McMicken College of Arts & SciencesUniversity of Cincinnati

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1997 PhD Alumnus Pursues Life, Career Centered on Service

Robert Graham's degree in sociology provides strong support for his role at Waynesburg University.

Date: 10/3/2008
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Robert Graham found what he was looking for in a sociology doctoral program at McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

Eleven years after he earned the PhD, he's found what he was looking for in an academic home at Waynesburg University, where Graham was named dean of undergraduate studies in July 2008.

An "intentionally ecumenical, faith-based institution," Waynesburg offers Graham an irresistible blend: "the opportunity to work with other people of faith in an environment where faith and scholarship can both be embraced," says Graham.

Graham
Robert Graham earned his PhD in sociology in 1988.

  

"We have students from a wide range of faiths and some with no identified faith and they are all welcome."

A former research analyst for UC's Institute for Policy Research who also did a stint as a research associate for the Department of Family Medicine, Graham comes to Waynesburg from Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. At Lee, where Graham earned his bachelor's degree, he served as chair of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Department from 2004 to 2008 and as a professor of sociology from 1997 to 2008. 

Finding that Waynesburg has a well-established service-learning program and is a Bonner Scholar school was "another confirmation that I made the right choice in coming to Waynesburg," he says.

"I can't imagine a better fit for my passions and abilities," says Graham, who adds that "to ease the pain of leaving friends behind, I have promised to take my wife and 11-year-old daughter to Japan for vacation."

The Waynesburg provost, Robert Herron, says Graham is the "consummate gentleman scholar" and was chosen for his "perfect balance of academic credentials, vibrant faith, and demonstrated administrative skills."

But those attributes, Graham says, "are not ones that have always been evident in my life. Rather, they have developed and emerged thanks in large part to key people I have encountered. Several professors and alumni of UC helped to shape me in positive ways. Many have encouraged me and had confidence in me when I didn't have confidence in myself. I have been challenged to think in different ways and to expand my horizons."

A native of the Bahamas, where his parents were missionaries, Graham went to high school in Middletown and earned his master of gerontological studies degree at Miami University. There, he developed friendships with Suzanne Kunkel, a UC graduate who now directs the Scripps Gerontology Center, and Lynn Harper Ritchey, another UC alum who chairs the Department of Behavioral Science at Raymond Walters College.

"Suzanne and Lynn both served as role models for me and encouraged me to consider UC's PhD program in sociology," Graham recalls.

"I ended up taking a course at UC from Neal Ritchey (Lynn's husband and associate professor of sociology) while completing my work at Miami. Neal's passion for students and teaching was apparent from that first course and it was that connection that made the difference. UC was the only PhD program to which I applied and the only one that I considered. I found that Neal's passion for teaching and research was not just confined to one person but was evident in many professors at UC."

His work with UC's Institute for Policy Research and Family Medicine was "inspiring and life-changing," he adds.

"I had the opportunity to work on real-world issues and problems.  There were many times when I was able to work with others to provide answers and solutions Steve Howe (former IPR associate director and current Department of Psychology head) and Phil Diller (Family Medicine) have also been very influential. Steve and Phil both gave me projects and assignments that stretched my abilities and ultimately helped me to develop the confidence to handle new challenges.  Now as I face my new array of responsibilities, I know that I can handle them well."

Graham approached administrative work cautiously: "So many of my colleagues somewhat jokingly speak of becoming an administrator as 'going over to the dark side,'" he says.

"I began assuming administrative responsibilities because there was a need and I was willing to give it a shot. I found, much to my surprise, that I actually enjoy administrative work and I think my characteristics make it a good fit for me. My liberal arts education has helped me to be an enthusiastic advocate for all of the disciplines at Waynesburg University."

What can he tell students about the value of a life steeped in service?

"I want students to know that no matter what career path they choose, they can find ways to make a difference in the world and to serve others," Graham says.

"Whether it is our accounting students preparing tax returns for working class families or our student athletes coaching kids on the playground, we all can find ways to use our gifts and talents in meaningful ways."


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