Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professor: Cheryl Getz

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cheryl Getz, EdD (‘98 USD), is an associate professor and the director of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ (SOLES) Leadership Minor in the Department of Leadership Studies. Her research interests include action research methods to enhance leadership teaching, exploration of college student social identity and strengthening cultural competence through international travel and exchanges. Getz, recently named a faculty champion by the USD Changemaker Hub, answered some questions from Inside USD.

How do you take USD’s designation as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus and incorporate the Changemaker concept into your work at SOLES?

So many of our students and faculty are engaged in changemaking efforts already, and sometimes it is simply a matter of making connections more explicit. For example, in the undergraduate leadership minor I direct, I work with instructors to help them identify ways to better integrate change efforts into their classes. We start with them as first-year students thinking about what changemaking is, and then in their senior capstone course they work with the class as a whole to create a change project. In January I taught a graduate global study course in Sri Lanka, where we studied Sarvodaya, the largest people’s movement in the country. There is much to learn about leadership from them, and their Shramadana philosophy — the mutual sharing of time, labor and resources for the good of all, where awakening starts with the individual and emanates to one’s family, community, country, and as a global awareness of the other. Students who take the course then reflect on ways they can use what they learn to make an impact on their own family, cultural group, society, etc.

How has your background as a college basketball athlete and coach relate or helped with what you do at SOLES?

My work as an athlete and then as a basketball coach has been instrumental in my development as a higher education professional and leadership studies scholar. First, I coached because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people, as others had done for me, and that sense of responsibility to mentor and support the personal and professional development of students, and early career professionals remains the same now. Second, I learned that nothing could ever be accomplished without building positive relationships, bridging differences, and understanding group dynamics. We might not all agree, but we can listen to each other and try to find common ground. Paying attention to how my actions and behaviors impact the team/group has helped me in my teaching, serving on committees and my work as an administrator.

What are some useful techniques to develop effective leadership?

It starts with self-awareness. Leadership requires that you effectively engage with others. However, that can be very difficult if you don’t understand how you are perceived by others, or how to work with people who are the same and also different from you. We are living in challenging and complex times, and the days of simple and rational resolutions to difficult problems are long gone. Effective leadership now requires being more mindful and developing an ability to work with ambiguity, ongoing change and, frequently, a global perspective. All too often, people view an effective leader as one who responds quickly and with certainty, but this does not allow for creative possibilities to emerge, or for a more collective response that might have a more lasting impact. Many executive leadership programs across the U.S. and abroad include courses on group dynamics, innovation, creativity and mindfulness training.

What impresses you about your SOLES students?

Our students are highly motivated. My experience with our undergraduate and graduate students is that they are always looking for ways to get involved, to impact change, and develop themselves and others. One of the things I do when working with our students is to help them slow down, reflect on their life now while they can, so when the time comes they can make an informed decision about their next step in life. I ask them to reflect on the changes they would like to see in themselves and others. As a liberal arts institution, I feel this is part of our responsibility, and I see it as my own calling, to talk with students about their vocation versus pushing them into a career or job because they might make a lot of money or it looks good on their resume. Our students are so responsive about engaging in this way. They are great ambassadors for our programs, too, because when they graduate and go into the workforce they’re excited about what they’ve learned at USD, and equally excited about the work they are doing with and for others.

Name a leader you look up to and an example for others to study?

I’ve always admired Eleanor Roosevelt, who used her position to influence and impact women, poor people and African Americans. She was the first wife of a president to hold an all-female press conference, and despite the rampant segregation of Blacks and whites at the time, she invited Marian Anderson, the first African American to be invited in this capacity, to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in 1934. She didn’t shy away from controversy and I think she understood how she, as just one person with influence could make a big impact on our society. She lived her values, was brave, persistent, and had a sense of humility, all qualities I admire. Another one is Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, who is the founder of the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka. I’ve known him for more than four years and each time I’m with him I learn more about him and his leadership. In the spirit of Gandhi he’s led this movement for almost 50 years. Despite setbacks, attacks on him, his character, and on his family, he does not change his message of loving kindness toward everyone, including ones enemies. He has endured much during the many years of civil unrest in his country, yet has maintained his focus on peace making and village development in Sri Lanka. He has led meditations for literally millions of people over the years, spreading a message of love and compassion for all and irrespective of ethnicity, religion, or culture. His is an incredible story, and yet he is hardly known outside of Sri Lanka, despite being awarded the 1996 Gandhi Peace Prize.

Do you have any research projects in the works for 2014?

I’m very interested in adult learning and the pedagogy of leadership; how one learns about leadership and how we teach leadership. I have a couple projects in the works. One is a graduate course that’s a seminar designed around an international leadership conference. I am working with one of our PhD students to understand how students make meaning of their learning as they develop as leadership scholars and practitioners. The other is connected to the Sri Lanka course. My colleagues and I want to understand how courses like this assist in leadership development. It is interesting that only women have taken the course so far, so we are trying to understand this. We are also looking at how a community of women in this type of learning environment engages (or not) in ways to help them develop their leadership skills. We are considering ways in which they work in community with others, and what mindful action means for each of them after the course’s conclusion.

When you get away from work what do you like to do? Any hobbies?

I’m glad you asked because I am trying very hard to make time to do things away from work. I like to travel, and have enjoyed the various global courses I have taught over the years in Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Qatar. My husband and I like to spend time in Hawaii when we can to just slow down. I love the water and snorkeling, and Maui is especially great for water activities. I also like to stay active, so I try to exercise every day. I like to ride my bike in the canyons or just around town. I really like to paint and draw, too, and I’ve taken a few courses to help me learn about specific techniques. I hope to do more of this so I can continue tapping into my own creative capacity!

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