I recently sat down with Grant Dickerson, a graduate student in the Public Safety Leadership and Administration (PLA) program. Grant is also a graduate assistant in the University of Maryland’s football program. He talked about his experience in the PLA program, how the pandemic has influenced his work, and more generally, how he has coped with the stress of the past year.
Tianying: Hi, Grant. Please tell me a little about yourself. What is your job? Are you still working?
Grant: I’m a graduate assistant at the University of Maryland for the football team. I mean I do classes and stuff, so I'm still in school as well, doing a full time Master's. I actually just graduated with my Master's in Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, so PLA is actually my second Master's degree program. I’m going for the Graduate Certificate in Leadership in Diverse Organizations. During the day and on the weekend I need to focus on the football team--scouting and things like that--so it’s a full-time job, basically.
Tianying: Has the pandemic influenced your work?
Grant: Yeah. I mean, I would say that we've had to move meetings to online, and we've had to work over Zoom with the players and meet with them online at times. And we can't go out on the road like we used to. We’ve had to do with some recruitment meetings online as well. When we have met, we’ve had to remain socially distant. So definitely, it influenced my work. Obviously, we're in the relationship-building business, and the pandemic changes the way we operate.
Tianying: In addition to your work and study, the pandemic has been stressful.. What do you usually do to deal with stress?
Grant: The biggest thing I do is take time and get out and walk. Before the pandemic, I used to always go coach outside and be on the grass. Just being able to get out, walk around and get some sunlight is helpful. I think my biggest stress relief is just getting away from my house since my house has also become my workplace.
Tianying: That makes a lot of sense. By the way, what PLA classes are you taking this semester?
Grant: One is Power and Status in Organizations, and the other one is Leadership in Diverse Organizations.
Tianying: what do you think of them?
Grant: I love them. One of the best things we did in my leadership class, for example, is bring in people to talk about what leadership styles they have or what leadership things they've done in their particular jobs. What I've taken away from the course is that leadership ideas related to public safety are applicable to sports as well. Whether you are teaching people or leading people, different leaders have different leadership styles, and getting the most out of people is related to how you implement those styles. I like the leadership aspect of this degree, because I think everyone can benefit from learning about leadership.
Tianying: Do you prefer online courses or in-person courses?
Grant: I would say that I do like Zoom. I like how interactive it is. Doing the online classes definitely helped me out, because I work full-time. Being able to say “Okay, I can focus on football and my job,” and then I can go back and finish my assignments for a certain class. Dr. Andrist has done a great job, based on two classes I had with him this semester. I thought it was great how all the students still got to communicate with each other, not necessarily every week, but every few weeks. I thought this was the part that I've liked the most. So I would say I prefer online, but without Zoom it might be a little different.
Tianying: It sounds like you enjoyed those guest lectures then.
Grant: Oh yes, like I said earlier, I've gotten a lot from the guest lectures. I think that they're great. I think that hearing lots of other people talk about what they think about leadership is important, because everybody sees it differently. And I love to hear everyone's story about what's important to them. I think hearing about someone else's experiences allows me to consider things that maybe I didn't see before. Other people’s experiences have definitely helped me open my eyes a little bit more.
Tianying: Do you have a favorite guest lecturer?
Grant: Chief David Mitchell. He was like the first guest speaker. He is the Chief of Police for the University of Maryland College Park campus, and his presentation really opened my eyes to how important it is to have a global mindset.He emphasized how you need to think outside of the box, when it comes to your organization because there are a lot of outside influences. And one of the biggest things from his presentation was when you start looking at the people under his protection, you see that they all come from different backgrounds., so it’s important to pay attention to what's going on in other countries and how it could affect different students on campus. I think it was great for me to hear that perspective, because, again, my business is all about building relationships, and one part of building relationships is being aware of what's going on in people's lives..
Tianying: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My last question is, now that you’ve taken some classes in the program, do you have any suggestions for how PLA instructors can improve their online teaching?
Grant: I wouldn't necessarily say they need to improve, but I would say this. I think the instructors have hit the nail on the head perfectly in the Leadership course, and the Power and Status course. I think having some live online meetings with students is very important, and I do love the guest speakers. So being able to bring them in, I think it’s a great thing to hear those perspectives. And I understand that Dr. Andrist tried to narrow down the time so that people can get in and out as they need to, but my advice to instructors is to take your time. You can have people leave if they want, but people still want their questions answered. Having those meetings and talking about the topics with the students, and just being interactive with one another, I think it’s very important.