Article Category Archives: Faculty Spotlight

The Inadvertent Artist

An experience in the Peace Corps inspired Lindsey Dunnagan to a career as an artist. 

Lindsey Dunnagan uses her art to explore human interactions with the natural environment. Whether the medium is pencils, paint or Plexiglas, she has always been creative, but it was her life-altering time in the Peace Corps that ultimately pointed her toward a career in art.

An altruistic nature and a love of new experiences led Dunnagan to her two years of service in Morocco. Armed with an education in business and architecture, she soon realized the local artisans already knew their market and did not really need her assistance in those areas. Dunnagan found other ways to be of service, but she also learned some valuable personal lessons, like how to survive with less personal comfort than she was used to, including going through a snowy winter without heat.

“The people I lived with were more resourceful than anyone I had met before,” she said. “That deeply affected me. Now, when I am in situations that are uncomfortable, I seem to be fine and can usually figure out how to get what I need.”

The toughness she picked up also encouraged Dunnagan to explore a career as an artist. After originally attending Texas A&M University with the intent to become an architect, she changed her plans and decided to utilize her creative talents for her livelihood.

“Living in rural Morocco and learning a new language taught me about grit, and I thought I could handle the insecurities that may come with entering a field that was unfamiliar to me,” she said.

Dunnagan learned she specifically enjoyed working with college students after teaching a watercolor class in graduate school at Texas Women’s University. She came to Truman in 2016 after being offered a tenure-track position and the opportunity to run the Painting Department.

“I really liked the school and the students and faculty that I met when I came to visit. Altogether, it seemed like a great fit,” she said.

As an assistant professor of art, Dunnagan teaches courses in painting, drawing and watercolors, as well as a junior interdisciplinary seminar and capstone classes for BFA and BA students. The last two years have reaffirmed the value of in-person learning.

“The pandemic proved that online learning is not the best fit for all students, educators and fields of study,” Dunnagan said. “When I am with students in painting classes, I can see right away if the reason they can’t get a certain effect is because of the way they are holding their paint brush. That kind of simple technique correction can’t really happen in an online environment. The nuance of learning directly from peers and professors is much more difficult when it comes to hand skills. Many students more quickly advance when studio classes are in person.”

The pandemic also spoiled a return trip to Morocco for Dunnagan. She had planned to take students on a study abroad experience in 2020. While that trip did not work out, she hopes to venture there with students at some point.

With more free time than usual during the pandemic, Dunnagan was able to finally work on a project she has dreamed about since childhood. She wrote and illustrated a children’s book, “The Best Cheese,” about a chef who decides to send cows to the moon to make cheese. It can be found on barnesandnoble.com.

Dunnagan is already working on her second book, and given her creative nature, there is no end to the list of possible projects she may one day pursue. A key component to her success might be her outlook on failure, especially important for anyone working in a creative field and something she tries to relate to students.

“It is ok to fail,” she said. “Failure is a part of life. Failing something gives you information on what needs to change in your life. It does not mean that you are unworthy or that you are not enough. It is so important to remember that even though you may not do well in an area – or many areas – it does not mean you have less value as a person. It is an opportunity to take a step back and reassess.”

Challenge Accepted

Kathy Otero is no stranger to stepping outside of her comfort zone, and she wants students to do the same.

Even though she teaches managerial accounting courses for upperclassmen and graduate students, Kathy Otero advocates for her students to take classes outside of the major.

“You’d be surprised how much this will broaden your thinking,” she said.

Otero also encourages her students not to be afraid of challenges, as well as to focus on learning, not on a particular letter grade. That advice is less about being a free spirit and comes more from a place of practicality.

“Once you’re working, it’s your job performance, not your college grades, that will matter,” she said.

As an associate professor of accounting, now in her 10th year at Truman, Otero is used to being in charge of the classroom. Yet, she still feels she has a lot in common with her students.

“We are students all our lives, and our purpose is to learn and grow,” she said. “In order to grow, we should embrace challenges that move us beyond our comfort zones.”

Otero practices what she preaches, and it is fair to say she is comfortable being uncomfortable. A self-described introvert, she is not particularly comfortable around new people, but she’s learned to hide it well. Demands of the pandemic also put her in some unfamiliar territory.

“I was forced out of my low-tech comfort zone into a higher-tech environment,” Otero said. “While it would be way off base to say I’m great with technology, I am getting better, and I’m less afraid to try new things. Technology has improved my ability to spend more class time doing rather than lecturing.”

Otero is not afraid to branch out spatially as well. After earning all three of her degrees from the University of Texas at El Paso, and lecturing there for multiple years while completing her Ph.D., she made the move to Missouri and Truman’s School of Business. She and her husband were looking for a rural area to accommodate their horses and dogs, and because she enjoyed her interactions with students, Otero was seeking an institution that put student learning first.

“Truman fit the wish list on both counts,” she said. “I work with the greatest group of people ever. We’re all focused on student learning and improving our programs, and the students are very interested in learning, which expands what I can teach.”

Ironically, teaching was never on Otero’s radar. While working toward her master’s in accounting, she landed a teaching assistant job with the chair of the department. When an adjunct position came open in mid-semester, she was thrust into the role.

“I was terrified and excited at the same time, but it was a great opportunity, and I discovered I liked teaching and loved the lightbulb moments students had,” she said. “I was hooked.”

Otero’s appreciation for those moments is what she likes best about her work at Truman, and she hopes those epiphanies do not stop when students complete her class.

“I love the mutual satisfaction both my students and I get when a concept gels for them. I also really like those moments when students look at something we’re doing from a different perspective and come up with ideas and questions that make me stop and think,” she said. “When a student leaves my course, I want them to feel they know more, can do more and can continue to learn more than they realized.”

Beyond the Classroom

In addition to preparing physical education teachers to enter the profession, Julene Ensign sets them up for a long and successful career.

It’s rare to find Julene Ensign in a classroom, but that doesn’t mean she’s resting on her laurels. As an assistant professor of exercise science, Ensign primarily teaches courses related to Truman’s MAE physical education, meaning she spends a lot of time in the field helping her students become professional educators. Her “classroom” might be a gym, a track, or on some occasions, a lake.

“Most of my classes are experiential in nature, so I’m not in a traditional classroom setting very often,” she said.

Ensign’s job may be to train tomorrow’s teachers, but she is also part myth buster. She wants people to know being a physical educator involves more than rolling out balls and spending the day in sweatpants. Just like their colleagues, physical educators have to create lesson plans, maximize time on task, provide quality feedback and meet the needs of diverse learners, all while students are in constant motion around a large space.

“The amount of planning before the lesson, attention to detail during the lesson and reflection required after the lesson puts physical educators in an elite category in terms of pedagogical practices,” Ensign said. “The reality is that most physical educators are drawn to the field because they want a career that allows them to continue to be physically active. I love the value that it adds to my quality of life and am passionate about helping others discover their own pathway to being physically active for a lifetime.”

Any novice teacher, regardless of their area of concentration, could learn a thing or two from Ensign’s research. Although specific to physical educators, she focuses on the socialization, efficacy and teaching performance of beginning instructors.

“If a beginning teacher is struggling to fit in with coworkers or manage groups of students, their perception of their ability to teach effectively will decrease,” Ensign said. “In general, we all tend to stay engaged in activities where we have a high degree of efficacy or confidence in our abilities to make a difference. The bottom line is it’s really important these beginning teachers get started with all of the right types of support in place.”

When it comes to advising new teachers, Ensign has a wealth of life experience from which to draw. After completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois, she originally worked as a personal trainer and in a sport management setting. She took a job as an adjunct faculty member when her children were younger in order to have a more regular schedule, and her time in the classroom sparked something. Ensign went back to school for her teaching licensure and a Ph.D. from her alma mater.

“It took three really tough years of working full-time, taking classes full-time, commuting three hours to take classes and juggling being a wife and mother to successfully defend my dissertation and earn my doctorate,” she said.

After studying at a large university and teaching at a smaller one, Truman is “just right” and the lifetime Illinois native feels at home since coming to the University in 2019.

“We’re in the business of creating a ‘family tree’ of physical educators who are willing to stand in the gap for students. It’s sort of a grassroots approach, but it’s what makes the hard work of teaching worth the effort,” Ensign said. “Knowing that my candidates and graduates are moving the needle in a positive way for their students is important to me.”

Something for Everyone

Kelly Walter uses her love of horses to strengthen the Truman equine program and give students real-world experiences.

Some students might be surprised to learn Truman has a University Farm located southwest of campus, and those who do know about it might think it is only for agriculture students. Kelly Walter, associate professor of agriculture science, would like to change that.

“There is something for everyone out at the farm,” she said. “There are beginning horsemanship courses and an equestrian team that requires no previous experience. Students can also enjoy the scenery and just visit the farm.”

For someone like Walter, it’s difficult to image a day without working with animals, whether it is at the University Farm or at home on her family’s farm in Putnam County.

“I have loved horses as long as I can remember,” she said. “My first experiences with horses were through our area 4-H program, and with that came exposure to the University of Georgia animal science program. When I realized I could incorporate my love of horses and my interest in science into a long-term involvement in animal science, there was no turning back.”

While earning her master’s and Ph.D. at Texas A&M University, Walter’s research included nutrient requirements of weanling Quarter Horses and later fetal programming. Her dissertation looked at the influence of maternal nutrition on the resulting foal. Fittingly, of the 18 different courses she has taught since coming to Truman in 2012, many have dealt with animal reproduction and nutrition, and her favorite course to teach is Equine Reproduction Practicum.

“My teaching philosophy is to keep it simple and focus on animal examples and case studies. In many of my classes we cover complex subjects, but when it is applied to a real-life example using animals, it becomes much easier for students to follow,” she said.

Walter has a number of goals to improve the quality of the horses produced at the University Farm, including producing prospects for western performance horse events, identifying high-quality performance stallion options to use from the area equine industry to replace University-raised stallions, and establishing a plan for selling Truman horses as weanlings and yearlings at auction to the general public. Her approach has already started to see results. Over the past two years, she orchestrated the sale of nine horses, ranging from weanlings to two-year-olds, netting the equine program $30,000 to use toward purchase of replacement horses in the future.

“It is important to raise quality foals that are in demand by the horse industry in order to model successful equine business practices to our students,” Walter said. “My primary goal is to teach students the science of reproduction while applying that knowledge to real-life scenarios.”

Over the next few years, Walter hopes to have mares with strong performance records of their own to use for breeding. Additionally, she would like to use the generated income to purchase fully trained riding horses for the horsemanship courses and equestrian team.

All of Walter’s equine science courses and research are technically open to any major and do not require any existing horse riding experience. Some courses would require other prerequisites in order to participate, but there is not a requirement for any pre-existing horse experience.

Connecting the Dots

Through his research, Anton Daughters sees similar patterns across humanity, from fishing communities in Chile to his adopted home in the Midwest.

Following a five-year stint in the Army, Anton Daughters kept one overarching factor in mind when making his college choice – he wanted to go somewhere sunny. After loading up the car, he drove from Alaska to Albuquerque where he enrolled at the University of New Mexico.

To be fair, Daughters knew what he was passionate about, he just didn’t yet know he could study it for a living. The son of an American father and a Chilean mother, he spent ages 10-14 living abroad in Chile. His service in the Army also enabled him to see the world and gain an appreciation of other cultures. After a little research, it seemed natural to pursue a degree in cultural anthropology.

“I didn’t even know that was a thing until I started looking at majors,” he said. “Anthropology is always asking you to take this broad view of who we are. It’s asking you to step back a little bit from the present, or at least understand how the present fits into this larger picture, and I love topics that force you to take this broad view.”

After earning an undergraduate degree from UNM, a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona and completing a two-year post-doctoral program at Cornell College in Iowa, Daughters came to Truman in 2012. The University’s liberal arts mission aligns well with his career goals.   

“The job has the right balance of teaching and research,” he said. “I got into this line of work mainly because I like to teach, but I also didn’t want to disavow research entirely, and they give you the space to do research here.”

Research is a labor of love for Daughters, who has been studying the Archipelago of Chiloé for more than 20 years in his childhood home of Chile. Historically a rural outpost of seafarers and indigenous farmers, the area has seen a transformational shift toward a global economy as major fishing companies moved into the region. Although his research deals with something 6,300 miles away, Daughters sees similarities not far from home.

“It’s a transformation that isn’t foreign to people here where we are in the Midwest,” he said. “It’s a fairly universal process of transition, and you can think of it really as an extension of the industrial revolution reaching increasingly rural parts of the world.”

Daughters has been documenting the changes in Chiloé since the early 2000s, visiting the region every two or three years, and at one point living there for an entire year. In 2019, he published “Memories of Earth and Sea,” a comprehensive examination of the islands’ history.

Another transition Daughters is excited about is the one back to the classroom. After of a year of teaching virtually, he resumed in-person classes for the current academic year.

“On the whole, I missed person-to-person contact and teaching,” he said. “Now that I’ve gone back to in-person teaching, I really enjoy it. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it made me appreciate, again, how fun it is to teach and be in a classroom interacting with students.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Anton Daughters in 2018

A popular instructor, students are no doubt happy to be back in his classroom as well. In addition to earning the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education in 2018, Daughters was named Truman’s Educator of the Year in 2017.

“That’s a student-initiated award,” he said. “To me it felt like a really meaningful recognition.”