Jennifer Pismeny ’06
Jennifer Pismeny ’06 is giving hope and confidence to many students who struggle. She recently finished her doctoral dissertation to complete her Doctorate of Education in teacher education in multicultural societies. Her goal is to make a difference for students who face educational challenges and to help them thrive.
Throughout her life, her parents Norman and Carolyn ’71 Bush said to her that “education is for a lifetime.” She said, “both of my parents have multiple degrees, my older brother, Jason Bush, earned his MBA from Wake Forest, and it has been a joy and privilege to carry on our family tradition of being lifelong learners.” The importance of being an individual who seeks to continue learning and growing stuck with her as she looked for a place to follow her passion in education.
“I chose Radford University because I was excited about the education program – I was really impressed! Then when I got there, I found my passion for promoting literacy and how the literacy process begins for children in elementary school,” said Pismeny.
“One of my professors, Jennifer Jones Powell, very much impacted my journey. I respected her and admired her so much! Her expertise, kind heart, and passion shine brightly in her classroom. I thought, I would love to be like her one day. She truly is a remarkable educator and role model. I took her energy, knowledge gained from her courses, and continued on my path. I’ve been on the journey ever since,” said Pismeny.
Upon graduation, Pismeny was hired as a kindergarten teacher in the Virginia Beach public school system. She was assigned to the new extended day kindergarten program. This allowed the students with the lowest academic scores the opportunity to get extra help and stay the second half of the day. “As a first year teacher, this was really exciting for me. I was able to take innovative ideas that I learned at Radford University and implement them in a brand new curriculum. Radford prepared me to begin my career as an innovative and creative educator to all students,” said Pismeny.
The director of the program observed Pismeny’s classes and was impressed. Pismeny was asked to conduct professional development programs to other kindergarten teachers to show them how she organized the material and integrated her ideas into the curriculum. “I relied on what I learned from Radford and the experiences that I had with my professors. I felt very lucky to learn from many knowledgeable professors at Radford and felt very prepared as a new teacher – I was a little nervous but very excited to be a part of this new program helping these young students,” said Pismeny.
She continued to work as a kindergarten teacher in several schools as well as assist her husband, Adam Pismeny ’06, in building his own personal training and fitness business. As the business became quickly successful and grew rapidly, she took a short break from teaching and to help Adam while earning her master’s degree in educational leadership in administration and supervision. Once she completed this goal, she looked to the future and what impact she wanted to make. She applied to the University of Southern California’s doctoral degree program and “went for it.” She said her husband “was so wonderful to support and encourage me to go for my dream.” They moved to California and he worked as a personal trainer while she continued her education.
She said she has always been interested in working with elementary students, although while at USC her interests evolved to include collegiate level students. Like her work at the kindergarten level, she observed college students and realized that some are just getting by. She wanted to delve into why and how best to help them. “What is needed for us to help move students from surviving to thriving – to live their best lives both during their collegiate years and beyond.”
Through her doctoral research, she has looked at two main concepts to help struggling students, many whom are first in their families to attend college, to succeed in their journey. “We all have different life experiences and there is no one size fits all solution. There are three areas that positively impact students’ ability to thrive. There are academics, how they connect and communicate with others, and how they feel about themselves and their ability to succeed,” said Pismeny.
She has also looked at the concept of Growth Mindset. This is a scientific construct originating from Dr. Carol Dweck’s research at Stanford University. Growth Mindset incorporates neuroplasticity principles and research shows that the brain continually evolves and develops over time. “For this, it doesn’t matter what their background or experiences are. Once students realize the power of their own brains to develop over time, they had grand success,” said Pismeny. This means that students who may have been told or may feel that they were “bad at math or weak in science” could overcome this with hard work, effort, and determination. “There are some exceptions with brain injury and disabilities. But for most, intentional effort makes a difference in the outcomes over time. We can overcome obstacles, challenges, and learn from feedback and mistakes.”
She says with the new technology available, researchers are able to see a brain change over time. If students work on skills with which they struggle, and then are asked similar questions, different areas of the brain illuminate and show new connections. “Yes, motivational speakers are nice and can be helpful – but this is actual science that proves that your body is able to change. Students need to know that failure is not final. It can be used to make you better moving forward,” said Pismeny.
The future is full of purpose for Pismeny. She wants to continue her research in Growth Mindset and learn more ways to help students succeed. “I want to continue to work with students of all ages, as well as, train future teachers in a teacher education program,” says Pismeny.
She is thankful for all of the guidance and encouragement she received along her journey – from her husband, parents, brother and his wife, friends, and professors. “They made this journey possible – my team!”