Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Chris Sochor is an Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies in the College of Education and Professional Development. Prior to becoming a faculty member, Dr. Sochor was an Instructional Designer for 16 years, and manager of Online Learning at Marshall for a decade. His dissertation focused on the presence and usefulness of information in the Start Here portion of online courses. Currently, he serves as Chair of the Diversity and Social Justice Committee for COEPD, secretary of the Students with Disabilities Committee, is faculty liaison for the LGBTQ+ Response Team, and teaches primarily in Leadership Studies. With a bachelor’s and graduate degree in History, his qualitative research seeks to preserve the oral histories of Appalachians and their culture.   


Interview Questions 

It’s January 2024! What is one teaching or professional resolution you have for the new year? 

In 2024, my teaching goals are regarding student interaction and successful movement of doctoral students to candidates. I am interacting more with replies on discussion boards with students, to encourage them to interact more with peers and the content. And by the end of 2024, I have a professional goal of having 10 students successfully defend their Dissertation Prospectus and 2 candidates graduated.  


Why do you think it’s important for faculty to intentionally focus on belonging in their classes?

When you go into a class, you are in a room full of people. When you enter an online class, you see nothing reflecting back at you except your screen and the content. Students need to know you care about their presence and their education, and in an ever-changing world, students need skills that will help them interact remotely, or online, in a professional capacity.  


How do you establish belonging and inclusivity early in the semester, especially in your distance courses?  

In hybrid courses, I set an early class meeting where students can engage in activities where we learn more about them as people. Then, I will casually group people together for activities based on their interests. Additionally, in online courses, I will change up those Introduction prompts to make them more personalized per course, set the due date within the first week, and then I respond to every student and relate to their personalized information in some way. Students will reply to each other as well when I use this method, without forcing the “respond to two other students.” 


You have taught graduate students and mentored doctoral candidates writing dissertations. In your experience, what are the distinct belongingness issues or needs of these students that might differ from undergraduate students?  

Doctoral students need multiple opportunities to meet up and engage with others in their program. We are striving to create optional writing group meet-up times and times to ask questions. I will also always meet with a new cohort as a group, following up with one-on-one meetings. Doctoral and dissertation work is stressful. Add the stress of not being physically near campus with instructors you do not know very well, and students absolutely need to FEEL supported. Doctoral students also need transparency from you, as an instructor. I tell students, we are all adults, please don’t suffer in silence.  


In your research on student perspectives in online courses, what did you learn that you now apply to your online teaching?  

Those navigational aids, such as the information in Start Here, are seen by students as crucial aspects that are part of their successful completion of your course. Specifically, my study sample was all Marshall students, so we can apply this generally to our demographic. How to get started in the course, how to contact you, small and easy sets of instructions that help them navigate throughout the content. These may be aspects that we copy from course to course, but it’s important to keep those as updated and relevant to the course as possible.  


Before becoming a professor, you worked as an instructional designer and directed the Design Center. How does that experience inform your work as a faculty member?

I had the unique opportunity to form many bonds with faculty members over the years. The one thing I always took for granted as an ID was the time you have to prepare courses for the next term or update those courses. Now that I know what a whirlwind each semester feels like, it has helped me refine my course semester start checklists. Knowing, almost innately, the way a Blackboard class can look and should look has been one hurdle I did not have to jump over. That does make a huge difference. Additionally, the bonds I built over many years have helped us navigate through some academic and program decisions; when you know who to ask for help, that is a big time-saver. 


What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Can you give an example?

Hands down, working with students is the most rewarding aspect of the job. When you have a student going through a hard time, and you get to watch them mature into an adult who is more confident and knowledgeable when they leave than when they started, it’s hard to describe that feeling. For example, some might think being a student-athlete is living a dream, and it can be; however, unless you have been in that situation yourself, you might not be aware of the many layers and responsibilities that come with it. When you have a student struggling on and off the field, and then see them get hooded at graduation, meet their family, out pours a sense of pride.  


As a native of Appalachia, what community causes are most meaningful to you?

Appalachians, especially West Virginians, have been the butt of the world’s jokes for years. That aspect used to bother me, but some people will always allow that barrier of thought to exist, so we might as well be our authentic selves. What I have seen in the community over the past several years is an effort to help stabilize the lives and families of people affected by substance abuse disorders, as well as striving to bring jobs to this area that provide people with an appropriate salary that will pay them a basic standard of living. All of these community issues bring with it community members who have suffered many traumas, losses, and it’s imperative that we embrace each other in a circle of love and help people develop self-confidence in themselves. With self-confidence, we can learn personal leadership skills, independent of being in a leadership position. Causes empowering Appalachians to lead better, fuller lives will continue to improve our communities and Appalachia.  This is one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about preserving Appalachian culture and voices through my research of oral histories.   


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