James Koval, MFT
Director of the M.S. Program in Emergency Services Administration
Professor of Family Studies assigned to Department of Criminal Justice
1983, B.S. – Creighton University
1979, MS. – Texas Tech University
1977, Ph.D. – Oregon State University
Q: Many recent alumni have named you as a faculty member who has had a great impact on their education and lives, As an educator, what does this mean to you?
I have striven throughout my teaching career to create courses and classroom environments which mirror as closely as possible the “real world.” As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I have seen so many couples in my clinical practice where it was clear they could have avoided so many disappointments and emotional pain if they only understood some of the simplest findings of research on relationship development, or learned basic communication and conflict management skills. As a consequence of these clinical experiences I have tried to focus students’ learning to embrace a primary prevention philosophy; learn attitudes and skills today to prevent and competently address relationship problems which are likely to occur in the future. I know the expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” may sound overused that it has become trivialized. But, there are plenty of research studies which show love and commitment are far less mysterious than many people might want to romanticize. I want students to know that in life, there are very few goals worth achieving if we assume we will simply “fall into them.” The same is true with love and lifelong commitment. Falling in love and growing wisely in love are two wholly different experiences, one which is far more likely to lead to a strong relationship, and the other to the many couples I see facing me on the proverbial, “therapist’s couch.”
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you came to CSULB and a little bit about your work in your field?
I just celebrated 30 years as a faculty member at CSULB. I came to CSULB right out of my doctoral studies at Oregon State. I was blessed to have had some wonderful graduate student faculty mentors, and to have had the opportunity as both a master’s student at Texas Tech and as a doctoral student at OSU, to teach my own classes to undergraduates. So teaching was not a new endeavor for me. What was different was teaching four classes each semester, sometimes with three different preparations, conducting research and serving on university committees. On top of this full-time workload, I also chose to get my marriage and family therapy license in the State of California. In the early 80’s California was one of only a handful of states that recognized and licensed MFT’s, requiring 3,000 hours of clinical experience and study. For the first five years of my teaching, I was also seeing clients at a Long Beach clinical family service center 10-12 hours a week. I earned my MFT license in 1987. Shortly thereafter I took additional training to become a Clinical Supervisor of MFT’s, which afforded me the opportunity to play a direct role in the training of marriage and family therapy interns as they worked to get their licenses. Ultimately, I became a Director of Clinical Services at the same family service where I had earned my hours for MFT licensure, and served in that capacity for about five years.
One of the things I have loved about being at CSULB and about being a professor is the many opportunities I have had to create new learning experiences for myself. For me, to really be a great professor requires an exuberance for learning which is worn on one’s sleeve, readily detectable to all those with whom one works. Moreover, this love of learning must be exemplified in practice – or as my father used to say, “Walk the Talk!” I have never just taught. I have published research on topics ranging from dating violence, to mid-life career change. I have served as a department chair of two different departments on campus. I developed over 12 years ago the very first exclusively online course at CSULB, and now for the last four years I have led the creation of an all online Masters of Science degree program in Emergency Management, the only master’s degree in emergency management throughout the CSU and UC systems. I guess you could say over these last 30 years, I have been that rolling stone, as there certainly is no moss growing under my feet.
Q: As a CSULB professor, what are some of your favorite memories thus far at CSULB?
I have so many rich memories of my time at CSULB but a few really stand out. I served as Acting Chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) for three years in the early 90’s. During those three years the building was completely remodeled, with the department chair’s office and main office having to relocate three times in 18 months. The building also flooded twice during heavy rainstorms, and there were countless meetings dealing with architects, building inspectors, and campus facilities management, trying to address the instructional needs of the building. I got tired of wearing my white hard hat. But, like so many things in life, a “bad beginning can lead to a happy ending.” We created a Faculty-Staff Child Development Center for the campus, which provides a learning laboratory for our Child Development majors while also serving the child care needs of our faculty and staff. I was blessed to have my own two children graduate from the toddler and preschool programs, located less than 100 feet from my own faculty office. We also worked with a local high school honors art program and created a series of murals which adorn the entry-way to our FCS Building. Every time I walk into the FCS Building I am reminded just how much this place has been my home, and how much my own family, has been a part of this campus.
Q: What advice do you have for today's current students?
Empathy. Empathy. Empathy. The more we all embrace technology as a means to conduct business and create social relationships, the more we must continually build our daily lives on a foundation which requires us to see the world through the eyes and hearts of all with whom we interact. I would also advise students to “get off their damn cell phones, and listen to the words of people around them.” But, I know if I said that my 15 year-old daughter would claim I was sounding like an old man. Even with 30 years at CSULB behind me, the one thing I can say for certain is, I feel as excited about my work now as I did the first day I walked on campus.
n This Issue: Spring 2013