Systematic Challenges

Earlier this week I attended a national meeting of EAB’s Superintendents’ Leadership Forum in Chicago. Admittedly, I don’t yet know a lot about K-12 outside of having friends who are teachers and the handful of folks who were in my graduate classes. What I learned should not have surprised me: K-12 leaders are challenged by many of the same things that those of us in higher ed are dealing with. Some that resonated with me are preparing students for careers, motivating students and teachers, declining enrollment, navigating politics, providing wrap-around services, and perhaps most top of mind, student safety and responding to activism.

Both the K-12 and higher ed sectors are also dealing with state divestment. EAB has many tool kits and research to help these sectors succeed, and I would urge K-12 and local higher ed partners to work together even more than they already do. It’s difficult; time and money are finite, they run on different schedules, and there are so many things that they could organize around. I’m not sure I would have said the same in 2010 when I started my first job out of my masters program. I loved so many parts of that job but the thorn in my side was a tutoring partnership with a local high school. I spent a lot of time trying to order pizza and take attendance for high school students who didn’t seem to care. If they didn’t, then why should I.

Of course now I know that that was misguided. Those students were primarily, if not entirely, students of color. They came from low-performing schools and from low socio-economic background. The tutoring was important, of course, but what was more important, was showing them that college was a possible pathway for them.  I know there are lots of these types of programs across the country, and I hope that the staff “gets it” sooner than I did. 

 

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While in Chicago I did take time to enjoy some deep dish pizza (with butter crust, of course) and some Garrett’s popcorn. I’m a pizza purist by heart (I am a New Yorker, after all), but it was a delightful treat.

 

Two Weeks in

I’m almost two weeks into my new role on the research team at the Education Advisory Board (EAB). EAB has several offerings that support of our mission to make “education smarter.” In practice, this means student success and institutional efficiency technologies, enrollment management support, and research memberships. Research informs all work that we do. This research is highly qualitative and seeks gather best practices from within our membership. We then find opportunities to share back through on-campus visits and national meetings focused on areas like advancement, student affairs, academic affairs, IT, and others.

There is so much to learn, and I feel like I’m back in grad school. Right now is my “reading period,” and I am catching up on all those higher ed books I purchased and never made the time to read as well as the research done by the firm in our topic areas. It is important context that will inform the rest of my career with EAB. The good news is I seem to have become more efficient in getting through material than I was in grad school. I’m also spending time attending national meetings to learn about what our member campuses are dealing with and how our research can help.

Perhaps more importantly though, is the culture of the firm. From day 1 I felt that everyone I came into contact with was invested in my success and was there to help me succeed. I’m sure part of this is that I’m now working in the private sector and happy and productive employees hopefully means happy members and ultimately, a better bottom line. But I can’t argue with that. I feel very supported and excited about my future with EAB. I also appreciate the high priority that the firm places on community engagement. It seems genuine and they have even received recognition from my friends at Points of Light.

Additionally, I am excited to continue to learn and expand my expertise. My heart will always be in civic and community engagement, and I look forward to finding ways to continue that work in my role here. I already have some ideas on that. In the meantime, it’s important that I learn about all aspects of higher ed, not just so that I’m successful here at the firm but so that I can think about what that means for me as a higher ed professional.

Next week I’ll be in Chicago for my third national meeting. Perhaps a hotel/travel post to come!

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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A New High Impact Practice?

A few months back I submitted a manuscript for consideration in a book about service learning. My work was declined and the feedback was that it referenced old research. That is a fair critique and one I run towards. We need more research from faculty, staff, students, and community members. We need to make it accessible to everyone. But I can’t reference material that doesn’t exist. In that spirit of accessibility, I’m including some high level bullets here from my submission.

But first let me say that we live in a time where cultivating good citizens is more important than it has been in decades. Recent events on campuses across the country unequivocally prove this. Yes we need well paying jobs for student loans, and cars, and rent, and groceries, but we also need young people who are engaged, in a respectful way, in the political process. We need students talking with those who have different viewpoints than their own, who understand how legislation is passed, who know that the way they interact with their neighbors matter, and who believe that the success of a democracy depends on equity. I don’t believe that cultivating good citizens should be at odds with preparing financially stable adults. I submit that a service year can serve as the connective tissue between career readiness and good citizenship.

I also believe that service years are the next high impact practice (Kuh, 2008), but we need more proof points. What we know:

  • Service years build on the foundations of high impact practices, especially internships and service-learning;
  • like other HIPS, service years increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves;
  • corps members reported high levels of civic engagement (connection to community, community problem identification, neighborhood obligations, civic obligations, personal effectiveness of community service, personal growth through community service, local civic efficacy, grassroots efficacy, community-based activism, and engagement in the political process);
  • more than service-learning, service years can create a depth in the relationship with the community, working to solve for challenges of time commitment, unprepared volunteers, and time spent on on-boarding; and,
  • like internships, service years connected to academic credit allow young people to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world (think teacher preparation or nursing and social work practicums).

I’m asking colleges and universities to take the lead and consider how a service year can address some of the challenges we’re facing as a nation, and how it can solve for the challenges they face in college readiness and student persistence. Then we need to evaluate how we’re doing and how we can get better.

CLDE 2017 Conference

I’m a little behind in blogging, but head over to Service Year to read my thoughts on the CLDE conference. It was a great opportunity to connect with former colleagues (especially those I used to work with at Rochester Youth Year), meet new colleagues, and discuss advancing civic engagement in higher ed. Many thanks to the conveners of the meeting- American Democracy Project, The Democracy Commitment, and NASPA!

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I got to present with my lovely friend Alexis from Averett University. Here we are in our Kate Spade!

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.

On ERCC2017

Across Campus Compact, there are nearly 500 AmeriCorps members serving in campuses across the country and in community organizations. There are also a number of Bonner Scholars who receive a partial AmeriCorps education award as undergraduates.

I had the opportunity to attend the Eastern Region Campus Compact convening in NYC this week when the announcement came through that President Trump had proposed to zero out (defund) the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that provides oversight for AmeriCorps. There are also drastic cuts looming in foreign aid through which the Peace Corps is funded. It remains unclear how Youth Build will be impacted. They are funded through the Department of Labor.

I was already mentally exhausted by the time I made it to the conference at 8am. I had a quick chat with my friend and colleague, Dr. Andrew Seligsohn (President of Campus Compact) regarding the news and whether he might say a few words at some point in the day.

Shortly thereafter (and unbeknownst to me), the New Jersey Director Saul Peterson kicked off the day. He asked those who had served or were currently serving in AmeriCorps to stand. Then he asked those who had been impacted by AmeriCorps to stand. The entire room stood. It was a powerful, re-energizing moment and he went on to explain why it was so important to highlight the contributions of AmeriCorps members on that day in particular. Throughout the day it kept coming up. Colleagues came up to me asking how they might help, and I appreciated the opportunity to address all of the attendees at lunch to describe what tools we had available and what they could expect from us.

It was a difficult day, and will continue to be difficult in weeks and months to come, but I am so grateful to have spent the day with people who “get it” and aren’t afraid to take action. Keep calling your members of Congress. Tweet and Email them. Attend town halls or visit your local offices. Advocacy starts with you.

And as is typical, I’m ending with a quote from The West Wing: “I fought you, I lost, I had a drink, I took a shower. ‘Cause that’s how it is in the NBA.” Not ready to lose yet.

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.