Monday, May 28, 2012

Color Crashing and Colorado Camaraderie

This weekend was an adventure that I had been needing for far too long. The trip to Denver was a great way to clear the head, and wonderful to see Jeff Parker, a great friend who has been there through a lot with me. I'm happy I got to spend a few days seeing what his "next chapter" looks like. 

Predictably, he is having, as a cohort member of ours liked to say, "a whale of a time." Denver, its many places to explore, and the mountains are agreeing with him quite well. Ever the extrovert, he has found his niche with a great new group of friends who I got to meet as we ran the Color Run together. And most exciting of all, I get to meet the lady that is making his world shine, and she is truly a wonderful fit for him. 

We have a very unique dynamic as friends- incredibly opposite, but at the same time extremely complementary. We challenge each other and mystify each other, but are always there for each other when it counts. The dynamic has shifted somewhat in a lot of ways- distance and relationships have made things different, and the introvert in me honestly struggles to adjust at times. But through it all, we click. I think we always will. At the end of the day, we'd go to battle for each other, no matter what the opposition or the road there looks like.

Other Highlights of the Denver Adventure (Ad-Den-Ture?) Included:

  • Colorado Itself! This may sound dumb, but Colorado is a highlight unto itself. Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, the Columbine Memorial in Littleton, getting to spend time on the campuses of Johnson and Wales AND The University of Denver (#nerdalert), and seeing the D'Amicos in Colorado Springs are all things that made me confident that Colorado is a place I can hang. Good thing too, as I have more friends moving there!
  • The Food! In reading labels leading up to my trip, I was convinced that there was not a ppm of gluten to be found in the city of Denver. Seriously, a great many gluten free foods are made there. And while that was not fully accurate, I found it so easy to eat! A GREAT brunch place, Snooze, was able to let me have pancakes out for the first time in over a year; and I got to go to the often mentioned, but not seen outside of Colorado, Udi's Bread Cafe! *swoon*
  • Adjusting to Altitude: The only reason I was excited about the altitude was the opportunity to bake using high altitude directions. And I did, and it was very exciting :) I was convinced that being a mile high in the sky for four days would leave me gasping for air and pallid from all the blood I knew I would lose from my nose. But thankfully, I avoided some of the horror stories and managed to adjust admirably. Aside from a few gasping/dizzy spells my first night while I tried to sleep, I did okay. And that included during...
  • The Color Run: This was the main event. Apparently I needed an occasion to go to Denver, and this was a good one. Held across the country, it features a 5k run with powdered paint showered over runners at each K of the race. Many like to start it wearing a solid color, and seeing what the end result is. The ruckus you see at the top of this post is a (mysteriously pixellated) image of the end of the race powder party, the finale that features color all over the place. It was a challenge to run at that altitude, and Florida is a horrible place to train for such a thing. But I made it through, running all but about 1/2 a mile and even making new friends along the way! A bonus: two contributors to the Student Affairs First Years blog, Katie Ericson and Katie Schmalzel were at the race as well! I always have a great time meeting people from the Internet world in real life, and this pair of ladies was no exception.
    • In the interest of full disclosure, and as a nod to the name of this blog, this is the first race in which I was a fully unpaid participant. Race registration closed after I had already bought my ticket, and I neglected to try and register after more spots became available. So yes...I crashed. BUT, I did buy merchandise, so they did get some of my money! Shhh. Don't tell!
All told, it was a great adventure and had some moments. If you can't look over the vastness and intricacy of the mountains and think of anything in life you would do differently, well...I envy you. This was a great trip for me to reflect, a few days to think about where I am and where I want to be, and to do it in the company of old friends and new. Thanks Denver, it was a blast, and I'll see you soon :)

I already want to go to there again!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ran for Something Pt. II: Cruisin for Cupcakes

Many of you may know that I've been working a lot toward incorporating health and wellness into my professional focus, given how important it is to me personally. And a lot of concern is being rightfully voiced about excess in nutrition- childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the like. However, the country is starting to have its attention drawn to the opposite side of the spectrum: that of hunger in our country, particularly among children.

As you can see, this little boy is not going hungry. At least, not right this second. But there are a lot of kids who are. And this past weekend, I found a wonderful way to make sure that the kids not lucky enough to have cupcakes, or cereal, or fruits and vegetables, or milk. And it involves me running. But it also involves your help.

Women's Health has this fantastic project that runs through the fall (pun not intended, but definitely recognized) called Run 10 Feed 10. You commit to running a 10k, and once you do, Women's Health will provide 10 meals for kids in urban areas who have been identified as "hungry". However, there is a fundraising component for the runners involved, and that's where I need you. I will be donating money, but I need your help to meet my goal as well.

Hoping to make this mean a little more the next time around :)
I've been wanting to run for something meaningful for a while now, and injury derailed my last attempt to donate to March of Dimes based on mileage. (You might be wondering: "how do you know injury won't derail you this time?" Answer: I don't, but I won't let it stop me from trying!) But this time, I'm determined to use my time on the pavement to help me make a difference. I hope you will too. The link to my fundraising page is posted below, and I would greatly appreciate it if you gave. And the kids who aren't so lucky as the boy above to get cupcakes would appreciate it too.

We all have very busy lives, but want to make a difference. How have you made a difference in your community?

Friday, May 18, 2012

One on One? One on Four? How Do You Operate?

We are a field that LOVES its "one on ones". I like having that time with a student to talk about what is going on in his or her life, and also how I can best support him or her in the work being done. I know that students get varying levels of value from it- I have some students who will meet for their full hour, others who are in and out in only a few minutes. 

However, the nature of the one on one that I want to talk about today is the truly singular nature of the one on one. Ever since a very impactful work-life balance discussion at NACA, I've taken great pains to make sure that a one on one is just that: one student, one advisor. No interruptions, no phones, no email- I even turn my computer monitor off so it doesn't serve as a distraction!

However, this is not the case with everyone that I work with, and I know that students have noticed the stylistic difference. While some in our office appear like the picture above to our students, I prefer to be thought of more like this:

Well, maybe not just like this, but more like this than an octopus with goals of doing everything for everyone at every moment, doing it all at 100%. To me, it's a sign of respect that you can prioritize your interaction with a student over anything else that is going on, and I like to show that respect by being as attentive and present as possible. Some of the practices I employ:
  • Be as timely as possible. Sometimes it's difficult, because our days are also full of meetings, but try to get to one on ones on time. If I realize I'll be late, I like to shoot a text- it doesn't interrupt what they're doing prior to our meeting, and it sets an expectation that they can do the same if they're going to be late- and all of my students do notify me if they'll be late.
  • Meet about what you said you're going to meet about. When I conclude meetings, I like to have a talking point to consider over the course of the week. Typically, students put work into that directive. And I would hate to negate their work by brushing over it with seemingly more urgent matters. And while I'm talking about that...
  • Set levels of priority. This is present in my mind because several students expressed problems with it. When our students do high levels and high quantities of work, we sometimes tend to set a long list of things for them to get done. However, if they don't know which ones are urgent and which ones can wait, they may feel either uncertain about what to attack first, or even paralyzed and unable to start anything at all! As you add an action item to a list, for yourself or the student, set a timeline as to when the task can/should get done. That way, they can move about their business in an efficient manner.
  • Balance the personal and the professional. When looking for an office to work in, I accepted the offer at FSU because we have a staff that values the ability to get to know each other. We are friends outside of work, and understand who each other are not just as colleagues, but as people. I like to establish the same with our students. There are boundaries, of course, but the fact of the matter is they are more than workhorses: they are students, they are people. We should treat them accordingly.
What's your one on one style? Do you look more like an octopus than a person during your meetings?

I Got an Intern

Yesterday I had my first meeting with my summer intern. Hopefully her summer does not end like this member of the Team Zissou intern program.

The idea of doing internships in our office has been often vacillated on. At times, it has seemed unnecessary because of graduate assistants, and positions have been created to allow long term projects to be overseen by one person for their duration. At the same time, pressure to expand our offerings, combined with less consistent GA availability over the summer, has allowed for us to take on interns. And so here I am, working with one for summer programming efforts including the division-wide efforts, and planning for our fall welcome week.

I expressed some of my apprehensions about supervising a graduate assistant earlier this year (WOW, that was almost a year ago, I'm realizing! Whaaaat?), but with an intern it's different. Graduate assistants, at least in our office, are developed more intentionally, and the tasks they are given are substantive. I worry about my ability to do so for someone who's only in the office for three months, and for a few days each week. I find myself hoping that the projects she works on are substantive, that we develop a good mentoring relationship, and that she truly has an opportunity to learn the office in the time that she's here.

What do you do to make sure that your interns have a good experience? Is their training or level of work different from the graduate students in your office?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Apples to Activity Apples: The Exciting Conclusion!

For those keeping score at home, I mentioned a few weeks back the prospect of using Apples to Apples for year-end evaluations. I like the idea of making these final meetings more engaging and less dry, and also giving myself the opportunity to hear students describe things as anything other than "good", "fine", "cool", or wordlessly with a shrug.

I really learned a lot from trying to mix up the evaluation experience, and would highly recommend the method to others!

I don't have all of the results compiled yet, but I'll give some of the highlights and the surprises that resulted when I asked students some of the questions. For those who wanted to see the questions I asked, I'll list a few here too.

Pick a card to describe your experience in Union Productions.
Common Answers: beneficial, stimulating
Favorite Answer: wacky
I made sure to ask in follow up questions if the "stimulating" response was in reference to the number of events we do (anticipating concerns of overprogramming), or simply the amount of brainpower that was going into their work. I was surprised to hear that all who responded, did so in the latter. They felt like they were getting a lot out of their work, but weren't overwhelmed by the amount of programming that the organization was doing (keep in mind, we as an organization do about 120 events a year!)
Lesson: We see overprogramming as a concern because we have an awareness of all the events going on. However, for students who can filter out what they are and aren't interested in, chances are they aren't feeling overprogrammed.

Pick a card to describe how supported you felt by fellow staff members. 
Common Answers:   efficient, beneficial
Notable Answers: isolated, lopsided
For this one, I made sure to ask separately about how staff members interacted (interpersonal), as well as how supported they felt by fellow staff (professional). In many cases, students expressed pleasure with the people that they worked with interpersonally, but some stress in the organization was revealed. The two main problems that were revealed in this process was a feeling of isolation by our production team (who is scheduled separately and doesn't meet with our PR, programming or hospitality students), and a feeling of lopsidedness concerning motivation for work by staff members (who works because they like it, who works because they need a job, what does each version look like?)
Lesson: One of my students put it best when he said he wanted to see the "union" put back into Union Productions. My goal for the coming year is to find ways to help them blend as an organization, and to help all areas of the organization understand each other so they can work together better.

Pick a card to describe how UP is perceived by others on campus.
Common Answers: offbeat, efficient
Notable Answers: elusive, pointless
As I alluded to in my post on South by Southwest, we are a little quirky in what we do at Union Productions. We've heard criticism ranging from "they only do indie rock shows" to "the same 30 people go to their events!"As such, I wasn't surprised (and was frankly quite pleased!) that many of our students recognize the stigma that they work under each day. That said, they are heralded throughout the department, and at times, heavily relied on to assist other organizations in programming efforts, because they are so good at what they do. As such, the aspiring wellness professional worries about the effect that has on their ability to be successful. It's a lot of stress to have on them, and we have students who handle such stress with varying levels of effectiveness.
Lesson: Given that they are aware of their reputation, the next step will be to determine if the stigma they carry is one that they wish to change, or wish to work within. Because these students are advised AND supervised by us, my challenge will be to allow them to steer the direction of the organization, while at the same time making sure they don't alienate the large percentage of the student population who "doesn't understand them".

I really appreciated the great ideas that my students came to the table with in this process. And I'm really excited to have found an engaging way to pull their thoughts from their minds. One of my students remarked as she pulled cards from the pile and arranged them, "This is a really cool way to do this!". I'm hoping that inspiration strikes again next spring, and that a similarly playful way to look at the year will emerge!

How do you conduct year-end evaluations? What have you learned about the state of your organization from these meetings?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cleaning Out My Closet

All week I've been talking about it, and today I finally had to go for it. I pulled my hair back, grabbed my phone and keys, and sent the following Tweet:

The 127 Hours reference refers to a previous trip to the closet to grab T-shirts to take to NACA. I got my arm caught between two heavy boxes, and took several minutes to dislodge myself from the mountain of mementos. Given that the cell phone signal in the closet is spotty, I mandated from that point forward that anyone going to the closet go with a buddy. But it is within my power to change the circumstances of that dingy and overcrowded space, and today I set out to do so.

I learned a lot of lessons in that just over two hours, I'll share a few of those lessons so as not to be long-winded:
  • Students will leave just one of anything in a box. The size of the item or the box is of no consequence. If it comes to taking it out and leaving it to the side, or leaving the box in place, they'll leave in the box, evidently, every SINGLE time.
  • We both have, and don't have, a great reverence for tradition in our office. Club Downunder, our main programming space, has existed in some form on this campus for over twenty years, and we've had the opportunity to welcome some great acts to our space. As such, there has been a desire to save mementos from shows that we do. That said, what we do have, isn't kept or displayed in the most efficient of fashions. I want to find a way to appropriately display the history that we have amassed, including things like signed posters and advertisements, but also some of the smaller things like informational brochures and staff T-shirts. Any ideas??
  • There really are trends in student activities. Some things like wax hands or popcorn and snow cones are timeless, but there are others that fit a pretty specific time frame. Namely, inflatables. Not talking about bouncehouses, but rather inflatable guitars/figures/couches. Especially couches. We have at least ten, and I have no idea what we're going to do with them.
  • Leftovers are chances for new events! At one point I texted my supervisor with a picture of black T-shirts I found in the closet, and said "If anyone tries to tell you they need to order black T-shirts, tell them 'absolutely not'" There were, without any form of exaggeration, over 300. But there are chances to use them, and I plan to make that a personal crusade. #oneword T-shirts for my retreat activity this fall, "T-Shirts and Tacos" as an event during our summer programming, T-shirt scarves for every female in the office, department, and feasibly even the Division...the ideas abound! Similarly, we are aiming to bring a country act to campus, and we can legitimately give a cowboy hat to the first 100 students who buy tickets. I'm fighting for that.
  • We are not doing a great job of teaching our students the value of a dollar. This was perhaps the biggest takeaway that I got from the experience. There are several aspects of our programming board that can make our jobs a little more difficult. One, we have a tremendous amount of pride in the independence our students have. Two, we are blessed to have a budget that well exceeds any I've ever worked with. And a combination of those two things has led to things like: ordering a new one of something if we can't find it, ordering more of something because it's easier than looking, and ordering things without encouraging students to make realistic estimates of how much we need.
    Things like 100 extra cowboy hats, 300 extra T-shirts and 4700 sno-kone cups don't just happen...we let them happen. I want to be more proactive about stating "Just because we have the ability to, doesn't mean it's a good decision." With a new organizational system for our storage, I'm hoping that location and usage process will be easier. With ease of a process comes less impetus to just thrown our hands up and replace things.
I've returned to the real world now, and have some ideas- what have you found in your closet? What have you learned about your organization in cleaning your storage spaces? What other foods start with T that we could pair with T-shirt decorating?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Back at the Barre

I will be the first to admit that I've had some struggles lately trying to find what makes me happy outside of work. I have gotten tremendously lucky in creating wonderful friendships with the people in my office, and I don't wish to discount the relationships that I've built with them at all. However, not having a social network that I don't work with is new for me, and it has made the visits to home and to see friends all the more difficult as I adjust to the alternative here in Tallahassee.

The solution? I need things to do that aren't work, and I need them to be social. Enjoying running, going to the movies or studying are other pursuits, but they're solitary. I'm missing a social outlet, and I want to rediscover it.

Last night, accompanied by a coworker, I started a ballet class at a community center near our house. She's been going for a while now and had really been enjoying it, and I've missed dancing. It was challenging to get back into the groove of proper foot placement, spotting for turns, and keeping my hips square (a LIFELONG challenge). But much of it just came back to me, and I love the way it feels to dance. I've missed it, and didn't realize just how much until yesterday.

I'm always on the lookout to do more and be more, and this was a wonderful start.

And yes, while I hope I possess the grace of the dancers above, I have scoured the Internet to find the video that I feel best represents how I think I look when I dance.
Go to 2:21 for the full experience.

How do you participate in your community? What old pursuits are you making new again?