Q & A With New Provost Jennifer Shewmaker
Jennifer Shewmaker stepped into the Provost role late this summer and with one month already underway, we had the pleasure of being a part of a Q&A with her.
Q: As dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Abilene Christian University (ACU), you managed a smorgasbord of academic areas: communication science, kinesiology, nutrition, occupational therapy, teacher education and social work. Drawing on your broad experience, what advice would you give Lipscomb students to make it through to graduation in any chosen field?
A: Academic success is often about motivation, persistence, and organization. My advice to all students is to remind themselves regularly about WHY they are getting their degree. Do you want to help others? Are you passionate about making a difference in the world? Do you love to make new discoveries that will help advance knowledge in your field? When we remember the WHY, it helps us stay motivated. Persistence can help you get through the little difficulties and hard steps you have to take to get to the end goal of obtaining your degree. Organization is key to success. Use all of the help you can get here! Go to the Academic Success Center for coaching, sign up for tutoring, keep a calendar and plan out a schedule for projects. Breaking big projects into smaller steps will help you move toward your goal.
Q: With most of your childhood spent in Texas as well as a B.S. in psychology from ACU and a Ph.D. in psychology from Texas Woman’s University, transitioning to life in Tennessee (with pork barbecue instead of beef, hills instead of flatlands and Coca Cola instead of Dr. Pepper) could be hard. But your career started in psychology, so what adaptation methods will you use to settle into your new life in Nashville (and how will those methods help in particular circumstances)?
A: My husband and I spent 5 years living in Central Europe, so middle Tennessee will be much more familiar than that! The strategies we used there and that I often share with those who are making a big change are pretty simple. Plan your day to be sure that you get sleep, healthy food, and exercise. I love to hike, so I plan to explore the beautiful trails in and around Nashville. I’m also looking forward to enjoying all of the varied cultures represented in Nashville’s restaurant scene! I love southern cooking, but I also know there are a lot of different options and new things that I will get to try in Nashville.
Q: You’ve had some great global experiences, including consulting with the Peace Corps in Warsaw, Poland, and working on the psychology staff at the American Clinics International in Budapest, Hungary. Where else in the world is on your travel bucket list (and why) and what one locale would you recommend to any student to travel to if possible (and why)?
A: I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to experience a lot of different cultures and places through travel. This summer I spent some time with our oldest daughter, Rylan, who lives in Belgium and got to meet her roommate who is from Morocco. That is one place that I’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t been to. It is definitely on my bucket list!
For students, I think all international travel provides fantastic opportunities for learning and connecting with those who have different backgrounds from ourselves. Rather than recommending one certain country or city, I would recommend that students take the opportunity to travel to places where English is not the first language. Getting out of your comfort zone and being in a place where you don’t speak the language presents an incredible opportunity for growth, particularly in learning to empathize with newcomers to the United States who may be struggling with learning English. I highly recommend semester long study abroad experiences for all students when possible. It is a transformative experience, educationally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
Q: As only the second person to inhabit the Provost position at Lipscomb, you have a great opportunity to make a real mark on the next stage of Lipscomb’s future. What personal heroes will you be looking to as you lead Lipscomb academics and how will their example affect your approach? (and/or what books have had the most influence on your personal managerial style?)
A: My dad, Harold Wade, was a long time administrator for K-12 Church of Christ schools. His passion for Christian education has really inspired me in my career. As a first generation college graduate, he showed me first hand that higher education has the power to transform individuals, families, and communities for generations to come. I bring that belief and inspiration into my work every single day.
I have read so many books about leadership that I love! For managing change, John Kotter’s work is fantastic. When trying to identify an individual, group, or institution’s area of strength and focus, the book Essentialism is a great starting point. I love the book Creativity, Inc. as an inspiration for creating an environment that fosters creativity and innovation.
One of the authors who has really shaped my thinking in the area of leadership is Brene Brown, especially her book Dare to Lead. She says, “We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership.” I strive to be a leader who creates an atmosphere of universal flourishing. I foster a warm, supportive environment; offering formative, honest feedback, with a focus on promoting the thriving of each individual, unit, and the institution as a whole. I have seen that open, empathic communication and supportive collaboration create a unique space for problem solving and innovation. Her work has also really supported my belief that we bring our whole selves to our work, and it’s important to be ready to connect authentically with others as you lead.
Q: What Lipscomb tradition, event, experience or activity (i.e. Dodgeball, Lighting of the Green, Midterms, Student Scholars Symposium, Beautiful Day, Homecoming (aka Bison week), athletic games, CSC) in this school year that you have heard about are you looking forward to and why?
A: I am really excited to be at Lighting of the Green! It seems like a tradition that is universal in celebrating the Christmas season while also being uniquely local to Nashville with its fantastic music. I’m really looking forward to experiencing that!
I’m so excited about being a part of the Students Scholars Symposium! It’s vital for our students to see themselves as scholars who can contribute to the knowledge and creative output in their fields in order to make the world a better place. I love that Lipscomb provides this opportunity to highlight students and their scholarly work!
Q: What one non-academic activity would you recommend for all college students to participate in to enhance their academic performance and/or life?
A: I’m cheating, because I’m going to talk about an academic experience, but one that I have seen affects the student holistically. Studying abroad is an incredibly important activity. The experience of living in another country and culture transforms the way we look at the world and understand ourselves and our place in it. We begin to understand that viewpoints that are different from our own are shaped by different experiences and to understand those perspectives, even when we don’t agree with them. We learn what it feels like to have to rely upon the kindness of others to navigate a social and linguistic space we don’t understand. Through living with our fellow students going through the same experience, we learn to live in community, to ask for help when we need it, and offer support to others as needed. I highly recommend the experience to every student. My husband and I are happy to say that 2 of our 3 daughters have already studied abroad and our youngest, who is a first year student at ACU this year, plans to do so in her time in college.
Q: You have written several books and published multiple chapters and articles in the areas of media and child development and teaching and learning. What is your favorite drink to have at your side as you sit down at your computer to create a new scholarship?
A: I am a Diet Coke fan! I also love unsweet iced tea, which I’m learning is hard to come by in Tennessee! I love to try the different flavors of tea and coffee that Starbucks has across the seasons.
Q: As the parent of three college-age students, what advice would you give parents to help their students succeed academically in college and/or to find their vocation/calling?
A: I’m a big reader, and one of my favorite writers is Parker Palmer. In his book, Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, he says,
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”
When I met with our first year students at Quest Week, I told them that our goal at Lipscomb is to help them find how God is calling them to use their strengths and passions to love and serve our neighbors, locally and globally.
As parents, we can help our students find their vocation by encouraging them to take opportunities to explore their strengths and passions through things like taking courses in different academic areas, studying abroad or going on mission trips, serving in the community, doing research with faculty. All of these activities give students the chance to understand themselves better and to begin to find their path to authentic service in the world.
Q: Who do you think would win a trivia bowl contest (or maybe spelling bee or science olympiad): ACU’s Willie the Wildcat or Lipscomb’s Lou the Bison?
A: Lou the Bison, of course!!