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.

Checking In

The other week, I attended an in-service training for academic advisors on my campus. The session was held in the MSU Museum, a building that I had, sadly, never entered. Now, in my defense, this campus is frickin’ huge. There are multiple buildings I have never set foot in, but I am disappointed in myself for never visiting the Museum (which hosts a killer chocolate party benefit every year from what I hear).

When I walked up the steps, I got a chuckle out of the fact that the Museum has a Foursquare check-in sign on the front door. Historical artifacts and social networking weren’t an automatic for me, but I am glad to see forward thinking on the part of the museum. At that moment, I was disappointed that I couldn’t check in. I wasn’t on Foursquare. Despite encouragement from some of my early adopter students (see Nick Lucido) and more recently, my deal savvy staff member, Lauren Gaines, I had never seen the purpose of Foursquare. I was on Facebook, Twitter, loved every Google application I could get my hands on, and I was addicted to my smartphone. I had even read how campuses were using Foursquare or Facebook Places or Layar to introduce new and prospective students to campus – how fantastic!

However, I thought Foursquare was for my students and for those who wanted a free latte at Starbucks. I still wasn’t seeing the impetus for me to try it. However, the MSU Museum moment made me think of how we, as administrators and student affairs professionals, encourage our students to explore and try new things. And here I was, with a perfect opportunity to not only role model stepping outside my comfort zone, but also promote my own campus.

So, I am on Foursquare, and I will head back to the Museum to check in…as soon as I figure out how to check in. How are you using Foursquare to promote your campus to your own students?

I want to be like Nick

I love when students just blow me away, and fortunately, this happens to me regularly. When I think of my top five students that have (or will soon) turn the world on its ear, I see that they all have committed their time and energy to their passion. This is definitely the case with Nick.

Nick Lucido started with The State News the minute he dropped his suitcase in his residence hall room. He helped secure funding for the PRSSA chapter on our campus. He runs www.pr-start.com, has over 2000 followers on Twitter, and has guest blogged at Brazen Careerist. He’s national president of PRSSA, and he is finishing up a double major (Advertising and Public Policy) with a specialization (Public Relations). Yep, he’s one of those students.

Now, students change our lives for many different reasons. Some tug at our heartstrings because they have tackled amazing obstacles with grace. Some get in trouble so many times they have an assigned seat in your office (and know the best candy you have in your dish). Some are just impressive…living their passion right in front of your eyes. That would be Nick, and if he were just shaking up the PR world, it would be one thing. But he has pushed me to become a more connected, more engaged student affairs professional, and I haven’t had the chance to thank him.

The top five things I have learned from Nick:
1. Go with passion. You cannot meet Nick without walking away feeling more enthusiastic about things. Nick’s blog is about getting started in the PR industry, something you would expect from a seasoned professional, imparting wisdom on the young. Nick is sharing it as he’s gaining it. He has much to teach other students and other professionals, and he is not wasting anytime in doing so.
2. Get connected. Honestly, I first got on Twitter because of Nick (well, and two of my brothers). I had no idea what it was for, and although not an early adopter myself, I am a quick study of the innovators. I was impressed by the conversations and quickness of information sharing occurring on Twitter from Nick, and thought I better look into this.
3. Learn from others. Nick unabashedly shares what he is learning from others. He highlights the great activities of PRSSA chapters across the country. His learning from internships is what we dream for students. He retweets and references others’ ideas and creativity.
4. Try it. Nick isn’t waiting around for someone to tell him how to be a PR professional. He’s developing his owns ideas, sharing them for review and collaboration, and inviting all of us in to see how he is evolving as a professional. He is one of the most honest examples of a lifelong learner I have encountered.
5. Make an impression. Nick’s positivity and professionalism have few peers. I would be hard pressed to find a faculty members or administrator in my college who doesn’t know who Nick is. When we need a panelist for any number of events, we ask Nick, and if he’s available, he has always been there. This year, I asked Nick for his take on the next generation of students leaders, and his recommendations were stars as well.

I don’t worry about Nick. I am inspired by him, and I am challenged by him. How do I create an environment that helps the best in students emerge? How do I support students to find their passion and define for themselves their profession? How do I continue to remove barriers for students like Nick to show us all how it should be done?

So, thanks, Nick. I appreciate learning from you, and I look forward to seeing what you do next.

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.

Us versus Them

For most of us in student affairs, we have either overheard or contributed to a conversation that expressed frustration with Them. They don’t get students. They only care about what goes on in their classroom. They don’t appreciate what we do. They never want to collaborate. You know Them. They are faculty.

While in residence life, I felt like faculty members were living on a different campus. I rarely crossed paths with them. Approaching them for programs in my building felt like climbing Mt. Everest. However, when I moved over into academic advising, housed within an academic college at my campus, I realized how misguided my assumptions were. Now, as I listen to peers discuss the need for collaboration between academic and student affairs, I am reminded about how integrated those functions are within my role now. I sit on curriculum committees to help faculty develop the most effective and logistically viable delivery of their content. I often have faculty pop their heads into my office more than the students who need me to help plans their lives. And although we may each interact at differing levels with faculty on campus, here are a few things I have learned:

1. Faculty care about students. And not just in terms of students completing homework or not complaining about grades. Most faculty are genuinely concerned that students have a valuable experience both inside and outside the classroom. They are training their future peers in their industry, but they also truly enjoy students “getting it.” You don’t have to look further than the growing body of literature on the scholarship of teaching.

2. We are not the only experts on students on campus. Although we may think we understand students better than most, faculty understand what’s important for students academic and professional development, as well as their personal development. Many have been working with students for a while, and they are pretty smart people. They may not know all the identity development theories, but then again, I don’t understand the difference between glycolysis and gluconeogenesis.

3. We can learn a lot from faculty. Yes, we can learn quite a bit from what they know about students, but we can also learn from faculty. Ask them about their research. Sit in on a class of theirs. If you have an interest in nutrition (possibly for a program in the halls?), sit in on a Food Science course. Next thing you know, you are inviting that faculty member to have dinner with your students in the caf.

4. That being said, Faculty don’t need to be put on a pedestal. I would be hard pressed to find faculty members who would be willing to return to the 1880s manner of faculty serving all roles to all students: teacher, house mother, career counselor, etc. Most faculty are content to stick with the teaching, and let us handle the resume reviews and late night duty calls.

5. Earn their respect as being experts in our own right. Rather than see the faculty/student affairs relationship as a competition for “who knows students better?” take the opportunity to demonstrate what you bring to the table. Faculty may often get consumed with their individual class or research, so know the campus incredibly well. Be there to offer resources that they may find helpful. Help them find solutions to what they would like to do in their class.

On a regular basis, I can be heard saying, “I am not an expert on [content area X], but I do know how we can make this work.” The more we do to develop an integrated approach to helping students through their experience, the more we will be seen as partners and collaborators. Faculty lead lives where their recognition and reward (read: promotion and tenure) is often dependent on their individual efforts. We live in a world where teambuilders are as regular as late night phone calls. The silos aren’t getting us anywhere, so look for the solutions that we can be a part of. Also, having a faculty member explain what gluconeogenesis is may prove helpful in a trivia game.