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The career paths of five faculty members
converge on the campus of UMD
A resume, a curriculum vitae and a blurb on the inside of a book
cover might look like a detailed blueprint for a carefully planned
professional life. But in reality, many UMD professors have pursued
academic careers that more closely resemble the map of an explorer,
with unexpected twists, turns, obstacles and opportunities.
This look at the career paths of five UMD faculty members shows the
impact of seemingly insignificant events a brief conversation
in a hallway, a colleague on sabbatical which can have unexpected,
and lasting, consequences.
Helen Mongan Rallis
isnt even a word ...Katie Couric called me skeazy on national
TV. Theres nothing else to live for.
Professor Tom Isbell knows all about plans. After graduating with
a master of fine arts from the Yale Drama School, he contracted with
an agent and they came up with a plan: Tom was looking for film and
theater work but he wasnt interested in television. Two weeks
after moving to New York City, he landed a general interview with
producer Bert Metcalf. Isbell remembers, When I got home, there
was a call from the agent with an offer for a TV show. When I reminded
him of our game plan, he told me how much money they were offering
and I said, Forget the game plan. Ill take it!
Isbell grew up near Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and
then went to the University of Illinois where he earned his BFA. He
began his acting career with the solid academic credentials of a graduate
degree from Yale. It was no surprise that his first TV role led to
others and eventually took him to Los Angeles.
Isbell laughs when he recalls a highlight from that chapter of his
life. Isbell played a sexual harasser on the show Sisters. One morning
his own sister called from Chicago and told him to turn on the Today
Show. Katie Couric was interviewing a woman who had written
a book on sexual harassment. When they showed a clip from my show,
Katie Couric said, I saw that episode and that guy was so skeazy
he made my skin crawl. Isbell said, skeasy isnt
even a word. I thought, Ive been to the mountaintop. Katie Couric
called me skeazy on national TV. Theres nothing
else to live for.
The next career move had little to do with talent or opportunity
and a lot to do with seismology. Isbell decided that the 1994 North
Ridge earthquake was his last one. While in Los Angeles, Isbell taught
extension classes at UCLA, and found the experience more satisfying
than TV work. Teaching was always something he wanted to do. My
family was a university family, and I grew up near the University
of Illinois. The earthquake provided the impetus I needed to change
careers, and I sent my application to UMD three days later.
He said, I looked for a school with an interesting program and
four seasons that was far away from tectonic plates. Flying
into Duluth for his interview in April Isbells
plane was delayed until early in the morning because of a snowstorm.
It was fun to see the snow, he says. He started that fall.
And, he says, it has been a very fun chapter.
UMD has provided Isbell with a brand new series of adventures and
he is appreciative of the freedom and support he has found. He currently
serves as vice chair for the regional playwrighting division of the
Kennedy Centers American College Theater Festival. Next year
he will become chair. What that means, he says, is that he gets to
travel around and see what other drama departments are doing.
Its tempting for me to go to a bigger school with a bigger
theatre program, but it would be a dangerous step because theres
no guarantee that Id be allowed the kind of creative freedom
Im allowed here, he said.
While acting and teaching in L.A., Isbell also found time to explore
life as a playwright, producing several one-man plays based on the
life and times of real people including John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Walt
Whitman and Isbells father. That talent created an incredible
opportunity for the theatre department when Isbell applied for a grant
that would allow him to write and produce an original play at UMD.
The result of the grant was Dear Finder, a drama about the Holocaust
based on documentation recovered after the end of the war. It
was a real risk, Isbell says. The script reads like an
encyclopedia, but the college told me to go for it, so we kept working.
In 1997, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to consult with historians
at the Holocaust Museum. Gary Gordon, a member of Duluths Temple
Israel, guided the writers and actors, who also attended Friday night
services. Seven student writers pooled their findings, meeting every
night for five weeks in the summer.
We ended up with a four-hour script. I started trimming. The
faculty got behind it, and we put it on the schedule for the fall
of 98. There was no turning back. Isbell cautioned actors
that the material was tedious and dark. He told them if the audience
seemed offended or walked out, they should just keep going.
The audience wasnt offended; they embraced it. Theres
nothing more satisfying in the world, Isbell says, than
an audience that understands what youre going for. Dear
Finder played to sold-out audiences and was subsequently nominated
for inclusion in the American College Theater Festival (ACTF) at the
Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Isbell also directed The Movie Game, the UMD play that was included
in the ACTF at the Kennedy Center this April.
Isbell is pleased to be able to launch students on their own journeys.
And the university is pleased as well. This spring, Isbell received
the 2002 Horace T. Morse Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.
We encourage student participation in everything, he said.
Because were not a graduate program, students get a wide
range of experience as actors, designers and now writers. Since 1985,
weve taken five shows to Washington for the American College
Theater Festival thats amazing.
the 250 schools of engineering in America,
I was only the second woman to become dean. Even now, there are fewer
Sabra Andersons long professional journey with UMD has been
filled with unplanned detours. She looks back and smiles at the list
of all the things she said she would never do.
Well, I never wanted to be an administrator. I came to UMD in
1969 to teach mathematics because that is what I love to do.
In 1977, the new Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences recruited
Anderson to serve as associate dean. I said no, she remembers
distinctly. Then he asked again. I agreed under one condition:
I would advise him as long as my administrative position was at zero
Apparently the deans understanding of percentages differed from
that of his star mathematics professor. He left to do research in
the Middle East and was incommunicado on Andersons first day
when a faculty member (who was medically incapacitated) confronted
a local sheriff with a shotgun. The new associate dean was called
in to handle the situation and get help for the faculty member. That
was a lot of administration for the first day on the job, Anderson
says. Over time, of course, it grew to more than zero percent.
Even though I came to enjoy it, I eventually left the position and
went back to teaching math and later became chair of the department.
While Anderson was teaching math and directing UMDs Study in
England program, the College of Letters and Sciences was reorganized;
science and engineering became its own school. And the new school
needed a new associate dean. I agreed under one condition,
she says, recounting a now familiar strategy. I knew very little
about engineering so I asked to have nothing to do with it. When I
returned from England, what was my first project? Coordinating the
accreditation process for the engineering department! So I learned
a lot about engineering and we got accredited.
When the dean of the College of Science and Engineering retired, the
search for his replacement began at Andersons door, a door she
closed quickly and firmly. I did not apply, she says.
But when the first search ended with no candidate, I applied
the second time around, got the job and spent 10 years at it. And
it turned out that I loved it.
Anderson quickly discovered she had opened a new door that few women
had passed through. Of the approximately 250 schools of engineering
in America, she says, I was only the second woman to become
dean. Even now, there are fewer than 10.
As Anderson struggled to become accepted by her peers, her husband
Dennis, history department chair at the College of St. Scholastica,
also confronted stereotypes. At the annual meetings, there are
always special activities for wives, Anderson explains. One
year when we checked in, they handed Dennis a great big flowered
brooch. I tried to get him to wear it to the banquet but he was too
polite. He continued to attend conferences with me and the group of
spouses sort of adopted him as their mascot.
Anderson was accepted by her colleagues at UMD and by engineers in
the Duluth community. And shes pleased with the growth and development
of the new school under her direction.
Computer science grew and expanded. The electrical and computer engineering
program was established. And close partnerships have formed between
the College of Science and Engineering, the Large Lakes Observatory,
the Natural Resources Research Institute and the School of Medicine.
Look at the Duluth businesses that have developed partly because
of UMD, for instance, Cirrus Design. I remember when the Klapmeier
brothers came to Duluth looking to see if this would be a good place
to build their first plant. They wanted to locate in a community with
an engineering college. Our industrial engineers worked with them
on their first aircraft designs and theyre still collaborating.
Her position as dean posed one other challenge she was unprepared
for. Youd think Id know better by this time, but
when I was appointed, I told Chancellor Ianni that I wouldnt
do any fundraising. He assured me that deans were not expected to
help raise funds. Since then, development has become part of everyones
responsibility. We hired a development officer to help and I discovered
it was fun. I learned there are people who want to give money away
and you just have to convince them to give it to you.
By her own admission, 10 years was enough time away from a job she
loved and she returned to the Study in England Program. I had
been separated from close connections with students for about 15 years,
Anderson says. In England, we spend a lot of time with the students.
Its wonderful to take 50 students, most of whom have no travel
experience, and spend a year abroad with them. Their perspective on
the world changes. And I changed, too.
At each fork in the path, Anderson asked for a promise. And each time,
the promise disappeared after the job began. But each time,
she admits, I discovered something new. I like administration.
I like engineering. I like fundraising. I just had never done it before.
people who hate each other need to talk.
Im interested in understanding the discussions and the challenges
for foreign ministers, ambassadors and diplomats....
In the field of diplomacy, Professor Paul Sharp had done it all before
or at least a lot of it. Throughout his career in international
studies, he quietly researched and published books and articles on
diplomacy. At UMD, he directed the Royal D. Alworth Jr. Institute
for International Studies, a 14-year-old public policy program administered
through UMDs College of Liberal Arts.
Then, as the events of September 11 unfolded, everyone searched for
answers. Why did our international relationships yield such catastrophic
results? How can we resolve the conflict? Sharp was prepared to guide
Even though events were moving quickly, we very deliberately
tried to help people make sense out of the crisis. Those of us who
study diplomacy would make poor journalists. Rather than coming up
with quick explanations, we take an historical viewpoint to give distance
to the situation.
Sharps career has included some geographical distance as well.
A native of Great Britain, he notes, I have lived almost half
my life in North America, which was an unanticipated development.
I dont belong on either continent, really. I am perpetually
an outsider. It lends a different perspective and an interesting vision,
but you pay a price.
Sharp met his wife, Janny Walker, when she was a student with the
Carleton College year-abroad program. After they married, Sharp applied
for entrance into
British Ph.D. programs but established himself at Queens University
in Kingston, Ontario, instead.
By 1984, Sharp found that he was finally able to stop battling for
grants after receiving a lectures
hip from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Thats
when I knew it was real, he says. I knew I had a chance
at making a living at what I was interested in. Shortly thereafter,
he and Janny were both able to find positions at Minnesota colleges.
While teaching at St. Olaf and then UMD, Sharp published books and
articles addressing foreign policy in Ireland, Great Britain and Russia.
At UMD, Sharp found the resources and encouragement he needed to continue
his research. His most memorable project was a book entitled, Thatchers
Diplomacy: The Revival of British Foreign Policy, published by Macmillan
in the U.K and the U.S. It sold out in hardcover and was released
in paperback a sign of success, especially for an academic
work. In it, Sharp argued that Thatcher was one of the few leaders
of her time tackling the big issues in international relations. She
was a fascinating study, Sharp says. Most people know
her from the Cold War and for her partnership with Ronald Reagan,
but I think that her policy toward the European Union is far more
interesting. She was asking the right questions related to reconciling
national independence with membership in this emerging organization.
Then at a conference, Sharps work made a transformation. He
met four people two from Great Britain, one from Israel and
one from the United States who were enthusiastic about
the work I was doing, Sharp says. They offered advice
about how to shape it and who to consult. They even pushed me to set
up a diplomatic studies section of the International Studies Association
in the United States. Sharp was named section chair and now
sits on the governing council for the association.
He still seems amazed by this turn of events. I was sort of
plucked from obscurity. Sharps work now examines the theory
of diplomacy, drawing upon all of his experiences related to political
and cultural diplomacy. Even people who hate each other need
to talk. Im interested in understanding the discussions and
the challenges involved for foreign ministers, ambassadors and diplomats.
These are the people who actually communicate with each other.
Besides teaching undergrads, Sharp employs his interest and passion
for diplomacy to bring world events to the shores of Lake Superior.
He directs the Alworth Institute, which sponsors seminars, conferences
and round table discussions of policies with international consequences.
Programs presented by the institute have had a strong following since
it was established in 1987.
When the United States was thrust into the international spotlight
this fall, Sharp and his colleagues were prepared to share their expertise
within an established structure designed for intelligent public discourse.
They responded immediately by scheduling a series of noon presentations
on campus and a large group presentation on understanding Islam at
a local church. That session drew an audience of more than 300 people.
These presentations, like my classes, do not advocate for any
one position, Sharp says, As a professor, I introduce
the students to arguments. Similarly, the Institute provides a platform
for discussion. But the Institute takes no position itself, other
than advancing its mission to increase international understanding.
South African classrooms...Rallis observed firsthand how profoundly
teachers could affect young minds by what and how they taught, and
bythe ways in which they treated their students.
Helen Mongan Rallis, associate professor and head of the education
department, has journeyed the farthest of the five to arrive at UMD.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and educated at Rhodes University
and the University of the Witswatersrand, Rallis taught for three
years at a white school. It was in this South African classroom that
Rallis observed firsthand how profoundly teachers could affect young
minds by what and how they taught, and by the ways in which they treated
their students. The nature of the learning experience not only
affects what students remember, she says, it affects how
they feel about themselves.
From an early age she knew apartheid and racism were wrong. Her family
employed a black woman, Maria Khumalo, and Rallis couldnt make
the connection between the racism she saw on the streets and her love
for a woman who was part of her family. She was like a mother
to me. We held long discussions in the kitchen and those conversations
are still with me today. As a geography and physical education
teacher, Rallis refused to join the South African Teachers Council
for Whites because of its apartheid stance and its policy which
refused to allow non-Christian religious viewpoints. I knew I would
ultimately have to join the council, give up teaching or leave the
country, she says.
She supported the anti-apartheid movement but couldnt condone
the increasing violence in South Africa and realized that she could
contribute more by leaving than by staying.
Her sojourn to the U.S. began by visiting her brother, who was attending
the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where she eventually enrolled
to work on her masters in geography. Her thesis dealt with the effect
of apartheid on squatters in South Africa. She then was accepted at
Penn State where she worked on her doctorate in curriculum instruction.
On every step of her way, Rallis has acted from honesty and integrity.
That is easier to do when one is in the mainstream of a population,
but infinitely more difficult when one is from a minority population.
I couldnt go back to South Africa; my calling was here
in the United States but I couldnt get a green card. Other
people in her situation young, educated, and personable
simply married an American. And so, even as an affirmed lesbian, Rallis
married as well, into a very happy, albeit unconventional marriage.
She married a good friend, the gay friend of her brother, and a man
that she says, I loved, and still love, very much.
But life took its turns and after she completed her Ph.D., she developed
a strong relationship with a woman. Rallis and her husband divorced.
And that brought her to UMD where she fell in love with the
program and fell in love with the people in the department and their
spirit of collaboration. One person who was especially influential
to her as a mentor, role model and friend was, then head
of the education department, Terrie Shannon.
Rallis says, The department lets me know that I am valuable
because of who I am, not in spite of who I am. I grew up seeing oppression.
I come from a historically oppressed minority and I am a foreigner
in this country. I bring a perspective that helps us teach students
to be good teachers, not just for mainstream children, but for children
from all kinds of situations. She says the gay and lesbian university
students are especially encouraged to have a role model, who
is an out lesbian in a leadership position.
Rallis, who has developed a specialty in teaching technology in the
classroom, has been on the front line of bringing technology to all
parts of UMD. For that work and for her strength in the college classroom,
she received the 1995 Horace T. Morse Alumni Award for Distinguished
Now, because of all of these positive experiences at UMD, she is excited
about the opportunity to give something back to the university. She
has taken the department head position. One of her first challenges
was to hire nine new tenure-track faculty into the program. It
is exhausting and exhilarating and I couldnt have done it without
Assistant Department Head Bruce Munson. The Education Department
has grown to 1,250 students in Early Childhood, Elementary, Secondary,
Special Education and Graduate Education programs. She says, We
needed new faculty and we need them right away, and my department,
with its incredible spirit of collaboration, counted on me to help
make it happen.
it was not uncommon for employees to work for one company for life...
How loyal will this new generation of employees be,
especially as they experience sudden,massive layoffs...?
Professor Jon Pierce began working on his Ph.D. in 1972, working
out of an oak-trimmed Bascom Hall office at the University of Wisconsin,
Madison. It was from this office, gazing out at the waters of Lake
Mendota, that the ideas for his lifes work first began to take
When Pierce enrolled in the doctoral program in organizational behavior,
the graduate school faculty that he chose to study under were involved
in research about complex organizations and their individual effects.
Madison was a powerhouse in this particular field at this particular
time. It was, he says, like finding a pot of gold at the beginning
of the rainbow.
Two groups of outstanding scholars a group of organizational
sociologists and a group of organizational psychologists just
happened to be in Wisconsin at the same time I was there. It was an
intellectually rich environment. And there werent many doctoral
students, so those of us who were there got a lot of close attention
Pierce recognized his good fortune and took full advantage of the
mentorship available. While he was still in graduate school, he published
articles in several top journals in the field, including the Academy
of Management Review. I left with a doctorate from a very strong
program and a friendship with an advisor who became a colleague
and a real cheerleader throughout my entire career.
While studying the structure of complex organizations, Pierce was
intrigued by the relationship between the individual and the organization.
That interest in organizational psychology has defined my research
agenda. I wanted to explore the connection that attaches individuals
One recent concern that has caught up with Pierces research
is the issue of corporate loyalty. In my generation and certainly
my parents generation, it was not uncommon for employees to
work for one company for life. They became very loyal, very dedicated
organizational members. There are a lot of question marks now as to
how loyal this new generation of employees will be, especially as
they experience sudden, massive layoffs and organizations without
heart and soul. By the time some of our UMD graduates
are out of school for 10 years, theyre on their third or fourth
Pierce was hired at UMD right out of graduate school and continued
to publish while he taught. His very linear academic career path took
an interesting leap when he co-authored an article addressing the
concept of employee ownership. In the article, Pierce noted briefly
that physical ownership is not as critical as psychological ownership.
In other words, he explains, owning something doesnt
necessarily mean youll take care of it.
The editor was intrigued by the concept and recommended to Pierce
that he write an entire article on that specific topic. This suggestion
presented Pierce with a new quest that combined his favorite disciplines:
psychology and organizational behavior.
In search of the origins of psychological ownership, Pierce traveled
to the University of Waikato, in New Zealand, as a visiting scholar
in the psychology department, spending several months researching
literature addressing child development and animal territorial behavior.
He started his new adventure with a new question: Is there a human
tendency toward possessiveness or is it a learned behavior? He is
now busy designing surveys and gathering data, methodical work that
demands commitment and perseverance.
Teaching for the School of Business and Economics at UMD, he says,
enables him to pursue research that is both compelling and valuable.
I have been intimately interested in each of the major research
agendas Ive had through the years and Ive been able to
stick with it until I decide I want to explore something else. This
career has afforded me incredible freedom.
As we see from these five journeys, UMD students are gaining powerful
lessons in life-long learning from some real pros who have shaped
careers and lives by remaining open to choices and risks.
Molly Stein and Cheryl Reitan
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