Monthly Archives: December 2014

Amidst life’s distractions, love still breaks through

The 10-year-old boy’s eyes were staring unblinking at the monitor on the wall in front of him. He had been in this intense and trance-like state totally absorbed in Lego Batman 3-“Beyond Gotham” for at least an hour. At his right knee was his computer showing one of the Penguin animated films, and to the right of the computer was his iPad. I sat at the end of the sofa on the other side of ‘technology row’ reading a book on my iPad.

In the middle of the sounds of the video game and the animated movie, I interrupted with a question to the 10-year-old. He was startled when I asked him, “Do you know what it means to love someone?”

Still chewing his jaw and manipulating the video game controller he said, “I have a difficult time explaining what I think about abstract concepts.”

I was surprised at the response although I should not have been. Young people today with educated parents who spend considerable time explaining things to them have a tendency to speak as if they are years beyond their chronological age.

I was undeterred by his response and continued to pursue the point about his knowledge of love. As he continued to play the video game, he responded, “Do you mean the way I feel about my parents?” I was ecstatic at the response and went back to reading my book on my iPad.

Seeking to give the “Wow!” gift to students

If you are fortunate enough over the holidays to be with people with whom you care and with whom you exchange gifts, you might be ruminating on how you felt when you received the “Wow!” gift or how you felt when the “Wow!” gift you gave was received.

This year, I had gifts for family, but I did not have a “Wow!” gift to give. I will fret over this and vow to do better next time. Today, I was thinking about how teachers, counselors, advisers, and all who come in contact with students need to strive for the “Wow!” gift every time we interact with them because there may not be a next time for that student to be encouraged to go further.

Before online courses became popular, I recall asking a faculty member whose class I had observed whether or not students might have gotten just as much from an audio or video of the lecture as they did from attending the class. This comment did not earn me any goodwill from this person, but I was so disappointed in the experience of being in the class that I just had to indicate that what I had observed did not positively impress me. The faculty member gave a lecture without engaging students in discussion and did not appear to care whether or not students were listening. There was no “Wow!” factor for sure.

While flipping through my recipe files recently, I came across a recipe that was written on the back of a partial sheet of paper that had handwritten course and section numbers on it. This piece of paper brought back the memory of being on the second floor of the Student Center at St. Louis Community College along with other counselors and academic advisers where we would work for 12- hour shifts seeing student after student to assist them in getting the courses, dates, and times they needed. The lines were long and often by the time students arrived at a seat to see an adviser or counselor, they would be out of sorts, to put it mildly.

Today, students can find everything they need for academic advising online and many students never see an adviser or counselor. If students know in what field they want to major, they may just follow the outline in the course catalogue. If they are at a community college and plan to transfer to a four-year college or university, they can go online to find out what courses the transfer college or university requires for particular majors. Why would these students take the time to make an appointment to see and academic adviser or counselor? They would want to see an adviser or counselor because they want the “Wow!” gift of a relationship and collaboration about their academic and life goals. Sometimes this gift may be just a check-in once each term just to insure that a responsible educator knows that they are working towards specific academic goals and remain on the right track.

Students who have had some challenges academically and/or personally and need support or students who just don’t know what among the many options they have that they want to choose may want to establish a trusting relationship with an adviser or counselor. Because of the context and nature of this encounter, when I was advising students, I would welcome students with the attitude and mindset that my role in advising them was critical to their lives.

I felt as if I had an obligation to meet them where they were without judgment and expectations and to walk with them on their academic journey. Through open-ended questions, I would gauge how much assistance a student needed and if the student appeared anxious and unsure, I would let them know that I was prepared to become a collaborative partner with them. I would explain what I could bring to the partnership and what they would need to do to form and keep the partnership.

It was important that the first meeting would set the stage for creating a relationship that would endure and that the student be assured that I would be there for  support throughout the student’s academic and career exploration experiences. Though I’m sure I did not succeed in all instances, I had a desire to give students the “Wow!” gift of my time, energy, knowledge, and most of all, my belief in them as people who could achieve their dreams.


Ambushed by Memories on Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m wrapping gifts. Why am I suddenly feeling sad? My chest hurts as if I have heartburn and my nose burns the way it always does when I’m holding back tears.

After all these years and after telling the story to those close to me, I still remember the Christmas Eve that I hoped that there was a Santa Claus. I still feel the pain I felt that Christmas morning when I really knew that there was no Santa Claus. I have had so many joyful and happy holidays since then, but the feelings of that one Christmas Eve always ambush me this time of year.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I don’t know how I had a few dollars to spend, but I had been happy when I bought small gifts for my mother, grandmother, grandfather, and little sister. I don’t recall whether or not my little brother was living with us or with my daddy during this particular Christmas time. But on Christmas Eve, I had the horrible thought that these folks, my family, may not have thought to get a gift for me. I hoped they would care enough about me to understand that if I didn’t receive a gift from them, I would think that they didn’t love me.

I was standing at the window looking out at the sky hoping that some man dressed in a red suit would find his way into our apartment and leave something, anything with my name on it that I could unwrap on Christmas morning. I listened long into the night and never heard anything like Santa Claus sneaking in to leave something for me.

The next morning, there were gifts for my little sister. I don’t remember the other gifts, but there was no gift for me. I finally accepted the fact that there was no Santa Claus. I felt embarrassed and almost apologetic that I was unworthy of even one small gift. I was ashamed that someone as old as I was even entertained the idea that there was a Santa Claus. I was fourteen years old.

Affirmations on Innovation and Collaboration

Fareed Zakaria had a special on CNN on Sunday, November 30, 2014, about innovation, which caught my attention because I have written about and given speeches on the topic for many years.

More than anything, I want faculty and student affairs educators to be innovative in the manner in which they help learners achieve their educational and career goals. Another ongoing theme and wish that I’ve written and spoken about is the value of collaboration among all parts of the college and university, especially between academic and student affairs.

On this same Sunday morning special, Zakaria interviewed Walter Isaacson whose recent book is on innovators and innovation. I’m paraphrasing, but Isaacson said that in creating his new book he discovered that, more than a facile mind and a willingness to pursue the dreams of one’s imagination, an important element that promotes innovation is collaboration. He said that unlike our image of the lone genius creating something new, those who would be called innovators more often than not worked with others who brought the needed talent to realize a vision.

As I listened to Isaacson talk about his discovery, I was talking back to him and saying “Amen” to his realization. Hearing Isaacson gave me the confirmation I needed to continue my message to academic and student affairs to pull together to innovate in colleges and universities for the sake of learners who need new ways to access the bounty of higher education.

Another guest interviewed by Zakaria for this special was Linda Rottenberg who spoke from her experience of reading thousands of business plans and working with more than a thousand entrepreneurs. Her “aha moment” was that one need not be a creative genius to be an innovator. What one needed to be was a “Doer.”

I loved hearing this because student affairs people often say that they are “Doers.” When there is a problem to be solved or a wrench has been thrown into the best laid plans and everything looks hopeless, two or three student affairs people in the room will tell you, “No worries. We’re student affairs people and we fix problems. We’re doers.”

Hearing these interviews on a Sunday morning was my church that gave me the spirit to keep beating the drum for collaboration, ringing the bell for innovation, and appreciating the work of student affairs professionals.