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Dr. Valerie Blackwell – School of Education

Dr. Valerie Blackwell is a professor in the School of Education at UMKC. She teaches courses such as Principles of Testing, Child Development, Educational Psychology, and Adolescent Development. Before discovering her love of teaching, Dr. Blackwell received a degree in business and spent 15 years working in this field. Eventually, she found her way into the teaching profession where she continues to work to this day. 

Much of her presentation centered on the subjective idea of happiness. One issue that Dr. Blackwell mentioned was that many people tend to set several goals and expect to find happiness once these goals are met. Then there are other cases where people are not able to determine what makes them happy. She then asked the Honors Colloquium group this very question. Some people responded with family and friends, others with hobbies they enjoyed such as crafting or eating. Dr. Blackwell then explained how happiness is not one specific goal or activity, but is constantly changing. What makes us happy at the age of twenty will not necessarily be pleasing to us when we are sixty. 

To clarify this, she gave us examples from her own life. When she was younger, she immediately decided to go into business in order to provide for her family. While this may not have been her passion, her family’s happiness is what she found made her happy most at this point. As her children grew older and thus more independent, Dr. Blackwell was then able to focus on her own contentment. After 15 years in the business profession, she found her love of teaching. This made her happy then and continues to be an important part of her life now. Another important part of her happiness now is her grandson. So you can see throughout different periods of life Dr. Blackwell’s sources of happiness changed, as will be the case for many of us. 

-Lexy C.


  1. Micah Radler says:

    Dr. Valerie Blackwell brought up a number of interesting points and redirected my education on goal setting. The way she was very direct and open to our class without use of technology gave her an authentic authority. I have always been taught to establish goals and to write them down. If I am going to fully commit to this goal or resolution, writing it down is the only way for me to have a constant reminder of what I am aiming for. But Dr. Blackwell encouraged us to not lose sight of the real things that make us happy in life. Reaching a goal might bring happiness but it is the simple things in life that bring true pleasure.

    Imagine waking up one morning to your parents saying, “Get up, pack some things, we are going to a destination unknown.” You are eager with anticipation to find out where you are going. Let’s say you all drive to a hiking trail and continue to climb a mountain. The whole way there you are filled with happiness. When you reach the top of the mountain you realize that you have been to this same place before and the excitement ceases. Your parents notice the change in your demeanor and ask why your happiness left so quickly. This is a question even you have trouble answering; however, I have come to the conclusion that the journey is what brings us happiness not the destination.

    Life is an ongoing research process because one really has to discover what makes them tick, keeps them going, and what makes them live for another day. Are you loving life or are you just hanging in there? In my psychology class we are learning about the different ways of altering our perspective to relieve stress. This can be applied to happiness as well. Try looking for the things you admire or love in every situation. Dr. Blackwell asked us as a class what brings us happiness and family, friends, sunshine, and success were at the top of our lists. She encouraged us to find out what simple things bring us happiness and to find ourselves in the process. And if what we discover is something we don’t like, she pushed us to be flexible and change. Setting a goal or a resolution aims for a bigger picture but the process of working towards achievement is what keeps us going.

  2. Mikayla Taylor says:

    The presentation by Dr. Valerie Blackwell reinforced my belief that our causes of happiness are always changing as we grow and change ourselves. Her presentation also made me ponder how elusive happiness can be when it comes to planning for the future. When setting goals in life you are anticipating what your future self would be happy with, however you are using your present state of mind to project about that happiness. Thinking about this reminded me of a book titled, “Stumbling on Happiness,” by Daniel Gilbert, in which he discussed how it can be tricky to plan the future when you don’t know how you will be as a person in the future.
    Another aspect of Dr. Blackwell’s presentation related to me in terms of my career goals and my major of Secondary Education. It struck me when she stated that high school or even middle school was too late to make an impactful intervention on the urban youth in inner city school districts. I always thought as a high school teacher in an urban district I would be able to make a difference in a way, thinking it was their last chance to begin a successful path if they had been going down the wrong one. I wanted to catch those students who had slipped through all other grades unnoticed and be their last resort to succeed. Knowing that Dr. Blackwell who has done much research on this subject, believes high school is too late for intervention inspires me to research on my own and develop a strategy to effectively intervene at the high school level.
    Although Dr. Blackwell has come from a business background, it didn’t seem to have much influence on her research in the academic field or at least she hadn’t mentioned that aspect. So her presentation didn’t seem to have an interdisciplinary approach or different methodologies used. Overall, I enjoyed Dr. Blackwell’s thought-provoking presentation on her journey to happiness, her research experience, and beliefs on education.

  3. Jenny Ham says:

    Dr. Valerie Blackwell’s presentation left me with a great impact on the goals I have set for myself. She interacted with the class by asking questions. She gave time for class discussion. I thought that was a great start to get the class involved. She first started of the presentation by asking us to stay away from “Itinerary goal setting.” At first, I had no idea what she was referring to. However, throughout her speech, I got to an understanding that she meant to say that goals should change over time because your happiness changes over time. Do not set yourself in only one path because overtime, you may find out to love something else. Also, she has mentioned to define what will make you happy early in life, and do not be afraid to change because change is a choice you will make. In order for you to make the choices you want, you have to be flexible. She got me thinking about my future career when she said, “As we pursue our goals in life, we sometimes forget what makes us happy.” I asked myself if I was doing things that were making me happy. I could not answer that right away to myself. I had to think for a little bit; however, I was satisfied with my career choice. I told myself, even though the things I love might change, I would not be afraid to make the right choice. I learned that life is dynamic, not static.

  4. Lawrence Stitt says:

    “By different means we reach the same end.” -Cicero

    In her talk last week, Dr. Blackwell covered a number of particular issues associated with finding happiness in one’s life. She warned against a kind of moving goal-post mentality when she illustrated the dangers of “itinerant goal setting.” She suggested the importance of maintaining strong familial ties and be accepting of the particularities of your lover. If you’re going into education, she suggested, be flexible. And finally, and most generally, she offered the advice that one ought to find what one wants to do and to develop, and not stray from, clear principles that align with that desire.

    Whether Dr. Blackwell intended to or not, her message articulated themes at the core of Western philosophy over the past few thousand years. Happiness, or eudaimon, as the Greeks called it, meant less a state of mind or feeling than a way of being. Living “the good life”, for Plato and others, was not so much the fulfillment of future goals as a mode of being in the present. Further, one could (and would sometimes have to) live the good life, that is, uphold virtue, without the guarantee or reassurance of constant pleasure or joy. One might very well feel unhappy and still fulfill the requirements of goodness.

    Here, the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida discusses the inherent tension in the feeling of romantic love for another: Do we love someone for who they are, irreducibly, or for their particularities, which are want to change? Dr. Blackwell (and I believe, ultimately Derrida as well) insists we must do the former, though much of the evidence regarding relationships in our culture suggests we usually do otherwise. We’re allowed to pick out the exact specifications of our ice cream cones, computers and almost everything we buy, and online dating has made it easy than every to screen others for particular qualities. And yet the expansion of personal choice regarding all of these fields of interest and/or consumption has in no way correlated with an increase in reported happiness.

    Finally, Dr. Blackwell implicitly asked us, what principles might one live by? Alain Badiou, another French philosopher once said that “philosophy, if it is to be worth anything, must mean the transformation of life.” I believe philosophy is one means of generating such principles. Ironically, the wisdom of philosophy lies less in its ability to ascertain definitive answers to our questions (usually, at that point, the mode of inquiry moves from philosophy to science), but in asking better questions. Plato, in the Apology, said that the unexamined life is not worth living. So perhaps the prime principle by which to live would be to constantly examine our motivations and assumptions.

  5. Brianna Young says:

    On Wednesday, April 11, 2012, I got the opportunity to listen to one of the most profound teachers at UMKC, Dr.Valerie Blackwell. She taught me so many things but heres a situation that was close to home for me.
    Daily tears, confusion and pressure was what plagued me my first semester freshman year of college. Fresh out of high school and ambitious, I strived to major in Biology and minor in Spanish and continue on to medical school. “Oh,we need a doctor in the family” “Oh, you’re going to be an amazing doctor” and “Oh in 8 years, I cannot wait for you to get out” . These were the common things thrown at me. Yet, I did not wake up in the mornings passionate about going to Biology 108. I dreaded it and simply hated it. A few months in, I quickly changed my major into something I was truly passionate about :Psychology. Although I got a few weird comments and disapproved looks, I had to do what would get me out of the bed in the morning and want to think.
    I think Dr. Blackwell affirmed my decision so much. Her message was set a goal based off what you want to feel, then work at a career that you think will help you achieve that. For me, thats changing the world and being content with solving other people’s problems. Therefore, I am working towards being happy in Psychology.

  6. Alex Schumm says:

    Of all the insightful ideas Dr. Blackwell presented, the notion of being flexible toward life is most important. Too many times do we set goals for ourselves and rush to complete them without evaluation along the way. One has an idea that s/he might want to be a doctor and follows that idea to fruition. But one never stops to think, “Does this make me happy?” The reason we do not ask these questions is because we are afraid of getting the wrong answer: no. If this tiny little word begins to cultivate in our psyches, then, we believe, our previous tenure attempting to become a doctor would have been wasted. Sometimes we delude ourselves by saying, “Sure, I don’t like my classes, but when I am a doctor, happiness will follow.” The journey, however, should be just as fun as the destination. If it is not, change is necessary. Change, however, can be terrifying, and fear can cripple us from action. We must not be afraid. Our complacency with a despised life goal does not get easier as time passes. Fantasies of your true nature will always break through. Do not live a life enslaved to a time clock in which you only find relief leaving for home. Take charge of your life. Live it the way you want. If other doubt you, then leave them in your wake. You only have the privilege of one life. Make it your own and be happy.

  7. Natalie Frank says:

    Dr. Blackwell presented a number of very important points to our colloquium class last week. I think it was very good for all of the students to hear what she had to say. The most meaningful issue that she touched on was the idea of doing what makes you happy, rather than succumbing to the pressures of society or family and pursuing a path that may not leave you feeling fulfilled. All too frequently do I have conversations with friends who tell me that they chose their major because it’s a lucrative endeavor. Way too many students are motivated by the idea that by selecting a certain field of study, they will be able to earn a large amount of money in their career. If I had a nickel for every time a friend told me the six-figure starting salary of college graduates within their field…

    Ultimately, Dr. Blackwell sets a fantastic example for students. It is easy to see that she is very happy with the things she is doing with her life and to think she made a change from a career with a significantly higher salary than the one she is earning now. I think we all need to take a moment and reflect upon her advice and really be honest with ourselves. If the path we are currently pursuing doesn’t make us happy now, it probably won’t make us happy in the future, no matter how much money we wind up making.

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