For the third installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Vanessa Stout, steward for the Department of Educational Psychology & Special education, several questions about her life, academic interests, union activities and psychoanalysis.
GAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and what brought you to SIUC?
Vanessa Stout: I am originally from Springfield, Illinois, where I was born and raised. Going to college was never a question, but I was unsure where to go. A friend of mine during my high school years intended on applying to SIU, which led to my application. While not the best way of selecting a college, I am more than pleased with my undergraduate education at SIU and even more so pleased with my education during my graduate studies.
GAU: Why are you pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology?
Stout: While Educational Psychology is my department, Counselor Education is my focus. During my master’s program, I became enamored with counseling. Being able to help others in such profound ways is a blessing, despite the challenges it presents. Counseling is not an easy field, and you have to have an immense amount of passion and persistence. Not only do you have to have passion for your clients, but also for your loved ones and yourself. This delicate balance is a frequented topic in our halls, especially since the process of becoming a counselor is very challenging. Being a professor and a counselor educator allows me not only to educate individuals within my field, but also assist in the challenging process of becoming a counselor.
GAU: Why conjoin the two fields – education and psychology – into one discipline?
Stout: Educational psychology in a nutshell, is the study of how people learn in educational settings. I think all of us have been in a class, and felt the instructor’s methods were unhelpful, or the material could have been taught differently. We all learn differently, though there are commonalities amongst differences. Understanding those differences and the effectiveness of interventions can aid in making education accessible to more individuals.
GAU: Bigger influence on you and/or your field: John Dewey or Sigmund Freud?
Stout: Both John Dewey and Sigmund Freud have had a considerable impact. Dewey had a considerable impact on education and it is difficult to find a counseling theory book that does not spend an entire beginning chapter on Freud. While Freud is often discredited, I see him as a pebble thrown into the water creating the ripple effect, which led to psychology, and eventually modern day psychotherapy. Many interventions and theories have been developed since his time, but it is difficult to deny the impact he has had in the development of psychology and counseling.
GAU: Can you describe your work as a TA in the Department of Educational Psychology & Special Education?
Stout: I am currently the TA for Theories of Counseling, which is a first year master’s student course. Students are exposed to the history of counseling theory, and asked to develop their own personal theory of counseling. My contributions to the class are assisting in understanding of different theories and development of students’ personal theory through journaling, and I also provide the lecture once or twice per month.
GAU: What is the most challenging aspect of working as a TA in your department – and what is the most rewarding?
Stout: The most challenging aspect is when students do not meet their own expectations of success. Most people enter counseling and counselor education because they genuinely care about the wellbeing of others, and want to see others succeed. Seeing students struggle can be difficult, and it is definitely the area I find most challenging as a TA.
GAU: As Steward for the Department of Educational Psychology & Special Education, how do you hope to help address issues GAs in your department face?
Stout: From my own experiences as a GA at both the master’s and doctoral level, I hold my department in high regard, as they have historically been respectful of the GA contract. However, students tend to be misinformed or lack knowledge about their contract. They are also often unaware of services GA United offer, or that joining and working with the union can ensure and create new benefits. Our department is relatively small, making one-on-one interventions ideal for educating students.
GAU: Some consider social movements and unionism – especially the communicative aspects – to be a form of public pedagogy. Can you provide a psychoanalysis of sorts regarding GAU’s public pedagogical approach?
Stout: I am relatively new to GA United, but can speak to my observations thus far. GAU has put considerable effort into educating the GA population at SIU through presence at events both at the various colleges and at the university level. We also do a lot of one-on-one interventions, which relies on our executive council, stewards and members to relay important information about our union. I believe the biggest problem GAU faces is the turnover rate, due to graduation. A strong union today doesn’t mean a strong union tomorrow. We have to be persistent in educating our new graduate students and GAs, to help “pass on the torch” and assure the future of GAU.
Another struggle for GAU is the large coverage area. GAs represent different colleges and different departments, and are spread out within a large university. Students have many interests, and limited time as they seek their degree. Also being spread out throughout the university makes it more of a challenge for the union to creation a relationship with GAs. Without a relationship due often to lack of information or oversight, GAs can often overlook their union and fail to make a connection. GAU must continue to work on creating relationships with GAs by establishing a presence across campus and educating graduate students about the importance and value of their union.
GAU: Can unions – graduate student unions and GAU specifically – be a kind of critical pedagogical movement to teach and learn about our world within the university system in order to transform it for the better?
Stout: I believe graduate student unions are an excellence place to teach and learn, before students graduate and enter the workforce. Unions work to protect their employees, and now is the time to inform students on the influence of unions, and how they can be valuable in their future careers.
GAU: What are your hopes for the future?
Stout: My hopes are to see GAU strengthened. As a new doctoral student, I can see the value in getting graduate students involved as soon as they step foot on campus. I hope to see involvement at various levels, both master’s and doctoral students and first years and students in stages of thesis and dissertation development. I also wish to see involvement from all colleges and departments across the University. Strength in numbers is needed in order to make change, which is especially true for when we go into bargaining for a new contract. With the upcoming bargaining, strength in numbers will help us fight for the things we need, such as a reduction in student fees and a raise in our salaries.