Category Archives: Write6x6


This week is the first time in my academic career that I have officially felt I am having difficulty connecting with my students. I am in my 19th year as a college professor, having started at 27 years old.  I remember starting out, fresh out of graduate school. I was frequently mistaken for a student by faculty members who did not know me. I was able to easily connect with the students as I could relate to much of what they were going through. I longed to be respected by my peers, most of whom were older than I was. I sometimes wished I were older because I believed that if I were older, people would respect me and question me less.

Fast forward to this past week. In my 19 year career I have never been more challenged by students. The students in my classes today question me more than ever, and I don’t understand why. I saw them as disrespectful, as entitled, and as rude. I wondered why they felt the need to verbally share everything they know about a topic as though I am not going to cover the topic well enough if they don’t. I wondered why they act as though the are the authority on everything, as though I am not the person to cover the topics. I even wondered if I was in the right profession anymore. I started talking to my colleagues and found that many of them were feeling something similar, though maybe not as pronounced as I was. It was then that I realized that part of the problem was that I had spent a long time becoming a professor, and preparing myself for class every day, and maybe my feelings were hurt. I felt I was at a crossroads in my career, feeling disconnected from my students.

For the last few days I have been thinking about this, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to re-think my beliefs about my students and my role as their professor. The truth is, they do have the ability to find all the information I share with them on their own. With access to Google they can pretty much cover it all. What I need to do is make sure I am focused as a professor on giving them skills that Google can’t give them.  I can teach them to think like a scientist. I can teach them to be critical consumers of information (so I guess I should be happy they question me?), and I can teach them about integrity and professional responsibility.  Maybe teaching the content is becoming a smaller and smaller part of what I do.

The problem is not that the students are different, the problem is figuring out how to change what I do so that I can be fulfilled by my job and give them what they need. I am not one to engage in edutainment, I am pretty old school when it comes to teaching and I doubt that is going to change significantly. I need to connect what I can offer to what my students need.  If I can do that I can continue to do what I do at a high level and enjoy it. Something for us all to think about.


Simply the Best

Simply the Best – I’m Naming Names

Who drives you to be the best version of you?

Here is my current top-twelve list of coworkers who push me out of my comfort zone, fire my passion for my field of interest and remind me of my role at GCC. These people probably have no idea that simply by being themselves 100% of the time, they are setting an example and driving people like me to dig down deep and give all of myself all of the time.

In the past couple of weeks, each of these individuals has done something impactful that has helped me reflect on how I can be a better version of myself and ultimately help others to do the same.

Lisa Lewis – She boldly goes where others would falter. She does more work than anyone I know and has never complained once about it. Her work ethic makes me want to work harder. She brings out the best in her students, regardless of their excuses. She sets standards so people will reach higher.

Stephanie Sawyer – She goes and she goes and she goes, and nothing stops her. The ideas keep streaming and she pushes me to think of things in new and refreshing ways.

Alisa Cooper – She makes the most difficult and complicated matters seem simple and achievable. Her smile is contagious and her warmth makes her approachable.

Dr. Kovala – A true leader in a leadership role. I walk away from every encounter with a lesson that can be applied to my life. Just through Write 6×6, I am reminded of the joy of buying a drink for a student and how to be better prepared for a public speaking engagement.

Scott Schulz – A true supporter of dreams. He is approachable and knows when to acknowledge people’s efforts, encouraging self reflection and personal responsibility.

Eric Leshinskie – Willing to help, at the drop of a hat, in matters of grant writing, especially in moments lacking clarity and time.

Tressa Jumps – A real person with big dreams and guts. She is not afraid to laugh at herself. Another living example that it is possible to adapt your comfort zone in order to get the ship going in the right direction.

Mary Lea – The only person I know who can bring calmness and serenity to all circumstances. When life gets stressful, I invoke Mary Lea. She is like a genie in a bottle and always shows up when you need a dose of positivity.

Trisha Thurston – A spirited body who is not afraid of hard work. She brings out the best in people, especially when self doubt is slowing us up.

Nancy Burke – While standing in line at the cafeteria, I observed her as she offered to buy lunch for a member of the military, to thank him for his service. Sometimes we forget to look around and see the people standing in line with us. It’s fun to make someone’s day and take our mind off of our own worries.

Kristin Bennes – She sees a need and she finds a way to make life easier for everyone. She is compassionate and a true listener.

Lindra Fishleder – Game for anything that is going to make a positive difference. Another compassionate soul who builds confidence in others so that they may achieve their dreams without hesitation.

So, who drives you to be the best version of you? Would you be willing to name names?

Who shows bravery when others would throw in the towel?

Who keeps forging ahead despite a million excuses?

Who takes risks in order to help others?

Who sees past self doubt in others and pushes them to be their best?

Who sees a need that nobody else can see?

Who goes at everything with a positive attitude and a sense of humor?

Who sees your abilities and passion before your appearance?

Who finds a way when there is a road block?

Who sends a message of positivity in all of their interactions?

No man, or woman, is an island, and nobody is perfect. By supporting each other and bringing out the best in others, we can spend our days at work the way they are supposed to be spent…filled with passion, living our dream and improving the lives of others in the process.

Don’t see your name on this list? Keep working on the best version of you. You will find yourself on someone’s list!  ;o)


A VP, Dean, & Dept. Chair Walked Into a Bar…

By: Phil Arcuria, Research Director

A VP, Dean, & Dept. Chair walked Into a bar to discuss a new potential GCC initiative (where did you think I was going with this?). The initiative will require various types of resources and they want to make sure it “works”. They are discussing potential steps to take to evaluate the efficacy of the initiative. I happened to be sitting at the table next to them and, being a nosy neighbor, offered the following quick tips to help guide their efforts:
Tip 1: Write down the purpose of the initiative and the expected outcome(s). Verbally conveying it is not enough. Writing it down helps actualize it into something “real” that can more easily be refined and shared. One way to articulate the expected outcome is to complete the following sentence, “If the initiative is successful, ________ is expected to happen.” Or, a slight variant, “In order for this initiative to be deemed successful it must_______________.” Further refine the outcomes to capture the properties of SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-specific.
Tip 2: Substantiate in writing how you believe the initiative will result in the expected outcome(s). Be specific and detailed. Incorporate in prior research, best practices, how it has worked at other institutions, etc. If no prior research is available, lay out the logical argument on how the initiative will achieve the expected outcome. Pretend you are on an episode of ABC’s Shark Tank and you have two minutes to convince someone to invest the resources required for the initiative (e.g., employee time, funds, etc.). Craft your pitch and read over it. Does it provide a convincing argument of how the initiative will likely result in the expected outcome? If not, further refine it until can stand on its own. This step takes a lot of effort, but if we are not willing to put the effort into substantiating the value of the initiative, should we be asking anyone else to put effort into implementing it?
Tip 3a: Although Realistic is one of the characteristics of a SMART goal it tends to get glossed over. Most of us have a tendency to channel our inner Babe Ruth and swing for the grandiose aspirational outcomes. In higher education, this tends to take two forms. The first is in the unrealistic belief that most initiatives will have a direct effect on increasing persistence and graduation rates. Lots of factors go into whether or not a student persists and/or graduates, ranging from family and work obligations to their level of motivation and academic preparedness. Very few initiatives have the mass needed to directly move these metrics. Instead, focus on outcomes that you believe will be the direct result of the initiative. This also includes ensuring that the outcome and initiative are in alignment. One way to do this is visualize your outcome as a tree and your initiative as a saw. Is your saw proportionate to the size of the tree?  If you have a chainsaw to cut down a twig, your outcome is too meek given the initiative. If you have a handsaw to cut down a giant Sequoia, your outcome is too lofty given the initiative. Replace your inner Babe Ruth with your inner Zen and seek balance between the tree and the saw.
 Tip 3b: Unrealistic outcomes also come in the form of unachievable performance targets used to quantify them (e.g., [outcome] … will increase 5% over the next year). Take time to talk through what would need to happen for this to occur. For example, if the outcome and performance target is to increase enrollments in course X by Y% over two years, how many more students would need to enroll in course X? Based on the response to Tip 2, is it reasonable that the initiative will result in that? What factors might prevent this from happening (e.g., a drop in overall enrollment) and how likely are they to happen? One way to test how realistic the outcome is to ask yourself, “what percentage of my salary would I be willing to bet that the outcomes is achieved by the specified time frame?” If the percentage is low then you should consider revising the outcome to make it more realistic. It can also be very beneficial to set a range as the performance target rather than a single estimate to account for natural variability from year to year. Also, make sure you distinguish between a percent increase and an increase in percentage points. It may seem like a small nuance but increasing 20% by 10 percent points (20% –> 30%) is a lot different than increasing it by 10 percent (20% –> 22%).
 Tip 4: Write down any potential secondary or indirect outcomes of the initiative. There are outcomes that you do not expect the initiative to directly influence but might indirectly influence. In short, success on the initiative will not be determined by these things happening, but they are a nice additional potential outcome. Persistence an graduation rates tend to fall in this category. Do this by expanding the sentence in Tip 1 to, “If the initiative is successful, [direct outcome] is expected to happen, which in turn may lead to [indirect outcome] happening.” Indirect outcomes are like donuts on Friday. They are not essential to measuring the successfulness of the day, but are still worth vigorously pursuing.
 Tip 5: Make sure the metric selected to quantify the outcomes directly relates to the outcomes. Sounds straightforward, but it is easy to select the wrong metric given the outcome. My professional leaning is toward quantitative methods. There is something elegant about numbers and their utility. However, it is important to acknowledge that not all things should be evaluated in quantitative terms. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry eloquently reminds us of this in the below excerpt from his classic tale of The Little Prince:
“Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead, they demand: ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
 Figures are immensely beneficial and in many cases are the best method for evaluating an expected outcome. But do not let the method drive the need. Go with the approach that best fits the nature of the initiative under evaluation – but do not be deceived into thinking that pursing qualitative outcomes is an easier short cut to evaluating the success of an initiative. In many cases it is a much more difficult path. Ideally, most things should be evaluated from both perspectives.
 After enthusiastically conveying these tips, the VP, Dean, and Dept. Chair looked at me with puzzled faces and said, “So is this how research directors spend their Friday nights?”  I sheepishly slinked back to my table as I muttered to the group, “the next round is on me.”
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What I Do When I Have “A Week”: The Human Connection

It’s been a week. Not to over-share, but this week I put $3000 into repairs for my car. This did not even fix the A/C blower that still works inconsistently. Luckily, I can get the blower to work if I open the driver’s door while the car is running and then slam it shut really hard. I thank my eleven year-old for helping me figure out that tip.

Also, this week, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and though my family has known for a while that something is terribly wrong with my dad and we weren’t surprised at the diagnosis, I’ve still felt a lot of sadness this week.

In addition, my eleven year-old had a orthodontic installation on Tuesday afternoon, which has now given him a speech impediment. (He thayth hith Th’th funny now.) and a sore mouth. This has made him cranky. He also can’t eat well and has had his fill of pudding, apple sauce, and soup this week.

There are also other stressors on our family plate, like are on all family’s plates, but I’ll spare you those.

So why do I share all of this personal information with people I don’t really know that well? It’s something about that human connection. And that’s the same reason why I teach: for the human connection.

What keeps me afloat in a week like this one? My work. My students. Every day is an opportunity to make a difference in some small way. You have to love a job like that. And I think when I can make a difference, even in a small way, I can step out of my own personal difficulties, even for a little while.  While I’m helping a student edit his essay that’s due that evening, I’m wholly invested in our work in that moment together. Then, I don’t have to worry about my dad or my son or the car.

Furthermore, working daily with my students means that I am reminded daily that everyone has challenges. We just all do. I’m no different than any other person who’s sitting in a chair in my class, except that I have my degree, and I get to use it in a meaningful way. Now, I can help others work toward their goals, despite their personal challenges.  Keeping in mind that we all have difficulties while attempting to achieve our goals means that I can work with students more mindfully.  Like me, like everyone else, they are managing a lot.

Earlier this week, one of my twenty-something year-old students just had surgery to remove thyroid cancer from her body. She emailed me last night to say that the surgery went well but that she is in a lot of pain. I wrote her back and told her to sleep and rest as much as she could. Next week, if she’s able, she can take up her writing again for our course. And then she can use Spring Break to catch up.

Obviously, this student’s  cancer surgery  this week completely pales  my own worries or challenges. In January, she knew this surgery was looming and asked at the beginning of the semester if I would work with her when the time arrived. I said I would. I figure if she wants to continue her education while fighting cancer, she should. In fact, I find her approach to be incredibly brave. It would be easy to give up one’s educational goals in the face of cancer, even if only for the semester.

So I as I teach my students daily, they teach me. And these lessons sustain me–especially through the rough weeks.  And I’m sharing all of this with you, just in case maybe just one of you has had a challenging week, too. 🙂




The fitness industry is booming these days. What changed, you may ask?

For years, the medical community has been focused on fighting communicable diseases. Vaccines took care of most of these problems. Today we are faced with a more challenging problem…hypokinetic disease…or the disease of inactivity.

The act of sitting too much has made us sick. It is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, cancer, back pain, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and many diseases and disorders related to mental health.

Trillions of dollars are spent on this “sickness” industry each year. I cannot fathom “trillions.”


Positive change is afoot.

In 2007, the American Medical Association joined forces with the American College of Sports Medicine to ignite an initiative called Exercise is Medicine. (You have probably heard about it because we are embracing it at GCC!) They are simply asking that exercise be recognized as a medical vital sign. If patients are not getting enough exercise (150 minutes per week), they should be referred to an exercise professional.

A long time ago…before times changed…the exercise professional was the person who liked sports and spent a lot of time in the gym. If you had muscle definition, you were considered an expert.

The fitness professional has evolved, thank goodness. We now have reputable organizations that certify and demand excellence through continuing education. Today’s fitness experts have a solid understanding of the skeletal and neuromuscular systems, they understand the inner workings of the heart and lungs, and they know how to fuel the body with optimum nutrition. They can design individualized exercise programs for a variety of populations, they know how to motivate and lead, and they understand their scope of practice within the allied health continuum.

The other thing that changed that has led to a booming fitness industry is the number of baby boomers hitting retirement. Sedentary baby boomers…

This is great news for graduates of the GCC Exercise Science and Personal Training programs who are looking for immediate entry into the workforce. Back in 1985 GCC was one of the first colleges in the country to offer a personal trainer certification. We were innovators on the cusp of a health revolution.

This health revolution is preventative medicine. It is very simple and it does not require any pills. It simply requires that we move more.

What does this change mean to the faculty, staff, students and GCC community? It’s time to “move” in the right direction and stop sitting so much!


Out With the Old, In With the New Part III

Death by PowerPoint vs. Getting My Act Together With Power Point

Many years ago I attended a workshop presented at Phoenix College by Liz O’Brien, Communications professor. It was called “Death by Power Point;” the purpose of the workshop was to demonstrate how “power points” kill active learning and engagement in the classroom. She modeled how to use power point presentations to guide your lectures and structure the class time. She listed all the “Do Nots,” including too many words, regurgitation of lecture, etc. In the few cases I have used power point, I think I have usually followed her guidelines closely. The most difficult piece for me, of course, is to limit my words. I also find attending power point led presentations boring and monotonous. As a result, I rarely use them in my teaching.

After observing my mentees and their dedicated use of power point, I had an epiphany: Maybe I was being close-minded! :0

I am at the opposite end of “minimalist” on the neatness spectrum. Basically, it’s how I work! After grading a set of papers, you will find mini-lists of points to review when I return them, sticky notes with notes to students, more sticky notes with reminders to myself, and more sticky notes marking places to remember to review or emphasize to students (and that may include a sticky note with an example or two.)

photo (6)

Yes, I overwhelm myself!

SO…I gathered an entire folder of sticky notes and other notes and created a power point presentation! I now have a chapter-by-chapter review of American Wasteland to share with students when I return their RRRLogs (reflections.) Most of the comments, reminders, clarifications, and points to emphasize are the same semester-to-semester so I will not have to rewrite them. I can add/remove as is necessary, it is all in one place, and students can “see” what I am talking about. I do not think I will “put every thing on a power point” but I like the way this little project played out! One more lesson for the mentor from the mentees! Thanks Sherry and Sara!



I love change.

I went to four colleges (PC, Texas A&M, Galveston College, ASU) over five years for one degree. And that included three different degree programs (Marine Biology, Maritime Engineering, Justice Studies).   My Master’s is in a completely different field, my EdS in another, and heck, I may even go back to Law School!

While @ ASU for my undergrad, I lived in four different places (Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Scottsdale, Mesa) in two years.   I love the chance to find new grocery stores, new restaurants, new running routes. I love white walls that I can make my own. I change cars every two years. I change bags with seasons. I love change.

My hairdresser loves me because every two months I like something different; color, bangs, layers, you name it – I’m open. It’s hair. It will grow back/out/in/over.

My diet; that I don’t change. I have found what works for me and I love it. I may change the vegetables on my salad, but otherwise, that’s not an environment that’s conducive to change. But food is my fuel that allows me to go after everything else with such a healthy passion and to have the energy to change. So I don’t mess with my fuel.

When you find what works for you; stick with it. But if something doesn’t work or doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid of something better.  When you’ve learned what you needed to learn with a given situation, accept the learning and move on to learn something else! Whether it’s a relationship, a hobby, a life lesson or even a degree! Change = learning = growth = evolving!


To Change or not to Change? That is the Question.

The topic this week is change. For me just having to write something regularly is a change. Give me a math problem and my eyes light up and I get excited. Ask me to write and it is like when I go to Joann Fabrics with my wife. I get drowsy and lose energy immediately upon entering the story. I think people have these two reactions when the discussion turns to change. They are either excited about the prospect of changing something (fixing it) or dread it, thinking here we go making my life more difficult again. It seems that sometimes change is pursued because someone is trying to justify the necessity for their job position. But, at other times, change is sought in order to fix something that isn’t working as well as it should. Of course change also occurs when leadership changes. In many areas there are several processes that can get the job done well, it is just a matter of choice.

What I think is important, is to remain objective. Listen to each new proposed change and analysis the merits of the change. Can it improve what is done? Will things be more efficient? Will it make work more difficult? Does it involve more paperwork and is it important enough to warrant that? Will it add or subtract from the budget? Is it proposed because someone had too much time on their hands? To be honest to you, the reader, I hate the term disruptive innovation. It sounds like a term made up by a “glass half empty” kind of person. We should use the term Constructive Innovation! Sure you are destructing something that exists when you change, but let’s be more positive and talk about how it is going to make life better. If it won’t make processes better we shouldn’t be changing.

Bottom line, don’t let people change stuff just for change sake. Analysis the proposed change, decide its merits and then get behind it or challenge it and use facts to support your position.


The Pressure is on for English Teachers

freshmancompI teach English at GCC. Technically I teach Freshman Composition, but we say English when asked what we teach. Composition is writing. This is a very interesting considering I majored in English Literature. You know: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Austen, Joyce and Lawrence. I was never taught to write beyond ENG101 and ENG102 in undergrad, but I was expected to do it in every literature class I took. I eventually graduated with a degree in English Literature. So what kind of job does one get with a degree in English Literature? Education or teaching is the number one option. So here I am, teaching English at GCC.

What you can garner from that short story is that most college students get very few opportunities to learn how to write, even when you are studying to be an English teacher. I eventually earned a masters degree in education where I learned to teach writing, but composition classes prior to that were minimal. That is why ENG101 and ENG102 for our students is so crucial. For most it will be their only opportunity to learn to write for their college careers and life in general. Those important skills they learn in Freshman Composition include:

  • Written and other communication skills
  • Understanding complex ideas and theories
  • Research

So the pressure is on for English teachers – ENG101 and ENG102 teachers. These are important skills that go beyond just writing an essay. We’re trying to teach students to think critically, read critically, research critically, and then write. That’s what makes Freshman Composition challenging for students. For the most part, students know how to write or they should considering they just spend four years in high school learning how to do it. But college writing is different. There’s more at stake considering this may be students only chance to learn these skills. Yet many students don’t see the importance of these two courses. They take it for granted.
As I sit here reflecting and writing, I’m all that more thankful for the English teachers I had at Phoenix College and Yavapai College. Because with out that foundation those instructors instilled in me, I really don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today. And I don’t just mean teaching English. I mean blogging and writing all over the internet in social media sites, writing emails to my colleagues, and writing in my profession. I’m thankful I have the skills, written and other communication skills, critical thinking skills, and research skills, to do my job and do it well.


The Energy Enigma

It’s a weird thing about energy. It’s hard to capture. At the end of a hard day at work, it can completely evade us. On most Friday evenings, I think it gets buried in the sofa cushions with all of our lost articles.

We have all learned that energy cannot be created or destroyed. So where does it go when we are searching for it the most? Maybe there is a different formula for the type of energy we are all looking for?

Would you believe me if I told you that energy could be created by expending energy?  i.e. Energy begets energy. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it. How can I create energy if I don’t have any?

Personal example: Today I came home from work after eight hours of interviews, which consisted of sitting in a chair for most of the day. My energy meter was hovering around “empty,”  in the red zone. I had 20 minutes of free time before going to pick up the children.

I had a choice: I could melt into the sofa for a 20-minute nap (sounds delicious); or I could put on my running shoes and go run around the local park. I’m not much of a runner, but the weather was so nice and the park looked so inviting. I opted for the run.

Miracle of miracles! My energy meter was back in the green zone, and I was back in action and singing songs with the kids in the van. My brief exercise session also gave me the energy to write this blog before the Friday night deadline and fully engage with my online classes for the evening.

When you repeat this type of behavior on a regular basis, you come to rely on a brief exercise session to get your energy back on track. In fact, a brief exercise session can function just like a cup of coffee in the morning, but the benefits are far greater and last a lot longer.

There are hundreds of personal testimonials and research studies to be found on this topic.  Here is just one such post that I enjoyed reading.

If you are up for a challenge, try replacing your morning coffee with an apple and a brisk walk. I guarantee you that your energy meter will soar! (I triple dog dare you to write a blog about your experiences.)

Photo “borrowed” from Dr. Alisa Cooper.

p.s. I know you have an apple in your office if you have been keeping up with your Write 6×6 blogs!  :O)