Dr. Palmer Appointed Inaugural Lead of Instructional Innovation and Research

(Editor’s note of the following story: In preparing for interviews, I always offer subjects the choice of being questioned in person or virtually; Dr. Palmer opted for the latter. Besides being brilliant, Russ is good natured, laid-back, and possesses a great sense of humor, so, IN JEST, I threw a few light-hearted queries into his questionnaire – never thinking he would actually answer them. The joke was on me. Russ took me seriously, and his responses were fascinating! Who knew he jams with a harmonica?? Or that he reads multiple books at a time? The final question and his response, however, offered a wonderful lesson about the power of the PharmDawg family. In this season of love, giving, and spirit, I share with you his entire interview and his message about the value of mutual respect and admiration in our working community. Rest assured, Russ has answered his calling. He certainly offered me a “teaching moment.” Give yourself a gift and read his story to the end. -MY)

Dr. Russ Palmer has been appointed Academic Professional Associate and the inaugural Director of the Office of Instructional Innovation and Research at the College of Pharmacy, effective January 1. In his new role, Russ will serve on the CoP faculty. A 17-year College employee, Russ previously worked as an Instructional Designer in the IIT Department. In December of 2021, he earned his Ph.D. in Learning, Design, and Technology from the UGA College of Education, successfully defending his dissertation, “Constructing Problems in Context: Examining How Pharmacy Students Frame Clinical Problems.”

“The establishment of a new Office of Instructional Innovation and Research provides enormous opportunity for supporting faculty and students, and I am thrilled to have been selected to lead this effort,” said Russ. “When finishing a Ph.D., you prepare for a national job search to find the right home for your work, so it is a great privilege to continue my career right here at UGA Pharmacy in a role that aligns perfectly with my future goals.”

In a virtual interview, the Jasper, Georgia native provided some insight into his new role, his plans for the position, how the College has impacted his career path, and his jam after hours! Enjoy his interview below.

Explain, briefly what your new job will entail and why the role is important to the academic success of the College.

This position will report directly to our Associate Dean for Science Education, Research and Technology, Dr. Michael Bartlett. Dr. Bartlett has worked with Dean Smith, Dr. Michael Fulford, and other leaders of the college to establish a vision and foundation for a new Office of Instructional Innovation and Research, aligned with our current strategic plan. Broadly, my role as Director will focus on supporting the college’s instructional mission. Three key areas will capture a lot of the work: instructional design services, faculty development services, and research geared towards advancing innovative teaching and learning practices within the college and the broader pharmacy education community. At the intersection of those three areas is the most important goal: helping to provide the best possible learning experiences for our students. Over time, much has changed in what we know about the nature of learning. One of my goals for this new office is that it will function as a center of energy within the college for collaborations that harness recent progress in the learning sciences and forge new paths that contribute to our students’ academic success.

You will work with faculty extensively. How will they interact with your office?

Fortunately, I have somewhat of a head start on this after being here for 17+ years! One of the reasons I was initially attracted to this opportunity is that I know we have such highly talented faculty who are creative and committed to students’ success. I know this, because I see the tremendous work that occurs here every semester. The collaborative relationships that I have developed during the years are some of the most rewarding aspects of the job. The people here are amazing, and they have always made it possible to work on interesting, difficult challenges while still having a lot of fun. I look forward to continuing this as we focus on new and exciting challenges ahead.

What led you to your career path, and who have been your mentors along the way?

My career has evolved quite a bit over time, but broadly speaking, it has always been at the intersection of learning and technology. This profession has always been of interest to me because it draws from advances in a wide range of disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, cognitive science, and even anthropology—all for the purpose of designing and creating technologies and experiences to help people in their efforts to learn new things.

I am lucky to have had so many great professional mentors. Our former Associate Dean, Dr. George Francisco, has been a highly positive influence on me throughout the years. He is a model for how kindness and good humor can go miles in making an organization a place where people want to come to work every day. I also have learned an incredible amount from many members of our faculty and staff— too many to possibly name everyone (you all know who you are!). Dr. Beth Phillips has been instrumental in my development in pharmacy education and was extremely helpful as I shaped my dissertation research and future research trajectory. Dr. Mike Fulford has influenced my thinking on how to transform an initial vision into an achievable reality— Mike has been tremendously supportive in recognizing and promoting instructional design partnerships at the College. And Dr. Michael Bartlett’s strategic leadership and insights have helped make this new path possible.

Zodiac sign?


When you’re not at work, what’s your jam? 

Spending time with Talia (Russ’s significant other) and our two dogs—hiking, traveling, and everything that life brings our way. I’m a runner and would like to get back to longer distances, such as half marathons again—hopefully next year. Also, in my “former life” I was a musician and played in several long-running projects in Athens through the years (mostly blues harmonica). The great thing about harmonica is that almost no one really plays, so it is easy to find a place in a wide variety of projects. When I went back to graduate school, this hobby completely fell by the wayside, but recently I’ve been jamming some with friends again, which has been great.

Is your tree up yet and what’s your favorite decoration?

We don’t have one up yet this year, but we usually do! I think my favorite decorations are the candy canes — I have a bit of a sweet tooth! (Editor’s note:  Red gummy bears are his favorite!)

Favorite book, movie, and song?  

So hard to narrow these down. Jonathan Franzen has written some of my favorite novels—both The Corrections and Freedom are at the top of my list. My favorite movie is “I Heart Huckabee’s.” I’ve always loved it, because it manages to be both completely ridiculous and profound at the same time. It is definitely impossible to pick a single favorite song, but the one that comes to mind is “Hallelujah.”  Jeff Buckley’s cover version is the one that everyone knows, but it was originally written by Leonard Cohen. It is a masterpiece of songwriting, but interestingly, Cohen never really considered it finished.  He worked and re-worked it over decades.

What’s the real story on Katie Smith – tell all!! 

The real story on Katie Smith is that she is the most talented professional I know. She has extraordinary technical chops as a designer and media developer and she has the most caring, kind, and patient personality. I seriously strive to be more like Katie! The college is extremely fortunate to have her on the team.

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