Category Archives: Administration

Chronicles of a Lifelong Learner

When I was a high school senior I remember sitting on my bed, reading a brochure about college in Ireland and literally fantasizing not only about going to college but also about going so far away from my little corner in Kansas where I grew up and had yet to travel no further than Missouri which was a scant 20 miles northeast!

Well, I have yet to make it to Ireland but I did make it to college. Kansas City Kansas Community College where it took me about four years to complete 12 credit hours. I had a lot going on – two jobs and a boyfriend and a cache of excuses for missing and later dropping several of my classes. I was a first generation, sometime, part-time college student who understood the value of a college education but just didn’t have the personal infrastructure to help me become successful. That is, until an opportunity to save gas money presented itself. You see, I was not alone in trying to carve out gas money in the early 80’s to drive 40 miles round trip in a less than fuel efficient car. I discovered that at least three other students , all from my home town, were also in need of a little monetary help to keep attending class. So, we did what any other budding college students would do – we carpooled! We continued to carpool for the next few semesters appreciating the little extra dough in our pockets but appreciating even more the support group we had created for each other. Any personal issues any of us were experiencing, well we had 20 miles there and back to find solutions. And we did! Together we found ways to juggle home and job and kids and sometimes we even found a way to deal with the spouse who just did not understand why his wife needed to go to college.

Because of that group of ladies I was able to complete 12 credit hours and gain the confidence to continue  my studies at ASU after getting married (to the boyfriend) and moving to Arizona.  While attending ASU, several of us Accounting students intentionally enrolled in the same classes/sections. We held each other accountable not only to ourselves but also to the success of the class.

That same practice of embedding myself in a study/suppport cohort helped me get through my Master’s and Doctoral programs. It’s a tried and true approach – find a third party to hold yourself accountable to! You can always rationalize to yourself why you shouldn’t study or continue but it’s not so easy when you bring someone else into the discussion.

Finding inspiration from others while continuing my journey as a life long learner has also served me well outside of the formal classroom environment.

Over the years I’ve pursued piano lessons using a book titled “The Older Beginner” (no kidding) and the encouragement of my then 12 year old daughter who was learning the flute and my nine year old son who was learning the drums. (I’m hoping to have earned some wings for that one!)

I’ve also explored quilting with the help of some ladies who are very experienced in needle work. These same ladies also helped me realize that it takes patience to be even a half way decent quilter and it’s not for everyone.

You see, support to continued learning can come in all shapes, sizes and ages. It’s important that we recognize and embrace the support available and to then reciprocate support  when possible.

Here’s to all of you Life Long Learners – enjoy the journey!

 

Sincere Thanks from an Adjunct

I have heard and read countless complaints about being an Adjunct Faculty member. I will admit, there are difficult aspects of being an adjunct – and let’s face it, we all know what those are.

Having served as an adjunct faculty member in a few different places, I must say that being at GCC is the best.

Here are some reasons why:

There are pleasant places to work while on campus. The work places I have used are open and set up to encourage collaboration and discussion among others. It helps me feel a sense of belonging.

The staff is very helpful, and will do whatever they can to help me accomplish what I want or need to do. This culture of going above the call of duty is the rule, not the exception here. It doesn’t matter to people whether I am adjunct or not – they just help where they can. I love how the staff has been so helpful in navigating the bureaucratic hoops one must jump through sometimes.

More seasoned members of the Residential faculty are generally available to advise and educate when asked. Emails are answered and phone calls are returned without delay – I’m often amazed at how quickly that happens. Questions one might expect to have a 1-2 day turnaround are often be addressed on the same day.

I feel like I’m an important contributor to the community here too. My advice is sought, my ideas are heard, and my opinions matter. My intellect is stimulated – and I learn new things at work all the time. This is a far cry from the second-class-citizen feeling that often accompanies being an adjunct.

The positive feelings and willingness to help I have experienced outside the classroom spills over into my classes as well. Students are the direct beneficiaries of this. I can be more available and am more willing to advocate for them when needed, because I am happy and comfortable in the environment.

Thank you GCC!

 

Exercise is Medicine for Stress

The people have spoken! According to the survey results from last week’s blog, the number one reason that GCC employees exercise is for…wait for it…relief from stress.

The stress relief gained from just one exercise session can last for 60-90 minutes! This is due to the release of endorphins – chemicals that act like pain killers!  According to WebMD, “…that feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.”

Just from reading some of the awesome Write 6×6 blogs, you get a sense of the anxiety and tension experienced by employees and students alike. You don’t have to read the blogs to know the amount of pressure we are all dealing with.

test-anxiety

One of the most common stress responses felt by students is test-taking anxiety.  You know…that feeling when you have stayed up all night to cram for a big exam, and realize the next morning that absolutely nothing was committed to memory. The exam paper staring up at you. Panic sets in. Eyes dilate. Heart races. Breathing increases. Sweat beads begin to emerge, but nothing coming from the brain.

As employees we may feel similar tension related to deadlines, presentations, forging through “red tape,” miscommunications, personality conflicts, cultural differences, personal beliefs…the list is endless.

So grab your work buddy and take them for a brisk walk around our beautiful campus! Encourage your students to move more every chance you get! Be the role model and show people in a positively active way how you handle your stress!

Don’t think you have time to exercise? Watch this video, “23 and 1/2 Hours,” and I promise it will make an impact on your decision.

Next week I will tell you about all of the wonderful on-campus opportunities to move more and have fun doing it. If you can’t wait ’til then, come find an exercise professional on the west side of campus! We are here to serve you!

Results from the survey “My Benefits of Physical Activity.

More energy (have enough energy to play with the kids after work, stay productive after lunch, take care of the house on the weekend) 75%
Less chance of colds and flu 75%
Relief from stress 100%
Increased productivity (feel confident that I can accomplish all I want to do and invigorated when I get things done) 75%
Clean thinking (able to concentrate, sort things out clearly, and solve problems) 75%
Healthy and strong bones, joints, and muscles (lower my risk of injury, tackle heavier household chores, and try new activities) 75%
Increased vitality (feel alive and full of energy, like I can take on the world) 50%
Better quality of life (stay active in retirement, keep up with family and friends on vacation or around town, do things for myself) 50%
Stronger, healthier heart and lungs (climb stairs without huffing and puffing; become more active and less fatigued around town or on vacation) 75%
Better sleep 75%
Decreased feelings of depression or anxiety 75%
Improved physical fitness 75%
More effective weight control (be able to reduce or maintain weight) 50%
Reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes 50%
Brighter mental outlook (feel good about life, ready to take on the day, and confident that things will work out) 75%
Reduced risk of colon cancer 0%
Healthier and longer independent life (reduce my risk of disease and maintain my independence as I grow older) 75%
Improved self-esteem and self-image 75%

 

 

 

Random Acts of Relief

As mid-term approaches, students are often stressed with upcoming exams, papers, projects, team presentations and the like. I remember the feeling well and the thought of multiple assignments due all at once was simply overwhelming. What I also remember were “random acts of stress relief” that were welcomed respites from otherwise intense, despair-ridden feelings that simply helped get me through the day.

This relief came in some of the most unintended forms: A classmate invited me for hot chocolate; a faculty member brought in a fitness trainer to help us with stress relief exercises; the cafeteria stayed open later so that when pulling an all-nighter, coffee and goodies were available. But more than that was a kind word of reassurance from faculty and staff that offered assistance, guidance and confidence, which allowed me to navigate the most stressful times.

I suggest to all of us at GCC, now is the time to pay it forward with these and any other great ideas to give our students the extra nudge to the finish line. Stopping a student on the sidewalk and simply asking how they are doing, or walking through computer commons or the Library and checking in with students as they are busily working on the computer. Better yet, when a student is in line at Grounds for Thought, offer to pay for their coffee. These small gestures go a long way to assure students know we care about them and their success.

 

The Horse to Water Story

I have been teaching math for 28 years. Even as I have recently been asked to perform the duties of a Dean I still have taught a math class in the Fall semesters. I have seen many successful and, unfortunately, unsuccessful student stores. I have seen my teaching techniques evolve over the years from my attendance in many teaching conferences and workshops. I’m confident that I’m better at my profession than I once was. But, you knew the “but” was coming didn’t you :-) , as you look at success rates of students over the many decades the change is not earth shattering. I believe it is because of the old quote  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. I always preach to my students throughout the class that I know they all can succeed in this class if they put the proper time into it. I remember one particular student. She was your normal, fresh out of high school, student. She came to class most everyday but didn’t speak up much unless called upon. Her test scores were not very good through the first half of the class. One day when I was passing back one of the tests she asked me about what she could do to improve her grade. My first thought was, where were you the past 7 weeks when I’ve talked a lot about good practices. But, I simply asked her “Tell me what you have been doing with this class?” She told me, it wasn’t much as I suspected, thus I said “I think that if you would go to The Math Solution when possible to do your homework where you can get instant assistance, and come to my office for answers to your questions when needed, and not be afraid to ask about items you are uncertain about in class, and spend at least 1 hour each day doing your math homework, you will see a definite improvement in your grade. The next test was 72% and so I wrote a nice note on the top of it encouraging her. The next was even better, so as I was passing back the test I said “You are doing very well keep it up.” She smiled and said “You were right, I just needed to put in the time necessary to do well. I wish I had listened to you from the beginning of class.” I smiled back and said “Better late than never.” She was able to raise her grade up to a B by the end of the semester. It is a joy, as a teacher, to have those moments where you get to see a student’s light bulb come on! Just like with people who are struggling with addiction though, unless a person makes the choice to do right, all the leading in the world isn’t going to make a difference. I do everything within my power to create fertile soil in the classroom but unless a student applies him/her self, knowledge just isn’t going to grow.

I have been fortunate to have had many good student stories. I hope your life has been filled with them too!


Student Affairs…By Any Other Name

What is Student Affairs?  What does it mean?  Why should I worry about it?

At GCC, we use the phrase “Student Affairs” but other colleges call it Student Services or Student Development.  By another other name, “Student Affairs” is the group of dedicated people focused on student success through their academic courses and also in developing the whole person.

Many years ago when I started my career as a member of the Faculty, teaching Mathematics at South Mountain Community College, I never even entered the Enrollment Center, other than to drop off my grades (this was way before SIS and electronic grading, we actually had paper grade sheets).

I never considered how my students made their way to my class, I was just so happy to have a full class and to teach a subject that I really enjoyed.  But most of all, I was so happy to have a captive audience that I could mentor, encourage, inspire; to help them believe in their ability because I truly believe that people are more mathematical than they believe and can do more than they believe possible.

Later, I realized, and truly appreciated, the army of individuals dedicated to serving our students  Staff who are as passionate about helping students reach their goals as the faculty.  Staff who go above and beyond to reach the students.

I am honored to serve as the Vice President of Student Affairs at GCC.  My amazing and dedicated team is split into two groups:  Enrollment Services and Student Life.  I’m going to use the next six weeks to share stories of student success and to help strengthen the bridge between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.  As we all know, it takes a village…and we all have a part to play in student success, but most of all, as we move forward to the next 50 years of GCC, our programs will be strengthened as we continue to work together.

 

The month I hated my job

Academia is an exceptionally satisfying and yet frustrating place to work. In no other industry can someone be so incredibly involved in guiding societal change while being so radically adverse to workplace transitions. Because of this, for four weeks, I found myself hating my job. I had not only run my ship ashore, I had lost cargo, sent passengers overboard and shredded the sails!

 

When I look back on that month of self-pity and consternation, I realize it was self-inflicted. My happiness and satisfaction is my problem. Relying on others to “shape up or ship out” so I didn’t have to be aggravated or have difficult conversations was unrealistic and irrational. Rather than allowing my ship to sink, I had to learn to cope, which led to leading.

 

First, though, I had to recognize the problem. It’s these down and out moments, that trusted colleagues come in handy. Given trust and permission, they gently point out the obvious: The problem was me. One such friend handed me a book about pride. Pride! Really?! Yes, really. As I read the book, I learned the difference between being proud and having pride. And damn, if I wasn’t indeed wrestling with that beast! I had no idea. To be proud of your accomplishments is one thing, but pride, at its root, translates to: I need to know it all, do it all, fix it all – without asking for help (mayday! mayday!).

 

It was time to cope. It was time to retire this ship called Pride.

 

Pride Point 1: Patching the ship. Gradually, like a slow erosion, I lost sight of what was my job and what was someone else’s job. My job, like most directors, is to steer the ship. Period.

 

My boss, the president, sets the coordinates for the destination. We head in that direction on our respective vessels. It’s my job to strategically get my ship to the destination with the resources at hand and provide the tools for my team to “get ‘er done.” In actuality, I was steering the ship, checking the coordinates, making sure everyone had their oars, making sure they liked their oars; and do they like their oaring partners? Oh, and are there holes in the ship? Where are the holes? Do they need to be patched? Do we have materials to patch? Who needs to do the patching? Guess what… That’s not. my. job.

 

It IS my job to make sure everyone knows we are headed in the right direction and watch for icebergs. It’s the supervisor’s job to let me know if there are holes in the ship, where the holes
are, and if we aren’t going to arrive to our destination on time. There are other people on campus who are experts in repair (when did I suddenly become a craftsman??). It’s the staff’s job to nudge one another and say, “What’s the problem? We are all rowing in this direction; why aren’t you?”

 

So, I finally let go. After four weeks of wondering how I was going to do it all, be it all and still get other priorities accomplished, I let go. I charged my staff with manning the oars. Handing over freedom was very… well…freeing.

 

Pride Point 2: Buy-in Blues. Academia has a wonderful phrase called “buy-in.” Frequently, I need to get buy-in from several groups of stakeholders before I move forward with a project. Most days that’s fine. Other days, somehow, I let it get to me. In general, most of my team’s projects and efforts are lauded and appreciated. But for a month, I let the naysayers get the best of me.

 

For a month, I spun my wheels trying to make sure everyone was on board this ship before it sailed. While it’s important to gather the people to the ship, some are determined to wave from the shore (or maybe they aren’t waving!) no matter the direction or outcome.

 

Gratefully, I serve under leadership that recognizes buy-in can occasionally be unfair; then they talk me down off the plank. I told my boss about the effort I had expended to communicate change, to rally the sailors, and head in a successful direction. Some people, no matter what, will never get on board. So, with my boss’ blessing, I let. it. go.

 

Pride Point 3: Forgetting gifts. Jobs are gifts (many of you may roll your eyes as you read this). That’s entirely easy to forget when the day comes to an end and I look like a wrung-out cat because I’ve spent countless hours juggling too many tasks with too few hours in the day. For a month, I hated my job because I took it all internally. What I had ceased to do was actually bolster my own sails.

 

I work with a truly fantastic crew. What I absolutely love is the camaraderie we have. How many people can say that? When did I forget I wasn’t alone in these day-to-day frustrations? These are the people who have supported and championed me for nearly 5 years. Together, we have experienced some harrowing moments, worrisome moments and embarrassing moments.

 

A year ago, when my sister was diagnosed with cancer, my colleagues were rallying not only for me, but for my sister – whom they had never even met. My team picked up my work duties, braced me from stress and sent gifts when I was out-of-state caring for her. The executive leadership stood in the gap for me, helping with copious paperwork, challenges and dilemmas. In that span of a year, I was given the gift of what it means to be a colleague instead of focusing on the daily grind. I let it all sink in and then I let. it. go.

 

Pride Point 4: Of mountains and molehills. It’s tiring keeping the fleet afloat all alone! Among the buy-in battle, forgetting gifts and patching the ship, I managed to convince myself all the molehills were actually mountains. I found myself exhausted trying to scale every single mountain. For a month I wasn’t just the champion of someone else’s fight, I took over their fight! Something inside me decided every issue was a cause for mutiny.

 

I was doing the very thing that drives us all nuts: Getting involved in minutia where I wasn’t needed or qualified (which essentially causes a mess due to miscommunication and conjecture). There’s a reason we have well-trained staff in a number of areas. So many times we get riled up over a perceived wrong, when in reality we don’t have the facts, the patience or the expertise. I readjusted my sails and remembered to trust others to do their job so I can do mine. Then, well, you guessed it: I let. it. go.

 

The perspective I grabbed was this: If I just remember we are all part of the same crew, rowing toward the same destination, my sail doesn’t feel so windless after all.
 

Connection

While we often think of student success in academic terms like persistence, completion or matriculation, the real word to define student success is “connection.” Do you remember your college days when that one staff member (faculty, advisor, cafeteria worker etc) reached out to you in a way that none other had? Someone who showed a real interest in your talent, your progress, your life? In my case, it was David Langley, Director of Residence Life, who took me under his wing and with great encouragement, helped me to see the path in student affairs where my early career began. We all had one or more college staffer who went above and beyond to ensure that you felt important, had a plan and the support of the college through his or her voice. That is exactly what it is like for our students as well.

Each time a student tells me about their GCC story, it always involves someone who simply took an interest in their work, their plan, their struggles, their triumphs and nurtured them along the way because they wanted to, with no expectation of external reward. When a student feels they are cared for, it gives them the extra boost, the extra self- confidence, to complete the assignment, finish the course and move on to the next semester.

Showing you care about a student is the kind of overture that goes on every day at GCC. And we are known by the “high touch” reputation that only faculty and staff can demonstrate regularly. My words of advice are to keep it up and let it become contagious within your department, in the divisions and across the college so that each student will say with a smile,” I feel like I was SOMEBODY at GCC because they actually cared about me. “ CONNECTION!