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Lifelong Learning: A Different Path

sandy cassady in front of blackboard

Sandra Cassady, PhD, dean of the College of Health and Human Services

July 2014 | by Jane Kettering

This story was originally published in the Summer 2014 Scene. We share it again in celebration of Mission Week and the St. Ambrose core values.

Many members of the St. Ambrose faculty knew they wanted to teach at a university level before they opened their first college textbook. Others followed a less direct route to the front of a classroom. Meet four of the latter.

Waiting By the Door

As a boy, Alan Sivell would wake up early and sit with his back against the front door to wait, sometimes falling back asleep. The sound that would bring him to his feet was the flat thunk of the morning newspaper thrown against the door.

alan sivellThis was the beginning of a passion for the news.

While in college, Sivell wrote obituaries for the Hartford Courant newspaper. "My editor told me that I was terrible and should think of a different career," he remembered. That is an experience that always has influenced his conversations with students, particularly in his longtime role of faculty adviser to the student newspaper, The Buzz. "I'm very careful what I say to them," he said.

Discouraged, Sivell changed his undergraduate major from journalism to English, and, after college, he worked a series of jobs, including construction. "I learned what it was like to hit a rivet day in and day out," he said.

Reporting the news seemed a more rewarding option. After earning a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Iowa, that is what he did for eight years as a reporter, weekend anchor and producer for WQAD-TV in Moline, Ill.

In the spring of 1986, Sivell accepted a part-time teaching assignment at St. Ambrose, and it wasn't long before his passion for reporting the news became a passion for training new reporters. He has been a full-time instructor since 1988 and earned a promotion to assistant professor this past spring.

Although the thunk of newspaper-against-door largely has been replaced by the click of a mouse in most homes these days, Sivell hopes he is training life-long readers as well as reporters.

"I love my job," he said. "I come into class so excited, often carrying the New York Times. I open it up and tell my students, ‘There is news from all over the world! You're going to need it to run the world.'"

Bringing Her Game to the Classroom

Monica Taylor, PhD, has been playing basketball since the age of 5. The assistant professor of kinesiology even played professionally in Europe. "It was fun to play what you've played all your life and get paid for it," she said.

Upon return to the States, Taylor earned her master's degree and worked in cardiac rehab, but she missed working with athletes. She did a stint at West Point Military Academy as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, but eventually, Taylor returned to school in order to teach at the college level.

"I decided that I liked working with that age group, to be a part of their evolving, growing and learning," she said.

Taylor's variety of experience serves her well in the classroom. "I have the training, the clinical background and a love of sports," she said. "I can answer their questions and share my experiences."

A New Beat

chris barnumSix credit hours shy of an undergraduate degree in sociology, Chris Barnum, PhD, secured a position with the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Police Department. Then it was steady police work for 25 years.

Still, his night-shift schedule gave him the opportunity to pursue his passion for life-long learning. He completed a bachelor's degree in sociology but didn't stop there-eventually adding both a master's and doctorate.

In 2005, Barnum joined the St. Ambrose faculty to teach sociology and criminal justice. In 2009, he was named director of the Master of Criminal Justice program.

How does the work of an associate professor and program director compare to police work? "Teaching is more interesting," said Barnum. "There's always a new way to teach, and students change. And teaching statistics to students who don't see the relevance, that's a fun challenge."

Having been a police officer for 25 years buys a lot of credibility with students. "I did what many of them want to do and can tell them a lot of things they won't be reading in books," he said.

Practitioner to Prof to Dean

sandy cassadySandy Cassady, PhD, was in junior high when she was "amazed" by the benefits physical therapy brought a friend diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Cassady graduated college with a degree in biology and was admitted into the University of Iowa's physical therapy program, then the only such program in the state. Her first two PT jobs were in large, acute-care hospitals. Working with PT students who were doing clinical training, "I really fell in love with clinical teaching," Cassady said.

Another hint of her future as an educator and leader occurred when she was asked to serve on a heart transplant team. "I was just out of school and this new area of practice required additional research," she said. "This was an early sign to me of the importance of life-long learning, and it was exciting to continue to learn."

While pursuing both master's and doctoral degrees, Cassady noticed few women served in tenured track faculty positions at her university. This, and her desire to teach, led to a career in higher ed.

When she visited the "new" physical therapy program at St. Ambrose, Cassady was impressed with the university's vision for health sciences education. What she thought would be a four- or five-year stay has turned into 20 years. Teaching, directing the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, and participating in numerous university committees and work groups, "working across the institution," eventually led to her appointment as dean of the College of Health and Human Services in 2010.

Her working history makes her an enthusiastic advocate for life-long learning.

"Of course students are taught best practices, but our programs also emphasize strategies to analyze the best available evidence to guide practice," she said. "A life-long learner seeks help from experts, is well-read, up-to-date, engaged in continuing education, and knows the options available to help their patients and populations they serve."

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