Sitting on a table in front of a class of around 30 UNT students, Dale Yeatts, Ph.D., discusses sociological theorists such as August Comte, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. While he cracks a few jokes and silly remarks, Yeatts engages his students in lively conversations about ideas such as Durkheim’s collective conscious.
With his many main interests, including gerontology—the study of aging, self managed work teams – self-organized teams who work under reduced or no supervision, healthcare and the environment, Yeatts has remained constantly busy writing three books, over 50 published articles and professional reports since he started his career in academia at UNT in 1988.
“I wanted to go into sociology because I wanted to be the president of the United States,” Yeatts laughed. “I’m serious. Sociology teaches you about society and if you want to work in a political office and make decisions, you want to understand how things work in society. I wanted to go into the political field and influence policies.”
While he may not have ended up in the political field because his interests changed, Yeatts’ goal is still to influence policies by doing research at UNT. Teaching two classes a semester, UNT allows Yeatts to work on his research in his many interests.
“Dr. Yeatts was an interesting professor,” junior Taylor Townsel, who took his sociological theory class, said. “I enjoyed how his class was set up. It was a lot of information to remember, but he made it so it wasn’t too stressful.”
Even though Yeatts works six to seven days a week teaching and working on research, he does manage to find time to spend time with his family. Originally from Virginia, he moved to Texas for his career in academia. Moving to Texas, however, separated him from his mom and sibling. Even though he loves Denton and UNT, he wishes he lived closer to them. He still has family in Texas, though. Yeatts and his wife take their two sons out to dinner regularly. They also regularly visit his mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who moved to Texas to be closer to them.
He enjoys going to the gym with his sons to exercise. He also enjoys playing tennis with friends. It is important to him that he stays physically active.
“I would generally describe him as mild, very friendly, outgoing, and warm. He is easy to talk to because he always is interested in what is being discussed,” said his son, Paul Yeatts. “He likes to ask questions about whomever he is conversing with.”
Focus Changes and Research
Originally, Yeatts’ focus was solely in gerontology. However, that changed when a graduate student approached him about self-managed work teams. He went to Texas Instruments in Dallas to study work teams and he became interested enough to write a grant proposal to find out what makes those teams do well. When the grant proposal received funding by a prestigious organization, he received a lot of love from UNT, he said.
In 1998, Yeatts published a book on the self-managed work teams he studied titled “High Performing Self-Managed Work Teams: A Comparison of Theory to Practice.” The book did well, Yeatts said. Many companies use the book to work with their employees and many business classes also use it in their classes.
Later combining his interests of work teams and gerontology, he wrote a book on work teams in nursing homes titled “Empowered Work Teams in Long-Term Care: Strategies for Improving Outcomes for Residents and Staff.”
“That book did not do well at all,” Yeatts said. “It was way too specific to nursing homes.”
Nevertheless, he continued to focus on work teams in nursing homes. His most recent article, published online in late 2015 by the Journal of Aging and Health but still waiting to be published in print. The article discussed what makes the workers in nursing homes feel empowered. Yeatts’ son, who is getting his Ph.D. at UNT, helped him with the statistics in the article.
“I enjoyed helping him, he was very receptive to my thoughts,” Paul said. “It is interesting that some faculty do not want to hear from doctoral students, even though the students may be better trained in current statistical practices.”
Concerns About the Environment
Currently, Yeatts has four articles under review and undergoing revisions. One of the articles is about a newer interest of his: the environment. The article is about the use of energy-efficient technologies throughout the life cycle of buildings.
“I’ve recently become really concerned about the environment in the last four years,” Yeatts said. “We are developing new technology and alternative resources and I want to know why people are not using them.”
His concern for the environment led Yeatts to China in 2011 on a Fulbright scholarship. In China, he studied how the environment affects physical and mental health.
After studying the effects of the environment on health, he moved on to the topic of alternative resources. He recently gave a presentation at the University of Pittsburg on a similar subject as his article. He discussed building life cycles and better alternative resources that they could be using to make the building more sustainable.
In May, Yeatts plans on giving another presentation with a Ph.D. student on the usage of alternative resources. The presentation will focus on how some cities, like Denton, are more progressive with using alternative resources, while other cities are not.
The Next Step
After Yeatts’ latest article gets published, he is ready to begin something new. He possibly wants to write a grant proposal on his current work on using alternative resources.
He is also tossing around the idea of writing a textbook on healthcare. His wife, Linda, works as a healthcare physician, therefore he hears about what goes on in that field. Another inspiration for the textbook is that he is teaching an undergraduate course on health and illness and a graduate course on health and aging. He believes the current textbooks in that area leave out important information, such as an in-depth look into the issues and controversies in healthcare. However, he has concerns that the competition for the textbook is too strong and the book will not do well, he said.
With whatever he does next, his overall goal is still to make a difference and change how things are.
“I want to make the world a better place,” Yeatts said. “That’s what sociologists do.”