Strengths

Late last year I accidentally got a Gallup Strengthsfinder coach. I was on the phone with a colleague and we were discussing another individual with whom we were both working. My colleague commented that knowing this other person’s strengths would help us move forward with the work. A few months prior I had competed my own assessment and pulled up the results for her. This was the second time I’ve taken the assessment (both times for work), and did not give them a second thought. I’m pretty self aware and so none of them came as a surprise.

If you haven’t taken the assessment before, you respond to a series of questions and are then provided with your top five strengths which are situated into one of four categories. Four out of my five were in one bucket- strategic planning. Upon learning this she generously offered to spend some time with me unpacking this, the root of my unhappiness, and how I could move forward. Little did I know she was a certified Gallup Coach.

I had never had a coach or a therapist before, and somehow this woman became both. I now credit her for helping get me through some pretty difficult times. She helped guide me through the Strengths Wheel, the Talent Map, and walked me through my Insight Report. Not only was it helpful to have someone to talk to, but it truly helped me understand how my strengths could be seen by others and how to leverage those to find positions that would allow me to draw upon them. By understanding how my strengths may be viewed by others, I was able to clearly articulate what wasn’t working in my professional life and try to address it. While ultimately that was unsuccessful, I knew that I had used all of the tools in my toolbox to the best of my ability.

When I was interviewing for the role I’ll begin in February, I was able to talk about these strengths. The role requires that I assist the firm’s members in understanding and tailoring research findings to their needs and develop a thorough, leading-edge understanding of industry trends and issues. Learner and intellect are two of my top five strengths, and I’m excited to be able to use them in this position.

Two out of my top five strengths in 2017 were the same as they were the first time I took the assessment several years ago, so I’m curious what will happen the next time I take it. I am forever grateful to my coach, and now friend for her time and encourage others to go through this process. It was a huge learning opportunity for me and hope that these learnings will continue to inform my personal and professional life for years to come.

Transitions

I’m in my final days working at Service Year Alliance (SYA). I was the first Service Year employee since I didn’t come from one of the original three organizations that merged to form SYA. I’ve learned a lot about start-up organizations, had the opportunity to work closely with people and partner organizations that I greatly admire, and have learned so much about myself in the process. I’m grateful for all of these.

Transitions are difficult. For me they are hardest because relationships are important. However, I’ve never been fully able to break away from previous jobs. I communicate regularly with my first boss at the University of Rochester and make sure to highlight their great work whenever possible. I hosted students from The Washington Center each semester and accepted invitations for informational interviews while working at Service Year. I don’t know how I’ll continue to support SYA, but look forward to doing so in whatever ways make sense. While I did not do a year of service myself, it is the foundation of who I am as a professional and an academic.

In February, I will join the Education Advisory Board (EAB) as a director of member education. I look forward to visiting campuses across the country to lead presentations and facilitate conversations on research and best practices to EAB’s members. I’m excited to immerse myself in research and in a culture that is helping colleges be more successful in ways that are important to them. This is my first time working in the private sector and not working directly in civic and community engagement. Through EAB I will be able to expand my areas of practice and expertise, something that is immensely important to me as I think about my future. I will always be a champion for and advocate of the public purposes of higher education (and of course, national service in America).

My position at EAB will require about 80% travel so you can anticipate lots of travel stories on the blog and photos from all the campuses I’ll be visiting. In the interim, I’m taking a little break to visit my favorite rainy city across the pond. Maybe I’ll write another post from London discussing how I came to make this decision: Digging into my strengths through a Gallup certified coach and the support I’ve had throughout my job search process.

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Bonjourno!

I’m currently finishing up a week in Italy, spending much needed time away from the American news and the monotony of adult life. To be honest, Italy was never at the top of my travel bucket list. I don’t LOVE pasta (I know, I hate to admit it too but I may have turned a corner here), and I feel as though I’ve had my fill of churches and museums to last a lifetime. Of course, there’s much more to a culture than those things, but that’s where my head was. Now, even though I’ve only spent a few days in Rome, Florence, and Bologna, it’s easy to see why people fall in love with Italy and I will most certainly return. There are many more cities to visit, and much more wine and food to be enjoyed.

I haven’t taken a complete break from real life though. It’s hard to when technology makes it incredibly easy to stay connected. Part of me misses the days when I traveled to Europe without the benefit of my iPhone, MacBook, and iPad. I think I probably spent much more time being lost in foreign cities, but I wasn’t concerned about checking email or posting photos immediately. I wonder what happened to all of those internet cafés?

There are some interesting connections to my real life here. My professional career has been built on the belief that communities are better when there are associations amongst people and when those people play an integral role in governing the polity. Italy is home to one of the first republics, and I appreciated the reminder that republics and democracy can indeed, endure for centuries.

It was an especially welcomed reminder when I woke up this morning to the news that President Trump has committed to ending AmeriCorps. It was rumored in the “skinny budget,” and now we know that the proposal in the FY 2018 is to provide minimal funding to support the shutdown of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), presumably making it obsolete in the coming year. As I’ve written before, support for AmeriCorps and Peace Corps is bi-partisan. These programs strengthen communities, support veterans, provide critical support after natural disasters, and foster the skills and attitudes that we all want in our young people. They also lead to long-term civic engagement.

Leaving the news behind for a just a bit, I took a day trip to visit to Bologna to visit the Archiginnasio, the first seat of the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, this is the oldest university of the Western world. Much like when I visited Trinity College in Dublin, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, I felt incredibly humbled. There’s nothing like walking the grounds of a university that is thousands of years old and knowing that people infinitely smarter than you walked those same halls. Higher education was very different back then, of course, but there’s something both familiar and awe-inspiring. And there’s a sense of coming back just a little bit better and smarter for having gone. Until next time, ciao!

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Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Putnam)

 

See you in Denver!

Earlier this year I joined the board of the American Gap Association. This organization maintains standards for gap year programs and works to ensure that students have a high quality experience through their accreditation process. The Association also conducts research. I happily support their mission for both personal and professional reasons.

While I didn’t take a gap year myself, I did have the chance to study abroad three out of my four years in college and they were experiences that continue to shape my world view. My masters thesis reviewed the history of study abroad, and I can only imagine if I had done so for a year. While gap years are perhaps more common in Europe, these activities are certainly gaining traction in the United States for a number of reasons.

Students don’t always feel ready to tackle college. Some are burnt out from high school (I was one of those students), don’t have the funds, or simply don’t know what they want to study. This is simplifying the challenge, but it rings true for thousands of students across the country. Students are also taking gap years after college and before graduate school or career. This is often the case for students who enter into AmeriCorps.

I also support AGA from professional standpoint. Not all gap years are service years, but together we can advance the awareness of opportunities and the number and scope of options. Gap year programs also tend to be international and we are continuing to explore how international service year programs fit into our offerings.

Gap year programs can have a significant impact on those who take one. An alumni survey found the following outcomes:

4b Gap Year Outcomes

Alumni of service year programs have similar outcomes, though less so on language acquisition and more so on activities related to citizenship and democracy. At the annual AGA conference next week, I will present on Service Years as Gap Year Option. Please come say hello if you’re there.

Higher Ed in a Can

At some point last week I was speaking with my boss about the number of last minute requests he must get and the short time frame to get them done. I had a similar request and it threw me a bit because we are still working on our data management processes. He said that I was used to higher education and this is the way in which everyone else operates.

I like time to prepare. There are a couple theories I have about this. One is that I’m an introvert. I like to write down talking points and data to back up what I say. I’m actually very comfortable speaking in front of small groups and large groups alike, and even though I’ll likely never refer to my notes, preparing them helps. Another reason is that I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like when people do not have the information to back up what they say.

But I think another reason is that I work in higher ed, and I’m used to things taking a long time. Higher ed is not an agile sector, at least in the ways that others are. Sure, we are trained to respond to student crises but when it comes to policy changes, setting priorities, or hiring, it takes forever.

My organizational theory course introduced me to “garbage can decision making.” It’s a leadership model that is characterized by organized anarchies in which preferences are not clear, technology is not clear, or participation is fluid. This results in problems, solutions, and those involved in the decision-making process going into a proverbial garbage can and the solution to a particular problem is largely up to chance.

This is an irrational way to solve problems and therefore it takes a great deal of time to get anything done. While this isn’t true for all of higher ed, this approach has impacted how others approach working with the sector. Sometimes I’m still surprised at the length of lead time required. But, we persevere and come prepared. We must resist the urge to rummage around in the garbage can. We must make decisions in a timely and rational manner. We need to be more agile, especially as our work increasingly comes under attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.” -Sam Seaborn

Next month will mark four years since I submitted my first comp question. I had no idea it was four years ago until I just recently reopened the document for some background and language on a book chapter I’m proposing. Working on my comps were definitely some of the dark days in my doctoral journey. I had ten days to put together coherent thoughts on the history of the social contract in higher education and how civic engagement is in service to that contact. Then I had a few days off and then ten more days to discuss quantitative vs. qualitative methods and once and for all articulate the difference between epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and methods.

Writing is difficult for me. I get caught up in the words, and not in some sort of romantic way like in the movies. I get caught up because I’m a perfectionist and I want to have everything ready to say before it gets down on paper. I like to think that in some way, this connects me with Aaron Sorkin.

In reviewing my comp response, I’m struck by many things. The first is that it’s awkward to read your own work. I’ve never enjoyed it- I always find mistakes and things I would have done differently. It also often comes with the realization of how little I knew at the time. Most surprisingly though, is that several of the people I reference in my comps are people I now call my friends. Four years ago these people were just names in a book and the organizations were just addresses on a street in DC or Boston I’d never been to.

I don’t know whether I’ll have time to actually finish this chapter and submit it for consideration. It is something I am prioritizing so I am hopeful, but more importantly, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that I somehow finished my degree despite letting go of my committee and moving 400 miles away. I’m grateful that I have mentors and colleagues who share their time and knowledge (that will always be vastly greater than my own), and that my field supports, and indeed depends on collaboration.

We get the job done

In high school I was quite involved in theatre, owing to the fact that I loved my Honors English teacher who also led the high school and community theatre programs. Occasionally I found myself on stage but mostly I was behind the scenes making sure that the actors knew their blocking and lines, and helping with costumes. This, I think, explains a lot about my mix of academia and love of fashion. Since then I’ve remained a fan of the theatre – the stories told, the way art can bring people together, and the opportunity to dress up and step out of reality for a bit. While I’ve not had the opportunity to see Hamilton just yet, I know most of the music and fan girl over Lin-Manuel Miranda and his love of Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing any chance I get. One song, Immigrants, is particularly relevant these days and has played in my head and my iPhone on repeat.

In truth, save for our Native American friends and colleagues, we are all immigrants. About 20 years ago when my father was recovering from surgery, he had some time on his hands and decided to research our family’s genealogy. He’s an all or nothing guy so he went as far back as he could, particularly on my mother’s side. He was able to trace my maternal side all the way back to the Mayflower, where my ancestors came from Scotland and England. There’s an old castle in the highlands of Scotland that used to be in the family. I’m not sure where we went wrong, but it’s now a bed and breakfast. We were the “good kind” of immigrants with money and prospects. Less is known about his side but I’m also of German decent with his mother’s side going from Huberocker to Overacre when the reached Ellis Island. Still fairly harmless.

Coincidentally, I’ve spent the past few days attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges & Universities. The theme was Building Public Trust in the Promise of Liberal Education and Inclusive Excellence. While I have questions about what “inclusive excellence” means (if it’s truly excellent, shouldn’t it already be inclusive?), the message is clear – we need to show each other and the world that we are using post-secondary education for good and restore the public purposes of higher education. Liberal education prepares young people, and those who return to school later in life, to contribute to our global economy, to understand different perspectives, to work across differences, and so much more. This does not happen in a bubble. In part, it comes from sitting across someone who comes from a different socio economic or cultural background, who holds different political or religious belief, and the list goes on. It comes from conducting research outside the United States and learning from faculty who bring expertise that American faculty may not be able to provide.

While there are all sorts of implications for Trump’s recent executive order on immigration, I’ll focus on the impact on higher ed and liberal education. My understanding of this order is that international students, researchers (many on federal contracts), faculty, and others from certain countries will not be able to leave the United States (at least temporarily) for fear of not being able to return. It means that those who are already abroad either conducting research or visiting family after the holidays may be unable to return. For now, this might be a short-term and possibly illegal “inconvenience.”

The long-term implications are not yet known. How will this impact student enrollment from countries outside the US, not just the ones listed? Who is to say that their country will not be added to future lists? If they do decide to come to the United States, will they feel safe? With decreased funding, will faculty and staff have the resources necessary to support them? How would we compensate for the loss of learning from fewer perspectives? Additionally, those outside the higher ed bubble may not realize that international students are full pay students. Fewer intentional students means less financial support for domestic students. How will this impact funding for research and dissemination? Will campuses lose faculty because of this?

Clearly I have many questions and very few answers. These just scratch the surface. With the impending Brexit, the UK is having to answer many of these same questions. I didn’t the United States would have to as well.

On 2017

Admittedly, I’ve been slacking a bit on the blogging front. Thanks to vacation, an office move, the holidays, and then being sick, other things have taken up my time.

Somehow we’re already in 2017. A new year is typically filled with promises – to ourselves and others, new goals, and sometimes fear of the unknown. I’d say I’m squarely in the middle.

Personally, I will commit to writing more. This blog is a start but each year I tell myself I will work on a journal article or book chapter and then I get distracted by other things. No longer working in academia has helped my procrastination, but it’s time to get serious. I also commit to reading more. Starting with Well-being and Higher Education. Among many others, it contains a chapter by my friend and colleague, Dr. Andrew Seligsohn who serves as the president of Campus Compact. Our new office has a cozy seating area with lots of bookshelves and I should be able to end most days with a few pages.

Professionally, I intend to tell our story better. Not only the story of service but the importance of civic and community engagement. This is related to one of my fears in 2017, which is the impact that the incoming administration will have on our field. We need to be better at telling our stories with data, not just anecdotes. We need to set outcomes and achieve them. I’m also committing to learning more about how organizations operate. Non-profits are different beasts than colleges and universities and joining a nonprofit board will help me personally and professionally. I only hope that I can contribute as much as I’ll learn.

My fears, at least related to higher ed, are many. They actually started after the Brexit vote. The UK is a region that I hold near and dear. I’m unabashedly an anglophile and there are times, even now, where I’m ready to pack my bags. This article makes some predications about the higher ed landscape in the UK and this sentence resonated with me- “Universities will need to do lots of hard work to ensure they are in closer touch with their surrounding communities – many of which voted for Brexit by large majorities.” Most colleges and universities in the UK have only recently started paying attention to their neighbors and using the term “civic engagement.” I’ll be watching from across the pond to see the implications Brexit will have on international students, on faculty, and on research as well as in the neighborhoods that institutions call home.

While many colleges and universities in the US have been committed to their communities for decades, I think that their relationship with them is changing. There’s been an unfortunate uptick in the number of racially motivated crimes on campus as well as sexual assaults. There are open questions about guns on campus. We don’t know whether international or undocumented students will be able to remain on campuses. I’m also concerned that we’ll continue to strip away liberal education in favor or pure job preparation – I’ve always believed that we can marry both of these while cultivating the type of young people we need for our democracy. Despite my fears, I remain hopeful because of my colleagues, their commitment to students, and the energy of the next generation to “do good” in the world.