Statement of Professional Philosophy

Thomas J. Tobin

         In 1994, as an undergraduate student, I began student-teaching English classes at an impoverished high school. Since then, I have modeled my career path on the example of public servants--those who direct their talents toward improving the lives of those around them. Over the course of my studies and career, I have developed my skills as a teacher, mentor, scholar, leader, and advocate in order to be able to serve my students, colleagues, and community.
         I have been blessed with academic and professional success: I was a full-scholarship student from my undergraduate studies all the way through my Ph.D. work, and I have gained a reputation as a leading scholar in two fields: twenty-first century distance education and the nineteenth-century art and literary Pre-Raphaelite movement. I have lectured on these topics and have seen my work published in several academic journals. I have already published two books on the nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and poetry, as well as five books on how to lower barriers to technology-mediated education for everyone. I have been an English professor, a distance-education administrator, a faculty trainer, a librarian, and an internationally-recognized speaker and consultant.
         These accomplishments are secondary to an intense sense of a personal mission to serve. I have always wanted to give back to the community of teachers and mentors who helped to shape me. Throughout my career, I have chosen to work on behalf those whom academia might otherwise serve poorly, if at all: students and faculty members with disability barriers, those who cannot physically attend face-to-face classes due to distance or family commitments, rural learners, and first-generation college students. These experiences, I argue, have made me a better and more understanding administrator, instructional designer, mentor, and faculty member. We must share with others what we have been given.
         In my current work in the data-science and higher-education fields, I have been blessed with work at increasing levels of trust, confidence, and responsibility. In both industry and academia, my own advancement has been as a contributor to teams of people dedicated to helping to make the experience of employees and students, respectively, as satisfying and inclusive as possible. The experience of joining teams that are cohesive, have a sense of purpose, are open to everyone's ideas, reinforce each other, and celebrate accomplishments has only strengthened my resolve to serve my community--I want deeply and passionately to help others to feel "a part of" rather than "apart from."
         As a teacher and mentor, I ascribe to the idea that everyone can learn, if only we give them the tools, the time, and the room to do so. Some of my proudest moments relate to those students who came into my classes thinking they were not "college material" because they had struggled in the past. Sometimes the key to achievement is only an encouraging word or a few minutes of listening, and the best dividends I've received from such investments were my students telling me that they would continue to strive toward their goals because they had been convinced that they could succeed. This philosophy is not limited to students: I try to work with my colleagues in order to bring out their talents and to encourage them to take chances with new methods, new materials, and new pedagogies. One of the best motivators for me is being able to tap into and share the expertise of my peers.
         In my scholarly and professional research, I strive for thoroughness, usefulness, and attention to detail. As an information scientist, I find satisfaction in laying the foundation for researchers who will use my work in order to expand the canon of knowledge. I enjoy doing primary research, digging into an issue or problem until I am able to explain it and offer advice for how best to approach it with an eye toward practice. In my work with under-represented learners and educators, I am proud to be able to share their experiences with a wider audience, and the ability to give others a voice is powerfully meaningful to me. William Morris espoused creating nothing "that we do not know to be both useful and beautiful." All of my pursuits follow the concept of "craft," of taking time and care with one's work.
         As an advocate for marginalized populations outside the mainstream of academia, I press for equality of opportunity for all. One of my proudest achievements came when I was the administrator of an online-course program at a two-year college. I helped to recruit students who otherwise would not have been able to attend traditional classes: our online enrollment reached out particularly to adult learners with family and job responsibilities, disabled learners who could not travel to our campus, and rural learners more than thirty miles from campus. I was also able to help a blind faculty member to develop online courses, as well--an area of service that is just now being researched in academic journals. In my current position supporting faculty at a university geared toward minority, traditionally under-served, and non-traditional students, I am able to combine three of my professional goals:

  • I am "paying it forward" by developing and teaching courses for educators designed to help them to use assistive technology and innovative teaching techniques to reach out to their own challenged learners.
  • As a university program director, I work with an enthusiastic and cohesive team of faculty members, staff, and administrators to help make academic programs relevant and useful for our students' classroom and support-service practices.
  • In my role as a teacher and mentor, I continue to serve those for whom college and graduate school might otherwise have been impossible.
         My professional philosophy is predicated on the belief that I have been called to serve my neighbors, especially those who struggle against disadvantages. I want my life and work to stand as a testament to that mission of service. As a leader, teacher, scholar, mentor, advocate, partner, neighbor, and friend, I aim to better the lives of those around me and to give back through service in honor those who have helped me to accomplish my own potential.

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Last update 27 May 2021. © 2001-2021 Thomas J. Tobin.
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