Reminiscing with Ralph: An interview with Dr. Ralph Piedmont

I have had the honor of working as Dr. Ralph Piedmont’s graduate assistant for the past several years.  The experience has been personally and professionally enriching because of his high expectations, intense energy, genuine concern for my development, and abundant generosity.  For example, I have met many luminaries in the field due to his leadership on the Mid Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality.  As his teaching assistant, I have honed my instructional skills and have increased my knowledge about psychological testing and statistics, and I have been impressed by his openness to learning from me (e.g., the incorporation of adjunctive materials such as podcasts).  He has invited me to be a co-author on several publications, including an upcoming chapter in an APA handbook and an upcoming article in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion.

Teri Wilkins and Dr. Ralph Piedmont

Dr. Piedmont supporting my Emerging Scholars presentation (2011)

Someone with his depth and breadth of knowledge and prolific publications can appear intimidating, but I have always found him to be amazingly approachable.  I recently had the chance to sit with him and bombard him with questions, which he graciously addressed.  He spoke about how his professional journey brought him to Loyola, his consideration of spirituality as an aspect of personality, the development of his ASPIRES instrument, his appreciation for the core values of Jesuit education, his role in nurturing his graduate assistants, and many, many more topics.  See below for my questions and comments and for the audio links.

  1. How did you end up at Loyola?
  2. Can you tell me what the trajectory of your interest in spirituality has been?  When did you really start thinking about that?  Has that always been part of something that has drawn you?
  3. For those who aren’t familiar with your work (I don’t know that everybody realizes how prolific your writing has been) and also the scale development for your ASPIRES scale, can you talk a little bit about how that came to be?
  4. So you were looking for a universal human quality?
  5. That’s been some of the criticism of social science research, that whole WEIRD acronym (i.e., coming from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic nations).  It seems like a lot of your data has been in populations that don’t necessarily follow that kind of “WEIRD” criticism.
  6. One of the benefits of being in the Pastoral Counseling department at Loyola is the ability to attend the Mid Year Conference.  You’ve been fundamental in having that be a major part of research presentations.  Can you talk a little bit about that? 
  7. Not just professionals, but students have a lot of opportunities.
  8. PRS is not the only journal you’re involved with in terms of editing.  Can you talk about the other?
  9. Loyola seems to provide a lot of support.
  10. What do you see as your role when it comes to interacting with your graduate assistants?
  11. Can you talk about your recent experience in Poland and what’s ahead of you in Poland?
  12. Where do you see yourself going forward at this point? 

Many thanks to Dr. Piedmont for his patience, willingness, and candor during the interview!

Remembering Mary Marguerite

On May 3, 2012, I was watching the evening news and learned that an Episcopal priest and an administrative assistant had been shot, at their church, by a homeless person.  No names were given.  Over the course of the next week, more information surfaced.  Apparently, the shooter had a history of approaching the church for assistance but became agitated after being told he had to limit his visits to the food pantry so others could benefit as well.  He killed the two women and then killed himself.

At first, I felt horrified that such a tragedy had occurred, but I was able to distance myself.  I could offer prayers for the repose of their souls and prayers for their families and friends, but I did not know anyone involved.  Or so I thought.  When the names of those involved became public, the pain became personal.  I knew Mary Marguerite Kohn.  She was my friend.

Mary Marguerite, or MM, was a graduate of the PhD program in pastoral counseling.  While she was preparing to defend her dissertation, she spent hours and hours in the doctoral lounge entering data and reviewing and revising her work.  At that same time, I was using the office directly across the hall to help with the copy editing of Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion.  MM would come in frequently to visit with me and to offer support because she knew I sometimes got impatient with the pace of the academic requirements.  The process seemed to take so long!  She told me many times that perseverance was the key to success and to keep plugging away.  She set a wonderful model in that respect.

After she graduated, she became an affiliate professor at Loyola and at Fordham and sometimes consulted with me about online education.  She had a great love for her students and was deeply invested in their success.  I recall an extended email conversation about the cost of materials for one of her courses where she examined every possible way to keep the costs down and the quality high.  In addition to her kindness, I remember her intense energy, her easy laughter, and her generosity.  While I feel very sad about her death, I am also very, very grateful that I had the chance to know her.

Eternal rest grant unto her, oh Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul and the souls of all the
faithful departed, through the mercy
of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

Riding the Dragon Down the Path To Pastoral Counseling | Teri Wilkins

My introduction to the pastoral counseling department came via Dr. Wicks.  I was presenting at the annual convention for teachers in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and he was the keynote speaker.  He had just published Riding the Dragon and spoke of how educators needed to take care of themselves, which was a lesson I needed to hear.  At the time, I was enrolled in a PhD program in education and was teaching continuing education courses in classroom management and brain-based learning.  I had retired from K-12 classroom teaching and had decided to change careers and become a full-time professor. 

While I was enjoying my classes and doing well academically, I had noticed a void in my secular doctoral program.  When Dr. Wicks noted he taught in Loyola’s pastoral counseling program, something finally clicked.  After decades in the Catholic school system, where spirituality had been embraced as a vital component of people’s lives, it was strange to me that the topic of spirituality was now actively avoided.  I decided to investigate pastoral counseling.

In the classroom, I had counseled many students, especially adolescent girls and teachers struggling with technology integration, but I had always been uneasy about that role.  While I was quite confident about my abilities as an educator, I lacked training in counseling.  Would studying pastoral counseling make a difference?  I was not sure but made an appointment to speak to an advisor. 

When I walked into the suite of offices that morning, I was struck by the atmosphere.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming.  I met one of the current students, and she graciously and enthusiastically spoke with me about the importance of spirituality in the department’s offerings.  I spent over an hour with the advisor, and she recommended first applying to the M.S. program.  Going from a doctoral program into a master’s program seemed a bit disconcerting, but she explained that the licensing work was at that level.  The thought that I could become a licensed counselor excited me, and after some extensive reflection, I submitted my application.

I am now completing my last class as a PhD student.  The past six years have been wonderful.  The coursework has been academically rigorous, my professors have been marvelous, and I have made enduring friendships and obtained employment as a licensed (LGPC) therapist.  I have honed my skills as a clinician, a researcher, a supervisor, and an educator.  The void has disappeared, and I have never been happier.