Jennifer Stayton

Retraining the brain to dislodge the ‘multiple complex factors’ that can form and fuel prejudice

Prejudice rears its ugly head in hateful and tragic acts small and large every day — from personal microaggressions to horrific events like this year’s mass shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store.

It might seem as if the false information and assumptions that fuel prejudice are all learned, but biology may actually play a role in prejudice, too.

Central Texas neuropsychotherapist Bella Rockman says prejudice is “developed from multiple complex factors that influence our thinking.”

Higher Ed: Holding On Tight Is Easier Than Letting Go. Why We Need To Learn How To Do Both Well.

As Dr. Ed Burger prepares to leave Southwestern University to become President and Chief Executive Officer of St. David’s Foundation in Austin, Texas, he and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the art of letting go, as they wrap up the KUT podcast “Higher Ed.

Ed says “letting go” in the workplace starts with a pretty straightforward assessment.

“That’s a great test. In the middle of working on something, just stop and say right there and then, ‘whose job am I doing right now?'” says Ed. “And if it’s not your own, you should stop – if you want to embrace the art of letting go.”

But Ed acknowledges “letting go” when the emotional stakes are higher presents more of a challenge.

“It is so easy to hold the unpleasant things or the poisonous things that we experience – the negative stimulation around us,” says Ed. How we let that go, he continues, is what dictates how joyful a life we can lead.

So how does one go about “letting go?”

Some ideas from Ed:

* Trust other people.

* Share responsibility and accountability with others.

* Exercise mindfulness.

* Embrace different points of view.


Listen to the full episode to hear more about grappling with letting go. For this final episode of “Higher Ed” we have practiced the art of letting go by ditching the puzzler!

This episode was recorded on Oct. 22, 2019.

Higher Ed: Learning From Failure (And Then Letting It Go)

In the very first episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton talked about the importance of failure to learning. Has any thinking changed about that concept in the past five years?

Ed says he has greater clarity now than he had five years ago about one aspect of effective failure. He says he better understands the difference between just bouncing back from failure and actually learning from it.

“It’s not the mistake, it’s what comes next,” says Ed. “If you make a mistake and say ‘well, that didn’t work; I’m going to try something else,’ that’s tenacity, which is fantastic and perseverance, which is wonderful. But it’s not effective failure.”

So what exactly is effective failure?

“It’s stopping and it’s holding that attempt that didn’t work, ” says Ed. “And instead of doing the cultural norm, which is to pretend it didn’t happen and sweep it under the rug…instead of focusing on perfection, focus on the process.”

Ed believes that what makes a failure “effective” is the evaluation that follows.

“You hold that failed attempt in your mind until you have an epiphany, until you have an insight,” suggests Ed. “Until you see something that was there but you hadn’t seen before. And then you can dismiss it, let it go and do something else.”

And Ed says that “letting go” is crucial to the process so that people do not get stuck wallowing in their failures.

“That letting go… can be challenging for some people who do not want to let go and who say ‘see,  I’m not good at that; I can’t do it,’ ” Ed points out. “But instead … the letting go is just as important as the learning.”

Listen to the entire episode to hear more about incorporating effective failure into daily life and learning. That opportunity may present itself before the episode even ends (depending on the solution to last episode’s puzzler about art with matchsticks!).

This episode was recorded on Oct. 22, 2019.


Higher Ed: Be Grateful For The Frustration That Can Come With Learning. You’ll Learn From That, Too.

“Thank you” may not always be the words that come to mind when struggling through a difficult lesson or dealing with a mountain of homework in school. But in this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the role that gratitude can play in learning and education.

Ed firmly believes that those two little words can play a big part in enhancing learning – especially when the going seems tough.

“What if that frustration actually ended up being kind of a positive? What if we became grateful for being frustrated, as a state?” asks Ed. “The truth is, I think that gratitude is such a powerful mindset to move us in a positive direction.”

Ed maintains that expressions of gratitude have a ripple effect on all manner of work in and out of school.

“If we can embrace gratitude and be thankful for any aspect of life or any aspect of one’s work, it uplifts us,” says Ed. “It allows us to be more creative, to be more innovative, to see things more clearly, [and] to look for opportunities and potential.”

For some people, expressing gratitude feels difficult. Ed understands where that comes from says the benefits are worth the effort.

“It’s a vulnerability, and we don’t like being vulnerable. We don’t like to put our feelings and our heart on our sleeves,” says Ed. “But, we have to remember that we are human. To embrace our humanity is a great gift to ourselves and to others. And one way to embrace our humanity is to show appreciation and to express gratitude.”

Listen to the full episode to hear more about the benefits of being grateful. And hopefully. you will be thankful for a new puzzler.

This episode was recorded on Oct. 22, 2019.

Higher Ed: Really Good At Something In School Or Work? Beware Of The “Success Trap”

Who does not appreciate making high grades in a certain subject or getting glowing performance reviews at work?  In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton explore the lure of the “success trap” and how to avoid it.

What exactly is the “success trap?” It is the pull or desire to continue doing that which brings the greatest external praise or reward just because of that success. (Think: I’m really good at Math. I’ll major in that. I hate it, but I’m good at it.)

Here is how Ed sees it:

“When someone is successful at something….that’s a silly reason to actually go and pursue it,” Ed believes. “But the question is: just because one is good at something, does that potentially dismiss the possibility of doing something that might bring you greater joy [or] might be actually something you’re even better at or something that you’re just actually drawn to and otherwise you wouldn’t give it a shot?”

Ed is quick to add that he does not think people shoud ditch their successful endeavors and move on if those pursuits still bring joy.

“If that success is something that continues to bring an individual satisfaction and joy and a sense of accomplishment, that’s great; I’m not suggesting everyone’s gotta shake it up,” says Ed. “That should not confine us to look at other possibilities and other opportunities because maybe your gifts and your talents can be amplified in a different direction that we wouldn’t consider otherwise.”

So how can people break out of their comfort zone and avoid that “success trap?”

Ed says it begins with deliberate and thoughtful effort.

“It’s all with intentionality,” says Ed. “If you’re going to hope that you accidentally stumble upon something I would say you have to be really lucky…. you can create your own good luck with intentionality – intentionally assessing.”

Listen to the fill episode to hear more from Ed about when the time is right to do that kind of assessment.

It is definitely the right time for the solution to last episode’s puzzler about dealing with cards missing from a deck.

This episode was recorded on Oct. 22, 2019.

Higher Ed: Want An Exciting Life? Ask This Question At Graduation (Or Anytime, Really)

Most of us have the best of intentions when we graduate from high school or college to make our way in the world and lead meaningful and productive lives. But the minutiae of everyday life can eat into our plans to exist outside our comfort zone. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton explore one way to keep those dreams alive.

Ed has a tradition at Southwestern University called the President’s Dinner. At some point during their time at Southwestern, each student will get invited to dinner at the President’s house with about 12 other people. Part of the dinner conversation will revolve around answering a provocative question.

At a recent dinner, Ed posed the following question: “What would surprise you about yourself 25 years after graduation?”

After hearing the discussion the followed, Ed wanted to bring that question to “Higher Ed” podcast listeners, too.

“What’s something that you could imagine and dream about doing but you really don’t think you would do in practice?’

Ed maintains that asking that question at any stage of life will prompt us to then figure out what concrete steps can we take to get there. And that pursuit, he believes, is the “joy of life.”

“When people go to our funeral, let’s say ‘we left it all on the field; we lived this full life,'” says Ed. “So even the surprising things we’ve tried.”

Ed says conversely, it might be just as valuable to consider the places where we do not want to be 25 years after graduation.

“How can we go to the dark side,” cautions Ed, ” and then what can we do with intentionality to make sure we avoid that?”

Ed says we may be our own worst enemy when it comes to this type of exploration. He encourages people to put their education into practice to overcome that obstacle.

“We are all biased about our individual selves. ‘ I am supposed to do this. I am good at that and I am not good at art’ or whatever it is,” says Ed. “To overcome that internal bias about you, and to say ‘well, maybe I can be an artist’ is an open-minded attitude which all education that’s focusing on personal, intellectual growth should be offering.”

Listen to the entire episode to hear more about how to surprise ourselves 25 years after graduation (or at any point in life). It is also time to see what kind of puzzler we are dealt in this episode.

This episode was recorded on Oct. 22, 2019.

For all the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here

Higher Ed: The Key To Dissipating Regret? Use It To Spur Action And Change

A podcast listener wrote in asking for guidance about how to handle the regret she feels over the choices she made in college.  In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton examine regret and the ways in which it can actually inspire positive change.

A podcast listener named Rebekah wrote in with the following question: “Sometimes when I listen to your podcast…I get a bit sad because I did not do all the things you talk about. I did not fit in at my college. I did not learn deeply. I focused on the wrong things and it hurts to think that maybe my life could have been better if only….What would Ed say to me about my sorrow over my misspent youth or lost opportunities?”

Ed’s first response? “I think it’s fantastic that Rebekah has regret!”

And why is that?

Ed says he looks at regret as a signal of a couple of things, one of them being personal growth.

“Regret is something that means that she has grown from where she was to where she is now,” Ed maintains. “So if nothing else, she needs to celebrate the fact that she looks at, in this case, her formal education in a different way. That’s huge growth and that’s worthy of celebration in and of itself.”

Ed believes regret truly becomes useful when that feeling prompts action.

“When you feel that, now there’s an action item. What are you going to do about it?” asks Ed. “It’s never too late to be learning.”

Ed says listening to that inner voice that fuels feelings of regret can help spur that action.

“If there’s a longing in us today that is something that could lead us to become [an] ever better, more amplified version of ourselves then we need to embrace that longing and take action. That’s the key to regret,” Ed believes. “Sitting by and just going ‘oh, woe is me’ – that’s ineffective.”

Ed says understanding why we feel regret for things done (or not done) in the past can also help us take action that will prevent similar regret later on. Listen to the full episode to hear more about what Ed calls “intellectual regret prevention” and to get the solution to last episode’s shape-shifting puzzler.

This episode was recorded on Sept. 25, 2019.

Higher Ed: Letting Go Of The “Noise” To Prioritize Better In School And Life

Most people – students included – have a long to-do list but are short on ideas for how to tackle it. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss strategies for deciding what should top the list.

Ed suggests that removing things from the list might actually be an effective first step in prioritizing what is there.

“I just look at them, and if I can dispense with it instantly, I just do,” says Ed. “And that could be including just forwarding it on to the right person…. That gets a lot of stuff off your desk immediately.”

Okay, so now that the list is shorter, what is the best way to determine what gets attention first? This is where some discernment comes in.

“There’s stuff that you just have to say, ‘I can’t worry about that. That is just a distraction,'” says Ed. “And that I think is the ultimate in prioritizing which is saying, ‘that’s essential. This is exactly why I exist. And this is just noise.’ And the noise you have to let go.”

When those essential tasks are chosen, Ed then advocates for working in parallel on items on the list rather than trying to get them completely finished one by one.

“Just do something for a little bit,” suggests Ed. “And then if all of a sudden you’ve lost your mojo on that thing, then just put it aside and don’t say ‘I’m going to push right through that’ say ‘okay, enough of that, let me do something else.'”

Ed concedes there is a practical side to prioritizing work and tasks but also an emotional side. Listen to the entire episode to hear more about how to make peace with prioritizing – especially when other people are unhappy with those decisions. And you will want to make the new puzzler a priority for this week; it is a little bit math and a little bit art.

This episode was recorded on Sept. 25, 2019.

Higher Ed: How To Keep Tired Students Engaged? Help Them Produce – Not Just Consume – Knowledge

Students have a lot of tugging at their energy and attention including classes, homework, jobs and activities. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton strategize on how to keep exhausted students engaged in the classroom.

“I teach an elementary math methods course. My students are seniors who are concurrently student teaching. They have two 3-hour classes each Monday and they are in classrooms the rest of the week. My class is the Monday afternoon class. I am struggling to keep their interest for three hours…. Any ideas on how I can get my tired students engaged and interested for three whole hours?”

Speaking from experience, Ed says several teaching strategies can help keep students’ (or anyone’s) attention when they are low on energy and rest but have a long stretch of classroom or meeting time ahead.

First of all, try to make the longer class feel like a shorter class.

“You’ve got to make sure that you give time for breaks. That’s number one,” says Ed. “It can’t be a three hour block.”

Ed also believes teachers need to inspire and support students’ curiosity about the material.

“Teachers should never be answering a question that [students] are not at that moment asking,” Ed believes. “So the real challenge in teaching math, or frankly, teaching anything … is to bring students to a place where they look at us and say ‘well, how do you do that?’ And than you say ‘I am so glad you asked!'”

He says fueling that curiosity will not only drive engagement and participation but also learning.

“If you make it into a riddle or a puzzle or a conundrum, then there’s this curiosity of ‘how come that person did it and I don’t know how to do it?'” says Ed. “And then it’s like ‘show me how. Show me the secret.’ So it’s like magic. ‘Show me a magic illusion and then show me the secret behind the curtain.’ And all of a sudden they’re learning.”

That active learning will, Ed believes, puts students in the position of creating more ideas themselves, which will in turn keep them more involved in what’s happening in the classroom.

“The more you can create active learning in the classroom or even outside the classroom,” says Ed, “we learn better when we are actively engaged and we’re the producers of the ideas rather than merely the consumers of the ideas.”

Of course, it’s hard to get around the fact that a three hour class is a long stretch of time. Ed says in his opinion, even 50 minute classes are too long. For him, an ideal class would last about 20 minutes in rotation with other subjects.

So Ed says one way to break up the time into smaller chunks is to introduce a new element every 20-25 minutes. What about something like a puzzler? Listen to this week’s full episode to hear more ideas on keeping students (or anyone) engaged and to get the solution to last week’s puzzler. We will cross that bridge when we get to it!

This episode was recorded on Sept. 25, 2019.

Higher Ed: I’m Content. And Comfortable. And Don’t Want To Change. Learn How To Do It Anyway.

“The only thing constant is change.”

That saying, or some derivation of it, is attributed to the ancience Greek philosopher Heraclitus around 500 BC. But it certainly rings as true now as it did then.

In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss preparing students to handle life’s big changes.

Earlier this fall, Ed announced that in January of 2020 he will leave his position as President of Southwestern and become President and Chief Executive Officer of the St. David’s Foundation in Austin, Texas. After spending decades in academia, this move represents a big change for Ed.

So, why did he do it?

Ed says his long career in academia was actually one of the factors that propelled him to step into a different arena.

“We should not let our gifts and talents confine us to how we define ourselves and our future,” Ed believes. “If there is something more that we want to do, I don’t think we should use the fact that we are successful at something we’re currently doing as an impediment to not go off; trail blaze; take the risk; effectively fail; and do something else.”

Ed says much of what he has learned going through this process is applicable to students or anyone in a process of learning and discerning.

“How do you open your mind to looking at a future version of yourself that is a dramatic departure from where you are?”

Ed believes that question lies at the heart of launching into a big change. He says several steps are necessary to take a major, new step:

* “Your first have to overcome that inertia that says ‘things are okay now, … or things are great now, so let’s not mess up the apple cart.'”

* “[Don’t] be afraid of the emotional responses you will have to even consider such a move or such a change because they are real. And you have to balance all of that.”

* “One needs to create the space in one’s psyche to embrace this notion of change.”

* “There’s a mourning process. We need to give ourselves the space for us to mourn the loss of the bonds, the friendships, the community that we will be leaving. And then begin to imagine and be excited by a future community and a future life that will come next.”

Listen to the entire episode to hear more about contemplating, navigating and executing a big life change.

Ed promised the newest puzzler would be tougher than recent ones. He did not change his mind about that; be ready for a tough one this week.

This episode was recorded on Sept. 25, 2019.

Higher Ed: “We’re Not Machines” – Engaging Your Heart And Your Head In Learning

When strong feelings bubble up, your heart might win out over your head in deciding what happens next. But at times, a more thoughtful approach might prove ultimately more effective. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the tug-of-war between feeling and thinking.

Ed says he thinks higher education can play a role in teaching people how to navigate and process strong feelings so that those feelings can inform – but not derail – learning and major decision making.

“I think that especially on a college campus…it’s really important to allow people space for both that emotional reaction or that emotional response,” says Ed. “And then to encourage them to process and have something else come out of it.”

Ed is quick to clarify that feelings should not be shortchanged or discounted in learning and decision making. He says they actually play a vital role. But he emphasizes the importance of balancing those feelings with mindfulness and awareness.

“Our feelings and our emotions will generate all sorts of intuition; all sorts of creativity; all sorts of new insights; all sorts of new ideas. And then we can play off of them,” says Ed. “But the playing off them, and then what comes next, is all about when we start to think through them.”

What happens if that emotional response is not followed by thoughtful reflection?

“It’s like a car being stuck in the mud,” says Ed. “The wheels are just spinning and spinning and spinning, spewing up mud, but it’s not moving anywhere.”

Listen to the full episode to hear more about how to keep those wheels from just spinning in the mud without making progress, and to get the solution to last episode’s football puzzler (muddy field not required!).

This episode was recorded on Aug. 7, 2019.

After this episode was recorded, Dr. Ed Burger announced that he is leaving Southwestern University in January 2020 to become president and chief executive officer of St. David’s Foundation.

Higher Ed: Want To Prevent Students From Dropping Out? Provide More Support, Realistic Expectations

Fewer college students than you might think make it from Freshman orientation all the way to graduation. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss why students drop out, and what colleges and universities can do to help them stay in.

David Kirp’s book “The College Dropout Scandal” (excerpted in The Chronicle of Higher Education) is packed with statistics about college attendance. One data point from the book really stands out: over four in ten college freshman will not graduate with a degree within six years.

As Ed points out, some of those reasons are practical or situational, such as an illness in the family or a change in family geography or status.

But there are other reasons more rooted in the institutions than in the students.

Ed says universities who make special efforts to recuit groups of students such as first generation college students or international students also need to then provide those students with the necessary support.

“Once a student arrives, there are instutions whose attitude is ‘we took that student… and now we’re done,'” says Ed, “instead of thinking about ‘ok, how do we now map a way for that student not just to graduate… but to flourish.'”

Ed believes that support – for any student – needs to include personal connections because “the moment it becomes less personal, it’s easier to find a way out.”

Ed believes higher education as a whole should also examine the culture around expectations of what is “normal” and achievable in the standard four year time frame. He says acceptance and flexibility in that regard might help more students stick with school.

“If someone needs, for whatever reason, a little more time to finish, they shouldn’t think anything except ‘this is the time that it takes me,” says Ed. “This idea that four years is success- is really nonsense.”

Listen to the entire episode for further discussion about helping students stay in school. The puzzler takes to the gridiron this week, but no special knowledge of football is needed to figure this one out.

This episode was recorded on Aug. 7, 2019.

After this episode was recorded, Dr. Ed Burger announced that he is leaving Southwestern University in Jan. 2020 to become President and Chief Executive Officer of St. David’s Foundation.

Higher Ed: For Some Teachers “It’s Not A Matter Of Being Nice But Setting Great Expectations”

Just about everybody can recall an influential teacher who nurtured and inspired them. But not all great teachers are “warm and fuzzy.” In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton explore dealing with fantastic teachers who have challenging personalities.

Ed recalls a wonderful Philosophy teacher he had in college whose lectures Ed describes as “utterly fascinating” but whose personality he says was kind of “off-putting.”

But that naturally raises the question: Can a good teacher have, well, a bad personality?

Ed encourages students to steer clear of that simple dichotomy and instead examine potential reasons for behavior that may appear less than nurturing.

“He had incredibly high standards so that might have been kind of like the not-friendly part,” recalls Ed. “It’s not a matter of being nice, but it’s a matter of setting great expectations.”

Ed says society now desperately needs people to treat each with kindness, politeness and respect, especially when they disagree. But he believes sometimes teachers need to use different tools to motivate a group of students.

“There is something to be said for that kind of tough love, so it’s not meanness but it’s tough love,” Ed believes. “You want the person to be more independent. You want that person to reach further than they thought they could.”

Listen to the entire episode to hear why Ed also believes that, at least sometimes, that teacher “tough love” might be more of an act than the teacher’s true personality. Also listen on for the solution to last week’s Roman numerals puzzler (don’t worry – no tough love if you didn’t get it!).

This episode was recorded on Aug. 7, 2019.

After this episode was recorded, Dr. Ed Burger announced that he is leaving Southwestern University in Jan. 2020 to become President and Chief Executive Officer of St. David’s Foundation.