blogger counters

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Instant Online Education Using WhatsApp or WeChat

What do you do if your school is shut down for a week or even longer due to outbreaks of flu, bad weather, or a new virus?  Many schools have not budgeted to put their courses online, and even if they had the funds, many of the online commercial options do not meet the curriculum standards.  On top of that, there is simply no time.

 Further complicating the situation is the fact that many families in some school districts may not have a family computer or online service. Those who do may need the computer for other purposes during the day, particularly if a family member is working remotely from home. In addition, the students may not feel comfortable with a new learning management system, and they may not know how to proceed.

Are there any quick answers? Yes. It builds on the lesson plans and course materials you already have, but makes it possible to hold class and maintain student engagement, instead of simply having a week of homework and independent study.

Here is a bold approach that allows a school to seamlessly move to online education with very little extra cost by using smartphones.  In general, the extra cost would involve having a more robust data plan. It may be necessary to negotiate with the phone service providers to allow more data transfer each month.  If there are many children in a household, it may be necessary to have a family plan with more than one phone.

We would use WhatsApp or WeChat.  I’m selecting those two because they are extremely flexible and it is possible to create groups, use video chat, send group and private messages, share and send files for text, images, and videos.  However, the same could be done with Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, with just a few adjustments in considering the individual apps and their differences.

Step 1:  Modify daily lesson plans to be structured into lectures, check your knowledge quizzes (fun interactive polling), independent work, and receiving student work.

Step 2:  Review WhatsApp and familiarize yourself with video chat, group chat, photo transfer, and text messaging.

Step 3:  Build your Course Design Plan, which will be your lesson template. It will contain the following:

    Learning Objectives:  Clearly state to your students what they will learn. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to describe the outcome.  It is best to limit your learning objectives to one or two. Keep in mind that their learning activity and assessments will tie to the learning objectives.

    Lectures:  You will talk to the students via video chat.  Plan for the video lecture to be between 10 and 15 minutes.

    Check Your Knowledge and What Do You Think?: 
At least twice during the lecture, pause for a moment and ask your students to answer a question. They will send in their responses via text message. It can be an opinion (as in What Do You Think?), which could make the topic and lecture more engaging. Stress that class participation is a part of their grade.

    Independent Activity:
  This will be a moment when you’ll ask your students to turn to their books and read a passage.

    Activity Review: 
Doodle Polls are extremely easy to make and they are free. Most people use them for selecting schedules, but you can create multiple choice questions as well.  You can send the URL of your poll to your students via WhatsApp messaging, and when they complete them, you will see their responses in a single document. These are ideal for keeping students engaged, checking their knowledge, and giving them a class participation grade. For graded quizzes, ProProfs is a sophisticated package and also free, although the free version is limited. It takes some time to create the multiple choice questions, so you may not wish to do more than one per week.

   Multiple choice quizzes:  You can use ProProfs or one of the other free quizmaker programs to create graded multiple choice quizzes that your students can do via their phones.  You will be able to see their grades. Ideally, your quizzes will provide feedback that points them to the correct answer and also ties directly to a specific text in the lessons.

   Written Assignments: This is an opportunity for you to ask your students to complete one or two short answer questions and to turn it in via WhatsApp. 
  • Student procedure:  Ask your students to write the answers on a piece of paper and then take a picture and send it to you. Alternatively, they can create a document using an app on their phone, save it, then send it via their phone.  

  • How you provide feedback: You will grade the work and provide feedback by recording a message in WhatsApp and sending it to each student. Your response should not be more than 2 minutes in length.  If you need to write an answer or add diagrams, you can do so on a piece of paper, and then take a photo and send it.

How you record grades:  You can record grades in the way that you normally do so. 

If you teach the same course to several different sections of students, you may wish to record your group video chat in order to save it for anyone who may have missed it due to illness.

For maximum engagement, however, it is important that all the students participate together in the group chat.

Online Classroom Management. 
As you move forward, you may have a few online classroom management challenges.  Here are the main guidelines:
  •     Ask everyone to mute their phones during the lecture.
  •     Do not send messages during the lecture.
  •     Ask for 100% participation in the Check Your Knowledge and What Do You Think?  Sections. Make sure that you emphasize that participation is a part of their grade.
  •     Shut down any possible cyberbullying or cybershaming right away.
  •     Make sure that your recorded responses are succinct and positive.
  •     When your students complete their graded multiple choice quizzes, put some thought into encouraging your students to work in groups.  If you do so, you will increase engagement, collaboration, and facilitate deeper learning.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Audience Analysis: Important for All Messages from Social Media to Technical White Paper

Before you write, during the writing and revision process, the key to an effective document, presentation, or message is understanding your audience.

Who is your audience?  Who, specifically, are they?
As you prepare to write, you need to have a good idea of your audience.  This will probably involve more than one stage of contemplation.  Of course, you know who your primary audience is likely to be, particularly if it is an instructor or an editor.  But who are the secondary audiences likely to be?  Why?

Demographics of the audience
As you define your audience, you need to have an idea of their basic characteristics.  Where do they live?  What gender are they? How old are they?  What is their income level?  What is their education level?  What are the demographics that specifically apply to your topic?  That will influence the questions you ask yourself as you try to obtain an accurate idea of the dominant characteristics of your audience.  For example, if your paper is on gun control, it is useful to know if your audience is likely to be comprised of gun owners, or members of the NRA.

How will they receive your message?  What is the medium?  Printed or written discourse?  Internet?  Graphics?  Film?  Television?
The medium of the message has a definite impact on audience impact.  For example, if they read your article in a newspaper, they will respond to it in a different manner than if they read it on typed pages.  If your message is on the Internet, you need to keep in mind such factors as design, color, accessibility, loading speed, etc.  If your message includes graphics, how are they printed on the page?  In color? Black and white?  If the medium is film or television, what are the production values?  What are other factors, such as music, set design, mise-en-scene, direction, camera angles, etc.?  All these are non-narrative elements that have an impact on your audience because each element carries with it meaning.  The mind makes meaning from each of the elements, and, like it or not, it will impact the spoken or written part of the discursive package.

What are the core values of your audience?  How can you affirm those while making your point?
What are the core values of your audience?
  Of course, you will probably never know all of them, but if you understand a bit about the religious, ethnic, group, and/or demographic background of your audience, you may have a fairly good idea about how the audience members respond to certain issues.  What do they believe is the appropriate role of government and the state?  Is the human being inherently good, bad, or neutral?  Is the human psyche malleable or rigidly programmed?  The key is to identify the core values that pertain to your primary thesis and the topics in your paper.  If you affirm your audience's core beliefs, you can help convince your audience of your credibility and they will be more likely to pay attention.

When do the attitudes and values of your audience shift?  This is a key opportunity, but why?  What are your audience's situational attitudes?
This is an often overlooked and underestimated element in audience analysis.  And yet, it is precisely this area that holds the most promise because these are the points where you may actually be able to wield influence.  When the attitudes and values of your audience begin to shift due to a changing situation, or a different speaker, then you know you have an opportunity to create a more effective argument, and one which actually has a chance of working.  This is not to be overlooked.

Why will your audience read your document?  What's in it for them?

In constructing your paper, you need to keep in mind that your audience is not likely to read past the first line unless they perceive that there is some benefit or utility in continuing to read.  With that in mind, you need to structure your paper so that you "positively program or condition" your audience by making the paper readable, relevant, reliable, and rewarding.

What are audience expectations?  Narrative expectations?  Generic expectations?
Because of the nature of narrative and form, your audience will begin to develop the expectation that your paper will follow along these lines.  You must analyze your paper very carefully and decide what basic narrative form it is following. If it is a story, is it a Cinderella story?  Romeo and Juliet?  A revenge story?  If it is a report, is it a sales pitch?  An expose?  A recommendation?  A informational review?  Does it take a position and argue a point?  Generic expectations have to do with the genre or type of paper that it is. If it is a paper that takes a position, you would hardly expect it to read like an instruction manual.  Thus, you need to keep in mind how your audience will typecast your paper and just accordingly.

What are your audience's preconceptions about your topic?  The "major players" in your topic?
Is your audience likely to have preconceptions about your audience?  If they do, you need to address them.  If you do not acknowledge the preconceptions, your audience will think that you are not very well informed.  In addition, it is important to determine who the "major players" are and that they manifest themselves as subtopics, statistics, case studies, images, or individual characters.

Who do you consider yourself to be? 
Who are you, and, more importantly, where are you in relation to your audience?  What are the power hierarchies?  Who and where is the "Other" in relation to you and your audience, and how does it change the way they approach you, each other, the text?
As you read your paper, think about how you would respond to your audience if you were meeting them face-to-face, then explaining the topic to them.  How do you envision them assessing you?  Your response to this is a key indicator of how you perceive yourself, and whether or not you believe yourself to be speaking to a group of peers, or to a group of individuals or an individual with more or significantly less power than you.  It's absolutely indicative of the post-colonial (and post-feminist, if one discusses the phenomenology of oppression) mindset, and it indicates how you know your own reality, and how you prioritize your perceptions.  If you can manage to think in an "Other"-centric way, you will have achieved what Kenneth Burke referred to as "consubstantiality," or the ability to "get under the skin" of your audience.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Using Statistics to Support Your Research

Statistics can provide excellent evidence for your paper.  However, unless they are used appropriately, they can undermine your argument and can even be destructive. In addition, it’s easy to reinforce cognitive biases with cherry-picked statistics without realizing what you’re doing.  The coupling of cognitive bias with flawed statistics was explored by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and was part of their Nobel prize-winning findings. 

Here are a few guidelines for using statistics in your paper.

The key is to be aware of how statistical reasoning occurs and where it might be faulty.  Faulty statistical reasoning can be harmful.  It can lead to causal relationships or conclusions that are unwarranted, inaccurate, or deceptive.  Even if the presentation of the statistics is compelling, and even if the source seems to be reliable, they can be inaccurate. As you analyze, keep in mind when / how you might be making errors when analyzing data.

The Manipulated and "Sanitized" Statistic.  Numbers can be manipulated to make the facts seem to conform to one’s agenda.  For example, the College Board manipulated the SAT scores in 996 and it made it appear that math and verbal scores improved, when in reality, the performance was about scene.

Needlessly precise and hard to read:  need to put it in a form that it is easier to decipher and compare.

The Meaningless Statistic.  Exact numbers can be used to quantify something so inexact, vaguely defined, or difficult to count that it could only be approximated.  The exact number looks impressive, but it can hide the fact that certain subjects (domestic abuse, eating habits, use of narcotics, shopping, sexual preference) cannot be quantified exactly because respondents don't always tell the truth, because of denial, embarrassment, or merely guessing. Or they respond in ways they think the researcher expects.

The Vagueness of the Average.  The mean, median, and mode are three measures of central tendency (the intermediate, or middle, value in a set of numbers) can be used in inconsistent and inappropriate way in order to make .

How to say it’s the average:  The core of the problem comes from the fact that there are ways of reporting "average" - mean, median, mode

Unethical uses of "averages”.  people can tend to use the average that serves their purposes

The Distorted Percentage Figure.  Percentages are often reported without explanation of the original numbers used in the calculation.  Another fallacy in reporting percentages occurs when the margin of error is ignored.  This is the margin within which the true figure lies, based on estimated sampling errors in a survey.

False Ranking.  This happens when items are compared on the basis of poorly-defined criteria.  Unless we know how the ranked items were chosen and how they were compared (the criteria), a ranking can produce a scientific-seeming number based on a completely unscientific methods.

Drawbacks of Data Mining.  Many highly publicized correlations are the product of data-mining.  In this process, a software program searches databases and randomly compares one set of variables (say, buying habits) with another set.  From these countless comparisons, certain relationships, or associations, are revealed (perhaps between green tea frappucino drinking and pancreatic cancer risk).  At one retail company, a correlation between diaper sales and beer sales, presumably because young fathers go out at night to buy diapers.  The retailer then displayed the diapers next to the beer and reportedly sold more of both.

The Biased Meta-Analysis.  In a meta-analysis, researchers look at a whole range of studies that have been done on one topic (say, the role of high-fat diets to cancer risk).  The purpose of this "study of studies" is to decide on the overall meaning suggested by these collected findings. 
These are just a few of the many areas of bias in the use of statistics. With new algorithms being developed and the quest for meaningful pattern recognition in machine learning and deep learning, it’s important to recognize that bias can creep in at any point, especially if you have a predetermined idea about the result, or have a vested interest.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Sunshine Cleaning (2008): Sisters and Entrepreneurship

The independent, low-budget film, Sunshine Cleaning, (Dir. Christine Jeffs, 2008), was well received at film festivals and by critics. It received six non-winning nominations and two winning nominations for film awards. The film won “Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Low Budget Feature – Drama/Comedy) and also Women Film Critics Circle Awards “Best Woman Storyteller.”  The film’s budget was capped at $5 million. The box office proceeds came in at $17.3 million, which does not include Internet / app distribution.

Megan Holley

Cast (partial listing):

Rose (Amy Adams)
Norah (Emily Blunt)
Joe (Alan Arkin)
Oscar (Jason Spevack)
Mac (Steve Zahn)


After deciding her gifted by quirky young son should attend private school rather than continue to be bullied, Rose Lorkowski, a mom who has been employed with a maid service provider, discovers that crime scene and biohazard cleanup pays many times more than her current job. So, with the help of her free-spirited but unreliable younger sister and baby-sitting support from her hapless entrepreneur father, she launches Sunshine Cleaning. The first few jobs are a bit overwhelming, especially since the two sisters know absolutely nothing about hazardous materials, bloodborne pathogens, or personal protective equipment. They persevere, however, and start to build the business.  As they clean up the aftermath of accidental deaths, accidents, criminal acts, and suicides, the sisters start to confront some of the darker issues of their own lives, including the suicide of their own mother, the erratic parenting of their father, and the tendency to become involved in relationships that have no hope of a positive outcome.


Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the light has that clear, yellow-gold clarity of northern New Mexico mountains, that contrasts with a clear blue sky and a chaparral / desert pavement ground. It’s earthy and realistic, lending the film a sense of authenticity.

What I like about the movie is the entrepreneurial spirit in a time of desperate challenges; the financial collapse of 2008 is not explicitly mentioned, but its presence is palpable. The uneasy relationship between two sisters and their well-intentioned but hapless father is also very touching. The sisters, through sheer force of will (and love for family), overcome the sickening nature of the crime scenes and bio-hazard zones.

In doing so, they are able to see the murky shapes in the recesses of their conscious minds, and to let the undifferentiated masses of emotions long suppressed come to the surface and untangle themselves.

Through the contact with death, many times due to the suicide of someone, the suicide of their mother emerges.  They come to realize that many of the patterns and behaviors they’ve had over the years have been in response to that traumatic loss.

And, as time goes on, they courageously face the memories and the feelings, they start on the tough work of cleaning up the ultimate bio-hazard zone, grief and loss.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Self-Knowledge and the Enchanted Road Trip in Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

When Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) was first released, there were a few problems due the number of scenes featuring sex and smoking marijuana, both of which obscured the fact that this is, at its heart, a road trip movie. The road trip is, for two teen-age friends, a coming of age experience, while it is, for the older woman who befriends them, a kind of dying wish. In both cases, it’s an end of innocence for all involved, and as such, the movie plunges the viewer into the heart of a kind of innocence of experience that triggers deep emotions.

 In just a few words, the plot involves the final summer before college when two best friends, Julio and Tenoch, spend time with an older woman, Luisa, who is the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, while their girlfriends are out of town. Triggered by the news that her breast cancer is in an inoperable late stage and that her husband has cheated on her, Luisa agrees to travel with Julio and Tenoch across rural Mexico to the mythical (which turns out to be real) beach town of Boca del Cielo.

 What they experience along the way transforms them in many ways: stories told about their experiences, narratives that shape their perception, the narratives built into the places they visit (sites of terrible accidents, political contexts and events, economic migrations) and in the traditions they observe and experience (the traditional Mexican food, the beautiful Mexican coast, the desert, the winding roads through the mountains). With the voice-over and a documentary hand-held camera style of filming, the people seem uniquely rich and textured, engenders both nostalgia and a sense of the sublime.    


On the surface, this is a road trip movie featuring two male teenagers and a female acquaintance, who decide, on a whim, to drive from Mexico City to the Pacific coast. Also, on the surface, it’s about the way that Mexicans live, starting with privilege and entitlement (a politician and his family, with elaborate weddings and memberships at an exclusive country club), then traveling into the twists and turns of the road as it bends through mountains, deserts, coasts, pueblos.

The stories, misunderstandings, sexual tensions, and appetites enveloped into the history of the places they travel through, and the food, drink, hotels, sand, surf, churches, albarrotes (small family-owned stores), restaurants, cantinas, which give it an indelible imprint of Mexico, not only of its appearance, but more importantly, the heart and soul of the people. The plot is relatively simple: Julio and Tenoch are trying to find the best way to make it through the summer while their girlfriends are traveling in Europe before they change their lives and start studying at the university. Julio and Tenoch are innocent creatures of pure appetite: they eat, they drink.

They happen to meet Luisa, the wife of Julio’s cousin, Jano. They banter a bit about places they’ve been.  Tenoch and Julio invent a beach place, “Boca del Cielo” and claim it’s the most beautiful beach in the world and that they’re planning to visit it. That seems to be the end of it, until the next day when Luisa calls them and asks if they’re still planning to go.  In their eagerness to say “yes,” they do not inquire why she is interested. They do not know (although the viewer does), that Luisa’s husband, Jano, called and confessed he was unfaithful to her. They also do not know that she was just informed that she has Stage 4 cancer.

We as viewers know that she is in a hyper-real state of being, intensely aware of life and every precious moment of it. Because the viewer has inside knowledge, the road trip is fascinating, and the squabbles, misunderstandings, and intemperance are all framed in a larger panorama of life, death, coming-of-age, and endings. And, even as Julio and Tenoch open-heartedly try to sample all possible carnal indulgences, we know that they do so because when this road trip is over, they will have matured and will no longer have the same adolescent mindset. We also know that when this road trip is over, Luisa will be facing the very end, and so this “last hurrah” is even more poignant.  Like most road trip movies, traveling way from the stifling, congested, corrupt city represents a move toward nature and freedom. It also means a journey another state of mind or state of being.

The road trip itself is a punctuated narrative: Julio and Tenoch share stories and then question each other about their sexual exploits; the towns they pass bring up memories and historical facts, which are narrated to us by the omniscient voice-over narrator, and finally, the mise-en-scene is stunning inasmuch as the Mexican landscape and small pueblo-scapes become a character in an of themselves.  As they drive, they share stories about themselves and discuss their sexual transgressions. Julio and Tenoch try to outdo each other, confessing that they’ve slept with each other’s girlfriends, and Julio even claims to have had sex with Tenoch’s mother, but it’s not clear if this is even true. That night, Tenoch, upset with Julio, leaves his room and passes Julia.  Julia, tearful, has just spoken with her husband, Jano, and explained why she left him. She seduces Tenoch, and they have sex. The sexual rivalries trigger heated arguments, and Luisa threatens to leave. 

The main action of the film has to do with the road trip to the Boca del Cielo (which turns out to actually exist), and the intense experiences along the way, which include camping on the beach, the ocean, and a final scene of seduction in which Luisa dances with both, then stimulates both Julio and Tenoch at the same time.  This is a turning point; and the line that Julio and Tenoch crossed with each other is something they do not want to face. Luisa stayed at the ocean to continue exploring beaches and coves, while Julio and Tenoch return, uneventfully, to Mexico City. After they return, they do not see each other for more than a year, and when they do, it is the last time. They have changed; the events of the road trip matured them, perhaps even frightened them as they faced an abyss they feared. Tenoch tells Julio that Luisa died a few months after they left her at the beach; she lived her final days to the fullest.

The true story has to do with how the viewer gains insight into the shaping of identity and the depth and richness of the characters who, even though they may seem to be involved in rather simplistic activities, are participating in traditions and beliefs that date back to even pre-Hispanic times. Mexican independence, clashes, civil war, conflicts, along with the traditions of church, traditional dances, town patron saint festival days, weddings, funerals, and traditions of food and drink interweave. The technique is very realistic; the viewer feels the dust on the road, hears the music, almost perceives the smells and tastes. By the end, we see Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa as complex, multi-dimensional individuals. There is a deep sense of nostalgia and the week-long trip has the feeling of a dream or a life-changing memory.

Notable techniques:

Voiceover Narration:  The voice-over tells the back-story and also tells the overall significance and meaning of the actions, many of which may seem trivial, but turn out to be formative and as such, deeply moving. For example, as they pass by a village around a curve, and see two wooden crosses, the voice explains that if Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa  had passed by here several years before, they would have seen a woman weeping hysterically at the death of her two children.

Documentary-style handheld camera:
  The point of view of the camera and the movement give the film a documentary feel, and emphasize realism. The handheld camera creates a sense of authenticity.  The angles are often at eye level and shot from, for example, the back seat of a car, which generates immediacy and intimacy.

Innocence vs. Experience: While Julio and Tenoch consider themselves experienced, inasmuch as they do everything possible to satisfy their appetites. Nevertheless, the progress of the film shows them to be very innocent in terms of the world, of who they are, and the relationship between confusing and conflicting desires and what it means to be human and alive.

Sexuality:  Julio and Tenoch are sexual beings, and in their youth, they have healthy appetites. In fact, much of their time seems to be dedicated to the quest of satisfaction. For example, Julio and Tenoch have access to the country club on Mondays, when it is closed to patrons.  In one memorable scene, they swim in the pool and then, jump out, lie on the diving boards and stimulate themselves as they discuss different girls they know. 

Coming of Age:  The road trip leads to deeper self-knowledge and encounters with darker truths about themselves that made them reflect on their own sense of identity, and also their overall place in their society.  After Boca del Cielo, it was no longer possible to live in adolescent bliss where the chief concern is the satisfaction of appetites and living completely in the moment.

There is a tremendous difference between love and sex, and for that matter, there is a huge difference between fraternal love and carnal love; when the two intersect, confusion occurs.

Loyalty:   Julio and Tenoch are loyal friends, and are very close, tight friends, but the road trip breaks their friendship apart. They find that their bonds were rather fragile, after all. But, on a deeper level, they are loyal to what it means to be Mexican; the family values, the ties to traditions (Pre-Conquest as well as Colonial), and ties to the Mexican volcanoes, desert, mountains, and beaches.


Julio: Friend of Tenoch whose parents were relatively wealthy, which gave him privilege but not as much as Tenoch. He lives in Mexico City during a time of tremendous political unrest, and the rural population is involved in uprisings.  Julio, however, is relatively uninterested in politics or the economy. As an adolescent male, Julio is most concerned with satisfying his appetites and joking around with his best friend.

Tenoch: Son of a prominent and very wealthy politician. His life is of privilege, to which he is largely oblivious except for being aware that he has to behave properly in public (which inspires him to rebel). He attends the weddings and other politically-motivated spectacles of his father, and he interacts with his extended family without ever understanding or becoming conscious of the fact that there is dramatic income and social inequality even in his own family.

Luisa:  Luisa is of Spanish descent, and she speaks with a Spanish / Castillian accent. This sets her apart and gives her the impression that she is of high social status. The reality is that she has a very low level of education, due to the loss of her parents at a young age, and her relatively impoverished childhood.  Thus, she has a sense of inferiority, as well as an ongoing sense of loss and grief, not only for the loss of her parents, but also her first love, who died in a motorcycle accident. She married Jano, the cousin of a high-ranking politician, but it is not a happy union, and he is constantly correcting her and elevating himself over her.  She finds out in the same day that she has incurable cancer and that her husband has been cheating on her.  The shock is enough to inspire her to go on a very impromptu road trip with two immature yet sweet and well-meaning teenagers.

Character Analysis:

The son of middle class parents, his father disappeared when he was young, and his mother works hard to raise him.  His sister is politically active and leftist, meaning that she is part of a tradition that upheld the rights of the indigenous and rebelled against the often authoritarian rule of the elites, whose influence traces back to the Spanish conquest and privileging of those of Spanish or European descent. He is more or less oblivious to politics, but the road trip and the people, places, and political memory start to awaken him.

Curious:  At first, Julio is remarkably unaware and seemingly indifferent to the world around him. However, he is curious about Luisa, and as he starts to understand her life and her background, he starts to think about many of the political issues that his parents have talked about during his childhood, and that his sister, an activist, is involved in. 

Idealistic:  Julio  has no political leanings, but as time goes on in the movie, he awakens to the demonstrations and protests against social inequality and the dire poverty of the working classes. The omniscient narrator explains what is happening behind the scenes, and what has happened politically, so that the viewer sees just how Julio has almost no choice but to become very idealistic as he matures.

Proud:  He knows that his friends, who are wealthy and from politically connected families, look down on him for being of middle class origins. He feels some resentment toward it, but more than anything he seeks to make his own way in the world, and is relatively free to do so, as opposed to Tenoch, whose family is pressuring him to study economics.

Tenoch is the son of a Harvard-educated economist and the Secretary of State.  Tenoch is short for “Tenochtitlán,” an Aztec city, and was inspired by his father’s sudden burst of nationalism.  Tenoch’s father is corrupt, which is a fact generally accepted by both Julio and Tenoch.  The omniscient narrator voice-over explains that Tenoch’s father will not be the “tall hog at the trough” forever; in the next election, his party will be voted out.

Rebellious:  Tenoch’s father wants him to study economics.  Tenoch wants to study literature and become a writer.   The pressure put on him by his father makes Tenoch rebellious.

Insatiable: Part of Tenoch’s frustration makes him channel his frustration into his appetite for adventure, sex, and drugs. At times he seems insatiable for those, but later we realize that his insatiability is really for living life, and for feeling the depth of intense experiences.  It is here that we see his artistic, writerly spirit.

Entitled:  Tenoch’s father’s position has resulted in a life of privilege and wealth.  Even though he rebels against his father, and is not in agreement with the lifestyle, he is the beneficiary of entitlement, and takes very much for granted the ability to have access to country clubs, travel, expensive equipment.  However, the trip starts to change him.


Luisa’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was ten, and she was raised by an aunt who was an adherent of Generalissimo Franco in Spain.  She wanted to travel, have a career, and study, but she had to stay at home and take care of her aunt in her last years. When her aunt passed way, Luisa studied to become a dental technician. She married Jano, who often mocks here and cheats on her.

Insecure:  Due to her unrealized dreams and the mistreatment of her husband, Luisa is very insecure and quiet.  But, knowing her cancer is late-stage and her husband will never change, Luisa takes risks and embraces life.

Adventurous:  At the end, Luisa embraces life and everything that it symbolizes: nature, ocean, self-acceptance, and sexuality.  She wants to do everything possible to experience life, not intellectually or at a distance, but by means of physical contact.  Thus she seduces and is seduced by both Julio and Tenoch.

Romantic: The director’s hand-held camera shots, many shot from the periphery, give the viewer a voyeuristic feeling, and, combined with the narration of the omnicient voice-over we start seeing Luisa as a romantic; not only in her feelings, but also in the philosophical, Kantian sense of the term, inasmuch as she bases her beliefs and her behavior on her individual perceptions and experiences. Thus, to gain knowledge about life, one must experience it.  And, she does.

Philosophical:  When the three finally do find a place called Boca del Cielo, Luisa runs into the ocean and lets the foam and spray flow over her. Life is to be lived in the present, she says. She dances in the surf, and the cries out to Julio and Tenoch: “Life is like sea-foam -- so give yourself away to the sea!”

Review Questions:

1.    In Mexico City, Julio and Tenoch battle the daily frustrations of traffic jams, accidents, and protests. They also see dirty, poorly designed infrastructure, and examples of human misery, even as they have a chance to spend time in oases such as the country club and expensive homes (paid for through corruption).  What are some of the elements in the film that criticize Mexico’s politicians and ruling elites?

2.    Julio and Tenoch’s friendship dissolves after the road trip, but Cuaron (the director) does not explicitly say why. There are several friendship eroding moments.  What are the implications of each of the following?  Julio and Tenoch have had affairs with one another’s girlfriends; they are from antagonistic social classes; they embrace and kiss each other while Luisa is stimulating them in a sexual encounter.

3.    Why and how is this movie much more than a simple coming-of-age road trip movie? With the hand-held camera, the innovative mise-en-scene with  unusual angles and shots, and the omniscient narrator voiceover, the film is able to establish a sense of authenticity, and also to connect past and present. The repeating motifs of the beach, of water, and of the landscape give one a sense of the beauty and majesty of Mexico, with its rich culture and historical heritage.  Please describe two or three scenes that illustrate how the film is much deeper than a typical coming-of-age film.

4.     How does the director suggest that nostalgia and grief are an essential part of the Mexican identity? Describe the scenes that represent accidents or political tragedies in the past, and also various family histories, such as that of Luisa and that of Chuy’s family.


Acevedo-Muñoz, E. R. (2004). Sex, Class, and Mexico in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también. Film & History (03603695), 34(1), 39–48.

Amaya, H., & Blair, L. S. (2007). Bridges between the Divide: The Female Body in Y tu mamá también and Machuca. Studies in Hispanic Cinemas, 4(1), 47–62

Quintanilla, F. Q. (2014). La Llorona como esfinge subversiva en Y tu mamá también (2002) de Alfonso Cuarón. Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, 43(1), 132–146. 

“Y Tu Mamá También” Is a Sexual Grenade from Mexico. (2002). Rolling Stone, (893), 138

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Great Beach and Holiday Reading: Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman Is a Fun Read, with Intriguing Philosophical and Socio-Cultural Elements


Convenience Store Woman (Konbini ningen) by Japanese author Sayaka Murata was originally published in 2016.  It’s the story of a rather shy 18-year-old woman, Keiko Furukura, who lands a job at the newly opening Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart, a convenience store in the heart of the business district of Tokyo.  18 years later, Miss Furukura is still working at the same Smile Mart, to the dismay of her sister, Mami, and other family members. They are mystified why Keiko does not want to advance past a part-time job at a convenience store in order to have a real career. Or, at the very least, they think that Keiko should at least be married and try to have a child. They know, but do not understand why, Keiko has never even been on a date.

The Smile Mart is its own clockwork utopia where the needs of customers are anticipated with the help of the day’s weather forecast, special product promotions, the time of year, and other external factors. Similar to the way in which a traveler in Japan’s airports will be greeted by deep bows by the flight crew precisely at the moment of boarding, the Smile Mart follows a set of instructions and guidelines and requires its employees to complete rigorous training. Such details as the type of smile to hold, and the tone of voice to use to cheerfully shout out greetings and sales promotions are included in the training, as well as the specifications regarding the uniform and way to wear one’s hair. The Smile Mart itself is a constantly revolving kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, smells, sounds, lights, and products, all of which create a full and satisfying world for Keiko, who knows her role and how to contribute to maintaining its mechanical perfection.

Susan Smith Nash reading Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman. Great beach reading -- fun, with intriguing philosophical and socio-cultural elements. 
For the strangely affect-less Keiko, whose essential nature is to not have an essence at all, the Smile Mart provides her substance for the emptiness of her identity, and a series of gestures, inflections, and phrases for her inner silence. Over the years, Keiko has changed; she has metamorphosed, not in conjunction with any sort of inner enlightenment but by means of closely observing and mimicking the clothes, behaviors, words, and expressions of those around her. She skillfully selects and blends words so that they give the appearance of spontaneity and authenticity, but her coworkers are not completely convinced, and in fact, keep a bit of distance from her.  They seem to sense that Keiko is literally a construct of the convenience store; not only does she shape her outward manifestation to blend in and play a useful role, she consumes food and water from the Smile Mart, making her literally a creation of the store. 

The Smile Mart is Pygmalion; Keiko its Galatea in this post-industrial world of constant reification processes, of daily restocking and recreation within the microcosm of the Smile Mart. Because Keiko’s actions are self-directed, however, this automaton has achieved self-awareness. Identity and beingness are self-directed constructs. The constant contact with the ever-changing inventories, light, and dynamics of the Smile Mart constitute the kind of “crossover” (or mixing of genes) that one sees in Japanese mecha (robot) anime.  Keiko seems almost to be a the sentient parallel of a mecha / robot.

While Keiko is completely content in her world, she does not enjoy the constant badgering of Mami, her sister, to conform to the social norms for women. So, when the very odd 40-something deadbeat Shiraha is hired on as a part-time worker, Keiko is primed to be receptive in a way she was not before. At first, she finds Shiraha to be utterly repugnant for his slacker attitude and constant ridiculing of employees for being slaves to the system. Shiraha is ultimately fired because his reason for applying for work at the Smile Mart – to catch a wife – resulted in his stalking and harassing female customers.

And, it is at this point that the book takes a very bizarre turn. Keiko stumbles upon the fact that Shiraha is homeless; hopelessly behind in the rent and unwelcome at his family’s home. Instead of turning away, she invites Shiraha to go home and co-occupy her apartment.  Shiraha rather unkindly comments that he could never be attracted to her, to which Keiko expresses relief.  She considered Shiraha a useful pet; she feeds him, and in turn, he protects her from social criticism.

This made me think of Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat (1905), in which the cat speaks in aristocratic tones, making itself superior to humans.  I would be curious to know if Murata uses the same sort of high-register, formal diction for Shiraha.

Murata’s ironies are delightful.  Instead of being concerned for the actual welfare of the individuals, Keiko’s co-workers and family members are delighted that she is, at least, following social norms, even if her husband is a deadbeat and she is forced to work doubly hard to support him. Shiraha cheerfully and openly explains his goal is to be a parasite, and as such, he will do Keiko a favor by causing her to elicit pity and compassion.

Convenience Store Woman becomes at this point a rather powerful commentary on the role of women in society, and the ultimate lack of self-determination. Shiraha begins to guide Keiko in his own self-serving (and societally condoned) direction, grooming her to take a full-time “regular” job so that she can better support him. But, post-industrial society and its perfectly regulated Smile Marts (and other microcosms) are ultimately safer and happier places. When Keiko finds herself in an understaffed Smile Mart, she steps in, in an instant reanimated and energized. Her identity is restored. She is happy.

Some critics have pointed out the rather Gothic elements of Convenience Store Woman. They are there, but it’s definitely not a full-fledged Gothic novel with dark secrets and bizarre spells and/or a cult of personality. In my opinion, the Gothic elements simply have to do with the rather bizarre hold that Shiraha has over Keiko, and his attempts to harness her to go and work to support him.

The richness of the details that author Sayata Murata provides in the convenience store, not only in the arrangement of products and the sales processes, but also in the dynamics between managers and workers, are such a familiar staple of our world that we immediately identify it as the post-industrial community.  In many ways, the Smile Mart and its employees are an extended family, with its members focused on protecting and providing for one’s physical and emotional needs.

On a personal note, I think that Convenience Store Woman should be required reading for all 7-11, OXXO, and QuikTrip employees.  I would love to see the transformation, especially if they follow the protocols and customer care concepts found in Murata's novel :).

--- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Transitioning Smoothly Through Career Transitions: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:

How can people handle these transitions more smoothly?

Photo by Jacub Gomez

Work Through the Emotions
There are several things that can help a person handle major career transitions and cause these changes to go more smoothly. However, the success of the transition will be contingent upon several things including the ability to ask for help, handle stress, acquire new skills, try new things, and challenge negative thought patterns. People change careers for various reasons, but if they did not make the choice to leave their job, the first reaction to a job loss or major transition is often fear, grief/loss, or anger. Thus, for the person facing such changes, it is important to allow yourself time to work through the emotions, while also doing some serious reflecting. Although it never seems like it at the time, losing a job can be a blessing as it can allow us the opportunity to seek a career that is much more rewarding. It is worth taking an inventory of your skills, education, passions, and goals, and brainstorm new possibilities. Seeking the assistance of a career transition coach or counselor may be very helpful during this time.

Build a New Support Team 
Another common phenomenon associated with major career transitions is a sudden awareness that many of the friends you thought you had are suddenly nowhere to be seen. If this occurs, then it’s time to make new friends and form a new support team. It will be important to surround yourself with people who are encouraging and uplifting, who will provide helpful feedback, be willing to brainstorm new career paths or job seeking strategies, suggest options for acquiring new skills, and assist in networking.

The Importance of Networking
Finding a new job or changing careers can take time, and many of the available jobs that are available are not advertised. Thus, let others know that you are actively seeking a new job, and are open to branching out in new directions, applying your skills and interests in new ways. Like it or not, sexism, racism, and ageism are alive and well in the world today, so finding a new job can sometimes be difficult and take a longer time. Thus, tenacity and networking will be key to one’s successful transition, especially if you are a minority, female, or over the age of 45. As you are networking, be sure to do your homework and research organizations whose values align with yours. This will make it easier to find a better fit.

If you are seeking a new job you will want to be as flexible as possible. This might include working extended hours or some weekends, working from home, traveling for work (if this is an option), or even relocating. There are often regional differences in job availability, depending on one's field.

Develop a Career Plan

Quote from Mary Oliver’s, “The Summer Day”

If you are facing a career transition—either by choice or as the result of downsizing, experiencing an illness, or being laid off, it’s important to consider your options. Don't limit yourself to chasing the ghosts of your old career. You will want to consider developing a career plan, which involves investing time in self reflecting, and self-assessing concerning your strengths, passions, values, and ideal work environment.

Acquire New Skills
As you are developing your Career Plan it is a good idea to do a little research concerning the skills that other employers are seeking. Thinking about some of your education, previously held positions, skills and competencies, what possible jobs might you currently qualify for? Are there any companies that are a better fit with your values than others? You may want to begin by looking through some of the job openings in the fields you are considering, research some of the companies you would consider working for, and the expected skills, levels of experience, and competencies for each. Next, compare these with your own. Is there a gap between what companies are looking for and what you possess? You may find that it is necessary to acquire some new skills or even earn another degree.

Some people may consider returning to school and either learning a new field, or gaining additional education that complements their previous education and experiences. In many cases, simply learning new skills can make you more marketable, and earning a formal degree may not be necessary. There are many online courses that teach computer skills. Linkedin is now connected to, but other options include certificate programs such as those offered in Coursera or edX. If you don’t want to pay for a certificate you also have the option of auditing many courses offered through Coursera and edX. and Skill Share are other options, or you may even be able to find helpful instruction through Youtube. Additional options include continuing education courses through universities or local VoTech schools. Or, maybe this career change will be the impetus for starting your own business. You may have a skill that is well suited for consulting, allowing you to open up your own business, work from your home office or travel to areas of interest.

Be Patient
On the way to your destiny it will be important to practice patience and grit. There will be times of testing and waiting, and at times it may feel that the universe it "testing" you to determine just how badly you want this new career. Sometimes things won't be happening as fast as you would like them to be, and when this happens, it is important not to get discouraged--dig in deep and show grit! Baby steps may be necessary at first, but each step you make towards your goals adds up and before long you will be able to look back and see just how much progress you have made. Remember to be flexible as you navigate your way to your new career and don't give up!

What can corporations do to help people through career transitions?

Photo by

Depending on the financial situation of the company, one thing that employers can do if they are laying off workers is to consider offering employees the option of staying on, but taking a pay cut. If this is not an option, then employers should do all they can to help employees become marketable. Assisting people with the development of Career Plans, offering exit training including resume writing, teaching stress management strategies, and possibly training new skills before exiting the company. Organizations can also suggest that employees consider volunteering to train each other skills in their areas of expertise. Another service companies may provide is connecting employees with head hunters, who can assist employees find new employment.

Organizations who are willing to do these things only help employees as they are seeking new employment, but it will also reduce the feeling of betrayal that so many employees experience after being laid off. Individuals who have committed years of their life to a company only to find themselves abruptly laid off feel hurt, betrayed, scared, and resentful. If a company can give employees as much assistance as possible before kicking them out into the world of unemployment, it will not only help the employee but also the reputation of the company.

Can you recommend a few books to read?

Photo by Pixabay

“Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life”
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

“Finding Your Own North Star”
Martha Beck, Ph.D.

“Steering by Starlight”
Martha Beck, Ph.D.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Career Transitions: Equipping for the Future, Identity Loss, and Avoiding Trends: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:

As people seek to equip themselves for the future, what should they consider when they make decisions? Especially if they are experiencing a transition in jobs?

Photo by

The best thing a person can do when they are forced to make a career change is to take the time to invest in themselves. This includes their mental and physical health, continued education, networking, skills training, and the help of a Career Transition Coach. Nobody can accurately predict the future, but in the face of a career change, simply updating a resume is not enough. You need to rely on new and better ways of networking, especially in a downturned economy, highly competitive field, or if you are over 40. Take the time to learn skills that will allow you to compete with tech savvy competitors, but also use this opportunity to make an inventory of your skills and passions. What do you enjoy doing?  What are you good at? What do you stand for? What areas are you interested in improving? Where do you want to be in your career 5, 10 or 20 years from now?

Sometimes a job loss is a blessing in disguise as it might be the “push” you needed to send you into a career that is a better fit. One that taps into your passions and energizes you, causing you to feel enthusiastic as you face each work day, rather than dread as you go to work each morning.

Take an inventory of your skills, education, and experiences, but also your passions and interests. Most organizations are not just looking for a good resume. Instead, they are seeking someone who is passionate about their work, demonstrates creative problem solving, is a good personality fit with other employees, shows commitment, and can make a positive contribution to the organization.

There is stress along the way as people deal with the transitions that come with quickly changing job responsibilities or workplaces.  How might this affect one’s sense of identity and the way they fit in with society? 

Photo by Johannes Plenio

Changes in the workplace come in many shapes and sizes. These may be as small as adding new job responsibilities requiring additional learning and training. Some are much larger and including job transitions. Although some of these changes may be the result of personal choice as people seek higher pay or jobs more are aligned to their passions and interests. Other times transitions were not out of choice and the result of company layoffs, injury, or illness.Transitions made out of choice are in general, much easier to deal with than those that were not.

As we enter into a new workplace, the organizational culture is almost guaranteed to be different from that of the one we just left. This requires adjusting to the new organizational culture, styles of leadership, and workplace dynamics. With each level of demand comes increased need for adaptation. Thus, adaptability and stress management techniques will come front and center.

When it comes to our careers, sometimes our sense of self identity is so caught up in what we do or how much we earn, that when that shifts, we lose our sense of self. When such changes come, we often find ourselves chasing what we used to do or trying to ride out the storm, thinking things will eventually go back to how they used to be after the storm passes. The old way was comfortable and easy, and so we resist any changes. Yet, by resisting change we risk chasing the ghosts of the past and barely “surviving” the storm, rather than simply packing up and getting out of the storm’s path.

If we insist on “riding the storm out” we resist leaving until it either gets so uncomfortable that we can no longer bear it, or we are forced out. Economic down turns have forced many people out of once thriving and lucrative careers, and technology threatens to replace the jobs of others. When we realize we simply cannot return to the career, job, or the level of ability we had before, we are forced to reinvent ourselves. However, this is not easy, and especially if we have built a lifetime pursuing dreams or building a career. It’s much easier to reinvent one’s self when one perceives they had choices in doing so, but if a job was lost due to a changing economy, illness or disability, then things get much more complicated.

Sometimes people allow their careers to define them without even realizing it. But when faced with a sudden loss of job or status, a sudden identity crisis quickly ensues. This new reality can be extremely shattering to one’s sense of self, as people realize that their careers, titles, or salaries were their source of acceptance. This is a hard lesson to learn because a sense of self-worth based on external things such as career, income, or title are all conditional forms of acceptance and approval. Thus, when these things are absent, approval also disappears. It is at this point that some of the hardest lessons in life are learned. The high paying executive, surgeon, or professional athlete who was once at the top of their game soon discovers that their “friends” are nowhere to be seen when they have fallen from the top. However, these adversities allow us to discover who we really are and what we are made of. While some people evolve, others shrink back and never recover.

Thus, in order to promote a smooth career transition, take the time to invest in yourself, gaining new skills if necessary, researching your options, analyzing your skills, competencies and passions, and creating a career plan. Understand that experiencing a range of emotions including fear, rejection, and uncertainty is normal, and consider seeking the help of a Career Transition Coach to help you during this process.

What happens if a person simply tries to follow what seems to be the hottest career path right now?

Photo by Johannes Rapprich

Chasing the Wrong Goals
This can get a person into trouble for several reasons. Chances are if an individual is seeking a career just because it is “hot” then they are focusing on pay. And, although nobody will deny that it is desirable to earn more money than less, pursuing extrinsic goals in the long run will not only decrease motivation but also psychological well-being. Not to mention, trends are constantly changing, and when everyone jumps on the “trend” wagon, supply and demand takes a toll, resulting in an over-abundance of skilled workers. When there are more available skilled workers than jobs, employers take advantage of this and demand higher levels of education and experience, while offering lower pay. A third risk is that in simply following a trend, one is not really following their true passions and again, risks losing one’s identity and sense of joy and motivation.

However, perhaps a bigger issue is the impact of goal pursuits on motivation and well-being. Not all goals are created equal, and extrinsic goals (those based on materialistic gains such as salary, status, and power) tend to undermine both motivation and psychological well-being because they interfere with the fulfillment of psychological needs. As human beings, we all have innate psychological needs. When these needs are met, it promotes and sustains more self-determined forms of motivation, but also increases psychological well-being. However, when our psychological needs are thwarted, our motivation wanes, and our well-being is undermined. If a person places priority on pursuing extrinsic goals the psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are often sacrificed in the process. Long hours spent at the office often results in neglecting time with one’s spouse, children, or developing and maintaining close and caring relationships with others. Failed relationships undermine perceptions of competence, but also take a toll on one’s happiness and well-being. In addition, when people prioritize extrinsic goals they tend to gauge their success by comparing themselves with others. The problem with this is that you will always have the opportunity to find someone who is more successful, earns more money, or has more power than you do. The third need, autonomy, refers to the need for volition or choice. Marketers and the media have become very effective at convincing people that “success” and acceptance is found by owning material objects. This focus on materialism has been coined the “dark side of the American Dream,” by psychologists and researchers.

Changing Trends

Photo by Luke Barkhuizen

Thus, following what seems to be the “hottest career” can backfire for several reasons. Trends change, and what is “hot” one day is “not” the next due to changing needs of society, politics, the economy, and advancing technology. Pursuing the “hottest career” is usually the result of seeking a career that offers a guarantee of a high paying job. The problem with placing too much emphasis on high salaried jobs is that it leads to focusing on extrinsic goals rather than intrinsic ones. Researchers have repeatedly shown that placing emphasis on extrinsic goals results in reduced levels of motivation over time, but also undermines psychological well-being. Furthermore, pursuing a career just because it has been deemed “hot” also increases the likelihood of chasing a career that you may not be well suited for. Over time, pursuing a field that doesn’t take advantage of your skills, interests, and passions, will result in burnout and/or reduced competence. It is much smarter to pursue a field that you really enjoy because you will find you have more energy and motivation to continue learning and investing the necessary time and energy to succeed. Select a career field that matches your skill levels, interests, and passions, and one that has a steady demand.

Sense of Identity

Photo by Valentin Antonucci

As mentioned earlier,  people often form their sense of identity, in part, through their careers. This is especially true for men, and therefore, a job loss can be earth shattering experience, rattling one to the core, as they struggle to retain a sense of self-worth and maintain a sense of identity. Thus, chasing a career based on the latest projected trends, risks pursuing careers that are not in alignment with one’s passions, skills, and interests, resulting in a further loss of self-identity.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Changing Face of Jobs and the Workforce: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:

What have you observed about job changes and job transitions in today's world?

The saying, “the only thing we can count on is change,” seems to hold very true to the application of today’s job market. There are several trends I think we have all noticed, ranging from industry closures, changing demographics, and the ways in which businesses are conducted (more and more are changing to an online environment).

Industry Changes
 In spite of claims of a strong economy, several industries are still struggling to pick up the pieces of the economic downturn. In addition, over the past decade technology has had a major impact on many industries. The “retail apocalypse” can be seen as many department stores and smaller boutiques have failed to compete with the convenience of online shopping. Higher Education has also taken a hard hit over the past 6 years or so. Several colleges closed their doors permanently, and others continue to struggle due to budget cuts and lower enrollments. As the cost of tuition continues to increase more people question the benefits of earning a college degree if it means graduating with a heavy student loan. Other colleges are attempting to keep up by expanding their online programs, but as Mega Universities such as Grand Canyon, Western Governors, SNHU and Liberty increase their degree options, smaller colleges can’t keep up. The oil and gas industry is also struggling to regain its footing and many geologists, landmen, and others in the industry are still seeking work after experiencing mass layoffs, company closures and bankruptcies.

Changing Demographics
Other changes I see include increasingly multicultural and multigenerational workplaces. For perhaps the first time in history, we are seeing sometimes five generations represented in the workplace. Each generation comes with unique strengths and challenges for corporations. For example, Baby Boomers are starting to retire and so we are beginning to see an exodus as many have been forced into early retirement, others are facing health challenges, and some are staying in the workforce. One of the challenges of a multigenerational workplace is recruitment and retention. For example, compared to earlier generations who expected to work for the same company for a lifetime, this option is most likely not going to be an option in today’s industry. And, because Millennials and many of the Gen Xers are place higher value on flexibility and autonomy in the workplace, not only will lifetime jobs not be available, they may not be appealing to many people in younger generations. Therefore, it may be more difficult to recruit and retain these generations if the workplace doesn’t offer flexibility or opportunities for growth. Many corporations are clinging to the outdated factory model, with cubicle workspaces and hours of operation from 8-5. This simply doesn’t work in a technologically advanced society where more people place value in a work/life balance, prefer flexibility and opportunities to work from home.

Other changes I see include technological advancements which not only change required skills, but also the ways in which people work and communicate with one another. Cloud based technology, AI, rapidly changing software programs, and internet based businesses are just a few of the ways in which technology is influencing workplace changes.

What makes today different for people in the workforce than even 5 or 10 years ago?

This seems to be somewhat of a follow up to the first question, but in terms of general social trends, the demand for digital skills has increased considerably over the past 10 years, but the workforce is also becomingly increasingly diverse in culture, level of education, race/ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual preference and identification, and ability. For example, this is the first time we have seen up to five generations in the workplace. Traditionalists (i.e., those born before 1946) are not as likely to be in the workplace but may be the CEO’s running the company. Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) are usually in upper management or CEO positions, or exiting the workplace as many are eyeing retirement. Gen X (1965-1976), Millennials (1977-1997) and Gen Z (born after 1997) may all be represented in a workplace. People form their values based on experiences, and because each generation, as well as every individual, has witnessed different things, you see different values emerge. Those who experienced the Great Depression craved stability, and these values were passed down in part, to Baby Boomers who often had the same career for a lifetime. War, economic crashes, technological advances, immigration and migration, etc. all impact people at both a generational and individual level. Although you don’t want to make stereotypes towards any generation, some general differences in communication preferences, work values, or familiarity with technology may emerge.

Thus, the challenges for managers and leaders will be many, including communicating with people from various generations and cultural backgrounds, but also recruiting, motivating and retaining employees. Companies will need to consider the increasing desire for autonomy and flexibility that began with Gen X and has continued with Gen Y workers. Other perks such as having workplace daycare, company gyms, the option of working from home, or even bringing emotional support pets to work are emerging trends. We are also seeing an expanding role of AI which will ultimately replace many jobs.

How can this job / career market have an effect on an individual?

Growth and Cutbacks
From my perspective the career market can impact people on several different levels, depending on one’s field, the organizational culture, and benefits offered to an individual. In terms of the career market, some fields such as IT and healthcare are growing. Aging Baby Boomers are driving up the need for healthcare workers, so you see many opportunities for home health workers, nurses, and PA’s. Other areas such as the oil and gas industry are trying to make a comeback but are fighting a political battle as attitudes about fossil fuels are changing. Thus, while there are plenty of opportunities in some fields, others continue to be very competitive.

Other ways in which the job market may impact an individual is the volatility seen in certain fields. For example, both higher education and the oil and gas industry are still feeling the ripple effect of economic down turns. Layoffs, forced retirements, fewer opportunities with higher competition, lower salaries, increasing demands for experience, education, and tech skills, and an increase in short term opportunities are common. Fewer universities, for example, are offering to pay for travel expenses or relocation. In states that are experiencing major cuts in funding, higher education is projected to experience more cutbacks, layoffs, and closures.  All of these things undermine a sense of autonomy and competence, reducing motivation and well-being.

A volatile economy often results in a reluctance to fully commit to an organization, low morale, and higher levels of stress. Employees may be “straddling the fence” so to speak, with one foot in their workplace and the other in the job market as they actively seek better employment opportunities. As a result, this makes it harder for employers to recruit and retain employees. This costs an organization money in the long run, as high employee turnover forces a corporation to invest more money in advertising and training new employees. In addition, organizations often get a bad reputation for having high turnover or failing to invest in their employees, adding to the difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees.

Increasing Diversity
Changing demographics are increasing diversity in the workplace. This means that those organizations that do not celebrate diversity and promote inclusion will see higher attrition, lower performance, and problems recruiting and retaining employees. If an individual feels discriminated against due to their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion, or ability, they are much less likely to apply for a job with that particular company, or remain in workplace that is seen as hostile. And, although there are laws in place that make discrimination and sexual harassment illegal, they tend to thrive in workplace today, often disguised as subtle racism or sexism, limited opportunities for growth and advancement, or workplace bullying.

Changing times mean changing needs, therefore individuals tend to be seeking different benefits from a job today than a generation or two ago. For example, while Traditionalists and Baby Boomers sought jobs that offered lifetime stability, different values are often witnessed in younger generations.  Companies who cannot keep up with the demands of younger generations will struggle to recruit or retain employees. For example, companies offering the flexibility of working from home are going to be increasingly appealing to many people, especially those who value flexibility, make long commutes to and from work, have children at home, face health issues, or feel more productive when they are at home away from the distractions of the workplace. Over time, factors such as a long commute, or the cost of daycare can prove to be deal breakers for many individuals. A cost-benefits analysis may reveal that costs associated with either commuting or paying for daycare may make the job much less appealing. Thus, employers who provide more flexibility are likely to also see increases in employee morale, motivation and commitment to the organization. Because more jobs allow for working from home in an online environment, companies who provide opportunities to network through webinars, email, facetime, training, etc. will foster competence and satisfy the need for relatedness. However, as more people continue working remotely, many companies are failing to build social relationships in the workplace, which can lead to a sense of isolation and disconnection.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Transforming Stress, Unexpected Change and Uncertainty into New Opportunities: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

The ever-increasing pace of change, combined with new displacing and disruptive technologies that involve digitalization, robotics, widescale automation and more, is requiring everyone to rethink how they live their lives and how they earn a living. In all cases, individuals may feel under pressure, out of control, and fearful.

Welcome to an interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi, who talks to us today about transforming a stressful situation into one that builds confidence and open doors.  She talks about the psychological and physical costs of doing nothing, and the benefits of developing a plan and a new philosophy. 

1.  What is your name and your background?

Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.
My name is Elaine Bontempi and I have the following background. My website is here:

Ph.D.: Educational Psychology
Focus: The role of culture in motivation & learning

M.Ed.: Educational Psychology
Focus: The role of culture in motivation & learning

M.A.: Human Relations
Focus: Multicultural Counseling

B.A.: Health Psychology
Minor in Sociology (Contemporary Social Issues)

•    Over 15 years of experience teaching graduate & undergraduate courses in Psychology, Human Motivation in Learning, Human Motivation in Work & Leadership, Human Learning, Cultural Diversity, Leadership, Contemporary Social Problems, Social Psychology, & Ethics

•    Over 10 years of experience designing, implementing & evaluating educational outreach and training programs for non-profits, Dept. of Education, government institutions and businesses

•    Academic & Life Coaching

2.  What are your areas of expertise, and how did you get interested in them?

My areas of expertise are in Psychology, but in particular, Motivation, Health, & Well-Being.

•    Motivation & psychological well being
•    The role of goals and psychological well-being (not all goals are created equally, and although society really pushes some goals, the pursuit and attainment of certain types of goals actually undermines well-being).
•    Motivation in the workplace
•    At risk teens
•    Eating disorders
•    Overcoming anxiety without medication
•    Stress management
•    Coping with aging and/or terminally ill parents
•    Grief & loss
•    Spirituality and well being

How did I become interested in these topics? I would say that I have always been interested in what makes people tick, so to speak, as well as health, and general well-being. Growing up as an athlete, you learn the importance of goal setting, self-regulation, and motivation. However, these are limited tools because as we grow older, we encounter challenges and life transitions, and many of these are quite uncomfortable as we are stretched outside of our comfort zones. Of course many of these transitions are inevitable and are part of the maturation process. However, even anticipated mile markers can act as barriers to our growth and self-actualization if we lack a healthy mindset, coping skills, and self-regulatory strategies

3.  How do people manage change today? What are some of the negative ways that people cope with change? What are better ways?

Photo by Humphrey Muleba from Pexels

The ways in which people handle stress vary considerably from one person to the next. Each person has a unique set of experiences, coping mechanisms, abilities, and values that all contribute to how one handles stress. In addition to individual differences there are some general group differences that can be seen as well, as a result of cultural norms and gender socialization. 

Some of the negative ways that people cope with change and stress include smoking, drug use/abuse, alcohol use/abuse, compulsive spending, over or under eating, eating unhealthy "comfort" and junk foods, excessive use of sugar and caffeine, sleeping too much or too little, sexual promiscuity, overworking, lashing out at others, and violence.

However, there are definitely healthier ways of handling stress. The first step is identifying the sources of stress in your life, as well as your attributional style. Do you have a tendency to place the blame for your stress on others, do you feel that you have no control over your circumstances, or do you recognize that although you may not be able to control events, you can control your reactions?

There are different approaches to changing the stressful situation--you can either avoid the stressor, or sometimes you can alter the stressor. For example, you can often times avoid a stressor by simply learning how to say "no." Often times, we feel compelled to say "yes" to everything in order to please others, or to avoid looking incompetent or lazy. It is imperative that you learn to recognize your limits and say no to things that will result in too much stress.

If you are unable to avoid a stressor, you may choose to alter the situation. An example of altering the situation might include expressing your feeling in a different manner. For example, rather than bottling up emotions and letting them fester and brew, find a friend or counselor that you can talk to. Or, it may mean changing how you express your emotions, or even regulating your time so that you are less likely to feel stressed out from having too much responsibility and not enough time to accomplish the things you have committed to.

You can also learn to adapt by using healthy stress management techniques, and/or accept the stressor.  Adapting to the situation often means learning how to use emotional regulation strategies for healthier coping, which often times involves changing your interpretation of the event that you perceive as being stressful. Is the stressor really that important or are you putting too much emphasis on something that really, in the long run, doesn't mean much? The old saying, "learn how to pick your battles" may apply here.

 Sometimes you simply have to accept things that you cannot change but find work arounds. Focus on the things you CAN change rather than getting upset about things you cannot control. For example, if you are responsible for the caregiving of a sick child or aging parent, you probably won't be able to change or avoid the stressor. However, you can change your reaction. You will need to accept that your child or parent is ill and needs help, and re-arrange your schedule in order to meet these demands. If you are still responsible for other obligations then it may be necessary to adapt to the stressor by seeking outside help to assist in caregiving, recognize that you as a caregiver, also need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, learn to manage time more efficiently, and never overlook the importance of self-care.

Some of the healthier ways in which people handle stress include:
•    social support networks including family and friends
•    support groups, spirituality and prayer/meditation
•    learning the art of forgiveness
•    spending time in nature
•    getting regular exercise (cardiovascular exercise in particular)
•    eating properly and getting plenty of sleep
•    applying biofeedback
•    practicing yoga
•    spending time with pets
•    writing in your journal
•    working outside in the garden
•    painting/sculpting/drawing
•    dancing
•    playing a musical instrument
•    scheduling time for self-care such as massage/Reiki/ acupuncture
•    practicing mindfulness
•    learning time management
•    accepting there are things you cannot control
•    embracing a positive attitude
•    avoiding too much caffeine
•    avoiding abuse of alcohol, drugs or nicotine
•    seeking counseling, etc.

Certain counseling techniques such as cognitive evaluative therapy might be helpful in thought stopping behaviors and replacing negative thinking with positive thoughts. Behavioral therapy can also helpful in reinforcing positive behaviors and extinguishing negative ones. Exercise can play a very important role in improving anxiety and depression. Especially something as simple as walking daily. Exercise increases the production and release of serotonin and dopamine, both neurotransmitters play an important role in maintaining a healthy and positive mood.

3.  What are some of the major stressors in our world today and how do they change over one's lifespan?

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

We are facing many stressors in the world today. It seems like our world is shifting so rapidly that people are struggling to keep up with the transitions, and as a result sometimes it seems that the world has gone mad. Climate changes that are causing major shifts in weather patterns, mass immigration and migration, racism, economic uncertainty resulting in layoffs, downsizing, closures and job loss, global migration, political polarization, mass shootings, etc. are just a few of the global stressors.  We are also seeing alarming trends concerning the use of social media and depression/anxiety/suicide. A sociological phenomenon known as “upward social comparison” is wreaking havoc on peoples’ self-worth and self-esteem, as they are comparing themselves to the lives of others represented through reality television and social media. Even though these profiles are considerably altered through selective use of highly edited photos, and the “highlight” reels of one’s life, people are often left feeling deflated and dissatisfied with their own lives when comparing them to the self-marketed profiles of others in Facebook and other social media platforms.

Other stressors are small, daily things such as dealing with traffic and long commutes, office politics, paying bills, screaming children, juggling obligations between work, family, and/or school, etc. These types of stressors don't tend to score big on the "life stressors" chart, but major transitions in life, even if they are perceived as positive, can take a larger toll and undermine well-being.

Major transitions in life include events such as graduation, marriage, birth of a child, changes in career (new job or loss of job), relocation, divorce, empty nest, changes in health, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, war, unhealthy relationships, aging parents, etc. Studies have repeatedly shown that as people grow older, their health declines more rapidly if they do not have a social support system. This is a growing problem as people are living longer, but often more isolated lives. Adult children are often scattered across the globe as job opportunities take them away from the same town as their parents. This is especially common in individualistic cultures such as the United States and western European cultures, that place value on independence and competition rather than on community and harmonious interdependence.  Nursing homes and assisted living centers in the US are filled with aging, forgotten parents.

4.  What are some of the stresses related to taking care with aging parents or relatives?

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

 Taking care of aging parents or relatives can be a particularly stressful job, as it can leaves one feeling physically and emotionally drained. As parents get older, their physical limitations decrease, thus their need for support increases. Their needs are multi-pronged and may include financial costs associated with healthcare and nutrition, mobility needs (ie, a parent may go from using a cane to a walker, to a wheelchair, and ultimately being bedridden), etc. As their needs increase, the demands placed on the caregiver also rise. Seeing a parent who was once vital and independent regress to a state of dependence can be difficult to watch, and it tends to cause a shifting in the dynamics of the relationship as roles are reversed.

This can seriously tax the physical and emotional reserves of anyone caring for an elderly parent, but when personality changes associated with aging and dementia are also present, it can especially stressful. It may also be particularly stressful on the caregiver if they are trying to juggle their own responsibilities of work, family/relationships, health, etc. In most cases it leaves the person responsible for caregiving feeling emotionally and physically drained, thus one of the most important things for any caregiver to remember is the importance of self-care. If the caregiver overlooks this it can quickly erode both the physical and emotional health of the caregiver. Thus, relying on some of the above mentioned strategies for stress management are imperative. Getting proper nutrition, plenty of sleep and exercise, spending time in prayer/meditation, having a strong support system of one’s own, and learning how to say “no” to increasing demands by sharing the responsibility with other family members or hiring help are very important.

5.  What are support networks?  What happens when people lose their support networks?

PHOTO CREDITS Photo by Tristan Le from Pexels

Support networks refer to the psychological and physical support provided by a social network. Social networks can include close friends and family members, tribal members, social activity/group such as a book club, community support groups, or even a religious community. Social support networks can provide a variety of resources ranging from emotional support, financial assistance, prayer, or help with daily tasks. Those who have high quality or quantity social networks tend to show decreased depression, anxiety, loneliness, drug/alcohol use, and a lower risk of mortality in comparison to those who have low quantity or quality of relationships.

Poor social support has been also linked to cardiovascular disease, lowered immune system, and altered brain function. Although there are individual and group differences, women often have closer support networks due to the differences in how men and women are socialized. While gender roles are changing, women are still more likely to be socialized as nurturers and caregivers, and playing support roles rather than placing emphasis on competition and independence. As a result, women’s health tends to benefit as they grow older as they are much more likely to have a social network for support. Men tend to rely on spouses and children, but if neither are around as they grow older, they are much more vulnerable to the ill effects of having a limited support network.

Blog Archive