Monthly Archives: April 2013

Creating an Innovative Culture

As a new “guest” board member, I spent last weekend in Columbia, South Carolina, meeting with the board and senior staff of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) for their annual retreat and orientation. Some ask me why I would spend my time in this manner, and when they do, I have a ready response: Alan Davis, the Executive Director, a valued colleague, asked me on behalf of his board, AND I love learning. While the board may have invited me for what they think they can learn from me, I accepted the invitation eager to learn from them. After the first meeting, I cannot attest to whether or not they received what they hoped for with my membership on the board, but I can certainly say that I received what I had hoped to gain.

Beginning with an overview of trends in the external environment and in higher education by a national expert, Dr. Dennis Pruitt, University of South Carolina, and moving on to a most stimulating discussion of the role of professional associations and their volunteer boards and staff facilitated by long-time association leader, Billye Potts, Association for Health Care Food Service and former chair of the NACA board, the retreat was an excellent way to orient new board members.

During the discussions, I learned what a new board member needs to know within context such as the meaning of acronyms and the history of policies and board actions. I quickly became familiar with board members and staff at a deeper and more meaningful level when I could listen to them talk about their vision, ideas, and hopes for the future of the association and the profession. When I contrast this orientation with those that painfully walk through a manual, there is no comparison in regard to genuine interest and what I will be able to retain.

As the retreat concluded, all were convinced that NACA was on the road to creating among its members and staff an innovative culture where they would all learn to be comfortable with disrupting the way things have been done.  They have already begun to use a different lens to look at who they are and what they want to provide to members by changing the structure of the board and daring to add two guest board members. My colleague, Jenny Bloom, graduate faculty member at USC and former chair of the NACADA board is serving a second year as a guest board member. She did such a great job, the board thought they would add another, and I’m fortunate to be their choice.

I have always said that campus activities staff are the most creative people on campus. My declaration was reinforced this weekend, and I can also add that the board members and staff with whom I met are also some of the most perceptive and forward-thinking colleagues I’ve encountered. It was a great weekend!

 

Reading Between the Lines – Searching Out the Hidden Characters

According to Gallup’s StrengthsQuest my top strength is Learner. In addition to learning about New England families and the complex relationships they had with their slaves in Allegra di Bonaventura’s article “Finding Adam” in The Chronicle Review (April 12, 2013), I learned that as I embark upon my adventure to write about my life, I will need to do what Bonaventura did when he was reading the diary of John Hempstead to learn about this man’s life.  Bonaventura writes:

For Adam’s sake, I need to read between the lines of Joshua’s entries and look beyond the clapboards of his house to find out more about Adam Jackson and others like him.

Adam was a slave in the Hempstead house and definitely not a major character in the Hempstead diary.

I’m fortunate in the writing I’m doing because my mother left me a full account of her life, and at first glance, one could think that she has done most of the work for me. The first chapter of the book I’m writing was done in 1994, and my mother is the starring character as she is in the account she left for me. But as I’ve been reading what she left, I, too, must read between the lines and look beyond her perspective to find out more about other characters, particularly my father.

The Next Chapter – The Story of Myself

It was one year ago April 1 (of all days), that I began my retirement as executive director of NASPA. Because I did not want to look back on the year and wonder what I had accomplished and how I had spent my precious time, I set a number of goals for myself. I am satisfied with my accomplishments because they have cleared the way for me to devote time to what I’ve thought I have wanted to do for years. I began writing about my life experiences with a chapter in a book of essays in 1994, and never have gotten back to it. Now is the time…

When I think about the number of memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies already written and published, I tell myself that the world does not need one more of these. Yet, I feel compelled to put my memories on paper because even as a child as I experienced the dailiness of my life, I would tell myself that I should remember this for the story I would tell later.

I share my plan to write as a measure of accountability for myself. As disciplined as I am, I need to feel an obligation, such as this public promise, in order to devote the time to writing.

In some ways, I feel selfish in writing about myself. My saving grace will be that if I write something that someone else will attribute meaning, then I will have given of myself in exchange for receiving the satisfaction of telling my story.

Of Treadmills, Languages, and Feeling at Home in the World

I’m yet at another airport. As I reflect on this exciting year of travel, I’m also thinking about my regrets. I have few regrets about anything, but a couple of regrets that surface today are that I do not know a second language, and I wish I had programmed my treadmill to “Incline.” Walking up and down the hills is a great incentive to put more rigor into my workouts.

In regard to my language regret, in much of my travel, I connect with colleagues in colleges and universities, and because of that, I have been lulled into thinking that much of the rest of the world speaks English as well as at least two other languages. In the real world of visiting another country, most of the people do not speak English, and if you’re lost, you remain lost for a long time.

I took Latin in high school and Spanish and French in college. Also, I was in Mexico for ten weeks about seven years ago where I attended an intensive language school where I was taught Spanish for six hours a day. The operative word is “taught” and not “learned.” I was never a slacker during any of these opportunities to learn a second language. The instructors were diligent in teaching what they knew in the way in which they had been taught. I received good grades in most of my classes because I was good at memorizing and performed well on written exams. By the time I was in third-year French in college, the ruse was up. I had to learn the language and could not rely on my good memory to repeat back what I’d read and heard. I had to think critically in another language.

There are other students like me today who will do well on the exams that require rote memorization, and they, like me, will give up on learning a language when they can no longer parrot what they have heard. It is heartening to know that languages today are taught more in context where students have to use the language and not simply memorize conjugations and vocabulary.  

Regrets aside, by way of observation, I have noticed that in travel I can appreciate the liberal arts.  Recently, in conversations with students at a university, they expressed impatience in having to take courses in general education. They wanted to get to their major as quickly as possible. They said that they would make better grades if they were taking courses where they could see the practical application for their future work. If these students had the opportunity to travel internationally, I think they would understand that there are practical applications for the their courses in general education, and more than that, they would feel a sense of satisfaction in being able to be at home  anywhere in the world because of their common base of knowledge about history and the way the world works.