A Little About Vic
When I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BS in political science in 1980, I felt that I had accomplished a valuable goal. I come from a working class background where a college degree is the sort of thing that confers a degree of respect and admiration from my friends and family. I felt educated, connected and included in the culture of educated Americans.
That proud feeling of inclusion lasted for about a week after graduation. I was sitting in my parentsí living room reading an editorial in the local newspaper that contained a reference to The Scarlet Letter. I had no idea what The Scarlet letter was and did not understand the point of the editorial. All of a sudden, I didn't feel so included or educated. That same day I went to the city library, found The Scarlet Letter in the classics section, and discovered aisles of books that I had heard about but never read.
How could I think of myself as educated without having read Moby Dick? I found out it wasnít just about a big whale, but a glimpse into the 19th century whaling industry. Amazing! How could I have spent four years in college and not know about Walden Pond, or Life on the Mississippi, or The Jungle?
I spent that first summer after college driving dump trucks and forklifts in a cannery, always with a paperback classic on the seat next to me. Whenever I had a few moments Iíd read a bit of The Odyssey, or The Iliad, or some other classic that I had heard of but never read. I spent that entire summer filling the holes in my education while I completed my blue-collar internship.
I moved to Arizona in 1980 and put my education to practical experience working in a variety of positions in the mental health field. I ran a therapeutic vocational program serving violent and self destructive clients, and earned certifications to teach behavior modification programming and techniques to meet violent behaviors. My skills were widely recognized and I was appointed to a committee drafting administrative rules addressing management of inappropriate behaviors.
During this time many mental health professionals took an interest in my professional development, and encouraged me to expand my skills. I learned about Adlerian psychology, group therapy and basic counseling techniques. I found myself independently running group counseling sessions, developing behavioral treatment plans and providing technical assistance to mental health agencies throughout Tucson and Southern Arizona.
A death in the family brought me back to Oregon in 1990, and I stayed there until 2003. I continued my academic journey, taking graduate coursework in sports psychology, research methods, and whatever else caught my attention. I began writing and was published in online academic journals, professional trade publications, and popular magazines.
One of the things I did during this time was to write a research paper on risk homeostasis Ė addressing the question of why some people get all the thrills they need simply driving to work in the morning, while others feel compelled to zoom out to the skydiving center on a fast motorcycle. My paper showed that skydiversí behavior changed with the introduction of safety devices to maintain a consistent level of danger.
I thought the paper was good and I put it on my website in case anyone else was interested and didnít think any more about it. However, I started receiving emails and phone calls, mostly from the UK and Middle East, from academics who were studying risk homeostasis professionally. They thought I was working at a university and wanted to know about citations and in what academic journal my paper was published! There I was, just some guy in Oregon passing a long wet, muddy gloomy Oregon winter by writing a paper on risk and people on the other side of the world were asking which university I taught, and what my main field of investigation was!
This research draws the interest of academic researchers because it sheds light on why some people seem to be compelled to engage in dangerous behaviors, such as risky sexual activity, inappropriate drug use and juvenile delinquency. If some people are intrinsically motivated to risky behavior, simply supplying a socially appropriate equivalent might reduce the need for negative risk taking.
I didnít realize that risk homeostasis was a very new field and that my modest paper was a notable contribution. Weíll come back to this paper shortly, but the calls and emails slowed down some, but never really stopped.
Vic's Search for Knowledge
During this time, I started a small business. My background had been in social services and I knew nothing about business, so I started reading books about it. I quickly discovered that my newfound interest in business and my background in social services put me in a position to investigate how groups of people arrange themselves into efficient organizations.
I must admit that part of my interest in organizations came about because of my discovery that Oregon maintains the most archaic system of institutionalized bureaucracies imaginable. I began to study these organizations, using job interviews to interview the managers who thought they were interviewing me. I wrote some articles about what I found out, and made the acquaintance of several state lawmakers, one of whom happened to be my high school history teacher. He succeeded in convincing me that my questions about organizations would best be answered by earning an MBA. I spent the next two and a half years at George Fox University, a Quaker school renowned for the ethical reputations of itsí MBA program. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, in terms of both personal growth as well as academic experience.
Itís probably obvious by now that Iím not the sort of guy who sits on the couch drinking beer and watching football when there is nothing to do. I get bored easily and tend to create projects for myself that I find interesting and rewarding. Iíve got several projects percolating along right now, all of which are relevant to my desire to earn a doctorate and become a certified therapist.
I am pursuing my interest in organizational studies. I have an idea that will help people and organizations find a better fit with each other. Too often I see people working in settings they hate, and organizations coercing people to do jobs for which they are simply not suited. That is no way to live life or operate an efficient business. Work should be an uplifting and positive experience that fulfills us and gives meaning to our life, not a disagreeable task that makes recreation possible.
Remember the paper about risk that I mentioned earlier? I got a call from a PhD candidate from Auburn University who was interested in the topic. We cleaned up that paper a bit and will presented it to The American Society of Business and Behavior Sciences in February 2007 in Las Vegas. We are now looking for data upon which to build an updated study for publication in an academic journal. I am so incredibly lucky to be able to do academic research when Iím not even enrolled in a graduate program. Iíve come a long way from reading the classics on that lift truck in Oregon.