested in traditional business subjects like finance and economics)?

I am still evaluating my options, but right now my top choices include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Information Systems (Interfield)
  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Organizational Behavior (Interfield)
  • UCLA: PhD in Marketing (Anderson School of Management)
  • UCSB: PhD in Communication (Technology and Society Emphasis)
  • USC: PhD in Marketing (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Management (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Communication (Annenberg School for Communication)

Aside from the obvious criteria of being accepted into a program is the issue of funding. Having already borrowed my way through an MBA program, my goal with the PhD is to get the cost of the program covered while also earning additional income through fellowships and other related methods.

Why do I want to earn a PhD?

I have always wanted to understand why and how certain things work (or don’t work). Whether I am contrarian by nature or unquenchably inquisitive, I was never satisfied with a surface level answer about anything. My problem was, and remains, not having the proper “tools” with which to conduct proper inquiry.

I also fundamentally enjoy creating and sharing knowledge. Looking back to my years in journalism, I think the desire to craft a story and share it with readers is related to the same idea. Notably, I recently learned the first academic paper I wrote and presented was referenced in a book called “MBA in a Day” and an article I wrote about non-profit fundraising five years ago in Marketing News (the bi-weekly trade paper of the American Marketing Association) was cited in a recent academic paper.

I was energized knowing that something I wrote helped someone else create something of their own. I want to be an active part of this process. On a related note, my experiences at academic conferences were unquestionably positive and motivating. I relished those opportunities to exchange ideas and information with difference people, creating knowledge in the process. This is why I am so endeared to the concept of “generative learning,” which Peter Senge defines as learning that “enhances our capacity to create.”

My long term purpose in embarking on this undertaking is to secure a position at a university where I can engage in active research while still teaching. I have been adjuncting online and in person for roughly 18 months now and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been a very liberating and affirming time for me, especially when I continue to get positive reviews and comments from students. But I also want to be adding to the academic dialogue, not just guiding students to a basic understanding of what has already been produced.

Also, although I have no pressing desire to go back to the corporate world, I am open to partnering with industry on research and also potentially consulting on the side. I just really don’t want to have to worry about red staplers and TPS reports! Even when I was in industry I tended to approach things in a more intellectual way than most. I even had two managers with whom I had good relationships tell me I was definitely “an academic” and would do well in that world.

I am a thinker and a tinkerer, but not a hard-core corporate type. I enjoy discussing and debating a topic sometimes more than “doing” whatever that topic is related to. For example, I enjoy the concept of branding and understanding how people develop allegiance to a brand, but don’t necessarily want to go launch a branding campaign.

How will I stay focused on my goal?

Staying focused on achieving my goal of earning a PhD will be challenging, given the various personal and professional obstacles I will need to overcome to see it through. At the same time, I find myself thinking about a PhD with increasing frequency: it is something I must do, not just something I want to do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of distractions. Ironically, during the past eight months, I have repeatedly encountered one kind of distraction while driving to and from my adjunct teaching job: a delivery truck with graffiti on the roll top door that reads “PhD.” I am sure this is some tagger’s initials, but for me it represents and reminds me of my dream: a PhD.

What makes it more significant to me is that I have seen it numerous times — driving north or south, in the morning or afternoon. Usually I encounter it on or near the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5. I am unsure where it is driving to or coming from, all I know is I have seen it numerous times — at least a half dozen.

Perhaps this truck is my albatross — or maybe its just coincidence? Maybe it was sent by the “PhDMV” to keep me on track?

Below are two photos I took of the truck on March 25, 2008 while heading home from DeVry (southbound on Interstate 5). Following the photos is a short video clip I filmed the morning of October 6, 2008 while heading north between the base of the Grapevine and the split between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 North (near Lebec, CA):

What are my next steps?

Now that I have defined and committed to this ambitious goal, how do I intend to achieve it? My next steps include the following:

  • Thoroughly research the PhD programs at the aforementioned schools.
  • Read “The Craft of Research” and write a specific research statement.
  • Begin reviewing the academic theories relevant to social media.
  • Speak with colleagues and mentors to understand my options.
  • Start writing my statement of purpose.
  • Explore grants and scholarships.

See you in a year on PhD-Day!

My oldest son, Jacob, turns five years old today, September 10.  I remember looking at him while he warmed up in the incubator just minutes after he was born and, while holding his tightly curled fingers, said to him “Happy birthday, Jacob!”

4-color-puzzle-piece-special-needsI knew things would never be quite the same — now I was responsible for some else’s life and welfare, not just my own.  I was excited, scared and emotionally overwhelmed at the presence of this little spirit in my midst.

Little did we know then what we would be dealing with now. That being said, he is as much a joy now as he was then, despite the unexpected challenges we will overcome — they key word being “will.” To paraphrase a famous saying, “failure is not an option.”

In addition to the medical and developmental challenges, another challenge we will overcome is the inability, or at least the reluctance, of our school district (Saugus Union) to provide the most beneficial “free and appropriate” special education services to which he is entitled a person protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Initially we had to fight with the district because they wanted to place him in a special day program kindergarten program with the vague promise of “mainstreaming” him for short periods in the day. “Unacceptable,” we said, “Jacob needs to be in a typical setting with the help of an aide and he definitely is not ready for kindergarten.”

Eventually, after significant wrangling, the district agreed to place Jacob in the quasi-independent “Fun for Fours” pre-school program with the intent of focusing on his social development.  However, we had to compromise on the aid, and instead of him receiving direct assistance from a dedicated aide, he will split one aide with three other students.

Although the environment is a positive one, we are very concerned that he is not getting the personal guidance and attention that he needs to develop. Over the summer he benefited immensely from a one-on-one aide, one of his ABA therapists from CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), who joined him for six weeks of a summer school program. Near the end of the six weeks Jacob was starting to initiate interaction with his peers — something he has never done before.

We now find ourselves at an important crossroads. We feel this is a “make or break” year for Jacob’s social development and are committed to getting him the resources he needs and the opportunities to which he is entitled. After numerous attempts on our own behalf to get the district to give Jacob a one-on-one aide we have realized, regardless of whether they are sincere or not, it won’t happen without a fight.

After initially considering a special education lawyer who, though vastly successful, bills in $5,000 retainer installments, we were referred to an absolutely impressive special education advocate, Melonie T. Matjeka of a group called “Empowered Parents.” Fortunately for us, she is significantly more affordable, but no less effective — we almost literally signed over our entire economic stimulus check to her.

Thanks for helping us help our son, Internal Revenue Service!

On Monday, July 7, 2008, after enjoying a “one-day vacation” with my family in Big Bear Lake, CA I embarked on a 3 hour and 21 minute, 205.5 mile journey to Bakersfield. There I was scheduled to start teaching another session at DeVry University that evening.

view-of-big-bear-lake

I am only just now able to share the photos from this trip because the past two months were exceptionally challenging, but rewarding. Adjunct teaching is similar to walking a tight-rope without a net: high risk, but high reward. There is no paid leave, sick leave or traditional benefits.

I taught three classes at DeVry:

  • BUSN-115, Introduction to Business and Technology
  • COMP-100, Computer Applications for Business with Lab
  • ENGL-135, Advanced Composition

I also facilitated four to six concurrent online sessions for Axia College of University of Phoenix of:

  • COM-140, Contemporary Business Communication
  • COM-220, Research Writing

Amidst all that I was juggling some consulting projects and myriad responsibilities as the father of two amazing young boys. Despite the limited amount of free time I have, it was important to have some kind of a vacation with my family, even if doing so involved driving 350 miles in 6.5 hours during a 24 hour period.

Had I been able to spend more time on vacation I would have done so. However, my circumstance did not permit it — so I appreciated the time I did have, not the time I didn’t. Although my time in Big Bear was short, it was priceless.

We rented a pontoon boat and spent several hours driving around on the lake just relaxing and taking in the fresh air. I don’t step back and take a break much, especially these days, but it was a wonderful chance to partially recharge my batteries.

After spending the morning of July 7 on the water once more I loaded up my car, filled up the tank (at $4.73 a gallon!) and got what I thought would be a cheap automated car wash (it was $10!). I got on the road at almost exactly noon and was off on my big adventure.

My route included California Highway 18 north (through Apple Valley) to Interstate 15 North (briefly) to Highway 58 West (the starting point is near Hinkley, CA — made famous/infamous in the movie “Erin Brokovich”) and ending on Highway 99.  My stopping point was the Vagabond Inn (North Bakersfield).

The photos below document this pleasant and, thankfully, uneventful road trip.

Fueling up in Big Bear Lake ($4.73 a Gallon!)

Leaving Big Bear Lake on Highway 18

Some kind of processing plant at the base of the mountain

Decisions, Decisions…

Apple Valley (where are the apples?)

Getting onto Interstate 15 (it is the overpass in the distance)

Interstate 15 North

Highway 58 to Bakersfield

Highway 58 Near Hinkley, CA (made famous/infamous in “Erin Brokovich”)

Mojave (home of SpaceShipOne)

Leaving Mojave and heading up the mountain on Highway 58 West

Nearing Tehachapi

Nearing Bakersfield

Smoky skies from various wildfires (see YouTube video below)

The video below was shot during the last leg of my journey. The overcast/discolored sky that was the result of soot and smoke in the air from the Piute Fire (near Lake Isabella, CA) and, possibly, the Gap Fire that was burning in Goleta, CA (near Santa Barbara).

The music in the background is the theme from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”  For the music buffs out there it is called “Music For A Found Harmonium” and can be found on the album “Irish Times” by Patrick Street.

It seems to fit the video quite well. Don’t you agree, Napoleon? Gosh!

The “Bond” in all its glory – actually for $40 it is a great value

Scenic view of Highway 99 South from my luxury suite at the Vagabond Inn

All things considered it was a (thankfully) uneventful, yet interesting adventure. There was something unique and invigorating about seeing parts of California many people overlook.

The following day I filmed this video as I drove to the DeVry University Center at 3000 Ming Avenue.

The video below is of me approaching the DeVry campus. The music that accompanies this clip is called “Say Hello” off of the “Centuries Before Love and War” album of the group “Stars of Track and Field.” Notably, I went to elementary school and grew up with one of the members of the band: Dan Orvik.

Despite the often odd adventures I have driving to and from DeVry, one thing is for certain: my commute is never boring!

k_f2rqkjlbAt approximately 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 28, as I was attempting to make my way north on Interstate 5 from Santa Clarita, CA to Bakersfield, CA — where the final exam was taking place for one of the three classes I was teaching — I encountered a massive backup on Interstate 5 North in Castaic.

Apparently a tractor-trailer had broken down a few miles up the pass and the entire freeway was closed to northbound traffic. So much for progress!

How far up the pass the truck was I was unsure, just as I still can’t entirely understand how one broken down truck can completely close down a freeway. There was no way I was getting to Bakersfield on the 5 north anytime soon.

I was able to get off just in time to avoid getting stuck in it, but was amazed at how far the backup extended: basically from the Hasley Canyon overpass presumably all the way up the 5 to where the truck was actually stopped.

As you can tell by the short clip I filmed (below), the backup I passed while driving on the southbound freeway was easily three to five miles, but the entire backup was most likely closer to ten if you were able to follow it up all the way to where the traffic was first stopped.

Fortunately the final I was giving was one that did not require my immediate presence (students had been given it via PDF the week before and asked to complete various tasks in Microsoft Word and Excel — some students had even finished it before the last class).

Nevertheless I was determined to get to Bakersfield – I felt it was my duty and obligation. Plus it was the last night of class and I wanted to see my students and celebrate their achievement.

So, I continued on the 5 south, merged onto the 14 north, drove all the way to Mojave where I intersected with and merged onto Highway 58 West and drove all the way to Bakersfield. The entire effort took me roughly 2.5 hours, but I finally made it to class by roughly 7:15 p.m. that night (class began at 6:00 p.m.) and assisted my students!