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Faculty Spotlight: Sharon Ehasz

Faculty Spotlight: Sharon Ehasz

Silhouette of military personnel and a fighter jet against a vibrant sunset, representing aviation and military operations.

Professor Sharon Ehasz joins the Case School of Engineering faculty with distinctive qualifications one might not expect to see. She recently spoke with us about the journey that has brought her here, her ideas surrounding a refreshed presentation of EPOM 400: Leadership and Interpersonal Skills, and the importance of connection between faculty and students. Excerpts of the conversation follow here and in a second post.

From Air Force to Faculty Professor

Q: You recently retired from the United States Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel, having served on active duty, in the Air Force Reserves and in the Air National Guard. You’re currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Organizational Behavior program in the Weatherhead School of Management, and you’re joining the faculty in the Case School of Engineering. That’s a very impressive resume with some, perhaps, unexpected turns in it. What has led you to take on this faculty position in an engineering program?

A: I jumped at the opportunity to bring this information to the Case School of Engineering because I truly believe in its importance and what a difference it can make in the lives of the people who practice quality interpersonal skills, whether they're in actual leadership positions or leading by their example. I feel passionately about what I am studying. In this topic of interpersonal skills, specifically within the leadership realm, each person brings value.

I have a mission: I want every person to know they matter. So, if I can give skill sets to others or help people find the skill sets they already have, to refine and enhance them in a way that allows them to show people that they matter and they have value, then this is a perpetuating gift that I'm able to give and an investment that I'm able to make in other people.

Q: You grew up in a military family. Were your career goals in the military? What were they?

A: I recognized very early in life that the idea of service, not necessarily military service, but service was incredibly important to my family. As I grew older, I realized the military lineage that I had, dating all the way back to the American Revolution. I have had family members in every branch of the military. So, because I wanted to be able to contribute to something bigger than myself, to be able to serve our nation, thought, “I want to go into the Air Force.” I knew in sixth grade that I was going to go to the Air Force Academy, which I ended up doing, and then decided to stay as a commissioned officer. I wanted to fly. Ever since sixth grade, that's what I wanted to do.

Through life's twists and turns, I realized that it really wasn't what I was meant to do. That was a very difficult decision as a 21-year-old. I certainly had the skill set. I flew while a cadet. I flew prior to going into the Air Force. So, I knew I had the capacity and the capability, but to realize that my skill sets and my values maybe lay somewhere else.

Q: How has your background prepared you to pursue your passion of teaching?

A: As an Air Force officer, I was put in positions of leadership from day one after graduating from the Air Force Academy. There were lessons that I learned the hard way by not doing things the right way. And there were things that I learned through observation, but toward the end of my career, as I reflected, I was confused. I was bothered by the differences that we had within leadership, even within this one organization that raised officers the same way. We all went through the same military education and professional development. And yet there would be people who would come in and take command and a unit would flourish, accomplishing things that were beyond what anybody would imagine they could accomplish. And likewise, people would come in and take command of organizations. And with a matter of weeks, maybe months, the entire unit would almost disintegrate as far as its morale and its vision and its passion for what it did. I was left wondering, “How is it that one person could make such a big difference?” That is why I've had these deep-seated questions: from my own personal experience.

How has my background prepared me to pursue teaching? It has given me those questions. It has given me the life experience to know what a difference interpersonal skills can make in a leader. That has fueled not only my own passion to become better myself, but to help people learn these skills because they're not hard. Oftentimes, we say that they're common sense, but they’re not common practice. So how can we help people bring those tools into their toolkit so that they become more common practice? It's through my experience that I can look at a student and say, “This is what I've lived. Tell me about your experience.” And we can connect on the mutual ground that we have observed, we have lived, and we have sometimes even struggled on our own with how to be quality leaders.

Communicating with Students

Q: How will you encourage your students to communicate with you about their experience in your course?

A: Feedback is important to me. That's one reason why I have an entire module specifically devoted to the concept of feedback, because to do it well is an art. And while there is some science behind it, I would like to give students exposure to other aspects that could help them become better artists when it comes to giving feedback.

In learning about feedback, one has to practice it. I identify two times within the semester that I ask for feedback: midterm and at the end of the course. I try to take into consideration the feedback I receive. There is some constraint, given that it’s an online asynchronous class and has to be developed before the semester even starts. But I do try to take into account what they say.

Q: How do you plan to incorporate their responses and what you learn from them into your teaching?

A: If I'm able to make changes, I make immediate changes. If not, I also have end-of-semester feedback, in which case I take all of the feedback I've received and refresh the class based on it.

That's really more about course content—an individual student who might not be understanding a specific concept. I work very hard to offer thoughtful, student-specific feedback in all of the assignments. There is not an assignment that I don't read. I will not ask a student to write something if I'm not willing to read their work, because if I'm asking them to invest in it, I need to be equally invested. Through that dialogue, through that feedback, I also interact with students to ensure that they're understanding the content. If they aren't, I work with them one-on-one, have side conversations, so they get to a point where they successfully understand and can incorporate the learning of the class.

Become an Expert in Making Connections

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