Interview with Saundra McGuire, Louisiana State University, Part II
Before you start reading her interview, I have a few tips to share on turning ideas into action:
- Receive the ideas: Listen to what Saundra McGuire is saying in the interview, then write down five of her ideas that resonate with you.
- Expand the ideas: What’s one of the five ideas that you want to build on?
- Apply the ideas: What projects are you working on that you can apply the one idea?
Part One: Introduction
Avil Beckford: In a couple of sentences, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Saundra McGuire: I’d like start off by saying I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a sister and then a chemical educator and a learning specialist and I really have had a wonderful career. I’ve been blessed to have been elected to fellowships in the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS and most recently the Council of Learning Systems and Developmental Education Association for the work that I have done throughout my life in teaching and in mentoring others.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Saundra McGuire: The toughest decisions that I have ever had to make involved terminating employees, because as you’ve already heard, my leadership style is I’m very collaborative, it’s very group oriented, very team-oriented approach and whenever I’ve had someone who is not working well with the team I’ve spent typically a lot of energy, invested a lot of energy and effort trying to help them understand the difference between how they were behaving and what the team needed. Occasionally, the employees just didn’t get it, they couldn’t operate in a way that was best for the unit and so I had to terminate those people and that was always a very, very tough decision for me.
Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
- I would certainly have to start out with giving my life to Christ as a youngster because the knowledge that I am guided by a higher power. One of my favourite verses is ‘we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us’ and then another one is Romans 8:28 ‘all things work together for good for those who love the lord and are called according to his purpose.’ I think that has allowed me to go through life with a very positive attitude.
- A second thing would be when I skipped my senior year in high school and started college after 11th grade. My first year in college was when I met my husband, I was 16 at the time – he was 18. But that certainly has shaped my life. We’ve been married now going on 42 years and have two adult children and that has been, of course, a major part of my life.
- The third thing was when I made the decision to leave pursuing a PhD as a chemical researcher and pursued a PhD in Chemical Education because that put me on the path that allowed me to get to the career that I enjoy today.
Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Saundra McGuire: I would have to divide those into personal and professional accomplishments because they have equal weight. On a professional side, it’s being inducted as a fellow of the Council on Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Association (CLADEA). I recently got inducted a fellow in Houston, Texas, and I’m so proud of that accomplishment because it’s recognition by my peers in the Learning Centre community. That’s a community that I didn’t grow up in – I’m relatively new, but they inducted me as a fellow, one of only 44 in the nation. Two of us were inducted this year and the total group is 44. That was very meaningful. On the personal side, the accomplishment I’m most proud of is being married for 42 years to my husband and being a mother and grandmother to four lovely grandkids.
Avil Beckford: What are five life lessons that you have learned so far?
- My parents were excellent mentors; my mother and dad were both educators although my mother didn’t work outside the home when she had kids. There were four in my family so I have three siblings. But one lesson is that no person is more valuable than another person. There are differences in talent, differences in skills, differences in interests, but nobody is more valuable than you. You are not any more valuable than anyone else, and that’s the way you treat people.
- The second lesson is to treat other people the way you, yourself, would want to be treated, primarily with kindness and respect for them as human beings.
- The third thing, which I learned, probably about midway in my professional career – I’ve been doing this now for about 42 years, and I would say it’s probably been 15 or 20 years before I really learned this next lesson, which is don’t take things personally. When people act in a negative way towards you, it’s not necessarily because they’re reacting to anything that you’ve done, they could be reacting to the conversation that they had in an office before they got to your office or they could be thinking about things that are going to be happening later on that day, so you can’t take things personally because it’s certainly not always about you.
- And the fourth one would be to extend grace to other people. I think so often, and I see this all the time in the workplace, where someone makes a very small mistake and the supervisor just really gets incensed and irate. I think that if we would just extend grace to others, then we would be much happier, our coworkers would be much happier. I think we’d get a lot more done because people wouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes because mistakes are fine, you learn from mistakes, but if people are not given any slack, any grace, then they’re going to be terrified making mistakes.
- And then the fifth one, I would say is to do your very best on every single task. Sometimes that’s hard to do, to have a consistently high performance, and keep your focus on everything you do, but that is, to me, a very, very important lesson that I try to abide by.
Avil Beckford: If trusted friends could introduce you to five people (living or dead) that you’ve always wanted to meet, who would you choose? And what would you say to them?
- I think I would start with Ruth, the character in the Bible who follows her mother-in-law, ended up being in the lineage of Jesus Christ. What she did back then was so unusual. I would ask her what gave her the courage to step out and do something that was very unconventional, that has made her a well-known person throughout history.
- I would want to meet Harriet Tubman. Her dedication, determination – at very great personal risk – to free so many people, and to continue to go back again and again to do that. I would ask her where she found the courage to continue to do that.
- The third one would be Dr. Joseph S. Clarke who founded Southern University. He started a university for African Americans back in 1883. African Americans were not that far removed from slavery, there was a huge task ahead of him and I would want to know how he was able to marshal the forces that he needed to start a university because I think that some of the lessons that we could learn from him would be applicable today because there’s so many of our youth who are not being educated properly. There are people who want to start schools, but sometimes they start the school, and it flounders, but the institution that he founded is still alive and well, so I would want to talk with him.
- The last person is probably Mother Teresa. I am always in awe of her selfless dedication to humankind. I would ask her why she decided to give up everything that she could have had personally to serve mankind, and what she thinks she’s gotten out of that.
- The other person would be Martin Luther King. I would ask him, given what he knows now about the impact of integration, would he have pushed so hard for the integration of schools and other facilities when he did. And the reason I would ask him that is there are a lot of people I talk with in my generation, and when we look at the condition of education for African American students today, it is so much worse than it was when the schools were segregated, at least here in the south it is. Because there’s still a lot of segregation, it’s not a de facto segregation. Public schools don’t have resources, but back in those days there were dedicated African-American teachers who motivated the students, who were very much a part of a community, and that is just lost. There is such a void of good education in our communities that started with integration, and we lost that community feel for the school, and the connection that the teachers had for the students and the teachers had for the communities.
Avil Beckford: Which one book had a profound impact on your life? What was it about this book that impacted you so deeply?
Saundra McGuire: The Bible is obviously one because there’s so many life lessons there. It’s a great source of faith, but one that I really refer to a lot, especially when I am talking with faculty audiences about helping students, is a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. She’s a cognitive scientist out of Stanford University of California, and she looks at the attitudes that people have about intelligence. What she found was that typically, people have one of two different mindsets about intelligence. Either they think intelligence is something that’s fixed – you’re born with a certain amount of it so if you have an IQ test in third grade and your IQ is 70 and you have another one in tenth grade it’s probably not going to be 130, but the other mindset is that you can grow your intelligence with your actions. So you could have had an IQ of 70 in third grade and 130 in tenth grade if you had done something in the interim that would grow your intelligence. We know from the research on topics like brain plasticity that the growth-intelligence mindset is much closer to the truth than is the fixed-intelligence mindset. Those are so important because your mindset determines your reaction to a number of things. Just to give you two, one is challenges – typically people with a fixed-intelligence mindset avoid any challenge because they don’t want to encounter something that may tell them that they are not as intelligent as they perceive themselves to be. But those people who have a growth-intelligence mindset, they embrace challenges because they know that’s the way to get better. And another thing is effort – folks who have a fixed-intelligence mindset see effort as fruitless because they think that either they’re smart enough to do it without working very hard, or not smart enough to do it at all, whereas people with a growth-intelligence mindset know that effort is the path to mastery.
When I read that book and learned that information, I really could see that very much in my life, that I actually was one of these people who had a fixed-intelligence mentality. I was always told I was very smart, I did very well in school, but I also saw that as being a barrier to folks who were not told they were smart in elementary school, they kind of took on that persona of not being very smart and so they didn’t do things that would allow them to be very successful. I now know, I certainly believe in the growth-intelligence mentally, and I really don’t believe anymore in the concept that there are smart students and there are students who are not smart. I just think that there are students who have strategies and use those strategies for success, and there’re students who don’t know the strategies to use to be successful, but when we teach the students strategies for success, they can use those strategies and become successful just as other people. I think is so important for mentors to understand, and for us not to judge our students’ potential. I tell my students all the time, I don’t care if you made an F on the first test, I know you have the ability to make an A on the next test because it’s not about how smart you are, it’s about what you do and that has really had a profound impact, not only on my behaviours, actions and conversations with students, but when I observe other people, I see how they fit into, typically, one or the other two categories because you can predict what their behaviour is going to be.
Avil Beckford: So the last question is meant to be a fun question. You are one of the 10 finalists on the reality show, So, How Would You Spend Your Time? Each finalist is placed on different deserted islands for two years. You have a basic hut on the island and all the tools for survival; you just have to be imaginative and inventive when using them. You are allowed to take five books, what would those five books be and how would you spend the two years?
Saundra McGuire: You know I saw that questions and I had initially said, and these are the types of question that I don’t find them fun at all. I don’t like those types of questions. [laughter] I had initially thought I’d just say well that wouldn’t be me, I would not show up on this island, I would send somebody else but given that you’ve posed it, let me see. One of the books I would take, of course, would be the Bible. I would take, and I don’t have specific titles for the others, but one of them would be a book on the history of science because I find that fascinating reading.
One would be How People Learn, which is a book about learning theories, learning principles, that kind of thing. I would take a puzzle book because I enjoy just doodling and doing that for downtime. I would take the latest book that Oprah recommended. I just got the latest Oprah magazine, and the book that she is espousing for her book club, 2.0. I read the description and it sounded like that might be interesting so I would take that as a book of fiction. And what would I do in the two years? Now I’m assuming that there’s enough on the island for me to eat- there’s fruit, there’s those kinds of things so I would just swim, I would read, I would sleep and reflect on things, and just enjoy the downtime that I would have because as is the case with so many of us now, our lives are just so busy, we’re just busy, busy, busy. We’re always answering emails, there’s text mails, there’s voice mails and so I would just veg out and read. I wouldn’t read the books sequentially, I would be reading parts of all five at a time and just relax and enjoy it.
Avil Beckford: When you have some down time, how do you spend it? How do you nurture your soul?
Saundra McGuire: I love to just relax and veg out. I love playing Tennis with my husband or just going to a movie, reading, curling up in bed reading a book and I do very little fiction reading. There are so many professional books that I have not gotten to yet that I really enjoy reading a lot more journals or books or whatever. And also, searching the web for different kinds of information, much of it might be health related, but just finding information.
Avil Beckford: Complete the following, I am happy when…..
Saundra McGuire: When I am with my family and they are happy.
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Author Bio: Avil Beckford, an expert interviewer, entrepreneur and published author is passionate about books and professional development, and that’s why she founded The Invisible Mentor and the Virtual Literary World Tour to give you your ideal mentors virtually in the palm of your hands by offering book reviews and book summaries, biographies of wise people and interviews of successful people.
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