Kicking off the semester with new faculty — Thomas Conklin
Interview by Madinah Muhammad
Alumnus Thomas Conklin, MA’11 (Flor), tackles substance abuse and addiction in both the research field and in the classroom, as an instructor in mental health counseling for the department of psychology and counseling in the Maxwell Becton College of Arts and Sciences. Conklin balances teaching two courses this semester — Program Planning and Evaluation and Development Across the Life Span with completing his doctorate in counseling at Montclair State University.
FDU: What brings you to FDU?
Thomas Conklin: I worked at FDU as an adjunct professor in 2013 and taught the Life Span course I am teaching again now. I really enjoyed teaching and thought the best way to do it well would be to get my advanced degree. That is when I enrolled in the doctorate program at Montclair State University. After hearing about the instructor opportunity at FDU, I applied and was hired.
FDU: What kind of research do you do?
TC: My dissertation focuses on white middle-aged Americans born between 1945-1970, with a high school education and who have battled substance abuse. Specifically, I am focusing on individuals in this cohort who have beaten addiction and who are in recovery. I am conducting an interview study that concentrates on the way recovering substance abusers use language to characterize their journey in recovery. By analyzing their language, my goal is to identify themes and approaches that can be used in the psychology and counseling field to improve the services we provide to people in recovery.
FDU: What in your personal life experiences sparked your passion in this area of research?
TC: I initially came into counseling with the goal of helping a vulnerable population — adolescent children battling substance abuse. While conducting my initial fieldwork in a clinic and a psychiatric residence working with adolescents, I recognized a common theme. The majority of adolescents with behavioral and emotional issues had a parent who suffered from substance abuse. At that moment I shifted my research because I realized the best way to help adolescents was to target adults with substance use disorders.
Growing up in the Midwest, I had blue-collar relatives who struggled with substance abuse. Having a level of familiarity and access to that environment, I recruited several participants for my research from the Midwest, and I am learning that we share similar backgrounds. This was not a conscious decision on my end, but in the psychology and counseling field we say, “all research is me-search.”
FDU: How do you motivate and encourage students when they are facing challenges in class?
TC: The Development Across the Life Span course is inherently interesting because everyone can relate to the course topic, which focuses on growth and development of sensory, motor, language, cognitive, emotional and social processes from conception through late adulthood.
However, the Program Planning and Evaluation course can be more of a challenge to motivate students. The course examines how to plan, implement and evaluate social programs. For each course topic discussed, I connect it to an actual program that is doing things to help people. For example, we analyzed how the Nurse-Family Partnership program was developed and spread across the country. It is a program based on attachment theory that empowers first-time mothers to transform their lives and to create a better future for themselves and their babies. The program also serves as a case study in effective program development.
I also relate the course topics to the passions that motivated students to get into counseling. The students work in teams to design their own programs to serve a population they wish to help.
FDU: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
TC: I was a screenwriter for a while, periodically traveling to Hollywood where my agent was located. The scripts I wrote that got the most “heat,” as they say, were romantic comedies. None of them were produced, but it was still an exciting experience trying to get a script made into a movie.