Q&A: Karsonya Whitehead ’09, Ph.D. LLC, on Life as a New Professor

Photo courtesy Loyola University Maryland

What’s it like adjusting to life as a professor?

For language, literacy and culture Ph.D. grad Karsonya “Kaye” Whitehead ’09, it was just as much about embracing a new sort of teaching — the Jesuit educational traditions upheld by her employer, Loyola University Maryland — as the challenges found in the everyday classroom. A member of Loyola’s full-time communications faculty since 2009, Whitehead was recently interviewed by the university about her experiences so far.

Read the full story here.

Whitehead earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and her M.A. in international peace studies from the University of Notre Dame. She answered some additional questions about the professor’s life for UMBC’s Alumni Blog.

Q:  As a relatively new Ph.D. grad, what has it been like adjusting to your new work?

A:  One of the things that I enjoyed the most about my doctoral program was working so closely with my dissertation committee. I had both the support and the ear of five very accomplished scholar teachers who were committed to my success. They read every word that I wrote, listened when I felt overwhelmed, cheered for my every accomplishment, and believed in me even during the times when I could not believe in myself. My co-chairs were Drs. Christine Mallison (LLC) and Kriste Lindemeyer (former chair of the History department) and my committee members were Drs. Michele Scott (History), Cristel Temple (former associate professor in Africana Studies) and Debra Newman Ham (History, Morgan State). My biggest adjustment has been adjusting to the fact that I am now the teacher scholar and that I must do for others, what was done for me. I miss my committee and there are days when I miss being the student (who could focus only on myself) rather than the professor (as I must look outward to ensure that my students are learning and growing and are not being left behind).

Q:  What has been your most surprising discovery so far?

A:  I am constantly amazed by how much I enjoy teaching at a Jesuit university. I was first introduced to the Jesuit teachings when I was in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. I was living in the “Peace House,” while I was working on my masters in international peace studies (fourteen graduate students in the peace program—students were from all around the world with no more than two from one country—were selected every year to live in the peace house and to actively work on building and maintaining a peaceful community. It was a yearlong commitment and it forced us to listen to one another and to bear one another’s burden. We had a white and a black student from South Africa, a student whose mom was Jewish and her father was Palestinian, students from China, Korea, Vietnam, Russia…) and someone mentioned that the Jesuits were committed to promoting peace when peace was an option and protesting when it wasn’t. I had never really heard of the Jesuits but I was familiar with protest and resistance and I was interested in hearing more about this group that did both and that did them in the name of love.

Since arriving at Loyola, I have immersed myself in the culture. I have gone on an Ignatian Pilgrimage, visiting all of the places in Spain and Rome where St. Ignatius developed the Jesuit teachings; I have participated in an Ignatian pedagogy class, where I learned how to infuse Jesuit teachings into my classroom; I have attended the Collegium program, a week-long retreat for faculty members from Jesuit and Catholic universities; and I have worked with a Jesuit priest to learn about the Examen process of daily meditative reflection and discernment. I enjoy being at a place where we take seriously the idea of cura personalis – the care of the entire student. We are concerned about them as people and we want them to think seriously about what they have to offer the world and how they can make a difference in whatever field they choose to enter.

Q:  And what advice might you give to current UMBC students looking to begin careers as professors?

A:  I am going into my fourth year and what I value the most about my colleagues is the feeling of collegiality and community. Loyola is a good fit for me and for my family. I like the way the school values both teaching and scholarship. For students that are considering becoming a university professor, I would advise them:

  • Find a campus where they can see themselves working at everyday for the next 20+ years (even if they are not planning to stay that long, the field is always changing and you have to gauge when to make a move to another university, so just in case…)
  • Find a department where they have a connection with the other professors (they will be your campus family and you will need them to support your annual reviews, your tenure package, your teaching…)
  • Find a university whose mission fits with the way that you see the world; if you want to focus solely on research then look only at R1 universities and if you want to focus on both your teaching and your research – look for places like Loyola.

Earlier this week, I left class, walked across my campus, and realized how much I love being a university professor. I get paid to make an impact on the lives of the next generation; to think deeply about issues that are important to me; and to be engaged in the world around me!

4 thoughts on “Q&A: Karsonya Whitehead ’09, Ph.D. LLC, on Life as a New Professor”

  1. Dr. Whitehead,
    Congratulations and much continued success! I’m a Lincoln grad (’81) and Loyola MBA grad (’98). Great interview. I would love earning my Ph.D and becoming a professor (Business)…I feel that teaching young people is my true calling but may have missed the opportunity to do so as a college professor…at least at the present time.

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