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Leanne (Sutton) White

How did you get interested in the study of history?

I graduated from ODU in 2002 with a BA in Communication, and earned my M.A. in History from ODU in 2007. I came to the program in a roundabout way; I originally started my graduate career as a student in the International Higher Education program. In my first semester, I enrolled in an elective course, "Readings in the Cold War," with Dr. Lorraine Lees. That course changed my life and my course of study, and before the semester was over I joined the history MA program. I've always loved history and the pursuit of knowledge, but that class really helped to formulate my love of cold war history, and opened my eyes to historical inquiry and the importance of considering the variety of factors that influence a particular event. History is not a finite set of dates, events, and people, but a constantly shifting body of knowledge that must be examined from a variety of perspectives. I love the idea that two or more people can experience the same event in a very different way, and this does not make one perspective any more or less valid than the other. In order to truly understand our history, we have to gather as much information as possible to determine what happened and why, and the significance of events.

What are your responsibilities in your current position?

I am currently the Director of Advising for the College of Health Sciences. In this position, I oversee the advising for all first and second year (and sometimes third year) students who are seeking admission into competitive health sciences majors such as nursing. Our office serves about 1200 students at any given time, so there is a lot that goes into managing this process. I develop, implement and oversee student success initiatives for the college; manage a staff of professional advisors; facilitate training for Health Sciences faculty advisors in regards to advising policies, procedures and best practices; serve as a liaison to various student support services across campus; and represent the college in university wide student success initiatives. I also oversee our Learning Communities, which focus on providing first year students with an integrated learning experience and the opportunity to build connections with faculty and students with similar interests. I've been fortunate to be able to connect my two roles by linking my HIST 104H courses to the Health Professions Learning Community. Many students have a difficult time appreciating the study of history, so I've been able to tailor my course so that it allows students to learn more about history as it relates to their interest in health. One reason I enjoy teaching for the learning community is the opportunity to interact with students outside of the traditional classroom and introduce them to local history. My favorite trip was to the Casemate Museum in Hampton, Va. My non-history loving future nurses enjoyed standing on the same ground where Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and Harriet Tubman once walked. I enjoyed showing them that history is more than just dusty pages in a text.

What do you enjoy the most about working with ODU students?

I enjoy working with a diverse population of students. My goal is to teach students how to become independent learners who take responsibility for their own success. I really enjoy meeting students as freshmen or sophomores and seeing them grow and flourish as they complete their education. I can think of a number of students I've taught over the years who have gone on to become colleagues. One former student is now a coach/advisor in the Center for Major Exploration, another works as a coordinator in Admissions, and a third is a media specialist with Student Engagement and Enrollment Services. My proudest moment was being selected by a Kaufman Award finalist as her "Most Inspiring Faculty" at ODU. Knowing that you've had an impact on a student, that you've been an influence on their life and academic career, and that your encouragement and guidance helped them to excel - that's priceless.

Do you enjoy being part of the broader community of ODU?

I think community is a great way to describe ODU. It's become my home away from home, and I'm never too far away because I live around the corner in Larchmont. Both of my kids have gone to the Children's Learning and Research Center (CLRC) here on campus, which really set my 7 year old son up to excel in elementary school - he's currently a second grader in the gifted program at Larchmont Elementary. It's also been has been a great early learning experience for my 2.5 year old daughter. They both love Big Blue and all of the athletics and educational opportunities that come with living next to a college campus. From summer camp to soccer, to weekends watching ODU baseball and football, to attending lectures by world renowned guest speakers like Ruby Bridges, and having an art museum across the street, it's wonderful to be a part of the ODU community.

What was your M.A. thesis about? Did you enjoy the process of research and writing?

My thesis was about the United States Information Agency and its actions in both allied and neutral nations to "win hearts and minds" during the cold war. I looked at the creation of the US Information Agency during Eisenhower's administration and the use of propaganda as part of Containment strategy. I specifically looked at USIA initiatives in France and India between 1953-1961. My research interests include U.S. foreign policy, diplomatic history, cultural studies, and international relations. It is interesting to look at how modern information technology is currently being used to influence ideas and what the US is doing to counter foreign propaganda efforts.

I enjoy the process of research and writing. I spent hours upon hours visiting the National Archives and digging through dusty boxes while researching for my thesis. I love the process from start to finish - collecting information, analyzing, and then formulating ideas presented in telegrams, bulletins, pamphlets, cartoons and more. Right now my time is mostly spent researching student GPAs and developing ways to help students achieve academic success. I'd love to have an opportunity to get back into research for the sake of generating new knowledge.

Did you acquire skills and perspectives that have helped you in your subsequent work and career?

Absolutely! More than anything else, I credit my experience as a student in the history program with developing critical thinking skills. The ability to find information, analyze the data, and formulate a conclusion are skills that will benefit anyone in any field. In my position as Director of Advising, I'm often asked to find and report on student data, which I'm able to accomplish easily because of the research skills I developed as a graduate student. Attention to detail is also important, both in analyzing and understanding historical events and in helping my Health Sciences students navigate a complicated and competitive admissions process. Academic policies change over time, and I have to understand the history behind such changes to effectively communicate policies and procedures to both my staff and advisees. My experience in round-table classes with professors like Dr. Lees and Dr. Jersild required me to think on the spot in order to contribute to class discussions, which has served me well in representing the College of Health Sciences on various committees. Serving as a TA helped me to polish my presentation and public speaking skills, which I use on the job regularly in presenting information to prospective and current students and parents. Written communication skills are also key. I spend a large amount of time communicating information to students both one-on-one and in writing. Dr. Lees certainly knocked the passive voice out of my writing!

How did you get into teaching? What do you enjoy about teaching and how does it benefit you in your current position?

My teaching career started at the Undergraduate level when I served as a TA for Dr. Tom Socha in COMM 200S: Intro to Human Communication. Teaching is something I had never considered before that, and his encouragement led me to a career in academia. As a graduate student, I was fortunate to be offered a teaching assistantship with the NEWPAGE program. A dreaded gen-ed for most, for me it became a training ground in pedagogical techniques that truly prepared me to be an effective instructor who understands various levels of thinking and learning styles in designing instructional methods. NEWPAGE only ran as a course once per semester, so for the other half of the year I worked for my department. I served as TA for Dr. Michael Carhart, which was my first experience teaching history, and also worked with Dr. Annette Finley-Croswhite to develop a summer camp opportunity for elementary school students. After I graduated, I started working full time first as the NEWPAGE coordinator, then the Assistant Director for New Student and Parent Programs, a position which led me to a job as a full time advisor for the College of Sciences. While working there, I had the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct for the Department of History, and have been teaching US History ever since.

I enjoy working with students in a classroom setting, and helping them build analytical and critical thinking skills. My goal is to challenge my students to ask questions, and to develop their ability to present information clearly and persuasively. I love seeing the lightbulbs go off when students make a connection between what we are studying and how it connects to the world around them. If the opportunity ever came my way to teach full time, I'd jump at the chance. In my current role as Director of Advising, I have a lot more insight into the challenges that students face in the classroom every day than I would if I didn't also teach, and am a better advisor because of my teaching experience.

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