Interesting backgrounds? They're over the top

Jamie Morris climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro but doesn’t consider it his toughest trek.

These 4 online faculty members have stories to tell

From the November issue of GCU Magazine

JAMIE MORRIS chuckles at the memory of moving to Alaska two decades ago. With his “two ginormous suitcases” and not much else, he was as ready to go camping as he was to compete in the Iditarod.

Morris loves meeting people as he tries new excursions.

“I didn’t know what REI was,” he said of the recreational equipment company. “It wasn’t on my radar, that sort of thing. I literally had no gear. I didn’t know how to pitch a tent.”

But then Morris met some outdoorsy people and started going on weekend camping trips across America’s largest state. Pretty soon, he was getting a valuable return on investment from his REI purchases — an ROI, let’s say, on his REI.

Morris spent three summers working at a hotel in Alaska, but he didn’t lose his sense of adventure when he moved to Arizona and, nine years ago, joined Grand Canyon University’s College of Education, where he teaches introductory classes.

His camping quest culminated in tackling the ultimate challenge for many outdoors enthusiasts: He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2017.

It was an excellent six-day adventure for a guy who had never walked farther than a mile or two, but Morris doesn’t consider it too tall a task.

“There are harder hikes in the Valley,” he said. “The summit day was a challenge, not so much for the hike itself, just the altitude. I woke up a little tired, a little anxious.”

Morris, who also has hiked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, always tries to spend time seeing the sights of whatever country he is visiting.

“A lot of these trips I do by myself,” he said. “I just try to get out and experience different places, different people. I try not to bite off more than I can chew.”

Debbie Fulthorp

DEBBIE FULTHORP knows a bit about exotic hikes, too — she and her husband used to pastor a church near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Now she pastors GCU students in Christian worldview classes and has found the experience to be quite similar.

“We’re seeing students who come through who have never heard the Gospel before or come from different backgrounds, different worldviews,” she said. “I’m able to share with them and help them understand the Gospel better in this context.”

At the start of every class, Fulthorp typically hears from students who are afraid of doing poorly in it because they don’t know the Bible. One of them was so scared, he asked questions every day. Now he’s a leader in class discussions thanks to her soothing responses.

“He’s like this sponge — he’s taking it all in. It’s just really neat to see that turnaround,” Fulthorp said.

She does more than answer questions. When a student from Nepal said he was hearing the Gospel for the first time, Fulthorp got him a Bible in his native tongue.

Her background includes another interesting experience: She did a church fellowship with Native Americans.

“That’s why I love being here at Grand Canyon University — I get that diversity,” she said. “I’m able to interact with people. I’m still cross-cultural ministering people — I build those bridges and love on them.”

Dr. Emily Shier

DR. EMILY SHIER also uses her background to give students a new perspective. Shier has conducted forensic mental health evaluations that help determine parental fitness, child custody and whether a juvenile offender should be tried as an adult.

That enables her to provide a different perspective of counseling and clinical mental health by challenging students to see what makes the most sense in conceptualizing the case.

“It provides a little different viewpoint — looking at individuals from every angle,” she said. “It’s like I’m a supervisor. It’s getting students to think beyond a snapshot. It provides a unique lens.”

Shier got into the field by happenstance when she was working with juveniles and their parents in South Carolina. She studied questions about the mental health system and did her dissertation on questions that arose from her evaluations.

“It’s not counseling in the traditional sense of you and I are sitting in chairs across from one another and you’re telling me how you’re feeling and I’m helping you process through things,” she said. “It’s using a different part of that counseling brain of conceptualizing a case and doing it very quickly.”

Shier and her family moved to the Atlanta area when she took the GCU job, and guess what? Like Morris and Fulthorp, they enjoy exploring the nature trails nearby. But …

“I don’t think there are any mountains anywhere close,” she said.

Brian Clark

BRIAN CLARK gets a lot of questions from students in his Introduction to Graduate Studies class for the College of Education. Or at least he did.

Until he built a new website for the class. From scratch. Just by going on the internet and learning how to do it.

“I wanted an easier way for students to digest information,” he said. “The students enjoy the extra guidance, and the website allows me to be more visual.”

And the result? “I’ve noticed fewer questions. In the end-of-course survey, I consistently get comments that it’s helpful. I feel like I’m doing my job better if students don’t have many questions.”

They probably wouldn’t be surprised to know he’s a do-it-yourselfer — he’s the kind of guy who isn’t panicked about plumbing.

Clark even expanded his bio on the site, sharing more details than what’s in the Halo learning management system students frequently visit. The bio includes a slideshow of his family’s camping trips — glamping, actually, because they sleep in the trailer.

Hmm. Notice the trend here?

“But I’m not hiking to the top of any mountain,” he said.

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Magazine: GCU online education innovators led 25-year push

GCU Magazine: GCU goes online with forensic science program

GCU Magazine: Graduate counseling programs confront crisis


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