Focus on Faculty Profiles

Darris Means

Darris Means participated in the rural unConference. (Photo taken before March 2020)

Darris Means, an assistant professor in the College of Education, uses problem-based learning to help students gain confidence in their expertise and discover the rich gifts they have to offer the world.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned my B.A. in sociology and political science from Elon University. I earned my M.Ed. in counselor education with a focus in student affairs from Clemson University. I completed my Ph.D. at North Carolina State University in educational research and policy analysis with a concentration in higher education. I’m currently an assistant professor in the department of counseling and human development services in the College of Education. Specifically, I teach in the M.Ed. and Ph.D. programs in college student affairs administration, and I teach in the Ed.D. program in student affairs leadership.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I started working at University of Georgia in August 2014. I did a national faculty search and I was offered a faculty position at the University of Georgia. I am from the South (Spartanburg, South Carolina) and have a commitment to using my research, teaching and service to address educational inequity in the South, while recognizing the strengths and resiliency of people of color in the South. The University of Georgia is an ideal location to fulfill my research, teaching and service commitments.

What are your favorite courses and why?

My favorite course is “Organizational Development,” which is a hybrid course in the Ed.D. program in student affairs leadership. I enjoy the course because I am constantly learning alongside the students. In addition, I use problem-based learning in the class to enhance student learning. For example, the students in this course serve as consultants to a private college in South Carolina, and we work together to address an organizational issue identified by administrators at the college. I enjoy working alongside students as we address complex problems, and I appreciate the teamwork, critical thinking and perseverance that are required by problem-based learning projects. My goal is to use problem-based learning in most, if not all, of my courses each semester to enhance student learning.

What interests you about your field?

I am in the field of higher education and student affairs. The most exciting aspect of my field is there are enormous opportunities to shape higher education administration, policy and leadership, while developing and supporting students as leaders who will address the most pressing current and future issues in our society. There is also great responsibility with addressing issues of equity in higher education to ensure that higher education institutions can be sites for growth, development and learning for all students.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

I have two highlights. First, I was able to go on a study abroad experience to Ghana as a faculty assistant. Dr. Cynthia Dillard led the study abroad experience, and it was one of the most transformational experiences of my life. I learned a lot about myself as a faculty member and a black person living in the United States, and it was an opportunity to learn alongside faculty colleagues and students. Another favorite memory is teaching a seminar on college access and persistence during my first year at UGA for students in the M.Ed. college student affairs administration program. As a part of that course, I took students on a field trip to Atlanta to learn more about organizations working on college access challenges faced by first-generation and/or low-income students. I enjoyed spending the day learning alongside students during the field trip, while building a stronger faculty-student relationship with them.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

My research and scholarship focus on diversity, inclusion and equity in K-12 and higher education contexts. Specifically, my research and scholarship focus on marginalized student populations, including students of color; low-income students; first-generation college students; and black gay, bisexual, lesbian and queer students. We are often socialized to focus on the “deficits” of these student populations or what these student populations lack that may hinder their ability to achieve educational goals. My intent is to use an anti-deficit framework to focus on the strengths of these student populations, while addressing structural and systemic challenges. My research and scholarship push me to disrupt the deficit approach in my teaching and how I prepare students to work with marginalized student populations as they enter the field of student affairs and higher education as full-time educators.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

I hope students gain insight into how they can enhance their research, relationships with others, work environments and/or communities as a result of my classes. I also hope students leave my class more confident in their expertise and the rich gifts they have to offer the world.

Describe your ideal student.

I don’t have an ideal student. I do, however, appreciate a student who is intellectually curious and is interested in learning for the love of learning versus learning for the sake of a grade or to pass a test. Intellectually curious students inspire me to be a better faculty member.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

… the Georgia Museum of Art. It is a great resource on our campus, and the museum is a short distance from my office. I believe the arts can enhance our learning, so I aim to take each class to the art museum once to do a creative project that integrates art and course content and readings.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

… travel. My family did not have the financial resources for us to travel abroad or for me to consider studying abroad as a college student. My first time abroad was three years ago. Since that time, I have developed a strong passion to travel abroad and learn as much as possible.

Community/civic involvement includes….

I am involved in a few local efforts to address issues related to college access for youth in Athens, including the College Factory and Family Connection-Communities in Schools of Athens. In addition, I work alongside high school students in North Carolina every summer through the Elon Academy to discuss and address issues related to social justice.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

My favorite academic book is “Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology.”E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson are the editors of the book. I study the collegiate experiences and identify development of black lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer students in higher education, so the book has been the foundation of my work as a scholar.

Proudest moment at UGA?

I am a 2015-2017 Lilly Teaching Fellow. I have enjoyed the opportunity to build collaborative relationships across campus while enhancing my approach to teaching. In addition, I am participating in the grant development program with the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research, and it has been an opportunity to build my skillset as a grant writer. I believe both programs have positioned me to be a stronger researcher and teacher.