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February Spotlight: Doctoral Student Jordan O. James

February 20, 2018

Jordan O. James is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Organization, Information and Learning Sciences (OILS) with a concentration in Learning Sciences. He chose to attend UNM for his graduate work specifically because of the interdisciplinary nature of the OILS program, which allows him to explore many topics of interest such as adult learning, program evaluation, and distance learning. He is currently working on his dissertation focused on two topics: 1) developing an early professional identity, and 2) improving the way design thinking is implemented in first-year urban planning courses. Developing an early sense of professional identity is essential because it allows undergraduates from any background to connect the work they do in the classroom to the interesting real-world work that professionally awaits them after graduation. Design thinking will also help undergraduates later in their professional careers by supporting their understanding that anytime they try to design something new, whether it be a community park or a transportation system, there is going to be failure. Students who learn to view design as an iterative process can conceptualize initial failures as a necessary part of the design of these systems.

 This research could potentially be used in any academic field. Since the goal of an academic program is to produce students who can successfully navigate their respective fields, developing a professional identity and design thinking early in first-year undergraduate courses are pedagogical tools and frameworks that could potentially strengthen any program. While working professionally as a public health emergency management planner with the New Mexico Department of Health, Jordan came to realize a disconnect between the adult education being used in college and the adult education being used in the professional realm. He decided that he could help connect academic and professional education by enacting change at the source, i.e., first-year undergraduate courses where professional identity and design thinking ultimately begins.   

Jordan grew up in the heart of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest on the Grand Portage reservation and among its surrounding communities. After attending boarding school at Navajo Preparatory High School, he enrolled at UNM where he completed both his bachelor's and master's degrees. At present, he teaches undergraduate courses at UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning while also working full time as a graduate research assistant in addition to his own full-time Ph.D. coursework. Upon completing graduate school, he would like to pursue a tenure-track faculty position in Urban, Community + Regional planning where he can implement pedagogical theories, conduct research on their application, and publish the results. 

Grateful for the teachings and stories passed down from his ancestors, Jordan continues to honor his cultural heritage as an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe by instilling the philosophical traditions of knowledge and sense-making to both his students and children through lifelong learning pedagogies. Among his people, the Anishinaabe (also known as the Chippewa or the Ojibwa), is the cultural belief that the Great Spirit put everything into being, which includes the known and unknown interactions and affordances of the world around us. As a Native American academic, he makes sense of the world by understanding that he is not ‘ascertaining’ any new knowledge in his academic pursuits, but rather only making sense of what was already put into place by the creator. Outside of academics, Jordan started the Indigenous Training Collaborative in 2016 which offers contemporary cultural competency training supporting lifelong adult learners to work more effectively with indigenous communities. In his free time, Jordan devotes himself to playing the drums in an all Native American alt. rock band, 'Boarding School Dropouts', spending time with his wife and three daughters, and taking on the challenges of building their various Pinterest projects.

For additional spotlights of UNM graduate students, visit our Spotlight Page!