How my journey led to Wilmington University.
Life is rife with opportunities. If we listen hard enough to the voices around us, we can learn more about ourselves. We can change. Being able to recognize that you’re not the person you want to be and knowing you can be better is powerful, and it’s a realization that can move a person to action.
In January of 2016, I took stock of my assets and initiatives with plans to downsize — then right-size — my life. I wasn’t as cognitively, physically or emotionally agile as I wanted to be, nor was I satisfied with my reactions to adverse situations. I had some internal struggles, wondering if I was doing the right things at the right times.
On Jan. 2, 2016, I went to sleep with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I knew I needed to make a shift. To gain clarity, I found it necessary to move away from several toxic people, places and things. This “moving away” process helped me form a different mindset, where I wanted to live more simply. I wanted to concentrate on the things that would help me sleep in peace and wake in joy, and focus on the things that gave me real energy and purpose.
I continued with my lifelong learning initiatives, gaining experience in industry and academia. I made a major career change and connected with the right people. I dropped 55 pounds through hard work and dedication, though the initial weight loss began in my mind and through my spirit. I had to be sure that the content coming across in my course
was lining up with what I was showing our students who I was (and am) as a human being.
The Experience Behind Experiential Learning
I entered WilmU’s doctoral program in August of 2010 and graduated with my Ed.D. in May of 2014. I began adjunct teaching two months later. When I started teaching Advanced Organizational Behavior (DBA 7200) at WilmU, I was given the opportunity to be critically reflective, and I used it to strategize ways to move forward with better personal and professional performance. I developed a strong exercise and eating routine, a solid schedule that included lots of time for reflection, and then forged more purposeful connections with the right people. I took several steps to build and maintain a life worth living.
While I had some idea of how the learning experience would change me, I had no concept of the many valuable ideas, skills, resources, connections and opportunities I would take with me. During those nearly four years, I grew, changed and became a better person. I became better informed of and developed skills to respond to organizational and community issues. I deepened my knowledge about how organizational and community issues intersected. I did all of this learning in the cohort model with some brilliant colleagues.
That colleague connection was instrumental to my success; however, the relationships I formed with my doctoral cohort inspired me because of a collaborative community experience I engaged in during the spring of 2017.
I did excel in my previous vocation in the financial services industry, getting promoted from senior associate to vice president. I also increased my community presence. But my doctoral program required me to demonstrate proficiency in the six organizational learning, leadership, and innovation learning standards, so to demonstrate this aptitude, I devoted more time to mentoring minority students in a program called Minority Engineering Regional Incentive Training Program (M.E.R.I.T.). Based in Seaford, Delaware. M.E.R.I.T. was (and is) under the direction of John Hollis, a respected teacher with four decades of experience. One of its goals is to support minority students in their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) education so that they are well-equipped to meet the challenges of college and the workplace.
My younger brother and I had been students in this program, and the skills I developed helped me give back. Today, one of my goals is to support students during their undergrad experiences and guide them toward graduate education. The bonus is that I was able to use my experience with M.E.R.I.T. as a part of my internship requirements for my WilmU doctorate program. I was inspired to continue with my community work well after finishing those studies.
Gaining Industry Experience
I celebrate my corporate career. I had a fantastic, 17-year run at a global financial services firm and left the industry as a vice president and Learning and Performance senior consultant. The stops along that road included banking, finance, insurance, and risk and compliance. That industry prepared me for leading a classroom. After all, I did work in Human Resources for eight years where I was teaching and educating adults while helping them build professional
and technical proficiencies.
Still, I felt I could make broader and more impactful contributions if I were fully operating in academia. After adjunct teaching for three years at WilmU, I knew my heart’s desire was to pursue higher education full-time. My education and employment experiences at WilmU have been exciting and rewarding, and I’ve have been inspired to be a more fully-developed person and to use my attributes, skills and knowledge to promote goodness.
When I met with WilmU colleague Dr. Kathy Kennedy-Ratajack in July, I was reminded of the power of bringing your whole self to work: bringing your gifts, talents, abilities, personality and skills. My ability to do that has translated to an increased capacity of functioning better in my personal and civic life. I’m supported in building partnerships with my academic colleagues and the larger community.
As a member of the College of Business’s Doctorate of Business Administration faculty, it is my responsibility to help students increase their critical thinking, analytical and writing skills. I see it as my responsibility, as much as possible, to encourage students to use their magnitude for the advancement of humanity.
WilmU’s atmosphere is rich with opportunities to do great things — and to be supported while doing them. This University values our commitment to improving the communities around us. Dr. Robin Weinstein, chair of Human Resource Management Programs, inspires me to pay attention to the epidemic of homelessness. Dr. Nina Buchanan, our chair of Higher Education Leadership, inspires me to speak up against injustices. I hope all of our faculty feel empowered to inspire others to do great things for the University and our communities. I’m happy to work in an environment with others who do noble work.
I believe that service to others is one of the highest tenets of emotional intelligence. To be able to recognize a service opportunity, strategize, and be supported to engage in and see the positive impact to the human experience is a gift that needs no wrapping paper.
It’s About Practical Application
I spent considerable time thinking about how my learning and work experiences changed me. They influenced me to imagine how I could make real investments in others’ well-being. I was also keen to pay attention to the political climate in the U.S., and I found myself taking a hard stance against bigotry and intolerance, particularly when it came to people of certain religious and ethnic groups.
In 2016, I was also in the process of planning a trip to Egypt and Mexico — what a coincidence! I purposefully immersed myself in the cultures and visited the lands of students we teach and colleagues with whom we work. My WilmU learning experience made me want to learn about and embrace cultures and people from all corners of the world. I used multicultural experiences and immersions as a means of combatting evil and promoting goodness.
In December of 2016, some of the graduates from Ed.D. Cohort 20 got together for a holiday celebration. It was then that I mentioned that I was in pursuit of taking up a noble initiative with my rental property. My cohort friend, Dr. Steve Dorfman, alerted me to the plans he was undertaking with Jewish Family Services (JFS) and the Jewish Community Center (JCC). Steve made me aware that he and his partners at JFS/ JCC were strategizing their refugee relocation program, which provides a refugee family an opportunity at a good life that they, perhaps, could not imagine. Refugees are trying to escape their countries because of war, disaster, persecution, and other forms of inhumane treatment.
The following May, Steve and I began to realize the power of intention, nobility, good will and friendship, as well as the influence of a doctoral learning experience and cohort model. Using several experts and material resources, a refugee family of four — a mother,
father and two beautiful, young children — from Eritrea, Africa, moved into my Wilmington rental property on June 13, 2017. This was a dream come true, and I credit Steve for the incredible opportunity. Never would I have thought to dream of participating in this honorable social work. It still feels surreal.
We grasped the true meaning of a few WilmU Ed.D. learning standards when we collaborated with community members, mobilized community resources, cultivated productive community partnerships and acted to influence the larger political, social, economic, legal and cultural contexts.
The Right People; The Right Thing
I had the good fortune of having amazing mentors at the University who helped guide my development: Drs. Lynne L. Svenning, Rob W. Rescigno and Julie D. Lanzillo. These advisors and several others, like Dr. Kathi Brown, work hard every day at our University. I am but one person with a big heart and few resources, and I’m using all I have to influence positive change.
A few good people can pool their resources and passions to help increase the quality of human life. My hope is that others will be inspired to effect positive, social change. The world is full of opportunities. They are there for the taking. WU
Dr. Jason L. James Jr. is an assistant professor for WilmU’s College of Business.