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Secret Lives: Joy Adams

Joy Adams

Upon first meeting instructional designer and human geographer Dr. Joy Adams, it is not surprising to learn that she has more than a decade of teaching experience at the university level. Instructional design is the process of devising learning experiences and Joy is an ideal teacher, full of sharp insights, buzzy enthusiasm for a range of topics, and a terrific sense of humor. When she describes her "meandering career path" in more detail, the range of her experience reveals part of the reason she has such a talent for instructional design. Joy has worked at a start-up in DC, as a Senior Researcher for the Association of American Geographers, as the editor of a small town paper, and as a professor of Geography. Over time, she has learned that "having breadth is really important. You can specialize later, but career paths aren’t always straight and seizing different opportunities can open unexpected doors."

As a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, Joy wrote her dissertation on German heritage festivals in Texas, which required plenty of field work at beer and sausage festivals. She was intrigued by the question of how heritage is represented and the concept that these representations may reflect an identity that is inconsistent with the current population of a region. For Joy, the tension between image and reality encouraged her to explore notions of authenticity and questions about who is able to participate in celebrations of heritage.

After completing her PhD, Joy moved to California to teach Geography at Humboldt State University. In Humboldt, she found a "remote, but fun place to live with an abundance of natural beauty – and the world's tallest trees!" She also discovered a new passion for genealogy, which developed as an extension of her interest in ethnic geography. While doing field work in a local cemetery, she noticed a significant number of headstones with Portuguese inscriptions. Through further research, Joy learned that many Azoreans immigrated to Northern California for the whaling opportunities.

Joy brought her students on field trips to these cemeteries to teach them to look for patterns pertinent to ethnic geography, such as evidence of epidemics or family structure. Later on, she published papers on this sort of research, such as "Ethnicity Carved in Stone: Cemeteries as Learning Environments" and "Branching Out: Genealogy as Pedagogy in American Ethnic Geography." This interest in genealogy led her to teach a class in which students tracked their own family backgrounds in order to better understand ethnic geography. She was delighted when students returned to class with fascinating insights and an ability to relate to the discipline in a more personal way.

Joy's interdisciplinary background allows her to "speak the language with teaching faculty from other disciplines," which is critical in her work as an instructional designer. "My work is about helping faculty be more effective. Many professors are so busy that it can be a challenge to keep up with professional development and new classroom resources. Through instructional design support, my goal is to empower faculty and help them achieve results." For Joy, instructional design work brings together all her favorite parts of teaching – creativity, collaboration, student engagement, and problem solving.

Recommendations from Joy:

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan: Who's domesticating whom? Four fascinating case studies explore the notion that plants have evolved to meet human needs in order to fulfill their biological imperative, just as we have cultivated and bred them to fulfill our desires -- for sweetness (apples), beauty (tulips), intoxication (marijuana), and control over nature (potatoes). The PBS special of the same name is also available as streaming media through the AU Library.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard: A fantastic synopsis of the origins, persistence, and implications of North American sub-regions that compellingly demonstrates the relevance of place and the resonance of historical geography. If you’ve ever wondered "What's the matter with Kansas?" or why we have "red" and "blue" states, this book is for you.

AncestryLibrary from Ancestry.com: Members of the AU community have free access to millions of records that can help you discover your family roots or conduct scholarly research.

"Orphan Black," Seasons 1-3, from BBC America: A young grifter steals the identity of her doppelganger, only to discover she's a clone… and she's being hunted. A gripping thriller about bioethics, corporate greed, and the meaning of family, lightened up with touches of black comedy. Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany's brilliant performances make it difficult to choose a favorite among the dozen (… and counting!) diverse protagonists she portrays to perfection.