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A Semester Away From the Classroom

July 27, 2015
What Associate Professor Jane Parent learned on sabbatical, and what her students teach her

On sabbatical, a professor learns how to find the balance between work and family, says associate professor of management Jane Parent, who took her first sabbatical during the spring semester.

“When you’re in a full-time academic career and also have family responsibilities, you never have time to rest and enjoy the small things in life. Having time off from teaching gave me the space to recharge,’’ said Parent, a popular professor who was awarded the Edward G. Roddy Jr. Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2012.

“Recharging” ranged from researching and writing to research discussions with colleagues, regular exercise, and attending more of her children’s activities, said Parent.

Her research, reading, and writing take place at her kitchen table, not on campus. “When I’m on campus, my focus is with the students and my teaching,” said Parent, whose courses include Organizational Behavior, Ethics and Social Responsibility, and Sustainable Business Practices.

This spring, she researched two management concepts new to her: employee engagement and positive organizational behavior. She merged these subjects with earlier work on individual adaptability to organizational changes, developed a model, and wrote a theoretical paper. She presented the paper, “The Impact of Employee Engagement and a Positive Organizational Culture on an Individual’s Ability to Adapt to Organization Change,” at the 2015 Eastern Academy of Management Conference in Philadelphia.

The paper explores the connections among employee engagement, positive organizational psychology, and an individual’s ability to adapt to ongoing organizational change, Parent said. The model developed suggests that a positive work culture enhances employee engagement and in specific cases leads to increased adaptability.

But she’s yet to find a place where a positive work culture produced that result.

“Positive work cultures exist everywhere, and people always need to adapt to workplace changes,” said Parent. “I am currently searching for positive work places to test my model but finding them a bit elusive. Studying specific organizations is a little bit like herding kittens, since many factors are at play all at once.” 

The theoretical paper was about 20 pages long. In the next year, she says, her research should yield two to three more papers, 30 to 40 pages each, adding empirical data.

Parent’s sabbatical also included recuperation from hip replacement surgery. In the winter, she visited a gym about four times a week and has added walking 2 to 3 miles three or four times a week to her gym workouts. And she made time to follow her 15-year-old son’s sports (soccer, ice hockey and crew) and 13-year-old daughter’s competitive dancing (15 to 20 hours a week at a local studio).

Still, she said, “I missed my teaching.”

From her sabbatical, she will bring some new points to the classroom, including “teaching my Organizational Behavior students a little more about employee engagement and a positive work culture and how beneficial both can be to the overall work experience.”

What she missed most about teaching was learning from her students.

For example, “one of my students introduced me to the term ‘the Wussification of America’ while discussing the idea that ‘everyone’s a winner.’ He felt that youth sports contributed to the lack of a strong work ethic among his peers. If everyone gets a trophy, then what’s the point of working hard and being competitive? I find this idea intriguing and somewhat true,” she said.

“That’s the big secret about teaching college students: They have a wealth of experience and perspective to share and I learn so much from them.”

Parent is eager to get back into the classroom this fall and plans to teach two courses in Organizational Behavior and one course in Sustainable Business Practices.  

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  • Associate Professor Jane Parent with students Ryan Flanigan, '12 and Melissa Garabedian, '12
    Associate Professor Jane Parent with students Ryan Flanigan, '12 and Melissa Garabedian, '12

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