Sixteen University of Phoenix researchers explore personal and professional courage at international leadership conference

Dr. Erik Bean’s heartbreaking story highlights presentations of courage in leadership made at the annual International Leadership Association Conference in Ottawa.

Dr. Erik Bean and his son, Ethan Bean

Dr. Erik Bean and his son, Ethan Bean, enjoyed a trip to Lake of the Clouds in Michigan in August, 2018, the same month Ethan took his own life. Photo courtesy of Bean family.

The story takes courage to tell. And yet, Dr. Erik Bean believes it could provide a positive change in perspective and public policy as the world comes to understand a tousled-hair boy named Ethan.

Ethan was a bright child who got good grades but struggled socially. He had autism and mental illness that was never fully diagnosed because of his age. Consequently, Ethan had anger issues, and spent time in the juvenile justice system. Then the unthinkable happened ― Ethan took his own life at age 17.

For Dr. Bean, that courage comes through the heartaches experienced from his son’s death on Aug. 24, 2018. Like other parents coping with the first-hand effects of the nation’s suicide epidemic, Dr. Bean and his wife, Stacey Bean, considered ways to deal with their grief and decided to take action. He began writing a children’s mental health book, which he described for those attending his Leadership Development Luncheon keynote presentation at the International Leadership Association (ILA) Conference on Oct. 24 in Ottawa, Canada. Dr. Bean’s keynote topic was “Energizing the Getting Published Process: An Administrative Task!”

“My son was a foot soldier in the mental health controversy that’s going on right now,” said Dr. Bean, Ed.D., who serves as associate research chair in the Center for Leadership Studies & Educational Research at University of Phoenix. “Since he wasn’t capable of doing anything more with it, I guess I have the courage to tell his story … to shake things up to try to change things for the better.”

The ILA Conference is a global event, providing the latest research on leadership theory and practice from experts in the field. This year’s conference featured more than 400 sessions and symposiums intended to shine a light on leadership courage. Dr. Bean was one of 16 University employees and faculty who touched on topics related to courage in leadership at the annual conference.

It was a fitting topic, according to University of Phoenix Vice Provost Hinrich Eylers, who described Bean’s courage as vital to leadership. It’s a principle the College of Doctoral Studies seeks to impart to its students.

“Leadership is not about being popular, but about doing the right thing,” Eylers said. “Doing the right thing is not always the easiest.”

Dr. Bean’s emphasis on addressing a critical social issue is a focus of the University’s doctoral programs, which offer practitioner degrees to help students enrich their communities. He intends to raise awareness and has met with a state senator and plans to testify before a Michigan legislative committee about the juvenile justice system’s handling of children with mental illness. He and his wife, Stacey, who serves as a licensed master social worker for a school district in Detroit, also created a foundation in their son’s name. The Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation was founded to increase awareness about mental health challenges in children, to examine the efficacy of mental health treatment and drug intervention, and to help remove the social stigmas associated with mental illness.

His book, “Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express” — co-authored by Emily Waszak — will go on sale on Amazon on Nov. 23, National Suicide Survival Day. He and Stacey hope to use the proceeds from the book to go into the schools with the Ethan Healthy Mind Express story.

“It takes the whole community,” Dr. Bean said. “It’s not just the kids. It’s the community that needs to change. I never want Ethan to be forgotten.”

Courage was discussed in many forms during the conference. Dr. Kimberly Underwood, PhD, touched on leadership’s role in supporting transitioning transgender employees.

Dr. Underwood, who serves as chair of the University’s Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research, spoke about a qualitative study that examines the experience of individuals who are transitioning — or who have already transitioned — within organizations such as law enforcement, health care, academia and service industries.

“It was eye-opening for us,” said Underwood, who has taught at the University of Phoenix since 2009. “It was revealing.”

In some cases, leaders took a hands-off approach and expected the transitioning employee to take the lead in the workplace. Others struggled with decisions such as which bathroom the employee should use.

Good leaders, though, ensure that their policies and procedures spell out that diversity includes transgendered employees, Underwood said. They model the behavior they want from employees.

“To be a partner in this process as a leader takes courage,” she said. “It takes courage to say ‘This is my organization. This is how I expect you to act. This is how I’m going to behave and create this inclusive environment.’”

University of Phoenix Presenters

The following University of Phoenix employees and faculty presented at the ILA Conference:

  • Hinrich Eylers, Vice Provost, Doctoral Studies and Academic Operations
  • Erik Bean, Ed.D., Associate Research Chair in the Center for Leadership Studies & Educational Research
  • Kimberly Underwood, PhD, Chair of the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research
  • Janice L. Cardwell - UOPX Vice President and Chair of the ILA Leadership Development Special Interest Group
  • Renee Green - UOPX Hawaiian Academic Affairs Director
  • Lynne Deynew - Past UOPX Scholar of the Year and Center for Leadership Studies and Organizational Research (CLSOR) Senior Fellow
  • Mark McCaslin - Retiring Dean of Research and Scholarship
  • Katherine Temple- UOPX associate faculty
  • Jennifer Calito - UOPX associate faculty
  • Jeanie Karause Bachand- UOPX associate faculty
  • Cynthia Kittle - UOPX associate faculty
  • Louise Underdahl - 2019 University of Phoenix Distinguished Scholar of the Year
  • Elizabeth Isele - Global of Experienced Entrepreneurship
  • Ronald Leach - UOPX associate faculty
  • Norris Kruieger -UOPX associate faculty
  • Lunthita Duthely- UOPX associate faculty