The Professor Is In: Q&A with Joan Walker

Find out how Joan Walker came to realize her passion for teaching, the wisdom of pig wrestling, and her opinion on Game of Thrones.

When she isn’t grading piles of papers, Joan Walker, PhD, is exemplifying what it means to be a trailblazer in her field—education. This year, the School of Education associate professor won a prestigious award for her research developing an online course on parent-teacher interactions that is innovating the way teachers learn how to communicate with parents. The Outstanding Journal of Teaching Education Article Award is given every year to pioneers in the field of education who have exhibited strong leadership by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the leading professional group for American teacher education. You can learn more about her research, which focuses on a key component of education that is often overlooked, by watching a video about the project, reviewing the JTE article, or accessing a sample case study from the online program.

Now, she’s taken some time away from her hectic life as a professor to talk about everything from her love of men’s basketball to opera singing.

What was your favorite class as a student? Least favorite?
I didn’t like high school very much. The only things that got me out of bed were music class and getting a free ride into town—I am from rural Kentucky and lived on a farm far from the nearest town. Math was always my least favorite because it was the class I felt least successful in.

What one thing or person made you passionate about your current career?
I’d define my current career in two ways: Research and teaching. As a researcher, I am a psychologist. Psychology feels like a natural fit. People are fascinating. To me, one of the most interesting questions in the world is, “how do people learn?” As to what made me a passionate teacher? I’d say good role models and DNA. I come from a long line of teachers.  My first career was as a music teacher. Then I was a day care director. Later I worked at a biomedical engineering research center. That may sound pretty discursive but they were all related to education. I like looking at learning through different lenses.

What quality do you most value in your students?

What’s your advice to students to make the most out of their time in college?
Work hard and enjoy yourself.  Try not to worry about the future.

If you had to do it all over again and took another path, what profession would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?
Opera singing. I would NOT make a good physician. I’m a Dr. Pepper kind of doctor and that’s fine with me.

What is your favorite book/TV show?
Right now I am devouring Game of Thrones. On book three. It’s exhilarating and brutal and makes me lose a lot of sleep because I can’t put it down. From November to March my favorite TV show is any Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball game.

What would you do if you had an extra hour every day?


What is your favorite journey/experience?

My time in doctoral school was transforming. In terms of more local recent journeys, the Hudson train line from Croton-Harmon into Grand Central is exquisite.

What is your favorite saying/words to live by?

When working with difficult people, I like to remember this Kentucky adage: Don’t wrestle that pig. You get dirty and the pig has fun.

If you could have any five people, living or dead, imagined or real, as guests at a dinner party, who would you choose?
People who’d help do the dishes.

Excellence with Equity: A Social Movement for the 21st Century

What factors create racial disparities in academic performance? Why haven’t we addressed them? On October 23, join Pace’s School of Education and one of the nation’s foremost experts on education and economic development, Senior Harvard Lecturer Ronald F. Ferguson, PhD, as he discusses a growing national movement to improve educational outcomes for students from all racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds.

The School of Education welcomes Senior Harvard Lecturer Ronald F. Ferguson, PhD, as he discusses a growing national movement to improve educational outcomes for students from all racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds as part of the Distinguished Educators Lecture Series on Tuesday, October 23.

Click here for more information.

Silver Surfers

Jean F. Coppola and her nationally recognized collaborative and multidisciplinary research team study older adults, computing, and what happens when the Internet Age and the Golden Age collide.

Jean F. Coppola, PhD

“Someone at that age is sometimes scared that they’re going to break the computer,” says Jean F. Coppola, PhD, of the senior citizens she works with. “But they don’t want to be left behind. They want to learn.”

Coppola, an associate professor of Information Technology at Pace’s Seidenberg School, is also one of the lead researchers in a nationally recognized collaborative and multidisciplinary team studying older adults and computing.  The Gerontech Team, which is led by Coppola and Lienhard Professors Lin Drury, PhD, and Sharon Wexler, PhD, comprises several Westchester County administrators and professors from both Pace and other institutions, is currently working with several community partners and Pace students to improve the quality of life—emotionally, cognitively, and socially—for older adults learning about technology.

A few years back, Coppola was called on by the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services to participate in Take Your Grandparent to Work Day. Due to the logistical limitations of the request, Coppola and her students brought their work to the senior citizens. “We had support from IBM—we had laptops with a network—and we taught the seniors to make photo greeting cards using their photos of family and friends,” she says. “After that experience I knew we had found something special.”

Afterwards, Coppola co-developed a service-learning course called “Intergenerational Computing,” which was first offered to Pace students in spring 2006. This small class was the first formal incarnation of what Coppola and her students are researching today. The students, who also learn about social gerontology and technology in action, go through sensitivity training so that they are better able to understand the needs of senior citizens.  The training, which is conducted by Drury and Wexler, involves students using everything from wheelchairs, walkers, and leg weights to experience limited mobility, to glasses and earplugs that simulate vision and hearing impairments, to popcorn in shoes to create a feeling like arthritis. This creative and necessary part of training helps ensure students have a new awareness of their senior citizen pupils and instills in them a patience that is necessary when working with senior citizens.

The course has expanded and evolved since its introduction in 2006. Coppola’s gained new community partners including nursing homes, adult day care centers, and centers that cater to people living with cerebral palsy. In addition, the research team has partnered with for the donation of touch-screen computers and, which has donated 1,000 licenses for their brain fitness software.

As words like Google, Twitter, and wiki enter our everyday lexicon, seniors are increasingly eager to learn about computing and technology. Through Coppola’s research program, Pace is helping provide seniors with the tools they need to use a computer, navigate the internet, and participate in social media.

“Just the other day I had one of the [senior] ladies come up to me and say ‘I think you really can teach an old dog new tricks,’” says Coppola.

For more information about Jean Coppola, PhD, and the work of Pace University Gerontechnology Program, click here.

Editor’s Note: Since publication, The Los Angeles Times featured Pace’s gerontechnology program headed by computer science professor Jean Coppola, PhD, and nursing professors Sharon Wexler, PhD, and Lin Drury, PhD, on March 20, 2012. The same day, Coppola was honored by Cerebral Palsy of Westchester which declared the day “Jean Coppola Day” for the work she does teaching technology to older adults.



When Words Become Weapons

As cases of harassment and bullying grab national headlines, Pace hosts an event for all members of the community addressing different aspects of this issue.

As incidents such as those involving Phoebe Prince and Ryan Halligan—children who committed suicide as a result of bullying—become increasingly common, educators and lawmakers are beginning to examine new ways of approaching bullying in the classroom and online. On July 12, the School of Education and Pace Law School team up to address this critical topic that affects both the classroom and the community. Educators, attorneys, counselors, parents, and students are invited to attend this unique event where researchers in the field share their findings and offer strategies for fostering a more inclusive environment and preventing bullying.

“We’ve been promoting this event to not only educators and school administrators, but also to parents, school psychologists, social workers, and community based organizations—particularly ones with after-school programs,” says Merrill Lee Fuchs, program administrator for the School of Education, “We invited people who we thought would have an interest in the topic; people who have an interest in children—people who are dealing with this on a daily basis.”

The Summer Institute, the first official collaboration between the two schools, seeks to examine bullying from a range of perspectives: pedagogically, legally, psychologically, and emotionally. Several scheduled sessions will deal with protecting LGBTQA and special needs students from bullies, cyberbullying, reduction of stigma in schools, the creation of empowering environments for students, victim advocacy, and effective techniques for the cessation and prevention of bullying.

Emily Waldman, an associate professor of law at Pace and Chair of the Education Law Section of the American Association of Law Schools, will address the difficult balance between protecting students’ rights to free speech and the liabilities schools face if they choose not to intervene. “On the one hand you want to protect the student victim—in some cases, depending on how egregious the speech is, schools are legally obligated to take action to stop the speech—but on the other hand, you can’t violate the First Amendment rights of the student speaker,” says Waldman. “It’s a delicate course that they [schools] have to chart between the First Amendment rights of the student speaker and the need to protect the student victim.”

Other keynote speakers include Frank Laghezza, special counsel to schools and executive assistant district attorney in the Crime Prevention Division of the Kings County Office of the District Attorney in New York City; and Bureau Chief of School Advocacy in the Kings County Office of the District Attorney (and former special education teacher) Renee Turner Gregory, who will be addressing recently passed New York State anti-bullying legislation.

If you’d like to attend the institute of want to know more about the presenters scheduled please click here or contact Susan Dunn at or (914) 773-3746.