Launching Heroic Journeys of Transformation for Our Students and Ourselves

Wesch_YouTubeScreenshot10.12.2007You’ve heard of Michael Wesch. (Here’s a YouTube reminder from a decade ago; Wesch, 2007.) In an intensely reflective keynote presentation in the spring of 2017, he examined what he and Ken Bain (2004) both call “big questions.” Bain discusses the big questions a college class might help students answer that relate to the larger issues of the class. In Wesch’s keynote, his self-reflection on the big questions in his life leads to empathy made explicit for the student experience.

Wesch’s journey of self-discovery leads him to appreciate the full human experience, and in his 2017 keynote and the follow-up discussion afterward, he says we faculty must figure out how to help students through a time of transformation. His advice for the first step is realizing that when we teach, we shouldn’t just be teaching content, just be teaching skills. We should also work to help students through a major life transition on their own heroic journeys, whether they are 18 or 55 years old.

Faculty, too, are on heroic journeys of self-discovery, of connecting and re-connecting to the important and the sublime, of searching for ways to help students learn. The result for both faculty and students can be transformation.

The art of asking yourself questions is something to cultivate on your heroic journey as a college professor, and it is also a shortcut to helping your students experience transformative discoveries. Please take the time to click here, then here.

The first link is to Professor of biology at Penn State, Chris Uhl‘s, assignment to students early in his 400-person Environmental Science class. The assignment is a powerful process for launching each student’s heroic journey of transformation by leveraging the power of asking questions of self and others.

The second link will take you to a co-authored piece by Uhl and one of his students (Uhl & Lankenau, n.d.) about their transformations as teacher and student. In it, Uhl describes his own disorienting dilemmas as a faculty member. The first dilemma occurred when he was shaken by Parker Palmer’s observation (1997) that we teach who we are, and the second dilemma was triggered when he believed he had been an outstanding teacher for a class during the term, only to realize the true impact of his teaching in the eyes of his students (when he could even see their eyes, as most avoided eye contact when handing in the final exam).

Michael Wesch and Chris Uhl are college faculty who have done the deeply personal and transformative work of wrestling with disorienting dilemmas as teachers to come out on the other side with a new relationship to self and students. In the process they have become far better at building environments, assignments, and activities meant to launch heroic journeys that lead to their students’ transformations.

If Wesch and/or Uhl spark your curiosity about big questions and heroic journeys as routes to student transformation, here’s a suggestion: Create your own personal Learning Manifesto (Uhl, n.d.).

Then launch your own heroic journey.



Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Palmer, P. (1997). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Uhl, C. (n.d.) The power of questions. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from

Uhl, C., & Lankenau, G. (n.d.) BiSci3 as a hero’s journey. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from

Wesch, M. (2017, April). Gen Z Goes to College, and a 40-year-old Anthropologist Tags Along. Keynote address, Kurogo Conference, Orlando, FL. Retrieved February 5, 2018, from

Wesch, M. (2007, October 12). A Vision of Students Today. Retrieved February 5, 2018, from


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