Social Context (i.e., Autobiography)
The following narrative provides a brief autobiographical summary of my academic journey. Therefore, if what you are interested in is information about my substantive research or teaching interests you can further explore the homepage of this website or my CV. However, if you would like a bit of a summary in the style of David Copperfield, in that case, here you go:
During high school I had no intention of going to college, ever. As a result, I never took the ACT or SAT. I was preoccupied with my national Taekwondo competitions (the preoccupation did pay off, I was invited to Colorado Springs for an Olympic team tryout). Based on my constant athletic training, it is safe to say, that in high school, I did not take my academic work seriously! After some years away from my secondary education I decided to give university a try.
Following high school, I worked for and traveled with Continental Airlines for a few years. As a result, I began my undergraduate education later than most. For a long time, I considered a career with the airline industry because I love to travel and experience new cultures and geographies. The University I chose to attend was based on two things; first, Weber State University had a Delta Airlines call-center staffed by students (this meant I could go to college and continue working for the airline industry, which I did until the week after 9/11, when our call center was closed) and second, Weber State is a prominent institution for professional criminal justice, which I was interested in at the time.
When I began my studies at Weber State University I began as an open enrollment student, with no ACT or SAT scores. During my first semester, I committed to applying the same work ethic I had dedicated to my martial arts training, but what really made the difference during my first semester was the inspiration and encouragement I received from one of my general education professors. To keep a long story short, across the years I spent at Weber State I had many experiences that contributed to my success and eventual pursuit of a doctoral degree. At the center of most of those experiences were my professors, and in particular four professors, including the professor from my first semester of university study. Those professors are now my friends, and I still remain in close contact with each one of them to this day.
When I began my undergraduate education I had thoughts of federal criminal justice service but I soon realized that I wasn't really interested in "policing people," I was much more interested in the question of why people do the things that they do. This lead to a double major in Criminal Justice and Sociology.
Following the completion of my undergraduate degree, I worked for Delta Airlines for two years at the Salt Lake City hub. While I enjoyed the travel immensely, I soon became restless and unsatisfied, my time spent in university study had awoken an insatiable intellectual curiosity. During this same two year period a former Professor was urging me to prepare my undergraduate honors thesis for presentation at a regional academic conference. I agreed to do the presentation and as I returned to sociological theory I realized the restlessness and lack of satisfaction in my life was coming from not having an outlet to pursue my academic interests. Preparations for the conference took place at the end of 2005 and during that same period I very quickly arranged my tests and necessary materials to apply for graduate school.
The handful of schools I applied to were largely based on the encouragements of my Purdue University alumni professor who was nurturing my academic predilections. If you are reading this you will not be surprised that the influence of my undergraduate mentor ultimately lead to where I "decided" to go (quotations for my friends doing work on choice). I also noted that Purdue had a strong reputation for the Sociology of Religion. The Sociology of Religion was a topic I was very interested in at that time. In fact, before completing my B.S. I had engaged in numerous discussions with another mentor and then chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Weber State, Dr. L. Kay Gillespie. Dr. Gillespie often encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree, one of the possible areas of research we discussed was the sociology of religion. When I applied to graduate school I intended to pursue a graduate degree in the Sociology of Religion; among other university programs, Purdue's Sociology of Religion group, working with Dr. Jim Davidson and Dr. Fenggang Yang accepted my application.
After my first year of graduate study, I realized my interest in the study of religion stemmed from the homogeneous culture that my upbringing was rooted in rather than an interest in the topic generally. I still find religion an interesting topic of study, but the question that drives me digs deeper into the social psychological processes making a person who they are; including how deviant behavior connects to the question, who am I? Religion is certainly one of the factors influencing the development of self, and given my upbringing, religion with its socializing power had colored my initial substantive interests regarding the development of the self.
Social Psychological Criminology
The familiar question we all grapple, "who am I?" gained a new life as I read about the nature of the self from authors like Weber, James, Cooley, Mead, Blumer, Kuhn, and Stryker. Beginning with Weber’s ideas regarding the rationality of human behavior and Verstehen I gained new insight into how we understand and interact with one another. My own life questions surrounding who I am were underscored by the idea of Verstehen—a sympathetic understanding of others as reflected through the self. From these readings it became clear to me that the macro structural contributions of sociology are vital to understanding the micro self.
Upon reading George Herbert Mead’s Mind, Self, and Society I knew I had found the substantive focus for my academic interests. Mead’s conception of reflexivity as a cognitive dialogue between the “I” and “me” posits the self emerges based on symbolic interaction (SI). The self is a product of being both the subject and the object of cognitive self reflection. This idea was nothing short of a revelation for me.
Combining the theoretical framework of SI with my interests in criminology I now had a direction for my substantive area of interest and the obvious choice to work on this scholarship at Purdue was a combined mentor-ship with Viktor Gecas and Bert Useem. Purdue is also fortunate to share a relationship with Indiana University; during the fall of 2008, via the traveling scholar program, I sought out and had the opportunity to take Dr. Sheldon Stryker’s course on self and identity theory at IU, Bloomington. After the class Shel agreed to take a place on my dissertation committee. I was very fortunate to have amazingly supportive and constructively critical scholars to guide my journey through graduate school.
My dream as an undergraduate student was to become a professor at Weber, but in graduate school I learned that returning to your alma mater is increasing difficult, almost impossible. Alternatively, our family set it's sights on a few schools in the Pacific Northwest; then, during the same hiring cycle when I received a job offer at Weber, I was invited to interview at the schools in the Pacific Northwest we had identified. It caused a moment of contemplation, but ultimately the decision to return to Weber was an easy one! It is my great privilege and honor to be a part of the campus that gave me, an open enrollment student, the opportunity and motivation to excel in academia. Bleed Purple Forever!
In a final sense, my greatest desire is to do good work that furthers the body of knowledge in Criminology, Social Psychology, Sociology, and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. By doing good works, I hope to honor those who have supported me as I have discovered who I am: a social psychological criminologist strongly committed to the social justice issues permeating all of this work, both inside and outside of the classroom.