Teachings Lead to Published Articles and An Upcoming Book
When it comes to teaching his Leadership course at Minnesota State Mankato, College of Education professor Jason Kaufman, Ph.D., Ed.D., stresses the three pillars of educational leadership–communication, patience, and relationship–by “boldly going where no one has gone before.”
If you picked up on the Star Trek nod, that’s because the seven prominent captains in the history of the Star Trek franchise each bring a unique study in leadership that Kaufman shares with students taking his class.
“You know, I’ve always tried to make my courses more interesting-slash-less boring for my students,” Kaufman said. “I naturally would gravitate toward Trek because one, there’s just so much good material there for teaching and two, I mean, I know it, right? ‘Cause I’ve been immersed in it.”
A licensed psychologist and Minnesota State Mankato faculty member for the past nine years, Kaufman said Star Trek has been a presence in his life since he was first exposed to Star Trek: The Motion Picture at an early age. It was Star Trek: The Next Generation and the leadership of Captain Jean-Luc Picard that set the life-long orbit around Star Trek wisdom.
“I’ve been studying Picard since I was 13 when the show came out, right? He will always be my captain,” Kaufman said.
In his professional world, Kaufman said the idea of “live long and prosper” within Star Trek’s ubiquitous acceptance of universal diversity continues to shape his focus on leadership.
“Especially as I’ve gotten older, and especially as I’ve been teaching leadership at the University, this notion of IDIC–Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations–resonates super-strongly with me these days,” Kaufman continued. “It’s not just living in a rational, scientifically-informed society where things are truly good, but where literally everyone had a seat at the proverbial table.”
Kaufman said this Star Trek perspective on leadership found a kindred spirit with fellow educational leadership professor and Minnesota State Mankato alumnus, Aaron Peterson, Ed.D. Together Kaufman and Peterson have penned two articles on leadership that have been posted on StarTrek.com.
“He and I had been talking about this for months and months and months and I finally just decided, ‘OK, let’s just do it.’ And we did it,” Kaufman said.
The first article, Leadership from the Ready Room, was published in 2021 on June 16, a significant day of celebration in the Star Trek realm.
“They said, ‘Oh, we’re saving it for Picard Day.’ Well, that just made my month,” Kaufman said.
Their original article shared their classroom approach to communication, patience and relationship exemplified by Star Trek’s “grand captains.”
“They are leaders who have sat in the captain’s chair and demonstrated insights into leadership through both their strengths as well as compensating for their flaws,” the article states.
While Kaufman and Peterson admitted their classroom approach was viewed as “quirky” by some, other students were drawn into the leadership lore expressed by each captain. Overall, the Star Trek classroom example helped students interact on common ground–perhaps in true Star Trek fashion.
The wide acceptance of their first collaboration led Kaufman and Peterson to co-author a second article released by StarTrek.com in June 2022 entitled Leadership for a New World. For the second consecutive year, it was posted in honor of Picard Day.
This focus on leadership is seen through the eyes of Captain Christopher Pike, first introduced in the original 1966 Star Trek pilot and re-introduced in the latest Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. The article takes a deep dive into Pike’s character as it reviews precepts of logic and diversity in leadership training.
“Strange New Worlds has been so good. But as I’ve been watching, right, as someone who teaches and studies leadership, among other things. It’s like every episode is written with leadership in mind. And I don’t know if the writers are doing that intentionally or if it’s just incredibly good writing, but especially–no spoilers–especially the first and 10th last episode of Season One, leadership-wise are simply brilliant,” Kaufman said. “So I basically texted Aaron, my friend and colleague, and said, ‘OK, we have to write a second one about Pike because of what he’s demonstrating for more advanced leadership. And that’s what kind of brings us to the present.”
That present is a book in the works that offers a chapter each devoted to the leadership qualities of the seven Star Trek captains. While the leadership manual seeks to be a classroom text, it offers some engaging nuggets for the Trek fan.
“So sometime in 2023, we’ll actually have a full-fledged book coming out from an academic publisher, McFarland, using the grand captains of Star Trek with very much in mind applicability as a text for undergrad and grad classrooms,” Kaufman said. “There are Easter eggs hidden in every chapter where, if you know anything about Trek, you’re going to notice that we have winks and nods throughout the chapters.”
With a Star Trek franchise Kaufman said more published pieces may be in the future as lessons in leadership are prevalent throughout the nearly 60-year history of the Star Trek franchise.
With the Star Trek adventure–originally a five-year mission–now spanning nearly 60 years, Kaufman sees the final frontier capable of so many more lessons about life and leadership. That means more classroom experiences and more published pieces may be on the horizon.
“Once you’ve tasted the fruits of Star Trek, it’s hard to go back,” Kaufman said.