All posts by President Kovala


Too often those of us, removed from our undergraduate life, proffer “advice” to younger students in order to make their path less ominous, more satisfying. And while much of that kind of advice giving can be either insanely self-serving or inanely illuminating, I wonder, what advice would you give to yourself as a new student?

That question, with the gift of chronology and life lessons, can prove valuable indeed.
Here are a few that I would have posed to myself, had I had the sense and courage to do so:

1. Why are you in such and all-fired hurry to “finish” the degree? Can you not take the extra literature class and learn about the influence of Shakespeare on great American writers? What about the extra biology course that teaches you “green” before you ever knew it was a word? Take time to smell the curriculum.

2. Seek others and listen to their stories. We all know that storytelling is a mightily powerful tool, and to not engage in authentic storytelling is a HUGE missed learning opportunity.

3. Explore the world. Take the semester off and go to Europe. Better yet, enroll in a course that provides the benefit of adding depth to the transcript. Had I traveled abroad as a young student, my world would have been exponentially richer and more rewarding.

4. Acquire the thirst for learning. About everything. If social science is your affinity, discover the world of science and math; if learning about keeping your body fit is not your cup of tea, try a new genre like yoga or tai chi.

5. Find your confidence gene. As a shy freshman, I had no idea how to make friends, mingle in a crowd, or have a firm handshake. And while those may seem minor life skills, from my experience,they say so much about a person.

6. Know that you don’t know it all. This act of humility is also an act of curiosity. Faculty know more than just their content; they know many of the insights to navigating life.


The Art of Change Can Be at Once Daunting and Exhilarating.

Change n. the act, process or result of making different.
Change vb. to make different in some way
                                       Merriam Webster 2010
The art of change can be at once daunting and exhilarating.  My observation about change is that it is constant…something that is either to be embraced or feared with dread.  For me, the word transition is a better descriptor of what change is in our worlds.  After all, during the course of any time period in our lives we are transitioning from one day, one year, one decade to another and adapting to hundreds of micro and macro forces that beg to penetrate our world.  The question is, how do we cope with changes as they arise?

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar…
“I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present,”
 Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning,
 but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
 ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Like Alice, change and the rapidity of it, can leave us confused, a little baffled, and gulping for air.  In fact, if we assimilate transition into our world on a routine basis, the subtlties and impact of change can be welcomed and embraced.  William Bridges describes in his book Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004) that every transition begins with an ending, requires time in a neutral zone and is completed when there is a sense of a new beginning.  When viewed through this construct, change can be a refreshing way to move on, start anew and be revitalized.


Visioning: An Exercise

It has often been quipped that individuals are as afraid of speaking in front of an audience as they are of facing the IRS in an audit or the dentists’ chair. As with all true learning, public speaking needs rehearsal and practice in order to be accomplished in a captivating, coherent and convincing way.

There is a practice I have used (having been a speech teacher in a previous life) that has come to serve me well whenever I step up to the podium. (Yes, even seasoned public speakers get a case of the nerves from time to time). The practice is called visioning.

Borrowed from the sports arena, visioning entails seeing yourself as delivering that speech successfully before you ever say a word. Not unlike the great basketball player who “visions” himself sinking the 3 point shot, the successful speaker “visions” the speech to be flawless, articulate, teeming with great information and yes even humorous. The way I tell my students about it is to sit quietly in a chair an hour or two prior to the speech, close your eyes and actually “see” yourself from introduction to conclusion in delivering the speech. The act of “visualizing” success is tantamount to foretelling that indeed a successful speech is about to take place…from your words and your delivery!

The great Wayne Gretzy is often quoted, “You must skate to where the puck will be” and the same is true of speaking…you must envision yourself as the successful orator!


And the Oscar Goes to….

On the heels of the Academy Awards, I was reflecting on our own “award winners” at GCC who are often unheralded for their tenacity and perseverance.  While attending the Arizona Academic All American awards ceremony last week, I met three such amazing students who were being honored with high academic achievement.  And like many Oscar nominees, the pathways they each encountered to reach this milestone were unconventional at best and complicated at least.  One of the individuals never thought college was in their future, having never graduated from high school.  Another was a non-traditional student who imagined the classroom would be filled with 18-year-olds and not conducive to a more life-experienced style.  Still another was bold enough to venture into a major where the prominent demographic was male.  In each case, these students climbed over rocks and traversed crater-like holes to achieve a GPA that qualified them for scholarships at one of the three public universities in Arizona.
We all know “potential All Americans” in our classrooms, walking down the courtyard, studying in our library.  They are dedicated but are challenged; they are accomplished if not introverted; they are reaching for a goal that no one thought they could attain and quietly and steadily making progress toward the goal…the degree or certificate that boosts them to the next level of success!  With small encouragement, these students too should be recognized for their accomplishments.  A word on their paper congratulating them on improvement from the last draft; full completion of a physics lab that had been particularly challenging; accomplishing the all-important verb conjugation that is a must in mastering another language.  While this progression may not be the stuff of fanfare, they are the significant steps as a student makes as they acquire the needed skills to continue to move forward.  
A Gaucho applause for the nominees and the academically accomplished winners!

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.



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!