New students at ETSU may have heard the name Chris Dula floating around campus. For those who don’t know who he is, Chris Dula is a beloved psychology professor who has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer. Despite his extremely busy schedule between classes and medical appointments, I had the opportunity to interview him. This is what he had to say.
Q: How would you describe yourself?
A: Having essentially rejected the unearned privileges I had which I didn’t understand early in life, I degenerated into juvenile delinquency and alcoholism, and generally made a mess of my life. Yet with parental support, I left the construction industry and skeptically entered community college in my early mid-20s and began a complete turnaround that culminated in my total abstinence from alcohol, improved parenting practices, better control over less-than-desirable aspects of my personality, and a transformation professionally, such that I ultimately became a university professor. Having gone from degeneracy to a positive path in life, I hoped not only to provide the general reader an entertaining story, but also hoped to reach out with my story broadly, such that others who’ve veered off a good path in their own lives might take some inspiration in the fact that everyone has the potential to change and chart a more positive course in life.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue psychology?
A: I picked it up as a second major in my senior year, after having almost completed my bachelor’s in philosophy, realizing that I wanted to do some kind of work to help people and not knowing what I could do with a philosophy degree in terms of a career.
Q: What was your college journey like?
A: It was a difficult road. I had a wife and two kids and worked at least 20 hours per week, while also taking full-time course loads and frequently taking course overloads, and going to school throughout summers as well.
Q: What do you think makes you so popular among the students?
A: I treat them all with respect, and I designed my course with their success in mind.
Q: Tell me about your diagnosis. How has your life changed since then?
A: I have brain cancer. It is being treated with radiation and chemotherapy. I also had two emergency brain surgeries in the process of discovering the tumor. I’ve had to recover from the surgeries, which was a challenge, but I’ve done well. Basically, my life has changed in the sense that I’m more acutely aware that I want to live each day with a greater sense of gratitude, a greater sense of positive purpose, and also a greater sense of urgency, that we only have so many days, and we should live each one to the fullest.
Q: I’ve heard that you are trying to get on the “Ellen” show. What significance does the “Ellen” show have to you?
A: It was the case that in coming home from the hospital the first time, I had over 100 messages between email and Facebook, and I just couldn’t process it. Cognitively, my attention was impaired, so I couldn’t read them all, much less respond to them individually, so I decided the easiest way to let everyone know what was going on was to do a Facebook Live Video. I wrote a script to help me stay on track, and my best friend had suggested that my current story would be a great fit for the “Ellen” show. I agreed, and as I really like Ellen and what she does with her show, I just added that to the script. That original video has now been viewed over 72,000 times. The book was always planned as a charity project, where originally I planned to make back what it cost me to self-publish it, which was about $3,000, and where if I made anything more than that, I would give at least 50 percent of the money to worthy charities of my choice. Since the whole brain cancer issue has arisen and put me into a more public space, I figure if we can collectively work to get me on the “Ellen” show, or any other national media outlet, it just means I’ll sell more books, and thus be able to give away more money to charity. In fact, at this point, I’ve decided that after taxes … of all the money I actually net myself, which won’t be much, as the self-publishing company takes the vast majority of the royalties, I’ll give 75 percent of it to charity.
Q: What advice would you like to give to ETSU students?
A: Want this education with all your heart, work as hard as you can to obtain it with the highest GPA possible, and find your passion, and once you do, gain the requisite knowledge, skills, abilities and faculty references to ensure that you can make a career doing something you love for a living.
Professor Dula tries to keep everyone updated as best as he can through his personal Facebook account and other personal platforms. From the staff at the East Tennessean, we wish him the best of good fortune in any and everything he pursues. When sharing his posts, utilize the #GetDulaOnEllen to assist his efforts to be booked on the program.