Bringing my Dad back into Focus

Losing a parent is emotionally difficult as I’m discovering each and every day. Others who have lost someone close provide the strongest sense of empathy–they know what we are going through and they offer shoulders on which to lean.

I truly appreciate all those who have sent a message or note, flowers, donations.

Those who gave their presence in these difficult days and made thoughtful gestures now hold a very special place in my heart. Those who made the kind effort to join us for Dad’s visitation, funeral, or interment helped provide a sense of confidence that tomorrow will be happier.

Through this blog post, I am bringing my Dad back into focus, if only for a moment. I aim to record my memories before they vanish.

Memories of our Dad

My dad, Donald Massie, truly loved to learn. This he passed to my sister (Heather) and me.


Dad with Heather and me.

Dad always said Heather and I should try hard in school, for ourselves, not for him. “Your education,” he’d say, “is the only thing no one can take away.” …Bette Midler says it’s your dignity, but that actually can be taken, I believe!

Dad taught Heather and me many things, including how to guide our own learning—how to identify goals, determine what we wanted to know, and figure out how to accomplish learning it. Dad didn’t do our projects for us, as Heather pointed out at his funeral, but he was always there to help.

Dad was an extremely curious person, and he demonstrated his love of learning from the very start. As a small child, he read the Encyclopedia Britannica. This set of books occupied an entire shelf at my grandparents’ house, in all the years they owned it.


Christmas 2017 or 2018: Shannon, Aongus, Heather, Danny, Glen, Dad, and Kitty Lee.

Even before Dad could read, he’d pour over the pages, avoiding whatever he could from the illustrations, my aunt Kitty told us in Dad’s final days, as we three–Heather, Kitty and I–gathered around Dad’s bedside, supported by the phenomenal nursing staff at Showalter Center and end-of-life experts from Carillion Clinic Hospice. Those were precious days we had together, and a priceless gift provided by those caring medical experts. Showalter’s culinary and administrative folks worked with us and nursing to make the week we had there together full of love and laughter. Dad was truly funny in the moments he could communicate; it was clear he’d built rapport with staff of all ages and backgrounds, and some of the residents like Sharon who became a fast friend to us all. Many of them came to call in Dad’s final week, and Heather helped connect to family via phone and friends and former colleagues who came to visit.

But back to the story of Dad’s lust for learning: he particularly loved reading Popular Mechanics and Scientific American, and any flying magazine he could get his hands on!

Dad also loved trying things out for himself. We learned to learn by doing, just as he had.

At the age of two, he’d observed how a gear shift worked and he gave it a go himself. He climbed up in the driver’s seat of the family Jeep and kicked the manual transmission out of gear. The Jeep rolled down the hill, wrapping around a tree, totaled. He clung happily to the steering wheel.

He’d also as a toddler, we are told, remove the screws from the furniture with his bare hands—so curious was he about how the chairs and table were assembled.

Growing up in the family farm in Fishersville, Virginia, provided many adventures for a kid with curiosity. Dad observed how to use a flexible tube to siphon liquid from a barrel. “No,” the doctor told my grandma, “he isn’t sick,” just a little drunk! Evidentially, that barrel contained hard cider.

Dad wasn’t the only kid in the family stirring up trouble.

Dad’s brother, Phil, was a few years older than him. One day Phil tied Dad to a tree while playing cowboys and Indians. Unexpectedly invited into town by their dad, Phil disappeared. When Phil remembered about my Dad, tied up to that tree, Phil kept mum. No one wanted to earn the ire of my grandad.

Dad spent the day there, strung to that tree.

Their family moved off the farm and into the city of Staunton.

Dad had a newspaper delivery route and he got to know my mom’s brother while doing that job. Dad played clarinet in the school band. He made friends he kept until the very end.

In high school, he got drafted. He got a limited deferment. He married my mom; he hurriedly completed a Bachelor’s degree—starting in Engineering but having to wrap up quickly to meet the limits imposed by Uncle Sam and thus shifting to Business.


Dad with a newborn, me!

He and Mom decided to have a child before he shipped out for Vietnam, and I was born while he was in boot camp.

My sister came along, like clockwork, not long after his return. There are two-and-one-half years between us. The four lives of my immediate family were indelibly marked by that (senseless) war, in so many ways. Night duty and Agent Orange were particularly treacherous. Of course, I’d wish the whole thing away if I could, but I also recognize that, without that bloody war, Heather and I would not exist.


Dad at work in Vietnam–so handsome!

In Vietnam, Dad served as an illustrator. In formation, fresh off the plane to Vietnam, his group of recruits was asked if anyone could draw. Hearing no other volunteers, dad put up his hand. Those years studying engineering made a clear difference.

Eventually, he combine that Business degree and illustrating experience, extending it with a Masters in Fine Art gained upon his return using the GI Bill. He subsequently worked as a photographer for the state of Virginia and then supervised the graphics department at the Vet School until his retirement, after 30 years with Virginia Tech.

I have to mention that Dad was the type of parent with kids in tow: he encouraged us to participate in clubs (especially 4-H where we learned so very much), band, and sports. He didn’t volunteer to run these events. He never attended a PTA meeting.

But he was in our corner nonetheless, cheering us on during every performance and award ceremony—and for those there were many.


I was the friady-cat!

During childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, Heather and I spent many hours at Dad’s office—in the Annex during the 80s and the Vet School later on. We knew Dad’s colleagues well and we learned well from them. We were superbly advised and equipped for any art or photography project we could dream up. And dream we did.

I lived at home for university. Many lunchtimes during my Architecture studies were spent at the Ver School, surrounded by the professors and staff there–engaging in their enthusiastic lunch-time chat.

Many a night during my Bachelor’s and Master’s of Architecture programs were spent in the darkroom with Dad, rushing toward a deadline and/or creating photographic competition boards.

I adopted Dad’s drafting and jewelry equipment as my own. I learned 16mm film and to use 2.25 and 4×5 cameras. I passed on these skills, leading workshops and modules for Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies across my years there.

Scan_20191019 (3)

Dad’s beloved Musketeer.

He took us and just about everyone we knew up flying. A particularly poignant memory is flying to the site I’d chosen for my Bachelor’s thesis project on Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two friends from architecture school came along, and we timed our landing, two hours out, so that we’d touch down at sunrise. What a glorious day we had, documenting and exploring the island, walking into its town from lunch, splashing in the waves.

The year before in my fourth year of architecture school, Dad and I had rolled up our sleeves and started building a two-seat airplane. We commenced this project in our living room. Dad, my sister, mom, and I had built this house for ourselves.

Soon, the project got too big and we had to construct a large greenhouse on the side of the house.

Dad kept working on that project after I’d completed two Architecture degrees and left town for employment, first in Switzerland (1996-1997) and then in Hampton Roads (1998-2014). Unfortunately, Dad was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 1997. It was slow-growing but took its toll nonetheless. The vets doing research on cancer helped dad determine the right dose of Vitamin C to take throughout the day to extend his life as long as it did. Dad beat it for 22 1/2 years beyond his diagnosis.

We never finished that plane-building project, but last spring we donated all it, along with the materials we purchased to help finish the project, to Bototeourt Vocational high school (BTEC). Here’s hoping they can finish it or at least learn from what we’ve done!

These memories–all these memories. I must keep them alive.

My sister also wrote a beautiful and sincere tribute to Dad, and I want to share it as well.

My sister’s tribute to Dad

Image may contain: 1 person, suit and closeup

Photo of Donald Rae Massie – high school senior photo

Donald Rae Massie, my daddy, the world is different without you.
I could always rely on you when I had a question about anything.
I always said that you knew everything. One of the sharpest people I have ever known. With a memory I can only dream of having.
And ready to crack a joke to the very last. You liked to laugh.

When I was a kid and you were watching 60 Minutes, you would yell “Andy Rooney” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
When Jay Leno would do Headlines, you would yell “Headlines” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
At Christmas when we would give someone in the family a Jeff Foxworthy book, we would all sit and read and laugh until we cried, tears of joy.
Thank you for the love you gave me for irony and for a good laugh.

You were always ready to lend a hand, to help, to teach, to share.

Any project Shannon or I worked on was made better by your advice, your lending of tools, and your guidance on how to use them. We have heard from so many others who have said the same.
We learned to use cameras, compose photographs, develop prints, build our house, use power tools, solve problems, love people of all cultures and backgrounds, and have become strong independent women

I recently learned something that makes me very proud. While you were not keen to fight in Vietnam, you did not try to avoid serving, as those who were able to do so were those who came from wealth and privilege, and those who could not were poor, less advantaged, or of color, and you chose to stand with them and to serve. I thank you for this, even though this service caused so many of the health problems which you so valiantly battled.

Thank you for the love you gave me for nature and beauty – sunsets and oceans and mountains and wildlife and for living.
Thank you for my love of science – of light, of stars, of geology, of space.
Thank you for my love of art – light, color, image, composition,
Thank you for my love of photography – observing, composing, capturing, creating.
Thank you for my love of music – listening, playing, singing, creating.
Thank you for my love of telling a good story – a love which serves me every time I step on stage to embody a character, or when I set out to write a play.
Thank you for my love of the written word, the spoken word.
Thank you for my love of flight, and the joy you gave so many by taking each of us with you soaring through the skies.

What shall I do without you?
But to hold those good parts of me that you gave me and to nurture them.

You wanted every single second of life that God would give you, and your strength was a testament to everyone who had the honor of helping you in your last days. It shall stand for me as a light and way forward to value every minute that I have in this life.

Painting by Donald Rae Massie (Copywrite Donald Rae Massie, all rights reserved by Shannon and Heather)

As noted in Dad’s obituary, we welcome contributions to Warm Hearth Foundations, please designate to the Showalter staff appreciation fund. If you send direct, you can make the designation. The mailing address is: The Village Center • 2387 Warm Hearth Drive • Blacksburg, VA 24060 • (540) 552-9176

Constructing our Reality

Last week I got to talk with a group of 60+ architecture students and faculty about design thinking, student development theory, and my Fulbright research… as well as how they connect to what we do in our department at Hampton University.  Moments like these help us reflect on what we are.  I hope they will also encourage my compatriots to explore ideas about what we want to become.

My current research is situated in the constructivist paradigm.  What does that mean?

Well, my research ideas and techniques are founded on the principle that we humans construct the world around us — including the things we see and touch, how we know, and what we know — and that we are able to generate new knowledge.

By discussing such topics, and considering collectively what it means to “design” and to “know” and to “learn,” we can become more international, purposeful, and effective in the things we do each day.

One of our students, Rhama Mohammed, snapped some photos during the talk and loaded them into our Facebook page (I’m posting copies here).  This provides a little glimpse of our department’s reality… surrounded by teachers (unfortunately, we don’t have images of any students in the crowd)… and a highly animated presenter.

Fellowships as Opportunities for Transforming Education

If you’d like to know a bit about the presentations I’m making here in Dublin, you can view the Prezi I used for the DIT Teaching Fellowships awards ceremony.

One of the award winners, the School of Business’ Joe Dennehey, was so enthusiastic about the presentation and wanted to see it again that I decided to open it for public access.

I’ve included an outline (below the picture) of what I said at that event.  If you borrow any of the images, ideas, or words for your future work, please cite the source:

CHANCE, S. M. (2012). Transformational Education at the DIT: Potentials of Your 2012-13 Teaching Fellowship. Keynote lecture for the kickoff of Teaching Fellowships hosted by the Learning, Teaching and Technology Center (LTTC) on 1 November 2012 at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland. 

Click here to see the slides for the 2012 DIT Teaching Fellowship awards ceremony.

Transformational Education at the DIT
A twenty-minute keynote presentation
by Shannon Chance
for the kickoff event of the
2012-13 Teaching Fellowship Awards
hosted by DIT’s
Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre
Thank you, Jen. Welcome and congratulations to the Teaching Fellowship award winners. 
We are witnessing something extraordinary happening at DIT. This extraordinary thing is something that helps shape you and that you help shape.
It is a culture of learning from each other.
It is a culture of continually improving over time.
It is a culture that is about learning and teaching well.
It became evident to me in March 2011, and it forms the basis of my research today.  What I am learning is of great interest back in the States and across Europe as well.
Today I’d like to share ideas about 
  • Scholarships as opportunities 
  • Path to Fulbright
  • An outsider’s view 
  • Global implications
  • Support available 
  • Potential of learning groups
  • Be the change you wish to see
Fellowships and scholarships like yours (LTTC) and mine (Fulbright) offer unique opportunities to learn, grow, and change things for the better.
I encourage you to make the most of the opportunity that is before you and then to consider extending your reach by applying for a Fulbright scholarship to teach and/or conduct research in the US.[Fulbright page]
This year, there are 35 Irish Fulbrighters going to the US, and 17 Americans coming here to Ireland. They include students, teachers, and professionals in various fields.
Let me step back a moment and tell you about how I came to find something extraordinary happening. Then, I’ll tell you what I think is special here. I hope that this will help encourage you to make the most of your teaching fellowships, and for those of you not winning an award today, to make the most of your efforts at the DIT to build upon and enhance this important movement.
PATH TO FULBRIGHT [path sequence]
I’m an architectural educator who visited Ireland on a vacation in 2003.  My husband and I went and poked around the School of Architecture at UCD, and realized that with my current credentials—a BArch and MArch—I was qualified to teach architecture in Ireland.
I made it a central goal of my career to return to Ireland to teach and conduct research for at least a year.
When I returned home and looked up the Fulbright program, I realized that having a PhD would increase my chances of earning a Fulbright. I wanted to learn better research methods, anyway.  I firmly believe that the architecture profession has left itself behind the ball by not developing a PhD sooner. We’ve failed to develop a shared research agenda or refine our research techniques (beyond the case study). As a result, we kept building the same mistakes (like unsuccessful government-subsidized high-rise housing, known as “the projects”) over and over again.
PhD programs in architecture are very rare in the States, so I found a great one in a nearby School of Education. The program is somewhat similar to your LTTC offerings, although it focuses on Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership.
I took the route that focuses on educational research, and went about studying change theory, strategic thinking and planning, and the way students who are learning to design understand ‘KNOWLEDGE’ and their role in creating knowledge (i.e., how their epistemologies change over time).
I don’t know how hard your Fellowship was to obtain, but my first application to Fulbright was rejected at the US level because I hadn’t established strong enough ties to DIT. Fulbright has a three-phase selection process and I got shot down at the beginning of the first stage.
To address this problem, my husband, Dave, and I headed over here during spring break 2011 to find connections and develop relationships at the DIT.
I called the US Fulbright Office a few weeks before I came over and the Program Officer for Ireland suggested I look into the highly tailored calls for proposals, because the “all disciplines” grants have so many applicants.  I wasn’t certain if I fit the position DIT lists for Engineering Education Research, and my goal in coming over was to find where I best fit.  When I got here, I met with people in the LTTC and various Colleges at DIT.
I came back again during spring break 2012 to get the ground work in place–even though I wasn’t certain I’d be awarded the grant for this year.  I was determined to keep trying until it worked out. At the end of this past March I got notification I’d been selected for this year.  I packed my bags, and have been here for two months now.
You can learn about my adventures here on my blog,  [blog page]
  • Great innovation and research (regarding outcomes) in DIT’s Electrical Engineering and Physics programs [Robo Sumo]
  • Positive outcomes accruing from the LTTC [LTTC logos]
    • The PGCert requirement is extending the benefits that accruing for students
      • shared vocabulary
      • active learning communities
      • evidence of formative feedback, engagement, and group learning
    • Many did PGCert voluntarily and they’re making a visible different in the quality of education students receive here [zoom in on collage]
      • Many continued on, to doctoral level studies
      • High quality educational research emerging
  • I’m glad to see you here, showing interest in extending these proven innovations into more programs
On my March 2011 visit, I discovered:
·      Research going on here in area of my interest
·      Evidence that the changes NSF wants are happening here in engineering and physics
·      Incredibly warm and enthusiastic scholars all across the institute who are working hard to get things done and who have a sense of optimism about the future
I also discovered something very special—the requirement for all incoming faculty members to earn a qualification in learning and teaching.  Your staff has to learn to teach!  That’s remarkable. 
And I see clear evidence that it’s making a positive difference.  People are using innovative methods. They are talking about good teaching practice over coffee every day (in some cases).
They share a common vocabulary and a common set of concerns about teaching – such as how to provide students with the most helpful feedback in ways that work where the staff have such heavy teaching loads (similar to my home institution). The institution has a similar mission and an ongoing conversation about good teaching. And, engineers and architects are housed in the same College, so I can do everything I love while I’m here!
  • NSF [existing mandate sequence]
    • Mandate
    • What NSF wants 
  • JEE article fortcoming [JEE mag and logo]
  • At HU — my Dean and Associate Dean of the School of Engineering and Technology at HU [HU title] 
    • want to use DIT as a precedent for improving our program and building a common philosophy
    • across all our programs (engineering, architecture, and aviation) [Duffy charts > sequence]
  • Eternal reviewer at various levels have cited PBL courses and LTTC program outcomes as unique and positive. I came in with this sort of perspective since I serve on external review boards for the National Architectural Accrediting Board in the USA. [Barrie chart > zoom in]
  • What we learn from studying successful examples at DIT can help improve the way engineering, science, and architecture are taught far and wide. [zoom again]
This is of interest because, we can use what Gavin and his colleagues are doing at DIT to help improve science, engineering, and architecture education everywhere.
The National Science Foundation says there’s a problem with the way engineering has been taught for the past 50 or so years. Programs in the US are starting to change …but many aren’t changing fast enough.
DIT is among those using innovative pedagogies—to help students develop both disciplinary knowledge and personal skills like collaboration—in order to create flexible learners who can address address pressing issues—using higher order thinking skills.  They have to be able to create a bright new tomorrow, not just remember, understand, and apply what people already know how to do.
The NSF says “engineering education must change in light of changing workforce and demographic needs.” It’s leadership board recommends hands-on activities, collaborative work, real-life applications that have social relevance, and working at various scales.  The Electrical Engineering program at DIT is doing all this in the Project-Based Learning modules embedded across the four-year curriculum.
These PBL modules are helping students reach what the NSF wants to see in the US: effective communication, critical thinking, creativity, self-awareness, ethics, and skills for “self-directed life long learning.”
I’ve presented ideas I got at the DIT to the faculty at my university, to national conferences of architecture professors, and at education conferences in the US and Greece.
Right now, we’re researching how they’ve achieved this for the Journal of Engineering Education.  The top journal in the world in the field of Engineering Education is interested in publishing our study about how DIT’s electrical engineering staff managed to change the way they teach by using the formal peer learning groups that Gavin organized during his Teaching Fellowship.
  • Existing culture — balancing challenge and support imp. for students & staff [Computer Science lecturer; Duffy papers]
    • A community of people with experience doing this
      • from in and outside of the College
      • who want to help you do it 
    • Gavin’s paper on restructuring the EE program
    • Coffee time and the art of chat
    • Good teaching is an overarching value  [balancing chart]
      • our schools are somewhat similar
      • traditionally teaching-focused, non doctoral-level, non-research funded
      • you’re in the classroom a lot, but you also get to decide how you’ll spend your research time
  • LTTC programmes [logos, Gavin and Sima]
    • Some availability of funding for taking LTTC modules
    • Some availability of timetable adjustments for taking LTTC modules
  • LTTC Teaching awards [zoom to Sima]
    • Ability to earn public recognition for your work through Teaching Awards
    • Sima won
  • Project Grants [webpage]
    • Gavin and I got one this year for €2400 to fund transcribing
  • Teaching Fellowships [webpage]
    • Can have far reaching effects
    • Gavin’s case highlights two opportunities
      • Ability to form staff learning groups
      • A lot of curious, motivated colleagues who share a sense of purpose and optimism
    • I’m speaking at 2012-13 kickoff on Thursday
  • Ability to align activities with what the institution seems to value — this is where there’s lot of opportunity 
  • College Heads of Learning Development [Brian and Mike]
    • Brian Bowe really knows educational research and how to apply it [zoom to Brian]
    • has the active support of his Dean
  • Knowledgeable and supportive leaders [zoom to Mike at SEFI]
    • Mike Murphy is recognized for excellence in engineering education
    • genuinely interested in learning about
  • Fulbrighters who here each year to contribute to the conversation [zoom to Colleen, Pam, SMC]
  • A comprehensive library [Bolton Street library]
    • on Bolton Street
    • incredibly helpful and knowledgeable librarians
  • Internet resources [zoom to ARROW logo]
    • good access to databases
    • DIT ARROW database
  • Many outlets for sharing [SEFI conference pictures]
    • presentations 
    • publications [zoom]
    • Availability of travel funding to network and attend conferences
  • LTTC and LIN [logos]
    • workshops / webinars
    • experts in Teaching and Learning available by phone and in person)
I am getting to work everyday with a lecturer who earned one of these Teaching Fellowships in 2009. As part of his Fellowship, he organized a peer learning group.  They met formally through the year to discuss how to implement Hands-On, Group-Based learning in electrical engineering – in addition to their regular informal meetings over coffee to discuss issues they each brought to the table.
During his Fellowship year, Gavin also wrote two position papers to clarify what he thought needed to be done to improve DIT’s Electrical Engineering program.  So, he invariably had new ideas to offer up for discussion.
  • JEE interest in how this was achieved at DIT
  • The sessions included Brian Bowe who brought in
    • research
    • experience with implementing this in Physics
    • understanding of the way the institution works
  • Informal sessions are ongoing… they happen at coffee on a daily basis
  • Easy to set up and fun for participants
  • Highly motivational — participants cite increase confidence
  • They appreciate having a sounding board and knowing they’re not alone
  • Having a group keeps the momentum going, especially where there’s a champion
  • The book Learning by Design by Noel Fitzpatrick and Jen Harvey [book cover]
    • explains how learning groups have made a difference across the ITs
    • DIT formed the template
And his colleagues were keen on hearing his thoughts.  Several of them had, like Gavin, opted to take the Post-Graduate programs in Teaching and Learning even before these became mandatory.
Many of those “volunteers” have gone on to study at the doctoral level—thus bringing a more informed level of discourse to the DIT.
Today, Gavin is working on a dissertation. He and I put in an application for support on his project and received a grant for this year to help fund transcription of the interviews we’re doing.
His work caught the attention of the Dean while we were at the SEFI conference, and his line managers asked him to put together a seminar for the while College to learn about how to implement Student-Centered teaching into more programs.
He and I discuss this everyday, and often include his teaching colleagues in our learning process.
I’ll be presenting these ideas to the School of Architecture next week, at a symposium called “Schools of Thought” that’s being organized by architecture students. I will encourage teachers in that school to use more Student-Centered approaches.
The book Learning by Design by Noel Fitzpatrick and Jen Harvey [book cover]
  • explains how learning groups have made a difference across the ITs
  • DIT formed the template
Evidence of successful models being used at CEBE
  • Fullan [chart]
  • Prochaska and DiClemente [chart]
  • Behavior change [chart]
As you can see, one little Teaching Fellowship can have a very, very long reach. I encourage you to make the most of your Fellowship… the LTTC knows how to pick ‘em and I feel certain that you’re up to the challenge!