Like so many at UNLV, Alice Corkill, chair of the educational psychology and higher education department, is finding that the pandemic provides both challenges (leading synchronous online classes) and rewards (more time spent with her three dogs). Through it all, she says, the students have been gracious, understanding, and willing to roll with the changes.
What bought you to UNLV?
I was living in Canada before I came here 28 years ago. I wanted to return to the U.S. and I was kind of hoping to get out of the snow. At UNLV there was a position that fit my skills and abilities, which can be hard to find.
Where had you lived previously?
In Canada, I was in London, Ontario, between Lake Huron and Lake Erie with icy cold and lake effect snow. It was very different from the snow and cold in Nebraska, where I grew up. It’s grittier. The car doors would freeze shut. I moved to Canada from Hawaii, so that was a big change.
Tell us about your field.
I’m an educational psychologist — a very small area inside psychology where most of my work focuses very specifically on learning environments. One of the areas I’m interested in is memory — how people move information into their long-term memory so it will be available on demand at some point in the future.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I had a fantastic instructor, John Glover, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. After having him as an instructor, I took as many undergraduate educational psychology courses as I could. Unfortunately, he passed away years ago when he was in his 40s.
What did you think you would do when you grew up?
In junior high, I thought I wanted to be a vocal music teacher. In senior high school, I thought I wanted to teach French. In college, I was in a teacher prep program. That is what led me to that course in educational psychology.
Are you working on or off campus right now?
I am working off campus. I go in every couple of weeks to walk around the department and make sure everything seems to be OK. I will encounter faculty who happen to be there. It’s a real treat if I see somebody from the department or college.
Are you teaching on campus or remotely this semester?
Teaching remotely. I have taught online courses that are asynchronous. For the first time, I am teaching some synchronous classes. My first class was unusual. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. The content doesn’t exactly lead to discussion. I think I would have enjoyed that more. I couldn’t see the students’ faces. I couldn’t tell if they were understanding what I was telling them. Maybe I’ll get better at it as the semester goes on.
I told the students I was a little nervous about starting class this fall and I haven’t been nervous about starting class for years. Students at UNLV have been so gracious and so understanding of what the instructors had to go through when the stay-at-home order came through in the spring. They just rolled with it. I got emails from students saying what a tremendous job their instructors were doing.
What challenges have you encountered during the pandemic?
Everything in the department seems to keep moving along. The AAs (administrative assistants) adapted quickly and were able to take care of things. The dean’s office was on top of everything. Really, the challenges had more to do with staying at home all the time.
One challenge is that creating online lessons takes more time for me. There were weeks when I would be trying to frantically get content together (in time for class).
The office of online education at UNLV was phenomenal. I rarely had to wait more than an hour to have a question answered. They would meet with me online. They were very responsive and very helpful.
What are you most looking forward to doing once the pandemic ends?
Visiting my mother in Nebraska. We went to visit my mom over the summer briefly. She turned 90 in August. We stayed home for two weeks (before the trip) and didn’t go anywhere. We got tested for COVID. We drove straight there and back. I usually go and visit her about four times a year. It was a long time from February to August.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I tap dance. That doesn’t come up in general conversation. A couple of years ago on National Tap Dance day in May, I wore my tap shoes to work. I had a great time. I think some of the people in the building thought I was nuts.
What do you like to do outside work?
I sing in a church choir. We have been having a virtual choir. We record ourselves using our phones and we send our recordings to the choir director. He edits them together.
Also, the dance studio where I tap reopened at the end of June. They offer a nice variety of dance classes. We stay apart and we wear masks.
A book, movie, TV show, or podcast to recommend to people
There are a couple of shows that my husband and I have been watching. One show called Eureka we didn’t watch when it originally was on. Then there is Star Trek Discovery. I was impressed. You never know with a spinoff how it will go.
What would you choose as your last meal?
I would have my mom’s fried chicken and potato salad but she would have to make it. When I was growing up we got to choose the meal for our birthdays. My choice was fried chicken, potato salad, lima beans, and white cake. I love lima beans and I love white cake.
What’s the silver lining in all of this for you?
I have three dogs and they seemed to like it that we are home. My husband, Mark Gay, teaches science in middle school. He was working at home during the spring, which was nice, but now he goes to his school and teaches virtually from his classroom. I started walking every day with one of the dogs. We walk four miles every morning. I see the same people and dogs and cats every morning. That’s been really good for me. I walk with Twinkles. She is a shepherd mix. The others, Data and Big Boy Bear, are Newfie mixes and are not good walkers. They like to stop and smell everything. Twinkles could be a sled dog; When we get going, she just goes. Big Boy Bear had his name when we got him just over three years ago. He had been surrendered to an animal shelter and was very sick. He’s in great shape now and seems to like living with us. We sure like living with him.