Freedom to…

We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and hence, and secure the Blessing of Liberty, for ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution, for the United State of America.

I have to admit that I just recited* that. Actually, I sang it, and I have to give credit Schoolhouse Rock. (If you are not sure what I am talking about, please reference the catchy tune.) I was reminded of the Preamble of our Constitution while I was reading The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin,  a phenomenal look at the power and influence of the highest court in our country.

What I am reminded of is that our founding fathers had amazing foresight, not for everything they included, but in the structure they created to make it amendable, with the realization that they could not account for everything our country would face.

I am reminded of this especially during an election year. I would challenge you, actually I would push you, to educate yourself: on the issues, on the candidate, and especially on the rights we have as citizens.I hope that you each seriously consider your freedom to think and your right to vote.

*Reference was made to the original text to correct for capitalization, punctuation, and correct word usage.

What would you do?

The #SAchat this past week was a great conversation about how we respect and celebrate various religious observances on our campus. Once our fearless transcribers are able to provide the transcript, I highly recommend revisiting the chat.

I know that discussions about religion have the potential to become contentious, or even mildly awkward. However, I think understanding the faith based grounding of much of our educational system is essential in determining how we move forward. Many of us seek to create environments that respect all faiths, but we cannot deny that many schools (K-12 primarily) will be closed tomorrow (although few will label it as a Good Friday closure), that our academic calendar was built around an agricultural calendar, and our semester breaks conveniently still fall around the Christmas holiday.

So, what would you change? If you were president of the university, if you were Arne Duncan, if you had the ability to make changes and offer solutions, what would you do? The problem is that not all religions are created equal in our American educational system, so what do you propose as part of the solution?

Please be part of this conversation. Comment, share, and listen to others ideas.

Next

When I first heard of the challenge to define a resolution for 2011 in one word (courteous of some of the great women of #sachat), I didn’t have to think very long. In fact, the word came to me as if I had already spoken it. Next.

And then I laughed. It sounded like such an impatient word, as though I am hurrying into something else without enjoying the now. Truth be told, I am actually a pretty laid back person. I find it easier to simplify than worry, but there is something about 2011 that reminds me of when President Bartlett, in The West Wing, tells Josh Lyman, “When I ask ‘What’s Next?’ it means I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?”

2011 may very well be a year of great change for me and my family. In considering William Bridges’ model of Transitions, I may very well see many Endings, Neutral Zones, and Beginnings during this year. That excites me. That gives me energy that I haven’t felt in a while, toward my profession and myself.

I am going to enjoy revisiting this post in December 2011 and check my accuracy. Am I in the same role? Am I returning to my hobbies after becoming Dr. Rudolph? Am I even living in the same state?

I am blessed to be sharing 2011 with an amazing partner, who is ready to see what’s next with me. It is because of Brent and my two beautiful girls that I am facing the next with excitement, not trepidation. Next is possibility and potential. Next is what could be, and 2011 could be amazing!

Obliquity of the Ecliptic

This morning, while I was transcribing, my five year old came into the front room and began looking through the bookshelves, asking me if we had an encyclopedia. With a quick flash memory of the blue volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica we had when I was a kid, I responded, “No, what do you need?” She responded, “I want to ask some tough questions.”

I should pause to say that I was quickly struck by the fact that she knew that encyclopedias can potentially hold answers for those tough questions, since we obviously don’t have any volumes in our house (go school!). Further, I am always floored when my children so readily display their willingness to learn.

So, I asked, “what tough question would you like to ask?” as I called up Google on my computer (I didn’t feel the need for a ERIC or ProQuest search for her query, at least not yet). She stated she wanted to know, “How do planets get on their axis?” With a nod to her tough question, I typed it in, and we discovered together that the Earth’s axis is called the obliquity of the ecliptic and it is currently 23.5 degrees (since after all, it does vary from 22.1° and 24.5° with a 42,000 year period). Now, we did not answer the “how” to her question, since she didn’t seem interested in astro-physics (thankfully) or further dissecting the big bang theory, but she was impressed about learning something new, a challenge we pose to her daily.

Armed with her newfound knowledge, she bounced away to play with her Groovy Girls, and I reflected on the incoming first year students with whom I am currently spending my days, acclimating them to campus and helping them enroll in courses. I just wrapped up the first two of six weeks of orientation by meeting with a group of prospective students who are heading into their senior year in high school. With both of those populations, I kiddingly referred to academic advisors as their GPS during their time here, to help plan the trips, to avoid construction, and possibly to get roadside assistance (yes, I know that’s more in the AAA realm, but go with me). I relieve them from the pressure of knowing the entire university in their short four years, and that all they need to know is that they can ask for help, from many different people, but always from us, as academic advisors.

There is a constant discussion about this next generation of college students: Are they more involved? Less empathic? Are they more choosy about schools and careers or less picky? And the ever present discussions of sense of entitlement. I am not a huge participant in much of this debate, simply because I believe that these students are different. They are not the same generation that went to school with me, pre-email and pre-cell phones (except for Zack Morris’ behemoth). However, there is one thing that is as true today as it ever was: they are new here. And if they take just one thing from me, from orientation until I hand them their name card at commencement, it is to ask the question, tough or otherwise.

For obvious reasons, I advise asking to make the soon-to-be college students’ lives easier and more satisfying while they are in school. Too often, we see students try to go it alone until the situation is almost past the point of salvageable (that’s fodder for a whole different post, best exemplified in my two year old’s “I do it” mentality). I meet with students who have been recessed from the institution and with students who stop by my office to ask where the nearest computer lab is. In both instances, the ask-for-help model is pivotal. In addition to their answers being found, often I have the opportunity to learn from their question, for which I am always grateful. Just as today I learned the definition of obliquity of the ecliptic, which as @KellyLux pointed out, will make me quite impressive in casual conversation.

Mom's Council

It started when I was pregnant with my second child. Two other advisors from my office were pregnant with their firsts. Additionally, three other advisors across the campus (two of whom were in my Ph.D. program) were also pregnant. And after careful chemical studies, no, there wasn’t anything in the water.

In sharing advice and baby product reviews with the two new moms-to-be, I realized it would be great to connect the first time moms with those of us returning for a second, and in one case, fourth trip to the land of Lamaze. So, we began to go to lunch together once a month. Imagine the waitress’ fright upon seeing the table of five of us on one such monthly gathering, ranging from 5-9 months pregnant. I believe that other tables questioned if they should eat the same food as we were.

The group has evolved. At times, lunch includes a baby in a carrier. Sometimes we are 7 strong; other times, it’s just a trio. We have a private Facebook group. We’ve gained friends of friends. We’ve had additional pregnancies, including a fifth for one. We talk about our kids. We talk about our jobs. We talk about our Ph.D. research. We talk about house refinancing. It doesn’t matter really. We just talk.

Having four brothers, I was very slow to recognize any need I might have for a group of female friends. I had mixed groups of close friends all through high school and college, despite my affiliation with a sorority. However, I was now able to connect people: women who didn’t have sisters or moms nearby, who are trying to juggle similar demands, who didn’t have time for girls’ night, but mom’s lunch worked perfectly. And here is what I have gained from our Mom’s Council:

1. Yes, we talk about diapers and teething. I know that non-parents can tire quickly of conversations about developmental stages and potty training. Frankly, so can parents. However, having a safe environment to question who you are as a mom and brainstorm what is and is not working, is just as valuable as being a student affairs professional and having a peer group or supervisor who allows you a safe space to make mistakes.

2. No obligations is the best support group. We get together once a month, second Monday of the month, to be exact. If you can make it, great. If you cannot make it, we will see you next month. Because the attendance is different every month, it means that cliques haven’t formed, and we just enjoy the company of whomever is present.

3. Sometimes an hour is all you need. Many of us in student affairs, kids or not, don’t have enough hours in the day to catch up with all of our friends, or network like we want to. Sometimes, even planning lunch turns into a major calendar upheaval. Using an hour at lunch with friends, rather than sitting at your desk and answering yet more email, can be the most therapeutic and productive time of your week.

4. It takes all kinds. We probably represent every stereotype of mothers, and every stereotype of student affairs professionals. But we also represent different economic backgrounds, different religious affiliations, and different political views (ok, so this last one isn’t completely true, but we at least represent a spectrum, albeit short, of political views). But when you need someone to balance you, there is nothing like having a person across the table provide, “Well, when that happened to me, I just…”

5. Laugh. A lot. On any monthly gathering, someone is having a rough time. Although we have come close, there has never been a lunch where all of us are at our wit’s end. We laugh at ourselves and at our kids’ antics. We laugh at the desire to have lunch at Grand Traverse Pie Co more often than not because we want to have a reason to eat pie.

You may connect with a group because you are all planning for your weddings, or studying for comps, or really like to golf. Whatever the connection, keep them. Most of us in Mom’s Council, we have a short history together (although one was my RA from 10 years ago). We don’t have the long list of memories from which to pull out a myriad of inside jokes. We have been doing this for a little over two years, and we love it. We look forward to it. We appreciate the comfortable place each month to sit down with no agenda and enjoy some time together.

When you give of yourself to your students on a regular basis, a simple lunch group can be just the sanctuary you need.