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Convocation Address 2016
Dominik Guss headshot

C. Dominik Güss

Distinguished Professor

Professor Psychology

College of Arts and Sciences

It is an honor to be here today, to be nominated, selected and elected by the UNF faculty. It means a lot to me to have the support of my fellow faculty and to share this award with DP runner up Adel El Safty, with all the outstanding faculty here today who were honored, and to celebrate with all other UNF faculty, staff, and administrators who work ever so tirelessly. I am also grateful to the UNF Foundation which generously funds this award.

The best part about this speech is that I received the award already, so now I can say whatever I want.

Slide: Castle Neuschwanstein
I am Christoph Dominik Güss and I was born in Augsburg in the south of Germany in Bavaria, the most beautiful part of Germany, where the Alp Mountains are and where people still wear Lederhosen. Slide: Leather pants

Slide: G U E S S Originally my last name has an Umlaut “ü”, a “u” with two points on it pronounced as oooo and a sharp “s”. They both do not exist in English, so on my US passport and social security card my name becomes “Guess”. With this strange name I have had many strange experiences. One day we went to a restaurant and there was a long waiting line. The receptionist wrote down guests’ names so that people could be seated in order of arrival. She asked me for my last name. “Guess”. Already stressed and irritated, she looked at me sternly and said, “That’s not funny!” “I’m not joking, it is really G u e s s.” I replied.

Slide: Guess Watch Here in the US there exists a famous “Guess” company. Unfortunately, I am not the CEO, but I once bought a watch and brought it back to Germany. The Guess company is not well known there, so when a friend saw my watch he asked, “Wow, how did you do this? How did you put your name inside the watch?” I said, “This is a very expensive, made-to-order watch!”

I would not be here today, having such adventures with my new US name without the support and help of many people along the way – though time allows me to mention only a few of them. First my parents. Slide: Destroyed houses WWII They were children when WWII ended in 1945. They grew up in hardship, often with so little food to eat that they were happy for a bread crust that was several weeks old and hard as stone. They still remember American soldiers giving them chocolate bars and chewing gum. It felt like Christmas to them. Though neither went to college, they supported and encouraged all of their four children to get a college education.

Slide: Mami My mother, Barbara, as a typical German, instilled discipline, hard-work, and dedication in me. Now, with two boys of my own, I realize that having children is the most wonderful, and the hardest thing anyone can do.

I wonder what she is doing with me in this photo. Hypnosis? Perhaps that is why I went into psychology.
Just two weeks ago, when my mother called me on my birthday, she said: “I wish you were here in Germany. I hope when you retire you retire in Germany, and I am still alive then.” Then she started to cry and put the phone down. The distance from loved ones is one of the main difficulties faced by migrating families.

Slide: Papi My father, Helmut, keeps me down to earth and always shows me what the non-academic world thinks of university life, which also helps me connect to students who are first-generation college students. My father said when I was working on my PhD, “You are not really working, you are just sitting at the computer.” When I showed him, with great pride, one of my first published articles, he asked, “How much money are you paid for this?” When I replied, “Nothing,” he just shook his head. He is right, financially I am not so savy, in fact out of all 90 full professors at UNF, I am ranked the 85th near the bottom with regard to salary.

Slide: Tes, Lorenz, Johannes I especially would like to thank my wife, Tes. She is also an outstanding professor at UNF and we often spend our evenings together working on our laptops. Without her, I probably would not have come to the United States and could not have done my many research projects. Her thoughtful critique on my research and her love for her students is admirable, inspiring, and contagious. More importantly, she helps me every day to become a better person! And that is a lot of work!

I am also thankful to our boys Lorenz and Johannes who bring me back to reality when my mind is deep into theories and research. We are a family from three continents, I am German, my wife Filipina, and my boys Americans. Culture clash every day!

Slide: Bamberg Next to my family, I am thankful to my mentor, Prof. Dörner. While I was studying at the University of Bamberg, I worked in a wine and tea store in another city. The owner wanted to sell the store and asked me to take over. I almost did quit my studies, but I had Prof. Dörner who I looked up to, who deeply impressed me because of his work, character, passion, and knowledge. He is the smartest person I have ever met. Slide Dietrich Doerner Because of him, I pursued psychology. He is my model in my career. As a student, when I went to his office, he offered a cup of tea and to sit down and talk. Later on, I learned that he won the highest scientific award in Germany worth over a Million Deutsche Mark at that time! Yet, I did not see any of the numerous awards he had won on the walls in his office and he did not even talk about them. Such humility is rare in academia! He did not have authority because of being a “professor” or having a certain position or many awards. He earned respect through who he was.

Slide: Department I want to thank my many colleagues at UNF, for example the people at CIRT and in the psychology department – what a talented group of young faculty! – who supported me over the years, especially Iver, (Slide: Iver) who served as a model of an outstanding researcher for me. Iver nominated me for this award. He has always believed in me, mentored me, and always encouraged me to focus on research. He encourages me to think big - only the sky is the limit!

Slide: UNF 1 Night entrance I also would like to thank UNF as an institution. I have worked at universities in several countries and I am thankful for the many opportunities the American University system and UNF in particular, offers for its faculty. The opportunity to teach study abroad programs is just one of them. I am also thankful that members of the administration remained steadfast in their resolve to not let a single person be laid off during the difficult time of the recession. I am also thankful for working on such a beautiful campus.

Slide: UNF 2 Students There are many things we take for granted in our daily work lives, yet, they are so precious. Academic freedom for example. Recently I contacted a friend in another country and asked if he would be interested in collaborating on a cross-cultural research project. He said, “usually yes,” but he and the other faculty there had been advised not to conduct research in three areas: Sex, religion and politics. What else is left?! How fortunate we are to have the freedom to pursue our intellectual passions.

I am thankful that I was welcomed here as a foreigner – not something to take for granted nowadays. In 15 years of teaching in the United States, never did a student complain about my accent and mistakes in English. Initially, I always told students “You should” or “You have to…” before I learned a little bit about American kindness and now I say, “You might want to consider…”. Thank you students for your kindness and thank you for allowing me to learn from you!


I came to the United States in 2001 after working at universities in Germany and the Philippines and conducting research in Brazil and India. Slide: India My passion for travelling and other countries also became my main research focus. In what ways do people in different countries think and behave differently and in what ways are they similar? Understanding people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds is a first step towards tolerance and allows for peaceful living and growing together.

In one study we conducted in Brazil, India, Germany, the Philippines and the United States, we could show that cultural values influence our decision-making strategies and performance. Cultural values are what we are taught to be right or wrong and often we are not even aware of them. Slide: Values and problem solving, SEM Model Our data showed that people who have predominantly horizontal individualistic values, i.e. who consider themselves independent and who believe people are more equal and who do not believe in strong hierarchies, engaged in more proactive planning and more actions compared to people with other values – in a specific novel and dynamic situation. Depending on the problem situation, these attributes may or may not always be functional. In a specific new problem situation we then rely on these values. They guide our search for solutions. This model, the beautiful Structural Equation Model, affirms, that in a special way, our cultural background influences how we see and think about the world.

Such research led me to study conflicts between cultures. It started when I was at the Oxford Round Table and prepared a talk on “Suicide terrorism” at the conference on Global Security in 2006. How can it be that people are willing to die and kill innocent people for a political or religious cause? In our research we analyzed interviews with terrorists and terrorist leaders and developed a complex model of what drives such suicide bombers. Together with my student Vanessa, we presented our findings to senators and state representatives at the Posters on the Hill in Washington DC. It is a difficult topic that also affected me emotionally. I remember having nightmares for quite some time about it.

Faculty, Students

Slide: UNF Boathouse While reflecting for this speech, I realized that one of the key strength of UNF are its faculty. Of course, since I am a faculty member, my thoughts about UNF are biased. Modern management approaches are fully aware that the quality and happiness of employees are essential and key to success. That is why google, for example, hires the best people, pays the best salaries, and has free restaurants, sports amenities etc., on its campus!

Slide: UNF Students 1 Another key strength of UNF are its students. Faculty love to work and connect with students. Many of our students encounter difficulties in their lives. Many have to work while they are studying, many have health problems, and many are responsible for families. Just last semester, I had one student with serious health problems. She had to stay several weeks in the hospital. Yet, she was determined to graduate. Her father had also passed away recently. Her mother told her, “You have to quit studying because we do not have money and I am sick and cannot work.” Talk about tough! This was her last semester. But she took a loan and was able to graduate. I am so proud of her!

Slide: UNF Students 2 We faculty build relationships that go beyond the classroom and these relationships can stimulate the students to reach their full potential. Once I wrote a comment on a student paper: “You definitely will succeed when you go to graduate school.” The student told me he had never even thought about going to graduate school – no one in his family had ever gone to graduate school. But then he was able to get into a wonderful graduate program. If I did not have my mentor, Prof. Dörner, who I looked up to, I would not have continued my graduate education and I would not be here today. If we faculty can bring out the best in our students then we have fulfilled part of our vocation.


Slide: Gandhi and Dr. King Statues We have on the UNF campus statues of two of the most influential people of the 20th century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi also called Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although both lived in very different cultures, they have several things in common.

They are extraordinary examples that our lives can make a difference. They both realized key problems in society that they would not accept and tolerate. Both King and Gandhi stood up for what they believed was the right thing to do. They did not complain simply for the sake of complaining and their complaining was not about themselves.

It would have been easier for them to remain quiet. They probably would have gotten promoted and could have lived an easy life. Yet, they did not give up and as a result, both suffered negative consequences and were even put in jail. King was arrested 30 times and Gandhi spent a total of eight years in prison.

Many people might have called them troublemakers, saying, “You cannot tear down the town hall, even if you are right!” But they did not back down. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Mahatma Gandhi’s reply was: “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” They fought for a better world.

Here comes my little bit of speaking up for a better world:

Slide: UNF Lazarra For UNF to grow further, it needs to recognize and reward the role its staff and faculty play. We cannot become more competitive with the lowest average faculty and staff salaries in the state (see NEA Higher Education Advocate). According to our institutional research data, over the last 10 years, during a time of recession when it was very difficult to find jobs in academia, exactly 100 faculty left UNF – not including those who retired or who did not get tenure. Fluctuation reflects frustration and hiring new faculty is expensive for the organization. To retain faculty, we should also reward those who do outstanding work. It is my hope that the UFF UNF Union and the UNF Administration will realize that it is to the benefit for all faculty, for our students, and our university if outstanding faculty receive merit pay and are encouraged to stay. One merit pay in 10 years is not enough.

Slide: UNF Students I could envision a future at UNF where faculty are empowered with resources and opportunities to focus on their research. Conducting research is part of the core identity of a faculty member and conducting research enriches teaching. In the research process, students are heavily involved and it is not acceptable that students and faculty have to wait several months for IRB approval of a document before they can start conducting research. This delays the graduation of our students. We need now also the opportunity for some if not all faculty to teach two instead of three classes per semester to bring UNF on the international map regarding research, to be able to get more research grants, and to be able to mentor students’ research successfully. This experience is very valuable when students apply for jobs. I know I may just be dreaming or hoping, but don’t all good things start with dreams?

Slide: UNF Night view I still have other dreams about UNF. I hope that one day most full-time working staff members at UNF earn enough money to be able to survive well. Today some even need to live on food stamps. I hope that the salary disparity at UNF will narrow instead of widen. I hope that a custodian’s salary, for example, is not only about 5% of the highest paid salaries at UNF. I hope that faculty and the student body become more ethnically and internationally diverse. I hope that tuition is one day so low that everyone who wants to, can afford to go to college. I am sure that many of you have similar or other hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring all these dreams together to improve our university? Let’s think big!
Slide: Gandhi and Dr. King Statues Both Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi are remarkable examples that speaking up against injustice can change the world. Maintaining the status quo was not enough for them. They had the highest standards and were true to themselves. Because of them, the world changed and is a better place today.

I think it is not an accident that they are on our campus today. They are necessary reminders for each one of us, in our everyday, to find deep inspiration: to have a voice, to make space for change, and to profoundly care for another.

Slide: Flying osprey It is my hope that a little bit of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King continue to live in us, that we can all find passion and courage to speak up and act -----that is how we will be able to make UNF and the world we are in, a healthier, better, place.

Danke schön!
Thank you for your attention and thank you for joining me in celebration and in gratitude.