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WISR Learners Speak

We often receive updates on the career and community leadership accomplishments of WISR students and alumni, and WISR’s role and contributions to their learning and endeavors.  Below are just a few of the recent comments we have received from former WISR students about the value of their studies at WISR:

Kence Anderson, MS in Education and Community Leadership student.  Kence Anderson (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, UC Davis, 2003) had been familiar with WISR for many years; his great aunt was a faculty member and his great uncle is on the board.  He even worked down the street from WISR at an Artificial Intelligence (AI) startup company in Berkeley. One day, when picking up his uncle who was in town for a WISR Seminar, he met WISR co-founder John Bilorusky.  He recalls: “When asked what I’d been doing lately for work, I was reluctant to share about my work in AI.  WISR is a serious social justice institution and I didn’t want to bore them with talk of AI science details.  Well, it turns out I was wrong.  We had the most engaging conversation about my work, and I left WISR with books, inspired to read social science research that I had never previously heard of.” It turns out that social science research and teaching methods have a lot to do with AI and perhaps AI can further social justice initiatives through teaching. Kence leads a collaboration between Microsoft and WISR to explore how teachers can use artificial intelligence combined with games to engage and empower underserved and marginalized students.  That Berkeley startup down the street from WISR was acquired by Microsoft in 2018, and Kence is a Principal Program Manager, Machine Teaching Innovation at Microsoft tasked with researching and testing teaching methods that build safer, more explainable AI that is primarily used to help humans acquire and master skills more quickly.   He credits his work at WISR directly for this promotion and in fact his new role was created for him in large part, due to a novel teaching framework that he developed at WISR.  His work at WISR, which extends research that WISR has built on for decades, is influencing Microsoft products and laying a foundation for future social justice initiatives.  In July 2020, Kence rallied Microsoft colleagues to write code that will be used to support these efforts at the annual Microsoft Hackathon.  One of the largest hackathons in the work, Microsoft donated the code to WISR as part of its Hack4Good program. You can find out more about the project here: https://garagehackbox.azurewebsites.net/hackathons/2107/projects/90996). “Without the social research, teaching methods and personalized program that I’m getting at WISR, I’d never be in the position that I am currently in:  to do such exciting cutting edge research, and map out a framework for how to use that research for tangible social good.  After a year in the program, we’re just getting started but thanks WISR for what you’ve built!”

Uwe Blesching received his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral Degrees at WISR.  He is now an active writer and educator of health professionals and lay people.  Since finishing his doctorate, he has written the following three books, which are the foundation for many of his public speaking engagements. His most recent two books: 

Breaking the Cycle of Opioid Addiction: Supplement Your Pain Management with Cannabis
The Cannabis Health Index: Combining the Science of Medical Marijuana with Mindfulness Techniques to Heal 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases
In addition, while completing his doctoral studies at WISR, he made a documentary film on the life and work, of the famous Chilean poet, writer, scholar and activist, Dr. Fernando Alegria (former Chair of the Spanish and Portuguese Department at Stanford University, who was also on WISR’s Board our first 15 years.  Dr. Alegria passed away in 2005, and was able to attend the opening of the film shortly before his death. The film has since been shown at many international and Latino film festivals and can be purchased at: http://chiptaylor.com/fernando_alegria2.html 
Uwe has this to say about WISR: “One of the more practical reasons I chose WISR was because of its focus on qualitative research methodology. Once mastered, it allowed me to explore vast amounts of information from various disciplines and distill it down to where specific trends and unique data emerged, which in turn have real and practical consequences for health care providers and the unique patient populations I specifically write for. Without that skill set, I don’t know how I would have been able to write three books on the topic and become a regular contributor to the new and emerging field of cannabinoid health sciences.”

Margery Coffey, PhD and Dennis Hastings, PhD, WISR alumni of Master’s and Doctoral Programs.  At WISR’s recent 40th Anniversary Celebration, Margery Coffey gave a testimonial on how WISR’s encouragement of this sort of collaboration enabled Dennis Hastings and herself to not only obtain their doctoral degrees, but also to make important contributions to the Omaha people, their communities and the preservation of Omaha culture.  They have asked us to share Margery’s presentation.

Monika Scott-Davis, MA, LMFT, has 7 years if experience in the field of mental health and social services. She has worked with youth in the foster care system, and seniors striving to maintain their independence in their homes and community. Ms. Scott holds a Master’s in Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, California, and while working on her WISR Master’s, she pursued and completed, a second Master’s in Gerontology from San Francisco State University. Ms. Scott’s thesis for her Masters in Psychology focused on the issues and unmet needs of foster youth as they “age out of the system.” For her PhD studies at WISR, she continues to work on that important and needed area of concern. After finishing her WISR Masters’, Ms. Scott was employed with Adult Protective Services as a social worker with the county of Alameda as an intake social worker and a field investigator. As an adult protective service worker Ms. Scott responded and evaluated situations involving adult abuse, neglect, or exploitation. The goal was to institute a corrective action and arrange social services for clients.

Ms. Scott is currently (since August 2016) employed with Center for Elders’ Independence as a psychiatric social worker. Center for Elders’ Independence, CEI is a PACE model program. The PACE model stands for Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly. CEI is a multi-disciplinary program for seniors designed to meet the needs of nursing home eligible seniors and allow them to maintain their independence in the community. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Ms. Scott works with participants who have a diagnosed mental health condition. Ms. Scott is currently a guest lecturer at San Francisco State University’s Department of Gerontology. Ms. Scott is teaching an introductory course to the Master’s program, which highlights the aspects of aging in today’s society.

Ms. Scott credits her educational experience at Western Institute for Social Research for giving her the tools to hear and preserve the voice of the clients she works with. The techniques of action research have allowed her to implement client-centered interventions that proved to be more successful with youth and seniors.

William Heineke, PhD alumnus. In his WISR dissertation, Bill developed a model for multidisciplinary professional teams concerned with the prevention and treatment of child abuse. . . . Bill’s letter to WISR (January 2019): “Giving you a bit of an update with some surprises coming totally unexpectedly.  I was the recipient of three awards.  One was a Health Care Provider of the Year given by the Campbell County Health Care Foundation. The second was the Legend Award by my employer, Campbell County Memorial Hospital.  The third was one of ‘Ten Who Made a Difference’ award by the Gillette News Record.  Enclosed are copies.  The work/research I did at WISR was a major contribution to helping with children.  The treatment manual I did at WISR I presented at a conference–for early interventions with children.  I learned six months later–I gave the manual at the conference (and) they were used to start programs in New Zealand and Ohio.  My WISR experience is one I continue to rely upon as a strong source of strength and continued worth in the field. Warmest Regards, Bill Heineke”

George Catlin, MFT alumnus. George is a former College Professor of Psychology, and he writes, “After retiring from teaching, I wanted to take up clinical work.  At WISR, students studied at their own pace—fast, in my case.  I now work part-time in my county’s behavioral health division.”

Suzie Rudloff, MFT Aluma. A journalist for 20 years, I wanted to change careers and I couldn’t stop working to do that.  At WISR, I could study anywhere. I now have a private practice with a full client load.”

Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim has received several advanced degrees from other institutions in Europe and Africa prior to enrolling at WISR. Due to the civil unrest in Nigeria, he was not able to complete his doctoral studies at WISR. Nevertheless, he recently provided updates on the impact of his WISR studies on communities in Nigeria, including a link to a pdf file of a power point presentation he gave in 2013 on Reforming the Nigerian oil and gas sector.  He also wrote to us:

“Years ago in my search for an institution where I could carry out my doctoral study of a nature that will add value to human society in a practical manner rather than the conventional empirical studies of theoretical nature. I stumbled on WISR whose focus is on higher scholarship geared towards effecting social change. I immediately enrolled and over the years  have carried out several doctoral seminar projects  with specific impacts on my immediate environment and constituents. Specifically the outstanding one has been that which extensively analyzed the impact of deleterious technologies (specifically the two – stroke engine) employed by the indigent populace in Nigeria for survival and the effects of such on their health safety and the environment. Consequent upon the research and the advocacy embarked upon thereafter, the Government of Nigeria announced the ban on some of the equipment propelled by such technology. It was truly satisfactory to see the outcome of such an effort which clearly was due to the WISR spirit, the superintendence of the President of WISR Dr John Bilorusky and the support by the various faculty and other members of the WISR community. The WISR philosophy of higher education for social change has been the driver behind this thought process and achievement and this is what the world needs for a true transformation. May the Lord Bless WISR. Dr Mohammed M Ibrahim”