James L. Doti,
PhD, has spent the bulk of his career at Chapman University in Orange,
CA, serving as president for more than two decades, and before that
as an economics professor for nearly 20 years-with a short stint as
business school dean. In addition to writing two textbooks, hes
now making his mark-along with illustrator Lisa Mertins-in childrens
literature. They collaborated on the 2010 book, A Christmas Adventure
in Little Italy, as well as this years Jimmy Finds His
As children, both author and illustrator dealt with speech impediments,
and now look back and offer hope to others who face similar challenges.
Difficult undertakings only seem to sharpen Dotis edge: Hes
run more than 30 marathons, and climbed four of the worlds famed
Seven Summits. Hes also passionate about books and films, and
creates an annual summer reading and movie guide that the Chapman
community eagerly awaits. Here ABILITYs Lia Martirosyan
skypes with Doti about what fuels his fire.
Lia Martirosyan: What inspired you to write childrens books?
James Doti: A favorite part of my day is reading to my children and
grandchildren; I also enjoy writing. So I thought it would be fun
to do a childrens book, and my first one was very successful.
It was a simple, heartwarming story that hit a nerve with the public,
and inspired me to work on a second one. Ive loved childrens
books my whole life. I remember being moved when I read books like
Charlottes Web and Make Way for Ducklings. Later, as I advanced
to novels, my love of reading continued to grow. My life would be
much less enjoyable and rewarding if I didnt read, and I think
its important for our nations youth to develop a love
of reading, as well.
Martirosyan: How did you conceive of Jimmy Finds His Voice?
Doti: Its based on a true story about a communicative disorder;
I had a terrible speech impediment growing up. I wanted to write this
story because I remember being made fun of and bullied as a child.
But children may relate to the book because theyre shy or feel
too tall or too short or, in some way, feel they dont fit in.
An important question for young people is: How do you face and overcome
Martirosyan: Overcoming is about persistence.
Doti: Thats what life is all about. Jimmy Finds His Voice
is not about how I solved my speaking problem all at once, because
I didnt. But I did face my fears. It happened as a result of
being asked to take on a role in my first grade student play, The
Elves and the Shoemaker, based on one of the Grimm brothers
fairy tales. My teacher wanted me to play one of the elves. I was
amazed that she picked me given my speech problem, and then the kids
started screaming: Hes gonna ruin the play! Everybodys
gonna make fun of him! The plays gonna be terrible with Doti
in it! But the teacher said, Hell be fine. Hell
deal with it. Can you imagine how I felt having to perform publicly?
Martirosyan: Were you coached on how to pronounce your lines?
Doti: When I first performed one of my linesI have an
ideaI kept my hands to my sides. My mother instead suggested
that I use my hands, gesturing as I said the words. Though I still
mispronounced them, gesturing with my body and hands, and making facial
expressions made me a hit because I was the only one of the kids in
the play who was animated.
Martirosyan: Thats incredible. There are always ways to communicate,
express yourself, and bring out that lovely little personality.
Doti: Exactly. You know, theres something else I did in the
book that I thought was important for little kids, and that is for
them to get an idea of what a play is, what its like to act
in one, and experience the opportunity to be in the public eye and
be challenged by it. Its a terrifying experience until you get
used to it. So Jimmy Finds His Voice tells a story within a
story: The teacher tells the kids the story about The Elves and
the Shoemaker, and then theres the play. So I wanted the
children to see: Hey, heres the story, but you can also make
a play out of it. Each of the characters in the story could be an
actor on a stage. Little kids still havent had that experience,
so I wanted to communicate that, as well. And yet, an adult can enjoy
it as much as a child.
Martirosyan: Have you ever thought of producing your book in another
Doti: Maybe in the future; Im now reading screenplays and trying
to add to my skills so that I can adapt this story and create something
that might be performed by little kids or even performed here at Chapman.
Martirosyan: Tell me more about your speech impediment.
Doti: Sure. I didnt stutter, but I had difficulty pronouncing
words properly and as a result, people didnt understand me.
My family knew what I was saying, but I tended to be silent around
others because I was embarrassed. The storyline is the magic moment
when I was able to gain confidence and say, OK, Ive got
this problem, but I can deal with it. Fortunately, my speech
impediment slowly went away, and by the time I was 9 or 10 I could
Martirosyan: You come from an Italian family; what language did
they speak when you were growing up?
Doti: I was born in Chicago right after World War II, when the Italians
were on the wrong side of the war and were discriminated against.
My family wanted me and my two older brothers to grow up as Americans,
and turned away as much as possible from Italian culture, so my grandparents
spoke Italian to each other, but not to us, and yet I could understand
Martirosyan: Do you think having a speech impediment has made you
more compassionate towards others?
Doti: Absolutely. My experience made me want to help others by giving
them confidence, and this book is a way of doing that. My mother and
teacher would tell me, This is a minor issue; dont make
a big deal out of it. But if youre the person whose being
bullied, laughed at or feeling left out because you cant ask
someone for a date, it feels like a major issue. I tried to include
that aspect of the experience in the book. Im a somewhat competitive
person, so having a speech problem made me challenge myself in that
area. After being in the play and feeling the satisfaction of knowing
I could be onstage and do okay, I was encouraged to join the high
school debate team and do more public speaking, rather than avoid
it. That turned out to be important, given that Im often called
on to speak in my position as president of Chapman. When you work
harder at something, you become better. When youre able to succeed
at something difficult, it makes you feel good. (laughs) I
believe that I ended up becoming an econometrician- kind of mathematical
economics-because of some of the early problems I had understanding
mathematics; I was slower than other kids, so I worked harder at that,
Martirosyan: Its up to you to push forward.
Doti: Yes. You know, this makes me think of The Last Lecture, a book
written by the late computer science professor, Randy Pausch, when
he was dying of pancreatic cancer. His last lecture dealt with his
outlook on life, and the fact that we all confront walls, but they
are there to be overcome.
Martirosyan: When you fall, what matters is getting up.
Doti: Exactly. Life is filled with challenges; to survive we have
to come up with a defense mechanism to get through them.
Martirosyan: And face your fears. Did you act in any more plays
after that first one?
Doti: Not exactly, but being on the debate team and becoming more
public represented a new role. And now, as president of Chapman, I
always dance or sing in our annual American Celebration event. But
that all came out of the experience of performing in The Elves
and the Shoemaker.
Martirosyan: Have you been invited to join the Screen Actors Guild
Doti: No, but I also dont have to pay union dues. (laughs)
Martirosyan: Do you have an audiobook of your new project?
Doti: Yes, I think the publisher is already making an audiobook.
Martirosyan: Thats nice. If you need any voice characters, Im
here. (laughter) What drew you to Chapman?
Doti: I was drawn to Chapman because I love teaching. When I started
here, I wasnt president, I was a professor of economics, and
I wanted to teach at a school where the classes were smaller and you
could get to know the students and have an impact. When you asked
if I began to empathize with other people as a result of my experience,
I did; I realized that you couldnt make a significant impact
by teaching 300 kids in a lecture hall. You can only do it when you
have, like, 10, 20, or 25 students, and get to know them. And thats
part of the intrinsic satisfaction of teaching, and having that one-on-one
student-faculty relationship. Chapman had that. When I was getting
my doctorate at the University of Chicago, many of my professors were
Nobel Laureates who wanted me to teach at a large, research-oriented
school. But if I did that, I would have spent most of my time doing
research and teaching huge classes, when I really preferred to teach,
and particularly smaller classes. So I was one of the few graduates
in my class who received a doctorate in economics and went on to a
Martirosyan: Did Chapman find you, or did you find it?
Doti: I found Chapman. I was living in Chicago at the time and, as
a young boy, we had gone to California on vacation, and we never took
vacations. My dad was a shoe salesman, who had four kids and not that
much money. But we had friends who moved out here, and we were able
to take the train out and stay with them. And I just fell in love
with California. So I was looking at a school here.
Martirosyan: How long have youve been at Chapman?
Doti: Almost 40 years-21 as president. Im one of the longer-serving
presidents in higher education.
Martirosyan: How do you work up to something like that?
Doti: Good question.
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Last Minute 2013 Resolutions; Haitian Leader Changing
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