Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Library Streak In Review (Sneak Peek of #oneword2013)

I have spent 19 of the last 26 days, in some capacity, at the library. As someone who is not presently a student, that may seem exorbitant, even weird. I'm sure it is.

But I learned a lot about myself in the process of establishing this streak. The routine of making time for the library each day is something that I really need. I'm learning more and more that I benefit from the regimented nature of such a routine.

It allowed me to explore the city of Boston in an unconventional way (I went to 6 different libraries over the course of the streak). It allowed me to focus more attention on reading and writing- we just cancelled cable at my house, and to have a way to find a substitute for the mindless time that I spent in front of our TV has been rewarding. It provided a quiet space that I don't have at my apartment to do things like study for the GRE and finish doctoral program applications. And perhaps most importantly, I found the introvert's ideal: a way to be alone, while still with people. It is a social endeavor for me to be able to be among people at the library (I did get to speak to new people while I was there) while at the same time focusing on what is generally a solitary endeavor.

Between my time at the library, and other evaluations of what I'd like 2013 to be, I've determined what I want my #oneword2013 to be:


I'm going to dedicate more time to writing in 2013. A goal that I have is to work toward more published articles, and spending 2013 collaborating with colleagues, researching, and recording my thoughts will help me do this. I love spending time writing notes and letters to friends, and want to make more time for that in the new year. I also want to do more blogging, and committing myself to reflective writing- not, as many have noted, listing or bulleting, but really writing. When I was younger, I spent more time writing to express myself, process my feelings, and understand myself. I've spent far less time doing that over the past several years, and notice the lack of focus that has resulted. I want to commit to writing more to contribute knowledge, to connect with friends, and to understand myself.


Who else is doing a #oneword this year? What is it? And how can I support you in living it?


Pondering Privilege: The Journey Toward SNAP Challenge 2013

Happy Boxing Day, y'all.
Well, now that the hubbub of Christmas is nearly over, I am left with just under a week before the SNAP Challenge begins. I'm still excited about the prospect of it, feeling more prepared for it, and am so encouraged by the support that many friends have given me- both morally through tips on previous blog/social media posts, and through donations to my Crowdrise site.

Another element that I have encountered in this process has been challenge. And let me be clear: I LOVE that. I've long been someone who desires a break from monolithic thinking, and if someone sees a crack in logic I'm using, I'm happy to debate it with him or her. So I was pleased, if slightly uncomfortable (which is good!) when a friend of a friend claimed to not understand the point of what I was doing. His argument? To try and carry on a normal life while doing something so inconsistent with the remainder of my surroundings (gainful employment, other needs fulfilled, even in the position to partake in activities of excess like half marathons and work potlucks) wouldn't help anyone.

After thinking about it for a while and responding to the person in question, I came to my own understanding on what he was saying. I agree and disagree. I agree, there is an element of privilege associated with the very decision to undertake something like this. Further, to isolate hunger from other elements of poverty is unreasonable. I agree with that as well.

But the goal of this is to experience something a little more personal, rather than showing the world "I can eat less and still be okay!" I realize that I have access to things in a position of privilege that most don't have. I have planned test menus and gone to the grocery store to see how much they would cost. How did I plan? Pinterest, online flyers, and a smartphone. How did I get there? Public transportation, subsidized in part by my employer. All luxuries that may not be at the disposal of someone on food stamps. I don't deny that there is a level of privilege innate to be participating in this self-imposed challenge.

Feast in the Great Hall? Who wouldn't love that?
However, I don't think that takes away its value. For my part, there are some things that have been difficult for me to come by. Food has never been one of those. Simply put, I don't know what that's like. But as a strong advocate for food security, I want to. I want to be able to help people who don't know where their next meal comes from not from a sense that it's unfortunate, but with an understanding that it is difficult. I may not be able to understand other symptoms of poverty, and I accept that. But when I think about the range of human needs, food is a basic one, nearly the most basic. I want to make a change in the world surrounding this basic need, and it can only start with me. I don't expect to move mountains over the course of 30 days. I can advocate for a cause, I can learn more about it, and I can come to an understanding of the cause that I support. And I can come away from this with an appreciation for what I have.

That final point, appreciation, spurred me to finally put fingers to keys on this long-anticipated post after a compilation from one of my new daily sources of "news", Buzzfeed. Often a source for a laugh in a quiet part of a workday or discussion with a group of friends, it was a source of frustration this morning as I read "People Who Didn't Get What They Wanted for Christmas". I won't excerpt it here, but suffice it to say that the flippancy with which these people (teenagers, granted) treated the holiday horrified me. Similarly, I'm particularly rankled by post-Christmas sales this year. What better way to cap off a day in which many have acquired stuff, but with more stuff? This is not the place for me to rail against the capitalist tilt that the holiday has taken, and I won't. But what I will say is that being able to have food on the table multiple times a day, without fail or worry, is its own gift. And by the end of January 2013, I hope to have a more real appreciation for that gift. I hope you'll continue to follow along.

Previous Posts:

The Pantry Problem

Oh SNAP! Introducing SNAP Challenge 2013

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Road Toward SNAP Challenge 2013: The Pantry Problem

As I continue to prepare for the SNAP Challenge that awaits me January 1st, I started contemplating how much preparation that could realistically entail. That is to say, what is to become of what's in the house once I start?
My accountabili-buddy in any number of other avenues, Jessi Robinson, confirmed what I already knew as I pondered the question:

I was talking to my wife about this; she is a Social Worker & most of her clients are on SNAP. Something to keep in mind as one does this is that most people who don't need food assistance also have pantries--people who DO have food assistance typically can't afford to create a pantry to pull from, which winds up hurting them over time (I can always have rice with a meal because I always have rice on hand & can afford a larger hit when it runs out). SNAP recipients usually can't afford the hit for a big bag of rice that will last for longer than a given month because they have to eat it during that month. Creating a pantry is difficult if one doesn't properly think it through beforehand.

So the question is, what do I allow myself to start with? What do I tuck away for the month of January? And what do I spend the next several weeks feverishly trying to finish?

Ultimately, I decided that I am prepared to start with salt, pepper, and a can of vegetable cooking spray. Anything else that I decide I "need", will have to fit within the confines of the budget. So staples like oatmeal, rice, or even spices like garlic powder will not enter into the equation unless I introduce them. I can't make this completely real (more on that in a future post), but I am open to coming as close as I can.
What other challenges should I be considering? Anything I'm leaving out?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Road Toward SNAP Challenge 2013: "HOW will you do it?"

Good morning everyone!
As I start the journey toward January and the SNAP Challenge, I have already gotten a few questions- the most common being "HOW will you do it?" To be completely honest, I don't have all the answers. I think my answer, as with most things I set my mind to, is "I just will."

That being said, for those concerned that the month will be a series of fainting spells a la the Victorian Era, I want you to know that I'm putting some thought into it! Here are a few resources that I will undoubtedly turn to for inspiration and guidance as I move through January.

Poor Girl Eats Well: this is a seemingly sad name for a blog, but there is one resource in particular that interests me on this site. The $25 Shopping Cart offers strategies, recipes and advice for doing your grocery shopping on this amount, and serve 1-2 people for 10 days. Whoa!

The link that I've included details her $25 trip to Trader Joe's, but she has successfully accomplished this at a number of other stores. I look forward to looking over her trips, seeing what I should remember and what will be out of my reach for the month.

50 Healthy Foods Under $1 a Pound: I don't want a challenge such as this to derail me from my normally healthy eating patterns, especially because money concerns are frequently cited as an obstacle for healthy eating. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be in training for a half-marathon during this time and also have dietary restrictions. So this takes a great deal of care on my part.

I was pleased to see some foods I already frequently eat and really enjoy (apples, bananas, eggs, lentils, spinach, rice, yogurt) are on this list, and am counting on making those staples of this experiment. I will be posting recipes, so stay tuned!

31 Things You Can Freeze to Save Time and Money: One of the biggest concerns I already have, and will have to pay especially close attention to over the course of the month, is losing food to waste and spoilage. This post details 31 things that freeze well for preservation. This was educational for me (I can freeze pasta? Word? Doing it!) I plan to make liberal use of my freezer to make sure that I don't waste things that could go bad, and I am eager to try as many tips on this page as possible.

Any other advice to offer? Tips to share? I am taking any and all advice :) 

Previous Posts:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Oh, SNAP! Introducing SNAP Challenge 2013

About 6 months ago, I reached out to my friends and family and asked them to support a cause I am extremely supportive of, combating food insecurity in America. I was so lucky to have many friends, colleagues and supporters donate over $500 to Run 10 Feed 10, and I thank you all for that.

I want to do more to advance the cause of fighting food insecurity this year, but I wondered: how?

The answer came in the form of a challenge embarked upon by Newark Mayor Cory Booker. 

The full story can be found here, but the bottom line is this: troubled by the concerns brought to him about so many Newark residents unable to be certain where their next meal was coming from, he spent a week living on the cash equivalent of food stamps: $29.73. Although it was only seven days, his struggle was apparent. He spoke openly about his struggles wasting food, living without his daily cup of coffee, and his hunger. 

This is not what I'll be eating, Scout's honor!
He has inspired me to do the same, this time for a month. For the month of January, I will be living on the cash equivalent of food stamps: $29.73 a week. As someone who food shops recreationally, who thinks nothing of buying food if I can't find any, and as someone who has dietary restrictions that sometimes make shopping expensive, I'm prepared to live the lifestyle of someone far less fortunate for a while.

There will be challenges, to be sure. I'll be in training for a half marathon during the month; my sister will be with me for part of it, causing me to feed 2 people on that amount; and there is a high likelihood that we will have a staff cook-off during the month, which I will prepare food for. This will not be an easy undertaking, but I'm ready to take it on.

How can you help? As with my last endeavor, I will be raising money on Crowdrise, and the link can be found here:

The proceeds of this experiment of mine (which will be chronicled on this blog) will go toward the Greater Boston Food Bank, to help them supplement the meager and often uncertain lifestyle of many Boston residents. 

I speak a lot about caring for those who don't have enough to eat, for those who struggle to provide food on a consistent basis. But I've been lucky enough to not know what that feels like. I'd like to take time learning about how it feels so that I can truly appreciate all that I have. And I truly hope that you'll help me raise some money in the process :)

Stay tuned over the next six weeks to see my journey!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Library Streak

As many of you know, I am a runner. Not a particularly fast or skilled one, but a determined and dedicated one. Yet, this year I am choosing not to participate in the Runner's World Run Streak. Designed to maintain healthy habits during a time of year where it is otherwise challenging to be healthy, it requires one mile a day from the runner each day between Black Friday and Christmas. But not for me. Not this year.

Why? Because I'm adopting a new streak. The library streak. From December 1st until Christmas (or Christmas Eve, depending on when they close for the holiday), I plan to spend part of each day at the library. Be it a campus library (mine or another school in the area), the neighborhood library, or the main library downtown (where I spent my first two days, and have LOVED the atmosphere), I'm spending some of each day surrounded by books.

The reasons for this are many. First and foremost, the library gives me the space, time and concentration to study for the upcoming GRE (December 11th, folks, and there will be MUCH partying when I'm done!). After that, it'll allow me to dedicate time to a few articles and other written pieces that I'm itching to work on. But most of all, it'll give me a sense of academic discipline that I miss when I'm not in school, one that I'll need should I be accepted to school in the fall. Moreover, I have free access to books. Books, for me, are a serious money suck. For someone with aspirations of a Beauty and the Beast style library and nowhere near the income to accommodate such wishes, a library is the safest place to be- all the trappings of Belle's library without the severe financial commitment.

And lastly, it brings me to a place I haven't spent enough quality time in since I was a child. As a lifetime avid reader, the library became home to me when I needed a book to read for vacation but didn't own it. It was a place to explore, to learn, to be quiet and thoughtful in a place made for just that. I've missed that. So I'm coming back. Thus far, it has accepted me.

As I wrap up day 3 of the library streak, I leave you with another ringing endorsement of the library system :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Re-Inspiration, Two Ways

I'll be the first to admit it, I Tweet a lot. Perhaps more than I should. I don't think I've reached the point of "eating this", "wishing I could eat that", "headed to the bathroom!" tweeting. But admittedly, it's my default place to go for information, entertainment, and inspiration.

But at times, we can find that our go-to sources of inspiration are not getting the job done. Why? Likely because they're the go-to place. The default, the constant source. I believe that for something to be inspiring, it has to be different. And while the "Excellence is a habit" or "Impossible says 'I'm possible" quotes are inspiring at times, they can't get the job done every day. So what's a girl to do?

Over the weekend, I noticed a few practices that re-energized me. I'd like to share them for those seeking inspiration, new thought, or a break from the day-to-day.

Seek Inspiration at the Bookstore. Of all of the places I could be considered "dangerous if unsupervised with a credit card", bookstores would top the list. I always want to read something, and it doesn't matter how many books are ahead in the queue- if I see a book I want, I'll buy it. But yesterday, after a day of studying, I found myself at Barnes and Noble with no agenda but to wander. And wander I did. But I started paying attention to where I lingered. My body went on auto-pilot to the business section, without me realizing what was happening (I'm being completely serious- I've never been to the business section in this store, and just ended up there as though on auto-pilot.). Stands to reason, as I've been finding a lot of inspiration for my work in the business section. Sensing a pattern, I just let myself continue to wander, making note of where I naturally stopped. Humor, Biography, Music and Performing Arts, Cooking. All of these are industries and vocations where I typically seek inspiration- I like to use humor and theater strategies for retreats to get students energized, borrow from the management theories in restaurants to evoke efficiency, and look to the lives of others to learn what has been done and what could be done.

The next time you're in a bookstore, just let your mind go, and see where it takes your body. Chances are, you could find your next flash of genius there.

Follow People Who Do Something You Don't. Now stay with me here.
I have grown to love Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for the ability to connect and interact with fellow student affairs professionals and aspiring members of the field. However, I find that there are some days that, through no fault of anyone, I need to hear something else. References are constantly made to us working within an "echo chamber". I absolutely see it, and sometimes believe it.

I was searching through influencers on LinkedIn this morning, selecting who I want to follow. It occurred that there are few, if any, influencers who work in higher education. And you know what? I'm okay with that. While I think it would be good for some of the professionals in our field to apply for the position of influencer, I'm also aware that it's good to be influenced by those who do something different than what we do. As I said when commenting on a post I found there the other day, "there may be problems in our industry, that have already been solved in another. How will we know if we don't ask?" For me, the quickest way to break free from the muddled mass of recycled, even exhausted topics of conversation is to look somewhere different and start a completely different conversation.

Where do you go for inspiration when the standby sources aren't getting it done?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

USF's Latest Marketing Campaign, and A Proposal for "Pre-Professional Athletics"

I'll put this forth first: I am one of the most realistic sports fans you'll ever meet. No blind faith here, just fandom in times both good and bad. As a Tampa Bay sports fan, it's probably the best stance I could take :)

Along with that comes the ability to be critical of managerial and marketing decisions. Anyone who knew me during the Lightning's nightmarish Oren Koules period is well aware of that. But the latest eyebrow raising from Tampa sports comes from this recent marketing campaign for USF Basketball:

Billboards with sayings such as "we major in home openers", "I major in get that junk outta here", and "I major in schooling you" send a mixed message. As an institution that speaks often of its graduation rate for student athletes and has a president who is an active member of both the Big East Conference and the NCAA, this sends a message that the school part doesn't matter as much. That worries me.

The contemplation continued this morning when Beth Moriarty shared this article from the Chronicle: "End the Charade: Let Athletes Major in Sports." There are elements of it that I agree with, and elements that really concern me. On the one hand, it allows a comprehensive education like many of us hope for- a way to incorporate education with something a student truly loves and understands. And if done thoughtfully, such an endeavor of marrying athletics and academics would allow for mutual support of each other's work, a concept foreign to many institutions.

On the other hand, this to me smacks of creating a major by demand of consumers, but not the market. Just as it feels disingenuous and excessive to create for-profit programs of study in crime scene investigation based on interest in similar TV shows, does it make sense to create an academic curriculum that could flood the market with a slew of athletics majors, a market that is far smaller than the demand of students to fill it? Granted, not all students would choose this major- for some do truly see it as a means to supplement an unrelated education- but many likely would. And moreover, would those majors ultimately end up with greater support and disproportionate resources, just as athletics programs occasionally do in relation to academic pursuits?

This raises many more questions than it provides answers, and I'm sure they will be addressed in time. But what do you think? Should athletics be a major? How would you like to see it structured?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Farewell to Elmo, or The Lasting Power of Words

The past few weeks have seen controversy surround someone, as the result of using words without full consideration. A 24 year old male who engaged in a relationship with Sesame Street Workshop producer/director/puppeteer Kevin Clash came out last week, saying that Clash had engaged in an illicit and inappropriate relationship with him. The catch? Clash is best known for his work as the primary puppeteer, personality, and voice of Elmo. He is credited with steering the direction of Sesame Street away from Big Bird, who has long been a secondary face of the show (until Mitt Romney threatened to fire him, of course), and giving Elmo his current characteristics of childlike wonder and unconditional love.

Today, Clash and the Children's Television Workshop released a statement announcing Clash's resignation. Despite the fact that the Workshop's own investigation found no illegal action on Clash's part, AND the accuser recanted his statement three days after making it, Elmo will permanently have a new voice as the result of this circus. And as we speak, the accusation of a second accuser is making its way to courts.

I admit, as an outsider to the situation, I have no way of knowing if all the released information is true, nor do I claim to know all the facts of the situation. But what I do know is that there is a lesson in the stated course of events. And I can also admit, it is one that I should pay attention to.

I am a grudge holder. I know it, and I try not to, but if I'm hurt, I don't forget it. That being said, I'm extremely careful about what I say. Why? Because the impact of those words lasts. This is proof of that. A statement likely made emotionally has taken down a 28 year career that brought joy to many. Those words can (and have) been taken back, but their effect remains. Let this unfortunate series of events serve as a warning: watch your words. They could have effects you would never intend or imagine, whether you would mean for it to happen or not. The effects could be the destruction of a friendship, or even as big as tarnishing the legacy of a beloved entertainer.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Importance of Challenge

A recurring theme in my life this week has been the power of challenge, and what it does to shape the person that you are.

The first instance which prompted me to think about it was, unfortunately, the death of my uncle a week ago tomorrow. He had been sick for several years, and passed peacefully. And the thing I will remember most about him was that he was the first adult to challenge me. When you're a kid, adults tend to either lay down rules and punish you for diasgreeing, or allow you to believe you're right (even if you're not). But my Uncle Simon and I argued. For example, he didn't have a microwave in his house for ages, for fear of the radiation they emitted. He was convinced they weren't safe. I never understood that, and we had some heated discussion about that. Another example was the ends of chicken bones. He railed against me for wasting them, insisting that the antibiotic quality was lost if I left them behind (a fact which, of course, he is correct about). But I remember arguing with him, disagreeing with him, really being challenged. 

But I learned from that. I learned to defend a position I believe in. I learned to think critically about both sides of something. For example, what did I do after the microwave argument? I looked it up. In BOOKS, because we didn't get the Internet for another few years :) I learned that an argument doesn't always have to be personal, or emotional, or even particularly hard fought. But when it is, there's something to be learned from it. And in later years, when we spoke less often and he would let me know he was proud for all the work I was doing, I don't think I ever told him what role he played in that ability to reason and debate. I wish I had.
Thanks, Uncle Simon. You're looking pretty fresh.
  Those lessons flooded back to me today as Eric Stoller and Ann Marie Klotz debated the social structures that informed her well-received blog post this morning. Each stood his or her ground, each spoke rationally, and each lent his or her opinion to the discourse. And unlike so much bickering and anger we saw so openly during election week, it was civil and composed. No irrational threats of unfriending or personal attacks, just heated discussion about an issue each party was passionate about. And when the discourse needed to fade (after all, it was a workday!), it did peacefully. They embraced the civility I called for last week in the wake of the election results. 

I'm glad I had someone so special in my life to teach me the importance of challenge, and particularly glad to be able to see it exemplified in two professionals who I admire for their ability to challenge others, and to challenge me in dissecting their discourse.

How do you deal with challenge?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quiet Strength: Developing the Introverted Student Leader

Well folks, as some of you may know, I have an article in this month's Campus Activities Programming magazine. A few had mentioned they wanted to read it, so I'm providing a crude scan job of the article until the electronic version posts.
Hope you enjoy, but more importantly, I hope you consider it when working with students in your offices, and particularly in recruiting new ones.

After talking to another friend concerned about a coworker in regards to introversion, I realized that this is something my friends and colleagues recognize I'm passionate about (and you all know I hate the "P" word). And that makes me excited, because it's something I'm really interested in researching more, even as a dissertation topic. So this is an exciting start for me- the first chance to provide insight on an area that there is a gap in exploration on, and in an area I really enjoy learning about.

Who knows where it'll go from here, but I'm excited for this start :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Running for My Life


One of the things I was most looking forward to after this past weekend's Wine and Dine Half Marathon, aside from the wining and dining, was the above video, shared with me by fellow runner (who I ran with for the first time this race!) Megan Johnston. It brings about what is, to me, the most hilarious and significant souvenirs of long distance run- the post race walk.

While my fellow runners wore their medals around the park the following day, I wore this button to show my preferred badge of honor:
"13.1: You can tell by my walk."

And finally, I saw this image this evening. 

It reminded me about why many choose to run. It's not just a means to go to Disney and justify heavy eating, or a way to stay in shape and healthy, or even a means to clear the head when the rest of the world serves mainly to fill it up. It's all of those things, but also a way to return us to something simpler. When you run, really run, to the point of pain, it brings you back to the most basic reason to run: survival. Whether you ran to escape capture, or ran to hunt for sustenance, running keeps us alive. And while I sometimes hate "walking like ET" the day after the race, it proves that I'm alive. After 3 miles, or 5 miles, or this past 13.1 miles, I'm alive.
If you're gonna live, best to do it with friends :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Civility in Victory, Civility in Defeat

When I woke up yesterday morning, November 6th, we had a president. When I woke up this morning, November 7th, we had a president. Frankly, the only excitement that I had to share (aside from the video of a still-employed Big Bird dancing that I found on YouTube) was that the deluge of political activity in the media stopped.

But I saw something very different. In the same way that we gloat or sulk after winning or losing a board game as children, or as adults in our more heated sports rivalries, the discourse had shifted to vocal expressions of both excitement and disappointment. I understand wanting to voice those feelings, but I'm not okay with them being an attack on anyone. As an example, I read an article about a mall collapse in Ghana earlier today. First commenter's contribution to the thread? "If only Obama had been in there." Really?!?!

I wish I had saved the Tweet I read this morning urging adults to be careful how they behaved today, for children learn a lot about expressing themselves after a win or loss from watching us. What can children learn from you in these moments?

I posted an image yesterday courtesy of George Takei yesterday that I'm sharing here again for its truthful nature. I don't have a problem with people disagreeing. I wrote a post last year about stepping outside the echo chamber, something I firmly believe in as a mechanism for learning something new as well as for reaffirming what you believe. And that is no less true in this instance. If you disagree with anything I say, engage me in discussion about it. I'm happy to listen, offer my opinions, and debate...respectfully. The very moment that it becomes a personal attack, or loses its air of respect, I will refuse to engage.

People are different. And we live in a country where that's okay, even (at times) encouraged. Is it nice to have people agree with you? Yes. But I'm of the belief that there is value in having people around who challenge you. But same, different, it should all be respectful. And for all today, no matter your take on the election result, please be respectful in your expressions.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why I Wouldn't Run the ING NYC Marathon.

There is a debate raging on the Internet, and surely amongst actual people in the area, about the running of the ING NYC Marathon this weekend, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I'm all about running in new circumstances- the unanticipated hills of Tallahassee, the difficult elevation of Denver, and the impending snow runs I have to look forward to in Boston. 

There is so much of me that believes the text of the picture to the right. New York has faced disaster before, and has had the opportunity to rise through the dedication of people, and marathon running is a wildly communal endeavor. Just as so many people have looked out for each other during these trying times (check out the Mashable collection of images for proof of spirit in the face of darkness), so too do distance runners take care of each other.

However, I wouldn't run the ING NYC Marathon if given the chance. As someone who has been on the administrative side of a race, I have been privy to the citywide resources that it takes to successfully pull off such an undertaking as a road race. And for all the arguments that have surface about "it's just for a few hours" and "the recovery won't happen because the race doesn't happen", I agree there. But in times where frustration and unrest is rising as difficulty continues, now is not the time

There is also a case to be made for the indulgence of corporate races that I will touch on only briefly- the amount of money involved with cancelling a race of this magnitude is significant, and that will hurt the bottom line of this race in subsequent years- but at the end of the day, I don't want to balance my argument on that. I would rather bring it back to the people who are enduring the difficulty of a destroyed home. Should life go on as normal? Sure. But not yet. Not just yet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Superstorm Sandy and Sensitive Semantics

Well, I survived my first hurricane day as a non-Floridian. I thankfully have previously lived in an area notorious for its lack of a direct hurricane hit *knocks on wood* for nearly 200 years. But that never keeps me from taking these things seriously. I make sure there's extra water and canned food on hand, that the refrigerator and freezer are turned down in case we lose power, that candles aren't too far away, and that I have a nearby area with no windows to retreat to.

Even though I've been blessed to be missed by hurricanes for over a quarter century, there are elements of the reaction to storms that I find...unsettling. My least favorite phrase surrounding storms: "Nothing's happening."

I generally have one of two reactions to this sentiment:

(1) That just means, "Nothing's you."
Yes, Boston was lucky to escape the brunt of this storm, just as Tampa has managed to avoid serious storm trouble for so many years. But for the people in New York, New Jersey, and parts of Rhode Island, something's happening. And it's nothing good. People are losing their homes, loved ones, and ability to feel safe in their own home. It's a tremendously individualistic attitude that can look at a storm like that, and think only "Why isn't this more dramatic?"
Would you have preferred this?
Related to that: (2) Would you prefer the alternative?  If you were lucky enough to stay home from work in case of an emergency, and could spend the day looking up false pictures of storms and stream Netflix without an interruption of power, why are you disappointed? Would you rather spend the day cowering from rising winds, nervously watching trees in anticipation of them falling, and inspecting damage and trying to catch up with loved ones who are unaccounted for? Embrace an attitude of gratitude, say thank goodness you were spared, and find out what you can do for those who weren't so lucky.

My thoughts and well wishes are with my friends and family in the path of the storm, and I hope that the video below makes you smile a little bit. Stay safe, everyone!

Friday, October 26, 2012

This Week on Student Affairs First Years: Forty Miles to a Ph.D.

As with last week's post, I want to post the content here in full so all can read.
Big news, so wish me luck :)

Riley: Granddad, can you take us into the city tomorrow to watch the R. Kelly trial?
Granddad: Hell, no. But you can walk.
Riley: It's forty miles!
Granddad: All the money I spent on them damn Nikes? You better just do it.
-The Boondocks

A few months ago, I was at McDonald’s getting reinforcements for my coworkers who were slaving away at an event, where I met a man who (as happens often) mistook me for a student. He expressed the same incredulity as most others when I told him I had in fact completed two degrees, and was thinking about a third. He then told me his own journey through education, about how hard he worked to complete a degree, and how life got in the way of his own attempts to get a doctorate. His advice: “Do it now. Once life gets in the way, you may never do it.”

The above quote from The Boondocks, one of my all-time favorite shows, illustrates how I feel about the journey toward getting a Ph.D. Like the R. Kelly trial was to Riley, it’s something very important to me. I love the opportunity it will give me to research intensively and contribute to the field of Student Affairs. And it will make it easier to teach later in life, an ultimate goal for me.

That forty miles on foot? It’s going to be the long nights, the studying when I don’t always feel like it, the attempts to be competent in both my career and my academic pursuits (please note the intentional omission of the word “balance”), and the money it will take me to get there. I don’t anticipate that being easy, but I do anticipate it being worth it.

And as for the Nikes? That’s everything I’ve done to this point that will help me through it all. All the recreational reading I do. The writing and presentations I’ve done to sharpen my academic skills. The friends and family I have who will support me, and in some cases be going on a similar journey alongside me. So just like Riley toward my own “trial of the century”, I better just do it. So here we go...let the application process begin. It’ll be a long one, but I’m sure you’ll hear from me along the way.

Trust me. I’m going to be a doctor :) Someday I will be called Dr. Marfo.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This Past Week on Student Affairs First Years: Real World 101

How's he paying for all that? Where does he keep his wallet?
While I typically like to post the link to my posts at Student Affairs First Years, I wanted to share the full text of this one, as it was a collaborative effort. To all who weighed in on the question, thank you!

A major perk of my professional life is that I get to grocery shop regularly. Be it for an RHA program or for a service organization who will be cooking dinner at a shelter, our stringent purchasing card policies mean that when they shop, I shop. And since I shop for groceries the way many shop for clothes or shoes, this makes me very happy. However, it turned into a contemplative exercise today when Greg, the student I went with this morning, casually mentioned that this would be “good practice” for when he moves off campus next semester. I asked him to tell me more, and I learned that he never really learned how to go grocery shopping. I hadn’t realized it was a skill!

As we walked back to campus and he told me more about why he was moving off, my mind wandered to other things I’ve been told students “don’t know how to do.” I speak often of the need for a “real world” class, required for graduation, where seniors and those finishing their college careers learn the skills that we don’t already teach, but that they will need to be suc
cessful in life. I took to social media to see what else should be included in this potential course. Check out the responses, which I’ve arranged by category for your convenience! (Thanks to all who gave input, this was a fun way to spend a morning!)


  • Appropriate dress for professional situations
  • How to iron
  • How to do laundry
  • How to tie a tie and properly tuck a dress shirt
  • When is a suit buttoned v. when is it unbuttoned

  • How to change a tire
  • How to check oil

  • How to accept and manage conflict
  • How to leave an intelligible voicemail
  • How to speak on the phone
  • How to record an appropriate outgoing message
  • Learning the art of appropriate conversation (it sounds silly, but just think about what our students share with us, and how carefree they are in sharing information)
  • How to write in cursive
  • How to know when something should be spoken about in person v. an email v. a text

  • How to understand a lease
  • How to choose a primary care physician
  • How to select a retirement plan and other benefits

  • How to budget your money (among the most common answers)
  • Understanding loans and banking skills
  • How to write a check (yes, I know of students who have never done or don’t know how to do this)
  • How to responsibly use credit
  • How to grocery shop
  • How to do your taxes, if only on something like TurboTax software

  • How to contract a moving company
  • How to set up utilities
  • How to change your mailing address with the post office (I’m fighting that battle in my office right now!)
  • Tenant-landlord rights in your state

  • How to cook without using a microwave
  • The electoral college (which they should be learning elsewhere, but I like the answer!)

What other life skills should students learn about before they leave college? What do you wish you knew before you left?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Have You Learned From Your Boss?

Happy National Boss' Day to you all! Whether we like it or not, chances are the majority of us have bosses "(to the self-employed, you have a boss: it's you!), and today is the day to thank them.

Thank them for who they have made you as a professional, no matter how they've done that. Ann Marie Klotz posted a great question this morning on Twitter, and it really got me thinking about my life as an employee, all the jobs I've had, and how those experiences have made me who I am.

Think about it. In the best cases, your boss has been someone you can learn from. Whether he or she creates intentional learning opportunities, or sets an example for you to observe, you can learn from your supervisor. In the worst, there is an equally powerful lesson. Just as I tell students being in an internship or job that you don't like isn't a loss, but an opportunity to learn what you don't want to do, a boss whose style doesn't work for you is a way for you to know (a) how you don't wish to be managed, and (b) for some, how to not manage those who work with you!

I'll end this post with a few lessons that I've learned from my bosses over the years.

-It's okay to have a bad day at work, so long as you rebound from it and can still be effective.

-Always make sure you have paper and something to write with at an event. Guaranteed, if you don't, someone will need you to write something down.

-Find an office culture that allows you to be yourself. You spend a lot of time at work, you should work in an environment that supports your quirks, your strengths, and occasional silliness.

-Do whatever it takes to develop the people that work for you. Invest in them. Whether that's time, energy, or sometimes money, they will be better for it and so will you.

-And lastly, as a nod to my former internship supervisor/good friend, "You can't wear pajamas in here, this isn't college." (Those who work with me know I take work attire very seriously now!)

To echo Ann Marie's question, what is the best lesson you've learned from a supervisor?

Friday, October 5, 2012

This Week's Student Affairs First Years Post

Recalling a post with big questions for student affairs during a time of year where we welcome potential new professionals: Big Questions for Careers in Student Affairs Month

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can Some Passions Just Stay Passions?

I know it's at times blasphemous to say this in the world of student affairs, but I don't care for the "p" word. It lingers in my ear in an unpleasant way, and I've been known to cringe when people use it in interviews or speeches. 

That's right folks, I'm talking about passion. ::shudder::

Let me preface this by saying that I have no problem with professionals who are passionate about their work. None whatsoever. I think that it's a beautiful thing to be passionate about the work that you do, and it makes it so much easier to be great at it when you are. I just also think that some passions can stay passions, but don't have to be your job. And just so we're clear- I love my work. LOVE it. But I've realized over the past few years that I do better when my passions and my work are separate. And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Let me give an example. I've seen a lot of commercials for institutions like Le Cordon Bleu and Keiser University, urging those who like to cook to shell out thousands of dollars for culinary degrees. The assumption is, if you like something enough, doing it everyday for a career makes sense. 

But what if that's not true?

I love cooking, baking, and decorating cakes. It fills me with joy to take fresh ingredients and turn them into an edible masterpiece. But I have a feeling that doing it for 12 hours a day (or longer!) would suck the joy right out of it. And while we can advise students toward following the thing they love more than anything in the world, I'd rather advise them toward something they are good at, and enjoy enough, to allow them to pursue their loves as they'd like. 

I'll give another personal example, this one more recent. I love live music, and have worked with it in some capacity at work or in my free time since I was 17 years old. And I loved every minute of it. That said, I find that I've enjoyed it more since it wasn't a part of my job. Did working in it for almost nine years (WHOA) turn me off of it? No, but do I enjoy it more now that it's not my job? Sure do!

Think of the things you love to do, things that give you joy in your free time. If your livelihood depended on those same things, if you had to do them without the freedom to decide when and how they would get done, would you love them as much? If so, then by all means pursue them as a career. But if they're your passions because you can do them at your leisure? That's okay, too. Find a job that you like enough, and that allows you to pursue those passions, and you'll be okay.

A Tale of Two Cities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Well, not exactly my accurate thoughts on the matter, but it does set a great stage for juxtaposition.

Bros on the corner, Brighton, MA
As most of you know, I've been living in Boston for about a month now and absolutely love it. I'd been here several times before moving, and knew I would like it, but had no idea how much I would enjoy having it as my home. My commute is relaxing, my neighborhood is small but has everything I need, I'm surrounded by my friends, and it just fits my overall constitution: fun loving and smart, but not ridiculous.

In contrast, I'm sad to report, is the Big Apple. Let me preface this by saying that there are many people who I care very much about that live there, and I appreciate that. However...that city is just very not me. It's bustling, loud, crowded, the public transportation situation causes me endless anxiety, it's difficult. 

As a point of contrast, let me share this anecdote: when I came to Boston for my interview at Emmanuel, despite having endured a ridiculous travel day and getting in at 1am, my blood pressure settled. It settled to a point where it hadn't in a while in Tallahassee, actually. Comparatively, getting off the bus to New York this past weekend, my blood pressure skyrocketed. Not sure why, I just find that city stressful!

All that said, I had a wonderful time this past weekend visiting friends. I got to see some old friends from high school and college, visited Coney Island with them, go to Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall with one of my oldest friends (since third grade!), and even meet new friends I previously only knew through the window that is my computer. So while I will not be taking up residence in New York anytime soon, I do return time and again for the people.

What towns do you love? What towns just don't do it for you?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Are You A Leader? Well, Are You?

Well, I'm excited to report that I'm starting to feel useful at work! After a few weeks of easing into the culture, which is always a challenge, I'm meeting with students and, as I said to one friend, "saying 'I don't know' less than they are"! I'm starting a pretty big new project that I'm excited about, but it stirred up some interesting thoughts, as did a few other comments over the course of the day.

As the assessment pro in the office, I'm working with our other assistant director to assess one of our leadership programs. It has fallen dormant in recent years, as students start it but aren't following the procedure to complete it. Our goal? To determine why it's not working, and see if an alternate version of this program would catch on with younger students who have not been exposed to either version. However, in looking over the former version of the program, I realized something: this isn't a leadership program. To verify my suspicions, I started hunting around for definitions of student leadership (I know, a dangerous proposition!). Here are two I found that fit the argument I'm trying to make:

from Portland State's Leadership Development Program:
"A student leader, whether in a formal position or not, nurtures abilities in themselves and others in order to make an ethical and socially just impact on campus or in the larger community."

from the George Washington University Center for Student Engagement:
"Leadership is a developmental process which empowers students to engage others in a movement towards positive change."

Now, without detailing the full design of this program, I will say that it is a means by which to collect points for certain opportunities on and off campus. To me, that is less a leadership program, and more of an involvement initiative. The individuality of it, and lack of a reflection piece, are the parts that seem to be missing. Both leadership education and involvement initiatives are worthwhile pursuits, but different to be sure! The students in this program are leading...the rest of their students in points value of activities they choose to record, but are they leading? Maybe, maybe not.

We are very quick to take leadership positions and label them "leadership opportunities". However, in the absence of the direction required to make these students good leaders, does that count? Think of the student who went to a few meetings, and then counts his involvement on a resume (enough of that, and we get the cartoon we've seen above). Or a student leader who doesn't pull his or her weight on an executive board. Is that leadership?
I was affirmed in my confusion about the topic when I saw this message from a friend later that afternoon:

Spencer, you nailed it. Hope you're okay with being on my blog.

This post is not designed to demean leadership education- I love the idea of that, and think it is extraordinarily valuable. That being said, the education piece of that is essential. Don't allow students to think that getting the position is the leadership part. Encourage them, challenge them, demand of them that they actually lead in those roles- and show them what that looks like. 

What are you doing to make leadership roles "leadership opportunities"?