A Moment with Peggy Shadduck, PhD

Academic Associate Dean for New College
& Program Director for Applied Arts and Sciences

Dr. Shadduck uses her expertise and background as a scientist, a teacher and a mother to shape the student experience and maximize the learning opportunities that UNT offers. Her current work involves developing curriculum and programs for New College with UNT at Frisco. Join us for a moment with Dr. Shadduck and have a look at what goes into creating new, future facing, degrees.

I sat down (virtually, of course) with Dr. Shadduck to gain some insight into her career, current projects and personal life.

If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

I would love to have the superpower of having absolutely infinite patience. A lot of the things that I do, both through work and in my home life, require [me] to be both patient and persistent in order to really achieve something. Sometimes patience starts to run short, and I would love to always have it right there.

What do you like to do in your free time?

There’s sort of a running joke right now in New College that my answer to that was jogging. I took a fall over the summer and broke my collarbone, so I’m not supposed to go out and do that anymore. I have to come up with new things. I enjoy jogging and I will try to get back to that as much as I can. I really enjoy reading, I read a lot of novels. I like working jigsaw puzzles. I like to do Sudoku puzzles and KenKen puzzles and things like that. Every now and then I will pick up some needlepoint, but I haven’t done that in a little while.

What are any hobbies you’ve picked up during quarantine?

The one I really returned to during quarantine is solving jigsaw puzzles. My son and I will sort of commandeer the two ends of the dining room table. I’ll work on big ones on one end and he’ll work on smaller ones, and that’s a social time for us. The other thing I’ve started doing since being home and with my son is [crafts]. He has a whole set of things that his grandma sent him where we do all these crafts, so whatever crafts Gregory wants to work on has become a little bit of a hobby for both of us.

What do you like best about your job?

It relates to that idea of looking at the long game. I do primarily administration at this point, and a lot of my responsibility is coming up with opportunities for students to achieve things, to learn things about themselves, about their world, about a particular subject matter. I really get tremendous joy from seeing when some of those things come to fruition, when something that we’ve worked on for a long time [becomes] a reality that we know [is] going to make a really positive difference in the lives of students or the communities in which they’re going to live and work. That’s a real high, it feels great.

What I love best about them is that I get to facilitate those things happening when others have a passion for something. I get to connect them in such a way that those passions are going to get to that level of fruition, and then they get to have that wonderful high from putting something out there that makes a difference in the lives of individuals and communities. There’s some tremendous joy in that. I would do a lot of frustrations to be able to get to those situations.

As someone who has been on both the teaching and administrative end of working for a university, what are some of the main differences between the two?

It’s almost in how much control you have over your own time. When you’re teaching, you’re very much able to control your own schedule, other than the direct time that you’re in class. [Teachers] also have times that they need to attend a particular meeting [or serve] on a committee, but when you’re teaching your schedule is much more under your control. As an administrator, you don’t have nearly as much control over your own schedule because you need to be interacting with others that are involved in strategy, decision-making and managerial work much more frequently. From my point of view, there are a lot of controlled hours for administrators, but it’s more hours than I needed to do in teaching. They’re both time intensive things.

"In both teaching and administration, you need to be a really responsive person, you need to be dedicated and caring to what you’re doing."

Those are just characteristics of anybody that’s going to work in the higher education world—really in education at any level.You have to think about things from a different level. Administrators need to consider a lot of complexity, a lot of interrelatedness. I think that brings in another side of it. In teaching you have minute-to-minute successes, short term joys, as you see what’s happening with your students. [In] administration, you’ve really got to be in it for the long game.

You’re not going to get that warm, fuzzy feeling [where] you suddenly realize a student understood something they did not understand before. That’s a great feeling in teaching. In administration, that’s going to be a harder thing to come by. You have to be looking at not individuals but whole groups of people in more frequency. You have to be in it for figuring out what [you] can do to changes processes and systems to allow more students and faculty to have more of those short term joy moments.

One is more the short game and the long game. There are tremendous joys that come with either one, and there are tremendous frustrations that come with either one. I really wouldn’t want to give up either side of that in my career. I get to teach a little bit at this point—sometimes wish I could teach way more—but I would not want to give up the things I do as an administrator either. I think they also make a big difference and I care about them a lot.

How has your teaching experience influenced your current work in developing curriculum and programs?

So many things influence developing curriculum and programs. From my own teaching experience, I have been lucky enough to teach students in a bunch of different kinds of environments. I even homeschooled my kids at different points. I have three adopted sons, and they all have completely different points of view, skillsets [and] natural ways of thinking. They each needed very different things, and that has influenced me. I’ve had a chance to teach at small private colleges, in community colleges [and] in universities, so I get to see diversities in approaches that we take. I get to see differences in students’ desires [and] what they want to achieve, their needs to that be able to achieve their goals and even the base skillsets that they start with.

After doing things in a lot of different environments, I think I’m a much broader thinker about adapting curriculum to that diversity of needs and desires. Every time I get to do something new, or even if I get to observe someone else in how they’re handling something, there’s always a little piece of that that comes back and influences how I think about something else. I’ve had lots and lots of experiences, and all those experiences tie together when I’m thinking about what it is that we’re trying to develop as a learning experience for a particular student. It’s the whole set of the diversity of experiences and things that I’ve done that make me think more broadly about who students are than I did when I first started teaching.

Is there a common theme in the changes you make to course curriculum?

"The most common theme is that we, through UNT at Frisco and New College, are trying to put the needs of the student first."

I always describe what we’re doing with curriculum as we’re building bridges. We’re building a bridge from where that student is to where that student needs to be. Sometimes we need a bunch of different kinds of bridges so that we can work with different starting points [and] different ending points. It’s all driven by where are we trying to go with these students and why are we trying to do that in terms of how it might affect their career, their engagement with their society and even their personal identity as they move forward. That common theme is to think of what are the [student’s] needs first, and what are the pieces necessary to build the right bridge to address those needs. That’s the central thing that drives what I do and what I try to help others do with curriculum development.

How do you ensure that students taking a course can leave with the skills they will need after they graduate?

I don’t think you can one hundred percent ensure that, because what we’re providing is learning opportunities. The overall curriculum, the degree plans [and] the requirements of a particular program are all there to provide a guide. The faculty members that are teaching particular courses are there to say, “I have some expertise in this particular area, so let me guide you as a student through this area. Let me take you through this forest so you can find the pathway.”

We always run into some students that really don’t want to allow me or any other faculty member to guide them. Sometimes they think that they already know everything and that a degree is just getting a piece of paper. There’s not a whole lot that any of us can do if a student doesn’t want to get the full benefit of what we’re trying to do for them. That’s why I say you can never really one hundred percent ensure that students are going to leave with the skills that we really want them to have when they graduate.

The flip side of that is the grand majority of students, especially the UNT students that I’ve worked with, are really open to listening to [our] guidance and advice. If we can expand their way of thinking, then we can help them do things that might have been outside of their comfort zone. If I have a particular student and we have included a writing assignment in the course, the reason that I’ve included that writing assignment is because I think that’s going to help the student to progress their skills in writing and in bringing together a particular idea. To me that’s what everything is all about. Each thing is one small step toward the skillset we would like everyone to have when they graduate. Different people will have different versions of a skillset, but we have some things that we want everybody to be able to do. I think the way we ensure it is by organizing the overall curriculum, the courses within that curriculum and the assignments within the courses in a really purposeful way.

If we then can partner with students who go, “Yes, I’m going to let you be my facilitator and guide,” then we’re probably going to come out with something pretty darn good in terms of what these students can do when they graduate. I think it’s a partnership between the faculty and the students. That’s why I say I can’t ensure that, but together we can ensure that students are going to leave classes and degree programs with the skills that they need.

What is something you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?

I have a lot of things that I’m working on that I’m really excited about. My primary focus is on curricular development [and] new opportunities for learning. That’s always exciting in it of itself because you get to be creative.

  • We’re working really hard on getting through all the steps necessary for a new bachelor’s degree in industrial distribution. I think that’s going to be a degree that will be a great opportunity for students. I’m really excited about the work we’ve been doing with that degree. I get to partner with some great people with that one and we’ve got some really good stuff happening there. We hope to be able to launch that degree in the next academic year, and so far, we look like we’re on track so I’m very excited about that.
  • We’re working on another degree that we’re calling organizational foresight and change leadership. That one I’m also very excited about. I think it provides opportunities for students to think about some things in a very different way that sets then up for the fast moving directions that we’re going to have in the business world and the nonprofit world in the future. I think there are people that are prepared to be change leaders for a rapidly changing society.
  • I’m also excited about things I see going in conversations that faculty are having relating to some of the work that I do with assessment. People are pushing themselves toward deeper conversations about what [it means] to do really good teaching. How do we know whether the students are really gaining the skills we want them to gain?

I’m a scientist by background so of course I go into everything as [though] we’re basically doing an experiment. I have a hypothesis that if I give you this particular assignment in this class, your skills and knowledge in these areas will increase. And then I get to see afterwards, if I gather good information, whether my hypothesis was supported or whether the data was not supported, in which case I need to go back and find a better way to do it. The same things that drive me as a scientist of always [being] curious about what I can learn, drive me related to the process of assessment in the same way.

"If we can test what we are doing in good ways then we can use that to make good decisions about changes that should be made and keep putting out good hypothesis about what might work."

What’s on your post-quarantine bucket list?

I think the biggest thing on my bucket list is to spend way more time with my grandson. I have a grandson who is just over a year old, but they live quite a distance away. I get there pretty often but the pandemic makes that harder. I also enjoy spending time with my extended family that’s here and the pandemic has messed with that a bit.

[Also] family-related in my post-quarantine time is being able to resume efforts I was making to find a good, long-term permanent home that will work for my adult disabled son, even when [his] mama is not there to be able to take care of everything. That’s a long hard road, and the quarantine time slowed down the efforts I was making. Most of my post-quarantine bucket list is ramping up more things about the family side of what I do.

About the Author:

Mallory Cammarata is a senior at the University of North Texas with a major in journalism and a concentration in public relations. She spent her first two years at UNT studying photojournalism and taking photos for North Texas Daily, the student newspaper. At the beginning of her junior year, Mallory decided to pursue her passion for writing and switch her concentration to public relations. She is currently an intern at AgenZ PR where she writes blogs, produces marketing materials and takes photos. After graduating in December 2020, Mallory hopes to apply her new PR skills at an agency or nonprofit organization.