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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Important Classes

Posted by Michael Urick on Mon, Jun 7, 2021 @ 05:06 AM

Obviously, professors are often going to say that their classes are important (and they usually are, of course!). But, I just started teaching a course this summer session that I view to be my most important. It’s also my most difficult course to instruct.

The class is a graduate course called “Communication, Conflict and Diversity” and, though it is an elective in the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence, there are usually quite a number of students who choose to enroll. In fact, this class was offered each summer starting in 2014 at the request of students who viewed it to be necessary. It explores how what we see and hear in the communication that we experience creates labels and divisions which, in turn, can cause conflict. This conflict can be very difficult to resolve because it is fundamentally intwined with how we define ourselves and how others define themselves (as well as how we define them and they define us – notice the “us” versus “them” language that emerges when describing labeling; this language is both common and can lead to conflict). However, engaging in open communication can help to remedy some of the challenges that we face.

This course is important in many ways. Primarily, it is timely – we are confronted with discourses and narratives that constantly label people and we have a lot of missing and incomplete information with which we have to grapple. We’ve all seen complex situations be shortened to a one-sentence headline or a few words in a social media post and we miss the true meaning of the phenomena with which it should describe. Yet, this barrage of communication influences the way that people think, even if subconsciously. Furthermore, we see a lot of conflict in this world and we don’t often see a lot of hope in its resolution.

This course is challenging because it seeks to provide that hope but, like any good course, it often asks many more questions than it answers. It tries not to boil down complex phenomena into headlines or “tweets” but explores these concepts in depth for a few hours an evening four nights a week for three weeks. It also requires students to reflect on their own identities and potential biases. It asks them to question where they get their information and evaluate their approach to interacting with others. And it asks them to share, to be open to others and to be vulnerable.

I’ve heard a range of feedback from this class in previous semesters, so I am anxious to hear feedback from this year’s sessions. I’ve had students tell me that this was the best class ever and that it changed the way that they think about the world. I’ve had other students tell me they did not like the course because it took them out of their comfort zone. I’ve had students tell me that it was timely and it brought them relief as they cope with communication challenges and conflict…while others said it made them more anxious about the state of the world. And I’ve had students get so moved during a session that they cried. On the best nights, I barely spoke and let the students come to their own conclusions.

To me, that’s one mark of an important class – getting students to question the world around them and come to their own conclusions.

What do you think? What was the most important course you’ve ever taken? What is your most effective approach to dealing with conflict and communication challenges? I really want to hear from you! Let me know your thoughts via email at michael.urick@stvincent.edu or connect with me on social media (I promise, I will make no attempts to summarize complex phenomena with a pithy sentence) on Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Twitter.

Dr. Mike Urick

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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