Assistant Director of the Higher Education Leadership Program
School of Education
Susan Bartel is the assistant director of the higher education leadership doctoral program at Maryville University. As an associate professor at Maryville, she teaches a cohort of doctoral students in higher education leadership. She obtained her Doctorate of Education in leadership, organizational analysis, and policy from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 2012; her Master of Education in counseling psychology from MU in 1981; and her bachelor’s in education studies from MU in 1980. She has expertise in several areas, including emotional intelligence in leadership, use of design thinking in problem solving, and gender leadership. Her research on women in leadership includes a discourse analysis with a team of researchers on how language helped to create the leadership perception by the media of Ronald Reagan versus Margaret Thatcher. She has presented at many conferences on gender and leadership topics. Her current research project focuses on grief leadership and how tragedy is experienced in an organization and by individuals. Dr. Bartel was formerly the dean of the School of Organizational Leadership and Strategic Communication at Stephens College.
Empathy by Design: How To Teach Students To Think Outside of Their Own Experience
Susan M. Bartel, EdD, associate professor in higher education leadership at Maryville University, knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age. She says her mother recalls that 3-year-old Bartel’s favorite game to play was “school.” As a child in the 1950s, Bartel understood that the world offered adult women the choice of three roles: teacher, nurse, or mother. During her teenage years, however, the tumult and cultural revolution of the 1960s revealed a new idea of the working female in American society. “At the age of 5, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Bartel reflects. “But when I was in high school, everything changed, and I realized I was supposed to be the CEO of IBM. Women were now expected to do it all.” Society’s shifting expectations of traditional gender roles were a catalyst for Bartel’s multifaceted professional interests and development of empathy for how students learn and interact with higher education environments.
As a professor of strategic change and design thinking in higher education leadership at Maryville University, Bartel combines different teaching methods to educate doctoral students on how to view problems and challenges from multiple perspectives. A cornerstone of the design thinking experience is developing empathy in the students so that they can break outside of their own ways and patterns of thinking. During her undergraduate studies, Bartel took a correspondence course in geology to fulfill the remaining required science credit for her degree program. The method of instruction underwhelmed her. “That was back in the days when correspondence courses were literally ‘here’s your packet of information, study it, take a test, and you’re done.’ No interaction with anybody. That was not a good way to learn — at least not for me.” This experience would go on to inform her professional teaching style and her interest in design thinking.
Using innovative teaching models, such as a simulated consulting firm and a scenario app, Bartel teaches design thinking to Maryville doctoral students in creative and immersive ways, heightening the impact of the experience for the students. “I still have in the back of my head my experience as a student doing a nontraditional delivery mode of education. And, so, with design thinking, the first step is empathy. I really try to think about what it is like to be a student in one of our courses sitting 3,000 miles away — or further if they are international — and how I can draw them in to what the community of learners really means and what it is so that they can walk away from the course not only with information but really feeling connected to the students, the faculty, and, ultimately, the university.” Bartel acknowledges that creating unique learning experiences is a lot of work, but she sees it as a necessary function of teaching design thinking and innovation — this course can’t be like any other course students will take in our program.
The concept of a community of learners is an essential part of Bartel’s teaching philosophy, and she is dedicated to giving all of her students at Maryville, whether they are on campus or online, a rich and engaging learning experience. “There are people in my courses who have different experiences — perhaps even more experience than I have,” Bartel points out. “We learn from each other. I see myself as a guide or facilitator. I provide information on what to think about but not what to think.” In a community of learners, Bartel explains, the students each have a responsibility to share their knowledge and experience with their cohort. “If it were just a two-way interaction between me and a student in an online program, that, to me, falls short of what this online environment ought to be. When you have a worldwide opportunity to have professionals at all levels, in all different [types of institutions], with all different kinds of experiences, it is rich for learning in a way that a single faculty member or single textbook could never be.” Bartel recognizes that the community of learners also harnesses the power of having people of diverse backgrounds engaged in the shared experience of learning. This is critical to helping to avoid and break out of the common problem of groupthink, which is a core competency of design thinking and training.
Bartel has lived through a period of rapid social and technological change, not only in educational expectations and modes of delivery but also in how women, people of color, and other marginalized groups are able to access and experience higher education. All of this informs her work today, providing her with invaluable insight into the ways that educating students can be designed and optimized to ensure that everyone is welcome and heard in the global community of learners.
Margaret Thatcher: Gender and the Iron Lady, Sage Publications, Sage Business Cases Original, January 2018.
- Leadership in Higher Education Organizational Leadership
- Theory Strategic Change and Innovation Dissertation Research
Areas of Expertise:
- Design thinking
- Leadership (gender leadership and emotional intelligence in particular)
- Grief leadership
- Organizational theory and analysis
- Public relations