Dr. Mathew Hubbs: “Every situation can be an opportunity to learn and grow”

Every situation can be an opportunity to learn and grow. With the gifts of hindsight and humility, I have been able to learn more about myself through reflection and examination. I gained perspective on situations that I allowed to frustrate me, and I was able to rise above that frustration when those situations came up […]

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Every situation can be an opportunity to learn and grow. With the gifts of hindsight and humility, I have been able to learn more about myself through reflection and examination. I gained perspective on situations that I allowed to frustrate me, and I was able to rise above that frustration when those situations came up again. There is a lot of time to think between meetings, meals, and activities, and I have done what I can to make use of that time to grow.


With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.

As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Mathew Hubbs.

Dr. Mathew Hubbs is the dean of academic operations at Westcliff University. He has been involved in higher education instruction and leadership for over a decade. Most recently, he led his university’s navigation through the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw Westcliff start its largest class ever in Fall 2020 as the institution continues its upward growth trajectory despite the challenges of COVID-19.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I am a Midwesterner by birth and was raised in a small town in rural Iowa. After graduating from Iowa State University with my degree in psychology, I hopped around a bit before settling down in Southern California, where I met my wife. I got my Master’s and a Doctorate in counseling, and while that was my planned career path, I got bit by the education bug when I started teaching undergraduate classes during my doctoral program. I transitioned to teaching and then education administration full-time as my wife and I grew our family to include three wonderful children.

During my years as a counselor, I worked with a lot of young people who were facing extraordinary challenges, both short- and long-term, and helped them find success in their life. I gravitated towards my current field as I consider education to be the most significant vehicle for social mobility. I set forth a personal goal to be part of the leadership of an institution that provides people access and means to advance their station in life through quality education.

Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?

I have started to go back into the office more in the past month or so, but since March 2020, I have worked from home almost exclusively. The biggest adjustment for me has been to maintain a work schedule that enables collaboration with colleagues while not filling up the calendar with meetings. When we were together on campus, everyone worked similar hours in relatively close proximity to one another. We could hold impromptu meetings by visiting one another’s offices for discussions on our various projects or tasks. Within a month of moving to remote work, my calendar went from about 40 percent full of meetings to 90 percent. I think we all knew we needed to stay connected, and we weren’t quite sure how to do that when we weren’t across the hall from each other.

At the onset of the pandemic, new meeting invitations in our online calendars defaulted to an hour, and it seemed everyone was scheduling them for an hour no matter what the meeting. We would fill the time whether we needed to or not because that was the meeting schedule. So, after struggling with this for a few months, I approached our director of technology and requested a small change to our calendars so that new meetings defaulted to 30 minutes and required an adjustment if they were going to be longer. This small nudge helped my calendar in a noticeable way, and wouldn’t you know it, 30 minutes ended up being enough time for most meetings.

What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?

I miss my kids not being able to go to school. I applaud our school districts for their efforts to adjust to these conditions and still do quality work, and I know that my children are learning as I see it in them every day. I also know the value of them socializing with their peers and their teacher in a classroom, on the playground, etc., something they missed out on for most of the year.

Since the onset of the pandemic, it feels like every surface in our house has been converted to a workspace for work and school. The kids have gotten a bit stir crazy, understandably, which makes them louder and more rambunctious. Even when I would work from home pre-COVID, I did not have the challenge of three children with pent-up energy looking for an outlet in the next room. I longed for a quiet house during the day to focus on my work.

The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?

I would like people to give more consideration to adopting universal healthcare. The distribution of the vaccine has been one of the greatest exercises in socialized medicine this country has seen in recent years. I consider it a strong argument for reevaluating our approach to healthcare and adopting the philosophy that every other developed nation has regarding its citizens’ access to medical services.

My hope is that we look back at COVID-19 as the tipping point for the adoption of universal healthcare in the U.S. I am not optimistic this will happen right away, and I find it saddening how many more people will die or go into bankruptcy because of our current system. I understand some of the arguments against universal healthcare; I just haven’t heard anything that is worse than what many Americans face now. The truth is, we are capable of making it work. We just have to want to.

What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.

People adapt to technology with different attitudes and at different paces. When left to their own devices, some people resist change brought on by technology for a variety of reasons. However, when these changes are thrust upon us with limited or no options, those reasons can fall to the wayside pretty quickly.

Online education is a great example. We have students who would never have considered taking an online class. Most would say that they need to be in a classroom with a person in front of them to learn. I saw a lot of students that I thought lacked confidence in their ability to get the same out of the classroom experience if it were facilitated remotely. When the in-classroom option was taken away, some did struggle, but many thrived. Our success rates didn’t budge; in fact, our student satisfaction rates improved.

Technology was always going to win out, particularly now that it’s being heavily integrated into the classroom at such a young age. Online education was the future, it was just going to take time for people to accept it. The pandemic served as an accelerant to that acceptance as people who never would have engaged in online learning voluntarily were forced into it, and many found that they quite enjoyed the flexibility it provided them without sacrificing any quality in their learning.

How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?

I prioritized a comfortable workspace at home, one that allowed me most of the accessories I had in the office; spent more time outdoors with my family; committed to completing some projects around the house with my wife that we had been putting off; all of which helped create a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment when we could not go out and do more. I got to know my neighbors more, and I grilled out a lot.

Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?

My greatest pain has come through my children not being able to spend time with their friends. They know what is going on, but they also know that it isn’t fair. I’ve had to hold them while they cry because they’re tired of being apart from people who mean so much to them. On top of that, we moved cities during the pandemic, and they were not able to go to school every day and make new friends, so that became even harder.

Fortunately, they have been able to bond more among the three of them and with my wife and me, but we have all fought more too. As kids, their options have been limited, and we won’t let them be on their electronics all day nor can we entertain them as much as we might want to because we have our own obligations. So, they get frustrated, and that is further compounded by missing out on the time they would normally be with their friends.

Coping occurred in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it was breaking down and letting them be on tablets for far too long. Other times, it was finding something ridiculous and fun to do that we would not have otherwise. We connected them with their old friends over a couple of different digital platforms, and once things started opening up, we made it a point to seek out social groups and activities so they could make new friends. Kids truly are resilient, and they will get through this, but it has not been easy for them or for us to watch them go through it.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Every situation can be an opportunity to learn and grow. With the gifts of hindsight and humility, I have been able to learn more about myself through reflection and examination. I gained perspective on situations that I allowed to frustrate me, and I was able to rise above that frustration when those situations came up again. There is a lot of time to think between meetings, meals, and activities, and I have done what I can to make use of that time to grow.
  2. Casual interactions are enriching. I make between five and ten phone calls a week for which I don’t want anything from the other person. I never did this before the pandemic, but I find that I need it now. Whoever I call, we always end up talking about meaningful things, just like we did when we would stop by each other’s offices at work or see each other at social functions. Now, I just have to make it a point to make those calls.
  3. Adaptability is a key to happiness. Disruption is a constant in the modern world, and the scope of disruption caused by the pandemic is more significant than just about anything we have seen. Change can evoke a myriad of different responses. I find that I am happiest when I roll with those changes and get on board as quickly as I can. Consequently, my biggest pain points are when I resist change.
  4. The hassle of going places is worth it… sometimes. As someone who doesn’t care much for the process of going out and getting back home, I have enjoyed the absence of those processes for most of the past year. However, I do miss what happens between getting there and leaving, and I would have loved to fight traffic or a crowd on occasion to go to a concert or take my kids to a theme park. I even longed for the commute to work at times just to be in person during an important meeting that probably wasn’t as worthwhile because it had to be done remotely. I’m not looking forward to doing it every day by any means, but when it’s worth it, it’s definitely worth it.
  5. The mute button disappears when you need it most. As a Zoom user for several years before the pandemic, I never could have predicted I would be on it this much. I have seen many people adapt to its use with varying levels of success, and the degree to which this tool has redefined our social interactions is just incredible. Yet still, after a full year, we all have our moments of awkwardness, forgetfulness, and dumbfoundedness in our use of technology for communication and engagement with one another. I do hope I am never told “you’re on mute” ever again, but I am pretty sure that the next instance of that happening is just around the corner.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman

As my organization moved quickly to adapt to the pandemic and still provide a quality education for our students, I saw so many of my colleagues putting in the long hours, making tough decisions and overcoming extensive challenges to serve our students well. None sought special recognition for their efforts, and their focus never wavered from the mission. This experience has made me value my home at Westcliff and reinforced my own commitment to this university.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

During the pandemic, the ASU+GSV Summit was made virtual and accessible to the public. I absolutely loved the Q&A that Scott Galloway participated in, and I have been following him more closely online since then. I appreciated his perspective on several key issues that are important to me, and I would love to get together and interact with him over an omelet or a turkey sandwich.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me online at https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthubbs/ or at @hubbsdr on Twitter.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.


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