Demonstrating “The Confidence Effect” for Students

I just read The Confidence Effect-Every Woman’s Guide to the Attitude That Attracts Success by Grace Killelea. The book is an easy and quick read written in a conversational tone with anecdotes from the author’s own experiences as well as examples from other successful women. This book reinforces what other authors of leadership books have written about getting ahead. However, Killelea’s presentation style makes it easy to remember her advice with techniques such as the “4 Rs of Success” and the “IPO of Networking. ”

Though the target audience for the book is women, I recommend it for faculty, Student Affairs professionals, and all staff at colleges and universities. Why? Because while students say that their parents are their heroes, you are their role models. If you exhibit the twin goals for success that Killelea recommends—confidence and competence, students will be watching and some will be inspired to find their own paths to confidence and competence.

In addition to acquiring helpful tips on building confidence, there are some other gems that I think might resonate. For example, newer professionals in higher education or other careers often agonize over how long to remain in a position that might not be all that they would like it to be. As a role model for students and for your own success, you might want to heed Killelea’s advice:

The lane you’re traveling in right now might not be ideal; it may be full of challenges, potholes, conflicts, and politics, but the way out of it is through it. Don’t suddenly jump lanes and abandon the track before it’s appropriate to do so.

The author suggests questions to ask to help know when to switch lanes. These are the kinds of questions you will want to have handy when students seek your advice and counsel regarding their career goals. In building your own confidence through a track record of success, you can tell and show students how to move forward with confidence.

Students you don’t even know are watching you. You will want to show them The Confidence Effect.

The Martian: Important Messages in Film

What did you aspire to be when growing up and why? The power of entertainment to influence career choices is undeniable.

My favorite television show featured a doctor who always seemed the smartest person in the room because he knew why someone had died. While I wanted to keep people from dying, this show nonetheless influenced my desire to be a pathologist. Although I clearly did not become a pathologist, I still wanted to help people before the ultimate crisis.

I recently had the opportunity to see The Martian as a pre-release, and highly recommend it for students and educators. Opening in theaters October 2, this sci-fi movie directed by Ridley Scott is the best marketing piece I’ve seen to promote the study of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Playing an astronaut left behind after an expedition to Mars, Matt Damon’s character sums it up, saying, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

As a non-STEM viewer, I also gleaned a lot from the film. Here are some of the themes that resonated with me:

  • Being a leader means that you have to take responsibility for making hard decisions that have an impact on other people’s lives as well as your own;
  • Without critical thinking skills, one cannot create scenarios about the possible outcome of various courses of action or how to respond when the unexpected occurs;
  • Having confidence in the power of one’s own knowledge is the foundation needed to resolve to tackle and accomplish the seemingly impossible;
  • Keeping a sense of humor and music in our lives is the difference between desperation and hope;
  • Writing a journal is not just a record of what has happened, it is a secret companion and place for reflection;
  • Hacking can be good;
  • Never say that there is a “failure to communicate;” there is always a way;
  • What people think or public relations should never come before doing the right thing;
  • Be prepared for negative consequences sometimes when you do the right thing;
  • Math is really handy to know and could save your life;
  • Optimism and hard work are important values;
  • Millennials don’t care if you are the boss;
  • To what end are we working — purpose is key.

Movies do influence, and seeing someone in the movie with whom you can identify strengthens the connection and acceptance of the message. Women, Latinos (as), African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, and being Hindu and Baptist with black skin could all see reflections of self in a good light in this film.

An Observation on the Eulogy

Like many of you, I was moved and enlightened by President Obama’s eulogy for Congressman Clementa Pinkney. President Obama honored those who lost their lives, and he reminded us of this nation’s history of violence based on racial hatred and prejudice. His remarks about how the deaths of those in the church stimulated “big-hearted generosity” and “thoughtful introspection and self-examination” in South Carolina and in the United States was a needed balm for all who grieve. It helps to think that these lives were not lost in vain.

I was taken with the emotion and sincerity that the President showed throughout the eulogy. However, I think he made one comment that he did not mean for us to take literally. We all know that he spoke the truth when he said that we cannot expect a “transformation of race relations overnight,” but I think his emotions were outweighing his beliefs when he said that we do not need more conversation or more talk about race. The point he was making is that we need to act on our talk. Just having conversations is not enough.

Discussions, dialogue, and discourse are the coins of the realm in colleges and universities. These are our tools and we must use the tools we have. We cannot be part of helping to achieve the vision the President painted if we don’t have the talk with our students.

I think it’s the manner in which we have historically fashioned these conversations that doom them from the start. We can’t just invite students to come to a conversation on race and expect anyone to come except those who already have what President Obama called the “path to grace,” that he described as “an open mind” and “an open heart.” A lecture on the history of racial prejudice followed by discussions won’t change a mind or heart if students have not experienced personally or vicariously through peers what it means to be the object of discrimination or violence based on racial hatred. In a world de-sensitized by violence and tragedy, empathy does not come naturally.

If we, in Student Affairs, want to participate in President Obama’s vision of not avoiding uncomfortable truths, not judging people as bad because we disagree with them, not shouting but listening, and move towards “recognition of ourselves in others, we need to set the stage for the conversations by inviting students to have conversations that are firmly grounded in the academic program of the college.

To achieve this grounding in the academic program, Student Affairs partners with faculty to expand the definition of student success to include skills essential for the workplace and for good and humane citizenship. We must convince faculty that Student Affairs can help to deepen students’ learning of the content of their courses and programs by reinforcing the content in a structured group experience where students are also learning how to influence others and be influenced by others through the development of strong interpersonal communication skills.

If Student Affairs Had a Hammer – A Strategy to Teach Adaptive Skills

Whenever I have heard variations on the quote “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” it has been used in a pejorative sense indicating that one has few resources or ideas to address any issues with which one is confronted. No matter what the issue is, the same response is used. I want to use this hammer and nail saying in a positive manner.

In my most recent blog, I wrote about the need for Student Affairs to reorient our work to address a critical learning need for students. That critical need is for students to acquire experience in learning about and in practicing adaptive skills. I have been honing the list of skills for years, and the list I’ve settled on includes interpersonal communication skills; cultural intelligence; and social responsibility. After reviewing the many lists of competencies suggested as essential for college graduates over several years and asking for feedback from faculty, Student Affairs professionals, and students, I am confident that these categories of skills are sufficient to meet the career and personal needs of college graduates.

I am also confident that my strategy to help students acquire these competencies and skills will have a powerful impact when employed effectively. The hammer that I think can address many of the challenges we see among students and, frankly, the population in general, is the implementation of co-curriculum laboratories attached to or embedded in academic courses and programs. The co-curriculum laboratory is the hammer that can be applied to the nails/ challenges that prevent many colleges and universities from fully realizing their learning goals for students.

For example:

If students see themselves less open to having their views challenged than they think they ought to be, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be the hammer to help students practice interpersonal communications where controversial issues can be discussed with a skilled facilitator present.

When tragedies occur such as the mass murders at the church in South Carolina last week, there are many nails to pound such as racism, gun violence, and the call for civic engagement. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer because it provides a safe space for the discussions to occur.

When tragedies occur caused by natural disasters such as the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal, and students appear not to have empathy for the victims, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer to require discussions about other countries and cultures and to assign students to make deliberate connections with people beyond the home country in order to better understand the impact of a tragedy on people who are not within students’ inner circles.

If students have little experience in figuring things out on their own and appear not to have practical skills for functioning, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer to help students take incremental steps towards independence aided by peers who role model and encourage personal growth and maturity.

The concept of attaching co-curriculum laboratories to or embedding them into academic courses and programs can be an effective strategy to address many of the challenges we face in helping students acquire adaptive skills. Yes, co-curriculum laboratories are the hammers Student Affairs can use to reorient the focus of our work in effectively contributing to holistic and transformative learning for our students.


Ending my role as interim senior vice president for student services on June 5th.

Still smiling, still enthusiastic.

So grateful for the opportunity.

Once in a life-time experience.

Got to Be REL

This past week I had the privilege of speaking with a group of up-and-coming leaders who were participating in an institute for leadership development. When I was first asked to do this several months ago, I put it off because these kinds of requests always cause me some amount of anxiety.

I have to admit that I was surprised to see it pop up on my calendar this week because I thought that the roster of speakers would certainly fill all the spaces before they got around to asking me again. The planners had forethought and placed it on my calendar several months ago, so I had to do it.

It’s not that I did not want to participate, Unfortunately, I tend to think that people who talk as if they know what leadership is might be charlatans because who really knows what this fascinating concept is?

As I ruminated about why I didn’t want to speak on leadership, I found fault with the title the planners had given the talk: Building Relationships: A Leader’s Tool. Though I understood the point that was intended and the spirit of the title, the idea of relationships being a tool to be used seemed manipulative to me and insincere. Then I worried myself with the question, “What can I say about leadership that they have not already heard and that they don’t already know?”

To prove my thoughts in this question about what they already know, I asked them at the very beginning of my talk to share what they think leadership is, and sure enough, they all seemed to have some well-formed ideas about leadership.

After seeing the group and hearing their thoughts about leadership, I was truly happy to be with them. I told them that I had written articles, co-edited a book, served in several positions of leadership, and I had made numerous speeches on leadership. But, what I would share with them would not necessarily be based on anything I had done previously. I was going to talk with them about what I thought about leadership and relationships at this particular time on this day.

First, I told them what I think leadership is not:

  • Leadership is not a static condition or role.
  • Leadership is not something that you own and can put in your brief case or designer bag and take with you to the next place.

Leadership implies working with others, and together, you and the group form a tacit mutual agreement to work toward common goals.

When leadership occurs, there is an understanding among all in the group that each person in the group has a role that contributes to the attainment of something. The person who wants to be an effective leader must insure that everyone sees that the leader is also a worker bee whose responsibilities are often different and not better than or more important than any other workers. The group should easily see that all roles are important and all are valued for what they bring.

Sometimes the person who has the ultimate responsibility for goal attainment fears failure. Having the responsibility for the accomplishments of the entire group can make one who wants to be the leader anxious and afraid.

When I have felt this way, I behave in ways that I always regret, and wish I could take back those moments, but the moments are like feathers in the wind and gone forever. Unable to have a “do over,” I vow to do better and, for me, doing better proves the old tried and true adage that we have all heard. Everything will be all right, “Just be yourself.”

In other words, be authentic. I think that being authentic is the one way of being that one can control, count on, and take to every situation. Being authentic often allows one to hold the magic orb of being a leader. The orb is heavy. It is beautiful in its own way; it’s a painstaking fine work of art, and it’s extremely complex. The orb demands a lot from the one who holds it, and it does not promise that it will always work its magic in your favor. Because leadership depends on the cooperation of others and relationships, the orb of leadership can be finicky, fleeting, and short-lived.

So how do I retain authenticity and how does it help me build relationships that are invaluable in supporting my desire and efforts to be a leader? In thinking about my experiences and how I want to be everyday with the people with whom I work, I have created this mnemonic for ease in remembering. Being authentic is being REL (real):

  • R is for the respect I strive to demonstrate by appreciating what everyone brings to our efforts;
  • E is for empathy as I put myself in the place of others in our group and treat them as I would want to be treated; and
  • L is for love. Yes, leaders who want to be successful have to love the team and be there for each of them.

Being REL (real) builds relationships. Relationships can be the coin of the realm in effective leadership. Being REL with my groups has tended to result in relationships that allow me to hold the orb of leadership in a number of administrative jobs. I am grateful for those fleeting and short-lived moments.

Finding the right time…

It was a decision that had to be made.  In my comment following this excellent presentation, do I only reference the parts of what I heard about the vision for IT at our College or do I also attempt to help everyone who is not in student affairs understand that IT can also play an important role in improving the educational experience of students by supporting the work of counselors and advisers who want to use technology to be more efficient and effective in their work with students?

Why did I have this dilemma?

The CIO made a most impressive presentation introducing concepts of the hype cycle, the trough of disillusionment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity. He talked about the history of technology, where the College has been in its use of technology, where we are going, and various faculty and student initiatives in regard to instruction.

The bottom line is I loved the presentation! Yet, something really bothered me.

During the presentation, the CIO was quite specific in outlining how what he was proposing would work with the “academic areas.” Following the presentation when the administrators were making comments, the academic vice president framed his remarks with the words “on the academic side.”

I was surprised to hear this clear delineation of what was academic and, by inference, what was not, especially at a critical time when the entire College has been restructured to insure that advising is done by everyone to some degree.

To insure consistency, accuracy, continuity and a developmental model for advising, counseling faculty in student services are encouraging the use of a system where advisers are encouraged to place notes about their work with students so if a student changes a major or decides on a major after being advised as an undecided students, the next adviser has some prior information about the student.

The system also allows students to select the same adviser by scheduling their own appointments. The system will insure that students are on a pathway towards a degree or certificate, and data can be collected from the system to gauge the impact of interventions to help students succeed in their courses.

A wealth of information can be collected and shared among students, faculty, and administrators with a system that is technology dependent. Why the CIO and the vice president for academic affairs found it necessary to carve out the “academic side” in talking about the future of technology at the College was a puzzlement to me.

I chose not to attempt to enlighten my colleagues at this presentation because there is a time and place for everything, and my attempt at enlightenment following an outstanding presentation would have been seen as negatively disruptive, and no one can hear our message if there is the noise of negative disruption.

I will find other times and occasions to talk about holistic learning, the value of advising, and the fact that all of our work with students is “academic.”

The faces behind the numbers

Assessment…culture of evidence…outcomes…data-driven…accountability…. By whatever name it’s called, I am an advocate for using numbers as evidence of the impact of the work of student affairs.

There are times, however, when an anecdote or story is exactly what is needed to help others understand what we do in student affairs. An anecdote or story is also what student affairs sometimes need to let us know that what we’re doing does, indeed, make a difference.

On opening day of the spring semester before students returned, the Montgomery College community held its convocation for faculty, staff, and administrators. The president spoke courageously and eloquently, as always, and each of us who is a senior vice president had an opportunity to report on the work of our areas of responsibility:

  • I’m amazed at the activity and many accomplishments in academic affairs that included the acquisition of grant funding and other numbers;
  • Administration and finance is doing a great job with the budget despite fiscal constraints faced by most institutions of higher education and this report was about the numbers;
  • The office of advancement had nothing but good news and the report was composed of many numbers.

When it was my turn to give an update on the work of student services, I could have talked about the numbers of students who had enrolled, highlighting the work of admissions and the access team; the number of students receiving financial aid; the number of students seen by advisers; the number of students who received disability support services, and more.

Instead, I decided to talk about a student I had gotten to know. So with that student’s collaboration on what I could share, I told his story. At a time when community colleges are focusing particularly on the enrollment, retention, and success of African American and Latino/Hispanic males, this story was about an African American male.

hurdlers on trackI showed a visual of young athletes running and jumping hurdles in a competition and then I began the story:

Imagine that one of these talented students is James who is typical of many of our students who despite their gifts and talents have many hurdles to clear before they reach the finish line. For the sake of these students and their peers, we all should be grateful that there is a Montgomery College with talented and dedicated faculty, staff, and administrators such as you.

James graduated from a high school here in Montgomery County and began his college career at Bowie State University. He was at the University but not really engaged because he went home every weekend.

At the end of his first year, he found out that there was not enough money for him to re-enroll for the second year. This fact was a disappointment, but he was not passionate about college and really didn’t have any direction.

Because he is a talented person, he was able to easily get a job with the Park Service. After some time in this job, he became bored because he was not using many of his numerous skills. While he was working at the Park Service, some of his friends from high school talked about their ambitious plans, and he began to feel as if he was being left behind.

Bored and discouraged, he began to spend his money on drugs and quickly became addicted. This was a really low point in his life where it seemed that everything he touched, rather than turning to gold, became ashes and worthless. One day he had a really bad car accident. One so serious and catastrophic that he should not have been able to survive, but he did. During his time of recuperation, he began to reflect on his life and realized that he was throwing it away. He was grateful to be alive and wanted to change the trajectory of his life.

When he thought about what he might do, it was as if everything he could imagine himself doing was a closed door, and when he opened the door, the message was always “a college education is the gateway to success.” So as soon as he was well enough, he quit his job and applied to Montgomery College—the College in his community. He was feeling great with these decisions, and he said that there was fire in his belly to make something of his life.

After being admitted to the College, he applied for financial aid and discovered that he was ineligible for aid because he had worked at what he called “that dead-end job” the previous year. He felt as if the door of opportunity had been slammed in his face; he felt rejected and discouraged.

Someone in the Financial Aid Office told him that he might be able to get a job on campus as a student assistant (student assistants are paid from the College’s operating budget) and walked him through the process. He had skills and was readily hired to work in one of the offices at the College. Working at the College gave him more time on campus, and he felt as if he was finally connected to a community. He felt he belonged.

He sought counseling and advising. Working with a counselor, he was able to regain confidence in his abilities. He began to think about his purpose in life and wanted to chart a path to some concrete goals.

Working with an adviser, he was able to develop an educational plan that outlined what courses he needed to take in what sequence in order to reach his academic goals. Doors were opening again, one right after another.

After a year and a half, he was able to qualify for financial aid. The collaboration between financial aid, counseling, and advising provided the kind of assurance and monitoring that James needed to know that he was on the right track and that people cared about whether or not he succeeded.

The next Student Service James took advantage of was Career Services. Here he explored his options related to his interests and what he wanted to accomplish. Encouraged by his family, he was able to begin to dream big and see himself in a career beyond college.

James says that he is grateful to Montgomery College for being a major part of his life during a critical period. He hates to leave the College because of all the support he received and because of the fine faculty and staff he encountered. He knows that he has a solid foundation to be successful at the University of Maryland Baltimore County where he has been accepted. He completed his Associates Degree in December 2014 and will begin his studies in psychology in just a few weeks.

Montgomery College has great resources and an outstanding educational program. Collaboration up and down and across the College in a seamless manner is what contributes most to the success of students like James.

Out for constituent review shortly is a draft of the Student Success Policy. The Policy formalizes the College’s commitment to student success and the procedures outline clear and concrete ways that the College will implement key conditions that will have a high impact on student success.

Many of our students will not have the motivation that James had, so some of these key conditions for student success are mandated, such as advising for the creation of educational plans, assessment for appropriate course placement, and accessible and informative orientations. Our virtual orientation will be available for students who are unable to make a scheduled face-to-face orientation because we believe that orientation provides a vital bridge for students to transition into College.

As students return and as new students arrive, let’s keep James and his fellow students in mind that might have many hurdles to clear before they reach their goals.

A number of faculty, staff, and administrators told me after the convocation that they also had “James” stories, and they were glad to hear one of them shared.