COE doctoral student enjoys ‘learning how others learn’

March 15, 2017

Roshun Steele Head ShotMajor Roshun Steele, commander of the Auburn University Army ROTC office, grew up in a family of educators. Having already achieved great success herself, thanks largely to the discipline that was part of her upbringing, she is continuing her studies through the College of Education’s doctoral program in Adult Education.

“I grew up with my two sisters and one brother in Jackson, Mississippi,” Steele said. “Our mother was a teacher, as were several of our aunts, so I have always had great respect and understanding for the role of teachers and the importance of schools to a community.”

Since Steele’s mother was a teacher, any parent-teacher conferences involved her father, who worked in aviation manufacturing. Steele said it was just understood that she and her siblings would do well in school and not cause any problems.

“He always said we needed to focus on ‘getting that sheepskin.’ And that’s what we did. One of my sisters is a lawyer and the other is a Ph.D in health administration. My brother is a Mechanical Engineer and, like me, an Army officer. We just learned early on that education was the right path.”

In spite of her own success, Steele is ever mindful that teachers are overworked and underappreciated.

“No matter how high you have been able to go in life, you know you owe that to a teacher,” she said. “I constantly think back on my best teachers who inspired me to work hard and not let them down. That was always very important to me.”

She continues to appreciate the role great teachers play in her life.

“I owe pursuing my doctorate at Auburn to professors Jim and Maria Witte,” Steele said. “When your professors see something great in you and only want the best, you take them at their word and do your best to not let them down. Whether you are with the Wittes, or in Jane Teel’s class, they foster a learning environment that is so captivating you leave wanting to learn more. I find myself thinking how I can get my students to have the same feeling of wanting to be lifelong learners.”

Steele came to Auburn as a Professor of Military Science, and her teaching duties are in addition to her role as ROTC Commander. She is the first African-American woman to command Auburn’s ROTC units that date back to at least the 1870s. Previously, she was in Ottawa as a Canadian Forces exchange officer.

“I knew almost nothing about Auburn when I came here, but it has been wonderful,” she said. “In the military, you move a lot but Auburn has been a great experience with really supportive people to include my husband and two sons. And the cadets here are outstanding. They are bright and motivated and come to our program from diverse academic backgrounds. I’d just say we have quality caliber students in our program, where we have very high standards of our own in addition to their major coursework. We have high expectations because we know first-hand what will be expected of them when they are commissioned as Second Lieutenants.”

Steele has her cadets do a Senior Project that forces them to communicate with others across the campus and community outside of their traditional comfort zones. She feels it is these soft skills that help her cadets thrive inside an organization like the U.S. Army, and that people skills simply cannot be taught from a book.

“That’s really why I enrolled in the Adult Ed doctoral program,” she said. “Learning to work with others, and understanding how others learn, is critical to what I do. I’ll always be teaching large groups of soldiers who must end up with the same outcome and objective. But I know they’ll all get there through their own way of learning. For me, this is exactly what military cohesion is all about.”

“It has always been part of my plan to earn a doctorate,” she concluded. “I didn’t know where or how, but I also believe that God blesses you in the right time and place, and that time and place for me is now, at Auburn. I’m with adult learners every day in my work here, so I use what I learn in my doctoral classes as I teach discipline and military science to the future leaders in the U.S. Army. It all just came together for me here at Auburn.”