In episode 16 — the first of season two of Knights Do That — we speak with Michele Gill, a professor of educational psychology in the College of Community Innovation and Education. She shares her research in conceptual change and implicit beliefs, which play a role in what we value and how we create change in what we believe. In this episode, Gill shares her insights on how we can create new habits and resolutions, how we can stick to these resolutions and her expertise in educational psychology.

Produced by UCF, the podcast highlights students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who do incredible things on campus, in the community and around the globe.

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Michele Gill: So our beliefs about what the world is, what’s important to us, what we value that will shape what kind of habits we want to choose and what we find with New Year’s resolutions.

If you pick something that’s not really of your belief system that you haven’t somehow shifted your identity to adopt, those habits will tend to fade over time. So what the habit researchers are saying, it has to be an identity shift, has to be a change of those implicit beliefs about what you value and what’s important to you in the world and who you hang out with.

Alex Cumming: Welcome back to Knights Do That and happy new year. As we entered 2022 with fresh minds and new resolutions, I wanted to bring Michele Gill in as our first guest on season two. A professor of educational psychology, Michelle examines conceptual change and implicit beliefs in which our beliefs play a role in what we value and how we create change in what we believe. In this episode, Michele shares her insights on how we can create new habits and resolutions, how we can stick to these new resolutions and her expertise in educational psychology. Now let’s get right into it.

Michele Gill: So I was a public school teacher for a while, for about five years, and I was very interested in the problems of education. I kept wanting to learn more about them, so I decided I needed to go to graduate school and wasn’t sure what to study. And I read different journal articles and I found the field of educational psychology, which is the psychology of learning and instruction. And it was exactly what I wanted to know. It helped me learn how to be a better teacher and how to help my students learn. And now we do that at UCF. I teach mostly teachers or people in industry who are in training positions, who are wanting to help their employees, their clients learn better.

Alex Cumming: I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, my mom, she got her doctorate in education at UCF. So I’m a little familiar with that side of the UCF landscape. And it’s just so interesting the way that cohorts come together. And this pursuit of higher knowledge and making the world of education better from the ground up. And she also worked in public education. So she’s described to me the the experiences of how intimate it can be with — there’s so many personalities coming at you and there’s so many things that you have to consider. Every case stands alone and every student is an individual and you can’t just like prepackage kids together.

Michele Gill: You are exactly right. I just wrote a playbook, a book for parents about schooling, and it’s about how to help their kids thrive in school. And it argues exactly that’s too many schools are trying to treat kids as an average and teach to the average student. And so, a bunch of kids are getting lost and we have so much potential in children. And if we can figure out how to meet each kid where they are, we can help them thrive and contribute to society in a way that kind of allows their gifts to shine. That’s my passion. That’s really what I want to do in my research and in my practice.

And I’m working with teachers working with schools, I started a charter school up in Sanford with the same kind of principle.

Alex Cumming: I also went to a charter school, so I can vouch to the prowess of charter schools in Central Florida. You said that you wrote the book about the specialization and looking at the individual student, what do you look for in a student to say like, “This is this kid’s spark. This is what this kid is passionate about. We can nurture this.”

Michele Gill: So there’s two ideas and research on interest. One is interest development, finding the natural strengths and interests of a child. So you look to see whether they gravitate to a writing, to math, to spatial exploration, art, and you find ways to encourage that at Galileo.

My son, for example, is interested in comics. So he might be able to be allowed to draw some of his answers in a comic strip form, not if he’s learning a five paragraph essay, but if he’s trying to explain the scientific process, for example, but there’s another area of interest that I’m very excited about: interest exposure. That’s where you take students and you expose them to lots of various topics to see what kind of charges them, what kind of excites them, and that’s really important too. And schools are amazing for that. That is my big concern with homeschooling, is sometimes you can be limited in what you get exposed to. Because you’re only around as limited number of students. But public schools exposure to all those different teachers, all those different students, you have such a variety of. And you might find out, “Oh, I do like acting,” or “I do like bass guitar” or “I do like drawing and I didn’t know that before, but I got exposed to it because I took an art class or I met a student who was interested in programming or he got me into Dungeons and Dragons now by like role-playing games.” And I think that is the passion and power of public schools to be able to bring that to children.

Alex Cumming: I like the, again, part of my favorite things back in my public school days, and I’m sure in many cases, is just being around the people, being around the friends that I made when I was in my theater class. I did theater as an extracurricular. It was just like me and 30 other kids who were all passionate about something similar. And we could all just bounce off ideas and we all work off of each other and that kind of gets lost when either you try to just give kids the exact same thing and don’t give them time to mesh together. And then that sort of goes into an argument on the flip side of the benefits of public school versus homeschooling because in homeschooling the curriculum tis entirely specialized to the student’s needs, but do you lose some of that creative back and forth?

Michele Gill: I don’t know. It could be great for some kids. It’s amazing. You can really, if someone has a strong interest in art or performance or gymnastics, you can devote all your attention to making them be excellent in that area. So I think that’s fantastic, but I do think you miss out, you give up something, you give up some of that peer and other adult connections that you get when you’re just being taught by one or two people.

And I think teachers are amazing. I think, if there’s anything I’ve learned in my 20 plus years of doing this is that teachers are so powerful and they can lead us beyond what we could do on our own. They really stretch us. And that comes from one of my favorite theorists, Vygotsky, who talks about the zone of proximal development. And it’s a big, fancy word, but what you really need to know is that we have this challenge zone, this learning zone. And by nature humans are lazy. And so we don’t want to challenge ourselves, but a really amazing thing or an amazing peer who’s a little bit ahead of us can lead us into that zone, even play. The idea of play can bring us into that zone. It can allow us to experiment with things that are scary for us. And that’s the power of schools to me is getting people in that zone. Do they do that all the time? No, but should they? Yes. That’s the exciting part. It’s the potential of schools.

I don’t think we’re there yet, but I’m hoping to help schools get there.

Alex Cumming: I liked that seeing the potential. Finding the small things in the system that need to get tweaked to make it more accessible and prosperous for individual students. It’s very exciting to think about, but I want to talk about your conceptual change in implicit beliefs that you have with in your educational psychology.

I’ve read that your research interest are centered on the conceptual change, teachers’ beliefs, implicit beliefs, educational reform, and more than just that. What is it about those specific topics that drive your research and where you are now with your research?

Michele Gill: So when I was studying teachers, I started with math because math is a subject in schools that many kids hate.

And especially in this information driven economy, if you don’t like math and you don’t do well in math, you’re precluded from a bunch of STEM-oriented careers, even very creative careers. For example, at UCF, you need to pass calc I to get into a lot of STEM majors. In middle school, if you don’t take algebra or pass it, it’s hard to get on a college track. So it’s a gateway course, so it’s really important for kids to be able to do well in it. And so many either think they’re bad at math or teachers have a feeling like some kids just can’t learn math and that’s not true. I was a math teacher for a long time. It’s not true. Anybody could learn math.

So I worked looking at different teachers, math teachers to see what good math teachers did. And what I found out in my research is that many math teachers hold on to an outdated view of instruction that held beliefs, like only some kids can learn math and it doesn’t matter if some kids fail or math looks like this. I tell them how to do the procedure and they do it. That’s what math is. But that’s not what math researchers say. Math is, Math is about conceptual understanding. It’s about exploring the wonder of the world through number and pattern and spatial reasoning. And that exciting part of math is often not brought into most K-12 school situations. When I studied, why teachers are — and interestingly, in this country, most teachers think they are teaching these reform oriented, creative ways of teaching math and they are actually not. When you observe their classrooms, they’re doing some superficial tweaks. Maybe they’re having some creative math games, but for the most part, math today looks as it did when I was a kid, which was a million years ago, which is a teacher pretty much stands up in the front of the room, gives a problem and the kids solve it. And I found out that the resistance to change came from deeply implicit beliefs. Teachers held about what mathematics is, what a good math teacher and good math classroom looks like. One teacher I spoke to, she was taking these fantastic complex problems and giving them to students.

But instead of giving them time to work on them, she was solving them for the students in the first few seconds of class. So I sat down with her. I said, “Why are you doing that?” And she said, “Because that’s what good teaching looks like.” And I said, “What if you let them struggle a little bit, explore, try to figure it out.” She goes, “My classroom would be chaos. That’s not teaching.” And see it’s that idea, that belief that teachers have the answers and it’s their job to give those answers to students. That’s the belief that I’m trying to shake up a little bit that maybe students know, and maybe students need to explore.

And a teacher’s more like a coach coming in at the right time to maybe provide additional information, but the teacher’s not doing the intellectual work for them. And so I proposed a model of belief change based on research in social psychology and conceptual change theory that tried to explain why teachers are resistant to change.

And so I’ve built my research and my subsequent research doing experimental studies about that model.

Alex Cumming: tThat’s really cool to hear. I want to say that when the teacher, you were saying in your story said, “That’s not what good teaching looks like.” Is there a way of what good teaching looks like? That there’s this one benchmark definition of follow this to be a good teacher? That cannot be what’s taught in higher education when it comes to grad programs and even in undergrad for education that this is follow these strict guidelines of this is Mr. Good Teacher. But are some teachers afraid to divert from that norm because they’ll feel as though that they may be maybe pushing buttons they shouldn’t be. Or that they could feel that students are going to maybe say this teacher is way more difficult, she’s tough to work with, he is not teaching me well, could these new methods of teaching be taken the wrong way.

Michele Gill: You’re exactly right. So we get some parents giving a little bit of pushback. Sometimes even students. Something very interesting at a big university, we were part of a NSF grant trying to look at changing calculus instruction. And we did find that even when professors made significant changes in their instruction and were happy about it, students at first were pretty resistant to it. Like, “This isn’t what calc instruction looks like. What’s going on?” When you change something, there’s that unfamiliarity, right? There’s that disconnect. And it can be uncomfortable, especially because so many things ride on grades.

And I want you to know, I don’t blame teachers, especially K-12 teachers right now in the United States. There’s so much pressure on them to conform and to look a certain way. And there’s so much pressure on them to get their kids, to have certain test scores. They don’t have very much freedom to be different. So we may teach them in our colleges of ed, and we do, amazing ways to be an instructor and very creative ways. And then they go into schools where it looks like how schools looked like when they were. And we know again with beliefs theory, when you’re in an environment where things look the same, it triggers those memories and those schemas of how to be a teacher. So already if they walk in an environment that looks the same as the environment they grew up in, an environment when they were a kid in school, they’re going to want to teach the way they were taught or the way their belief of what a good teacher is.

But also, they don’t want to change. There’s too much risk. If a teacher doesn’t bring their kids’ test scores up, they could be fired. They could lose bonus money, et cetera. So my research has developed to where I now look at changing structures and systems of schooling and not just individual teachers.

That’s why I ended up starting a school because I realized you had to change the environment and the culture of the school to make it safe for teachers to explore just like how to make it safe for students to explore.

Alex Cumming: Student spent years in classrooms in early education, like you were saying where it’s just everybody gets the same thing so that when they’re introduced to something maybe a little out of the norm in high school, maybe early college, it’s like, whoa, culture shock.

It’s the same way ehen kids go from high school to university and then mom and dad aren’t there to wake you up. I experienced that UCF. I’m certain many of the listeners experience and certainly people in the room experience this. It’s like, “Oh, I got to get myself up now. I got to — wait, where’s the food? It’s just, I’m sharing a bathroom?” So I love hearing about how introducing these kids and pushing them out of their element can be this boulder of generational change for education and that kids can get these specialized methods devoted to, what their interests are.

I think that sort of in a smaller scale, probably one of the largest extents of that is elective classes that you get to choose. Cause it was, I remember my middle school was a charter school, no electives. We had afterschool activities, but that was nothing. Then in high school, similar to my little college metaphor there, I was like, whoa, “I, for three classes a day, I can do whatever.”

And I was very fortunate that the three things I did choose, I ended up sticking with all four years of high school. And those were like my favorite classes of the day. Cause I could just do whatever I wanted within this creative field. And I made so many amazing friends over those times who I still speak with.

So I’m so thankful that I had these open spaces for young dialogue that I could develop what I what it this. I want it.

Michele Gill: Interest development and interest exposure right there.

Alex Cumming: Oh my gosh. I love it.

Michele Gill: I also want to say something about the school. So you have these beliefs, right?

And if the school looks the same and the school system is the same, then you might be triggered to continue to do the same things. But what’s interesting is that if you change the structure of, just even the physical way it looks — like one of the things we did at Gallielo was put rocking chairs and make a front porch. That seems very simple, not bright. It wasn’t very expensive to put a couple of wood rocking chairs out there. All of a sudden the school’s looking like a home, not an institution. And then it gets really important. And there’s a really interesting movement of architects. We have some of them here in Central Florida trying to design schools too.

More open to nature, more creative learning spaces, and just walking into those schools, you expect things to be different. So that’s a very small change. You can change the way the classroom looks. For example, get rid of regular desks and those chairs that are stuck to the desk and you can’t move around, put a couple of couches in, put a couple of bean bag chairs in there, have some rocking chairs and all of a sudden your classroom feels different.

So there’s a lot of small things you can do. And that relates to just habits. I know you want to talk a little bit about habits, but that’s the same kind of thing is changing. The environment can also change habitual behaviors, which are also grounded in these implicit beliefs we have.

Alex Cumming: I haven’t even thought about that. How the aesthetics of a room can affect how you feel. People feel really comfortable like in their own bedroom. And you’re right, make it feel more homely, there’s that shift that you have. And you’re like, “Oh, time to go to school mode.” And this is you do what you got to do, and then you go home, then it’s take it off. There’s got go be a fun blending of that, which I’m really excited to hear that’s what you were talking about. So as we were talking about change in beliefs, as we step into the new year 2022, we often talk about creating new habits and resolutions, making a fresh start for, new.

And what are some of the things that people should consider when they’re creating resolutions? How does conceptual change in implicit beliefs play a role in all that?

Michele Gill: So our beliefs about what the world is what’s important to us, what we value that will shape what kind of habits we want to choose and what we find with new year’s resolutions.

If you pick something that’s not really of your belief system that you haven’t somehow shifted your identity to adopt, those habits will tend to fade over time. So what the habit researchers are saying, people like James Claire, et cetera, are saying, you need it to be, it has to be an identity shift, has to be a change of those implicit beliefs about what you value and what’s important to you in the world and who you hang out with.

And all, like I said, remember what the schools, if you change the environment, if you change your environment changes. Maybe joining a club or doing something that you start to change your identity, then it’s way easier to adopt those new habits, and have them be sustained over time.

Alex Cumming: James Claire, I find so interesting to read about. One of the things that he’s spoken about is setting triggers for habits where you don’t do something. If you know that it’s going to trigger you into a bad habit, eating junk food or smoking.

Michele Gill: Yeah, a lot of that’s based in behaviorism and it’s really helpful to do what he calls habit stacking or having a queue. And him and BJ Fogg, they’re all recommending starting with something very tiny,because what you want to do is you want to build up early successes. If you start to experience failures, you’ll ne discouraged and you won’t continue on to build up efficacy confidence that you can do these things. So if you start really small, I’m going to give you an example.

So I was wanting to bring more yoga back in my life. I love yoga, but I got really busy and stopped doing it. I was working out at a gym and forgetting my yoga. And I worked with a habit coach actually, and she’s like, “What can we do to cue you to do some yoga in the morning every day?” Like, I don’t have time to go to a yoga class. And she said, “Just one small thing.” I said, “I could do a couple sun salutations in the morning.” Very quick series of yoga poses. That’s nice for stretching out the spine. I needed to cue it with something. So I cued it from when I left my bedroom and was heading into the kitchen. I would do this series of sun salutations, just a couple, few minutes every day. And you have to give a reward. I would do a mental high five. Now that sounds silly. I thought it was silly and I know about behaviorism, but I thought that was silly. A mental high-five. But it works and such in the beginning when you’re trying to adopt something new. That flood of positive reinforcement, that flood of dopamine in the brain feels really good.

So I had no one there to cheer me on. So I cheered myself on. So I do my silly sun salutations, give myself a mental high five, and go on with my day. That was over a year ago. I am still every single day. I don’t think I’ve missed it once. I could maybe if I was really ill, I still do my one or two sun salutations. And that’s led to becoming back to yoga, doing more longer practices a couple of times a week. And I think that’s just a really good example how you start just like a micro-habit. And I want to touch back, you talked about negative habits. It can work the same way with negative. Like many people. I had a bad habit of checking my phone, first thing in the morning and I’d get dosed the negative news, I’d get angry. And that wasn’t a really nice way to start my day. But I couldn’t seem to stop because I would check my calendar and I would check my emails. And all of a sudden I would get these notifications. I’d be drawn away from where I wanted to start my day. I wanted to start my day in peace and a little bit of self-reflection a little bit meditation and I would already be started on the next.

So again, I use these same principles, the tiny habits and the cuing. You don’t want a cute with a behavior. And I found, I was looking at my behavior like a scientist, right? What, how am I, why am I on my phone? First thing in the morning, I realized I turned my alarm off on my phone. And then I bring the phone with me to the bathroom while I’m getting dressed for work and I’ll be scrolling through it.

So I said, “Okay, if I could just interrupt that, just like you want to cue and you want to add a behavior, to stop a behavior. You want to break the habit.” So I left my phone, this is very silly and tiny, I left my phone on my dresser and I wouldn’t allow myself to look at it until breakfast. There was like an hour pause there. The world could wait. There was no big emergencies. I felt like the word world could wait till I had my morning routine done. And that’s made a huge difference. I’ve done that for a year also. So I do not look at my phone first thing in the morning, but I didn’t have to use willpower. Doesn’t last, we know that about willpower. I didn’t have to use what I just had to use this simple thing of just not bringing my phone into the bathroom with me.

Alex Cumming: So it sounds like a lot of the ways that people can fight negative habits is just not placing themselves in a situation where they could be cued into using it. I agree. I’m a habitual phone checker.

First thing in the morning, you’re right, it’s just this flood of like, is this really my problem at this early in the morning? This isn’t my issue right now. That could probably wait until working hours. But that’s really cool to hear that it works both ways for the habit stacking and the queue and the responsive making sure you’re on top of it all.

We talk about the future, such as this new year, what are some of the things that we can do in the present to set ourselves up for success?

Michele Gill: I think it’s really important at least once a year, if not more, to sit down and look at your values. There’s things like value cards you can get and just look around and see what your values are.

You could go to a list of values online, but somewhere, just get an idea of what do you value or we start with your values. That’s so important. I tell schools that too, and I do consulting with schools. I’m like, “What do you care about most?” And then orient your curriculum and your handbook and your decision making around those key values.

Same thing with human beings. If you don’t know what you value, you might be drawn to a million things like, oh, “Should I take Tai Chi classes? Oh, should I become a vegan?” Like there’s so many choices. We have so much information thrown at us. “Should I fast for five days? Should I get my doctorate?” We don’t know.

There’s so many things out there. We can only do a limited number of things. So if you start with your values, what’s really important to you, then you can think about goals. So don’t start with goals, start with values. What do I care? Look at your life now and think about how you can take small steps towards becoming the kind of person you want to be.

And think again about things that matter to you or resonate with you. So you may say, “I want to be healthier,” but you don’t like running. You don’t have to be a marathon-runner or you can find other ways to be helpful. Fun. I think sometimes we discount the role of enjoyment and habit formation. We think we have to do things a certain way, but I have found that when I look at what do I enjoy and how do I pick something I enjoy that aligns with my values, I’m way more successful.

Alex Cumming: This goes back to what you said at the start of humans being this, inherently lazy and not liking to get pushed out of their comfort zone a little bit. I think you definitely go out of your comfort zone. If you’re going to say what values mattered to me, what values do I stand for? What am I willing to — what did Hamilton say, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything, do —

Michele Gill: Yup! I love that line.

Alex Cumming: It is. It’s a great Do you find that there are common values that a lot of people share?

Michele Gill: Short rates, if you look at a series of values, most people value, truth and goodness and stuff, but I’ve found, especially when I’ve done this exercise with folks, people pick certain things more than others. Like some people loyalty and community is like there, you might have 50 values, but your top five are going to different from someone else’s. Someone is really interested in community and loyalty is going to look and be a different kind of person and choose different kinds of things than someone whose truth is their thing. Truth is if they’re scientists and truth is what they’re most going after, they’re going to make different commitments. So I think it’s important to look at what is most important, maybe your top three to five values. And then look where your life is out of alignment with that too, right? Like, okay. Health is important to me, truth is important to me and community is important to me. But maybe you’re doing all the things you can for family and for health, but maybe community is lacking, especially in the time of the pandemic. I think a lot of us, our value of community, we’re not doing that much to promote that value.

So you can think about well, how can I promote a little more community in my life? How can I get more connections with friends? How can I do that? So it’s a nice way. When you do the values exercise to see where am I working towards those values and where am I just missing the mark? Not in a judgemental way, just like an impartially, like an observer, like, “Oh, okay. What can I do here that’s fun and also moves me towards this value? I say, I value it. Now let me act towards it. That I value it.”

Alex Cumming: It sounds like working backwards to where it’s, you look for the potholes and then you’re like, “What value concrete can I fill this with, to fill up that pothole? I’d like to do that. I can get that in mind.”

Michele Gill: And then you’re getting your values from your own center, as opposed to being overly influenced by social media. I’ll know I’m very sensitive to that. And I don’t remember my values, I might start with, “I need to cook beautiful meals like this Instagram influencer,” but that’s not my value.

I don’t care. As long as I eat healthy, beautiful meals is not part of my things that I really care that much about in the big scheme of things. So why would I invest that energy? Whatever you say yes to you’re saying no to something else. So if I want to prepare beautiful elegant meals for my family, it’s lovely, but it’s taking away from something else that I may be value more.

Alex Cumming: You’re so right about how susceptible people can be.

Getting influenced by outside sources and then this bias people will have towards, “Oh this person has a million followers, so they must have all their stuff together. So I should value what they value because then my meals will look as aesthetically pleasing as this person’s meals or my trip to Cabo will look as aesthetically pleasing as this person’s trip to Cabo.” And it’s upsetting how people can be so easily swayed and influenced towards some that probably doesn’t work for them. Then hypothetically, were they to get it. And then they’re like I don’t really like this, but I spent so much time doing it that kind of plays also into the whole education thing where people get influenced. And they say, if teachers say you got to do this, you got it. You want to make money in the market. You got to go into one of these majors, then they get influenced and then they spend graduate degrees, master’s degrees, doctorate degrees. Like I wanted to play bass guitar. What am I doing here behind this computer?

Michele Gill: I think that idea of knowing oneself and staying in one’s own lane is really important. I don’t know this is going to sound a little weird, but I believe each of us has incredible gifts and talents. Everybody, every single person, we’re not all academically gifted, but we’re all gifted. We’re all talented. We all have a particular passion. And I like to think the word passion means suffering. So, not meaning to get dark here, but especially in the new year, it’s good to think about what is our passion, what hurts our heart and that’s where our heart or gifts are meant to make the world better. So I really care about schooling. I really care to make schools places where kids and teachers are really happy and thriving and it’s promoting their optimal development.

And that’s where I’ve devoted the majority of my life, energy to and other people have different kinds of passions and commitments. Other people care so much about making mealtime a beautiful experience for their family. And that’s where we invest our energy, and that’s unique. It is totally unique to each of us.

We each have different passions. We may share. There’s plenty of people that care about schooling too, but I have my unique slant on it. And that is the work I’m to do in the world. And I wish schools, it’s my deepest wish that schools would spend more time helping students cultivate that helping students find that in themselves, exposing them to new — not like an Instagram influencer, trying to persuade them that they ought to be a certain way —but just to be like, look, consider this. And especially by high school, to be able to start articulating that. So they don’t waste four years in an undergraduate program they don’t care about and then go to graduate school because they’re following someone else’s desires for them.

The world needs everybody. No one is unimportant. No one is forgettable. Every single person has something to bring to the world, everybody. And it has a beautiful gift. And if we don’t nourish that in them, the world’s lost something. The world is lost something for every person who doesn’t bring their gift to the world.

Alex Cumming: That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that, you said that the passion is something that can be a bit of a challenge. I think that when a lot of young kids they get the saying it’s my passion. Why is it so tough? Why does it make me feel this uncomfortable way? I might avoid this because it makes me feel offput, but it’s getting drawn to that obstacle or that challenge because you love it so much. You do care for it. Same way that you work in education. And my passion for theater, trust me, theater has made me very angry sometimes, but I love it when I get the opportunities to really do it to a degree that I’m proud of. And I’m like, yeah, this is why I do it.

Michele Gill: Every career matters, especially during the pandemic. When they couldn’t produce new films and my shows are on hiatus —I know that sounds small, but it was huge because a lot of us needed comfort and we needed to see our shows. Theater and films are storytelling and humans have always gravitated to storytelling to understand the meaning of their lives. Good actors who can make these stories come alive, that can help us see our lives in new ways, new lights help bring understanding.

They’re so important to our culture. They’re the storytellers of our culture. Yeah. So I think when the show started coming back on, we started almost seeing people feel better about themselves because they could start connecting again. So every job matters.

Alex Cumming: They do. When it comes to UCF and the future of UCF, what do you see, considering your work with future generations?

Michele Gill: One thing I love about this university, so that was the first place I applied to I’d after graduate school. I wanted to be here so much because there so much universities out there that — UCF has a great research reputation and it’s innovative, it’s hard to find both. You can find really innovative young colleges that aren’t really research oriented, or you can find institutions that have been around, 100 years and they’re pretty much stuck in their ways. We’ve been able to do a lot of exciting things. My colleagues and I, we started an online master’s program on applied learning and instruction. This EDD program is based on the Carnegie model of the doctorate, that trained scholar practitioners. We’ve had a sheriff and a chef and a nurse and all these really exciting people come into our program. And we know we’re sending them out there and they’re transforming their work environments with this vision of how to train and work with them.

So I think you can do that at UCF. You can just come up with great ideas and do that. And we were awarded one of the top most innovative universities in the country. And I want to keep building on that. We’re doing learning clusters, where we’re hiring interdisciplinary faculty are working together, producing exciting grant work, innovative research.

I’ve worked a little bit with the Limbitless folks here, 3D-printing, bionic limbs. It’s amazing. You don’t see this kind of incredible innovative energy at other universities. I’ve taught her and visited a lot of them. And the excitement here is palpable. And I want to see us continue in that direction.

Alex Cumming: I love that description of UCF and I agree that it’s very true, that there’s always something going on. There’s always something afoot. And, we love the Limbitless people here. And I just the amazing work they do over there and how there’s all this new fresh ideas coming out of UCF. And that nothing seems to be stuck in its way, partially because again, UCF is so young that there is no, this is how we’ve done it since the 1920s, since World War II, this is how we’re going to keep doing it.

Michele Gill: And it’s part of our identity. Remember how we talked about identity earlier. UCF has that identity of being open to innovation. So it’s not hard for faculty to propose new things because it’s already part of our culture.

It’s already part of identity to go to a very traditional university that stuck in its ways to propose innovation. There’s so many steps. There’s so much red tape that it can be exhausting to try to do even the smallest change. Here, the doors are open because it’s part of our identity. So I don’t want to lose that as we get more Research I university now, I don’t want to lose that openness to innovation. I don’t think we will right now, like I said, it’s definitely part of our culture.

Alex Cumming: I think a lot of that from the innovation comes from the amazing diversity here at UCF people of all backgrounds, lifestyles and worlds coming together. It’s just so great to see it on that definitely thrives on innovation.

When you have so many stories coming together, it’s the stories of people coming together. And that’s what I think it makes UCF such a special place.

Michele Gill: I agree.

Alex Cumming: So what advice would you give to somebody who wants to do what you do? Who wants to be a professor or who wants to work in education?

Michele Gill: Okay. So there’s many levels of working in education. You can work in a school system, you can work in higher ed. For higher ed, you need a doctorate for the most part. Some state colleges will take people with a master’s degree, but if you want to work at higher ed, most universities, you need a doctorate. You can do a practitioner doctorate, like my Ed.D., or you can do a Ph.D., which is more of a research-oriented degree program. And I’d encourage students who are interested in that to do some kind of research as an undergraduate. We have LEAD Scholars at UCF, honors in the major and other opportunities for undergrads to start getting involved and dipping their toe in research. And that is just amazing practice for them. And it really gives them a strong application when they’re looking at graduate school.

Alex Cumming: And what’s something they still want to do in your own professional life?

Michele Gill: Ah, that’s a good question. That’s a great question. Because I started the school and now I wrote the book. This book was really important to me. So I’m trying to integrate research to practice. I would like to be involved in changing the culture schooling in this country. I don’t know how to do it. It’s a huge problem. It’s intractable seemingly and people way smarter and way more connected than me have tried and not been able to make very much of a deal. But I want to be a voice contributing to that. When I was a very young undergraduate student, I dedicated my undergrad thesis to transforming the public school system in the United States and very audacious goal for a 20-year-old. And I still many decades later want to do that. I will not rest. I don’t think intellectually until I continue to make progress towards that goal.

Alex Cumming: Congratulations for keeping the thing that makes you so passionate and for continuing to work to better the future generations of young people who want to get an education and care about learning and where innovation is such a special part of their lives. So thank you so much for joining us and sharing all that today.

Michele Gill: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

Alex Cumming: Wow. I know that I learned so much from Michelle and we’ll be implementing all of her advice in this new year. And I hope that you do too. And I’ll see you on the next episode of the Knights Do That podcast where I’ll be speaking with Gerald Hector, the senior vice president for Administration and Finance at the University of Central Florida to learn about his leadership techniques and how he empowers his employees through motivation.

Gerald Hector: Well, I tell people all the time, you have to figure out where your core and your passion intersect, and if you can find what you want to do in that space, then every day you will get up motivated to do something.

So my core is really about helping people. I’m a people person and driving people to the point where they can see something that’s beyond their current station in life. So that is my very, very core. My passion, believe it or not is accounting and finance. My wife thinks I’m crazy. My children look at me and say, accounting is boring.

Here in the work that I do now, the intersection of being part of accounting and finance, where I can help to extend the legacy of an institution and provide and make sure that it’s here for the future generations. That’s what excites me.

Alex Cumming: If you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about, send us an email at, and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights and Charge On.