When you hear how busy Saint Leo psychology adjunct professor Dr. William Ragan’s life is, you just might be amazed at how he can juggle everything.
Ragan, 47, is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in Gainesville, Fla. He and his wife, Sara, have been married for 16 years. They have three children – daughters Molly and Katherine and a son, Liam.
The family operates a 10-acre farm with 30 chickens and four goats. They also have a beagle and two cats. One feline is named Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island. The other cat is Sheldon Cooper and one of the goats is Penny, both of which are references to characters on The Big Bang Theory.
“We’ve seen every single episode of that show,” Ragan says with a chuckle.
Ragan is an alumnus of Benedictine High School in Cleveland, ironically the same type of institution as Saint Leo University with its Benedictine values. Ragan says that Benedictine instilled in him the idea of “laborare est orare,” or pray and labor, early in his life.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and history from Cleveland State University where he also lettered in fencing. He then attended Walden University for a master’s in general psychology and a doctoral degree in psychology with an organizational track and a specialization in consulting.
While working towards his degree, he had the chance to study closely under Dr. John P. Wilson, a professor who coined the term “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” It was Wilson who introduced him to two of only 50 aviation psychologists in the world at the time – Dr. John Schmidt and Dr. John Deaton. Ragan went on to study aviation human factors under the supervision of Schmidt and Deaton.
National Guard Service
Military service was almost a given for Ragan. Both of his maternal grandparents served in the Navy during World War II, his grandmother being among the first women to enlist in that branch. From 1999 through 2009, Ragan was an officer in the U.S. Army National Guard. He served at a number of military bases spanning from Arizona to Michigan to Florida in aviation and health service administration roles.
He talks about what it was like being an Army officer on September 11, 2001.
“It was a life-changing experience,” he says. “My life changed forever. Being in the military had a new meaning to it after that, and very suddenly as I recall. It really gave me a deeper dedication to help others and protect our national security.”
He explains how he became an overall better person thanks to the National Guard.
“The leadership and skills training were fantastic. I learned to be very efficient with my time through my military service.”
He worked as a rear detachment officer (RDO) during Hurricane Katrina and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Transitioning to the Classroom
Before teaching in higher education, Ragan worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press and held various roles within psychology and social services. He taught his first courses at Santa Fe Community College and the City College of Gainesville. His Saint Leo psychology teaching career began in early 2012, in addition to handling some human services and business classes.
“When I found out that Saint Leo was building an Education Center literally right in my backyard where I could see it from my bedroom, I printed out my resume and walked over to the center to express my interest in teaching at the university,” he explains. “Aside from Dr. Lara Ault, I’m guessing I was one of the first people to teach psychology at that location.”
Since joining Saint Leo, he has taught at its Gainesville Education Center, Ocala Education Center and Lake City Education Center. He also teaches courses in the online psychology graduate program. Despite being off of University Campus, he has felt very connected to the entire university community.
“I feel like I get lots of support as an adjunct. I get lots of e-mails from administration and support from the bookstore so that students get all of the materials they need.”
He has taught over 75 courses for the university. Those include classes on abnormal psychology, research methods, psychology of learning, learning and cognition, industrial and organizational psychology, social psychology, physiological psychology, current issues in psychology, psychology of motivation and emotion, group skills for human services, and lifespan development.
“At one point, I was a Drug Enforcement Administration-licensed researcher for several years, so I try to teach students how to conduct research where they carefully consider the effects of new medications and determine how effective current medications are and how they could be improved.”
Ragan’s specialty is psychology in the workplace.
“I’ve done lots of research on how people think, feel and behave in their jobs,” he says. “I’ve also looked at violence in the workplace from both disgruntled employees and customers. People typically spend over a third of their lives working, so this is such an important aspect to look at.”
Along with on-ground courses at the Education Centers, he has been part of the online learning process as well. Some of his courses are a blended hybrid format with both modalities.
“I’m a big advocate for online learning,” he says. “I think Saint Leo University is a world-class option in online learning. We really do provide an excellent learning platform. And I think today, both adult learners and traditional students are gaining an appreciation for the convenience of online degree programs.”
For classes held at Saint Leo’s Education Centers, Ragan takes an interactive approach.
“I use activities where students can get into groups and discuss relevant topics,” he says. “I like to tie current events into the discussions as well where we talk about how psychopathology applies to various crimes and behaviors.”
In terms of the courses he teaches in online degree programs, he is always attentive to what the students are doing.
“I find it’s important for me as the professor to stay engaged. The best teachers reply to every student’s discussion posts and comments. I also respond to e-mails and other questions in a prompt manner.”
His goal is to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed in each of his classes.
“It really hurts me if I see students who stop participating in class or drop a class. For me, it’s a personal failure. That’s why I do everything I can to keep students engaged and interested in the coursework.”
Plus, he’s constantly evaluating his performance as an instructor.
“Planning the next lesson is extremely exciting to me,” he says. “I think about what I’ve taught and what else I can add to the next discussion. I am always eager to share more knowledge and also learn from my students.”
Ragan has published several academic textbooks on psychology. One title, Lag: A Look at Circadian Desynchronization, dives into the psychology of aviation.
“This book explores how travel affects pilots who fly through multiple time zones,” he explains. “Transitions can definitely change human performance. Airplanes fly faster than they once did. We need research into the effects of that. Airlines have used that text as training for new pilots. And that book is stocked at a bookstore outside of the Air Force Academy in Colorado.”
Another title, Mental Health Treatment: New Approaches, explores how police, firefighters and medical professionals are affected by challenging scenarios in their jobs.
“That one looks at first aid, psychology and trauma response,” he says. “It delves into how first responders are impacted psychologically by being exposed to certain situations like car accidents or people who come into emergency rooms at hospitals and are in pretty bad shape. It is important because mental health treatment has grown rapidly in the past few years, employing evidence-based research to respond to timely problems.”
Teaching is only part of his typical workweek. He currently has a full-time role with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Gainesville. He is a human resources specialist and chairman of the employee engagement team.
“In addition to my primary HR duties, one of my big goals is maintaining workplace satisfaction,” he says. “Measuring employee satisfaction helps hospital leaders to develop actionable plans in response to changing trends in workplace culture.”
When not working, Ragan spends time with his family, taking photos, woodworking and volunteering. He is a member of the staff parish council, lector and member of the Knights of Columbus at St. Patrick’s Church in Gainesville. He’s also the chairman of the board for the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at the University of Florida, the same fraternity he was in as an undergrad and a chapter of which is also at Saint Leo University.
LEARN MORE: Check out Dr. Ragan’s profile on ResearchGate here.