Home All The Real World of the Ivory Tower: My Appreciative Education Conference Experience

The Real World of the Ivory Tower: My Appreciative Education Conference Experience

written by Susanna Wu-Pong 6 March 2015

Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong, MAPP '14 is Associate Professor and Director of Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virgina. She has a passion for positive psychology, training, and development. Dr. Wu-Pong is a 2005 graduate of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, former Program Coordinator for VCU Leadership (GEHLI), and fellow of the 2010-11 AACP Academic Fellow Leadership Program. Full bio. Susanna's articles are here.

Yesterday I sketched the 3 areas of appreciative education highlighted in the Appreciative Education conference in early January. Today I want to talk about my own personal experience at the conference.

How Does Appreciative Education Relate to Positive Psychology?

Early in the conference, I made the point of approaching the conference organizer, Jennifer Bloom, to tell her that I was representing the positive psychology community, especially graduates of Master of Applied Positive Psychology programs, and that our community was excited to hear about this very relevant emerging topic. I asked her if she had a message she’d like to send to the community. She said that so much of Appreciative Education (AE) is based on positive psychology principles and that she would love to have people present relevant work at next year’s Appreciative Education conference or publish in the Journal of Appreciative Education.

The difference between appreciative education and positive psychology is not obvious. My take is that AE is a process that uses appreciative inquiry (AI) in education and is based on principles of positive psychology. In a sense, it’s a positive intervention that can be applied to either individuals through appreciative advising (AA), to groups through appreciative instruction (AIn), or to educational organizations through appreciative leadership (AL).

I found myself chatting with a fellow conferee about the difference between AE and positive psychology. After a slightly heated debate, I discovered that I was arguing with Dawn Cooperider Dole, the sister of David Cooperider. Fortunately it was a good-natured debate since we have more areas of agreement than disagreement. She is executive director of the Taos Institute. The Taos Institute was founded by a group of scholars and practitioners including David Cooperider, leading proponent of Appreciative Inquiry. The founders believe that social constructionism has powerfully positive implications for our lives and well-being. The Institute promotes creative, appreciative, and collaborative processes using educational programs including a PhD program, a newsletter, and web-based offerings. The Taos Institute works with practitioners across healthcare and the community in order to enrich professional practices and scholarly inquiry.

The Hero’s Journey

Jennifer Bloom had a separate session where she discussed Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey with respect to the appreciative advising delivery phase. She used the Finding Joe documentary as a way to explain how Appreciative Advising can use this framework to help students “become the hero of their life when they get tired of being the victim of their own life.”

I was particularly excited by this session because I also used the hero’s journey as the conceptual framework for the calling intervention I developed and tested for my capstone. I think the hero’s journey reflects the entire AI process, not just the delivery phase. It is self-discovery and pursuit of our life’s authentic purpose in order to achieve our destiny. I want to use this framework and process in career planning for students, or anyone else who feels they need a career change.

Appreciative Mindset

Erin Konkle, a PhD student from the University of Minnesota, led a session about the practice of an appreciative mindset. She started by describing the default mindset that has us constantly gravitating toward the negative. She recommended that we change this tendency toward negativity by being present, and to use appreciative inquiry intentionally as an antidote. She suggested we focus our thoughts to the positive as we meditate, but notice the thoughts that drift in.

This approach has helped Konkle improve her mental health by letting go of, rather than fighting, negativity. She suggests that we focus on the generative (what you can improve), not just the positive. She shared the principles of stress-free living from the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living: gratitude, compassion, acceptance, higher meaning and forgiveness. We can rechannel our negativity to these feelings instead.

My Personal Goals

I have two main goals right now. First, I wish to help others on their journeys to find the best, most authentic version of themselves, especially in the context of higher education and career development for our young people. I believe that if we can help individuals identify the elements in their life that could provide a deep sense of meaning, then those elements can be used to help them focus their lives and careers. Their strengths, values, and passions can be used to help them successfully pursue those goals, thus providing engagement and excellence. I want to bring my capstone work on a calling intervention to the higher education community for feedback and potentially collaboration.

Second, I am very interested in creating a positive university. What has been done already? With whom can I collaborate? I went to the conference looking for like-minded individuals.

However, going forward, I can see that appreciative inquiry could become a key tool for the creation of a positive university or any positive organization. I don’t think I want to limit my toolkit to AI but the applications are so much broader than I had anticipated. How can the techniques of appreciative advising be used in a university outside of advising? Can the 6 Ds be used for strategic and project planning, conflict management, or teaching in the classroom? How can appreciative leadership be integrated into the culture of higher education?

I won Jeanie and Joan’s book in one of the sessions, so I wonder if I will soon find out. Will this be a more palatable approach to faculty and administrators than leading with the science of happiness?

It’s too early to tell. But I feel that I have an arsenal of new ideas and tools in my back pocket that I can’t wait to take out and test in the real world of the ivory tower.



Campbell, J. (1990, 2014). The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (3rd edition). New World Publishing.

Cockell, J. & McArthur, J. (2012). Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education: A Transformative Force. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sood, A. (2013). The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Wu-Pong, S. (2014). A Novel Calling Intervention for Career Development and Well-Being. Masters degree capstone, University of Pennsylvania.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Perseus slaying the gorgon courtesy of j. kunst [moving – will be back soon]
Campus gathering point courtesy of Eric Mills

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1 comment

Jayan Warrier 6 March 2015 - 10:01 pm

This is a great post. The possibilities for AI and Positive Psychology principles are unlimited in the education system. I agree that it does not make sense to limit ourselves to just one, each of these are complimentary and could be used to create the ideal culture for learning and growth. Thanks Susanna for sharing these ideas.


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