Terry Cobb, associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, traces his roots back to his undergraduate days as a political activist. Today, he's a scholar whose work emphasizes a different sort of politics—the inner workings of organizations and how justice is pursued within them. Cobb's greatest passion, however, is his work in the classroom, and the university has recognized his innovative teaching with the 2013 William E. Wine Award and the 2012 Edward S. Diggs Teaching Scholars Award. We sat down with Cobb to discuss organizational justice and his unique approach to pedagogy.
In my younger years, I was a political activist. When I went on to graduate studies, I was able to expand on that. I became interested in my current research in organizational justice because, to me, organizational politics should be aimed at organizational justice: workers getting their fair share, their fair say, and their fair treatment. So my studies are not dispassionate; they're not just variables and data points.
In my undergraduate days, I was a psychology major. I went on to get a master's in urban planning at Wayne State because the program emphasized the social-political sides of urban planning. I got married, found that political activists don't get paid a lot, and decided to go on for my Ph.D. I went to the University of California at Irvine and studied under Lyman Porter, a well-published organizational psychologist who was focusing on organizational politics at the time. It was a perfect match for me and one of the best decisions I ever made.
I create student project teams to be very much like teams in the real world. Very basic to that real-world experience is the ability for teams to hold one another accountable for their performance: to reward or discipline—even fire—team members. I've found that, in the majority of cases, students want work that challenges them, as long as they see it as meaningful. It's my job to facilitate that.
I want my students to develop what I call "well-earned self-efficacy"—the kind you get by being in the ring, by picking yourself up after failure, and coming back to succeed. I want my students to know they can take on these kinds of challenges and "learn on the run" to succeed at [the tasks] in the real world and lead others to do so as well.
With a rippling splash, a squid fisherman throws a cast net into shallow waters.
In a community meeting room where health assessments are being conducted, a purring white cat rubs against graduate students and guests.
In a huge fresh foods market, a woman in a colorful head scarf watches, smiling, as Americans taste mangosteen and rambutans, fruits exotic to them, for the first time.
These were among the sights Kathy Hosig witnessed during five days in Malaysia. The associate professor of population health sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine was one of eight faculty members, selected based on their research interests and the quality of their projects, to participate in the annual International Faculty Development Program. Sponsored by Virginia Tech's Outreach and International Affairs (OIA), the program is funded by OIA and the Provost's Office.
The group met in Singapore before they fanned out to their countries of interest. In Malaysia, Hosig met researchers from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and the University Sains Malaysia in Kota Bharu who work with chronic-disease sufferers "very similar to the marginalized populations I work with in the U.S.," she said.
A public health educator, Hosig found kindred spirits in her counterparts. Like her, they try to influence behavior in a nation beset with heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions made worse by obesity and fast foods. The payoffs were many for the academian.
"I learned of ways we could collaborate with the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Malaya," Hosig said of the trip, which took place immediately after the spring semester. "Plus, they have student practicum possibilities for our students. The opportunities are amazing."
"This international program transforms lives and professional careers," said Guru Ghosh, OIA vice president. "The experience raises the profile of our faculty members across the university. The program gives them access to high-level researchers and professionals across the world. It broadens the scope of their work beyond the geographic boundaries of one nation."
In its eighth year, the program ventured into Southeast Asia for the first time. Ghosh has designated Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands as the springboard for next year's trip.
Joe Merola sees chemistry everywhere—every water droplet, every leaf bursting with chemical reactions. For his inspiring teaching of an often difficult-to-grasp subject, Merola, professor of chemistry in the College of Science, received the university's 2013 William E. Wine Award. We sat down with Merola to discuss what makes good chemistry in the classroom—and in the world around us.
Everyday life is chemistry. … Most people don't know that. One example is washing your hands. [From] what goes into making the soap to the act of washing your hands—even the grease on your clothes—those are chemical reactions. The sad part of that is that people view chemicals as bad things. Products are labeled "chemical free." But water is a chemical. We need a better understanding of what chemistry is. The trees around us do wonderful things with chemicals. ... They are amazing things for giving us clean air and food to eat. That is chemistry.
I can't actually think of a time when I wasn't interested in chemistry. One of my earliest requests for a Christmas present was a chemistry set. As an 8-year-old, just the fact that you could mix two colorless things together and make blue, that you could mix two liquids to form a solid, was fascinating to me.
There's such a great tendency to pack so many bells and whistles into a PowerPoint presentation. So fairly early on, I started adopting these tablet PCs that allow me to write on the screen. That slows things down. And over the last several years, I've adopted wireless projection capabilities so I'm not stuck at the podium. That seems trivial, but the fact that I could walk around to break down that physical space, the students like that. Ultimately, what I think is important in teaching is [providing] individual attention as much as we possibly can. I think [our students] deserve nothing less.
Part of it has to do with [the fact that] I have an extremely quirky sense of humor. I'm a big '60s and '70s movie trivia buff. I throw in all of that quirkiness, along with the science. ... It breaks down the formal barriers between "The Professor" and "The Student." We can talk about chemistry and that's really the very serious part, and when we talk about that other stuff, it makes the communication easier. By showing students that you can have fun, that science isn't drudgery—yes, you can be a nerd but you can also have a good time—that makes it easier for the students to see themselves in this career path.
When you think back to chemistry classrooms, we try to make things come alive. And there's a certain amount of a pyrotechnic gene that goes along with being a chemist. And you worry that that's just entertainment, but on the other hand, the student sees that what looks like nothing on paper is really amazing. In "Harry Potter," they don't just read spells, they do them. Just like that, in chemistry, we try to make things come alive.
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