Monthly Archives: March 2015

Empowering Others to Empower Ourselves

Empower Others to Empower Myself {New Faculty}

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I’m fool of feel good vibes and warm fuzzies up in here lately. I think it’s because I finally did all of my laundry and didn’t have to repack a suitcase within 72 hours of returning from a trip. Or it’s from the EIGHT solid hours of sleep I got last night. Whatever the reason, I’d like to talk about how we empower others and in return, we become empowered.

My prior work in STEM was really satisfying to me. It fit all of the niches of my brain and I’ll be honest here: I was pretty damn good at it. It had all of my favorite things (except melted cheese): teachers, kids, STEM, free education for those kids, free professional development for those teachers, paying those teachers, undergrad/grad research opportunities, a balanced spreadsheet (thank you) more than 90% of the time, and since I’m all warm and fuzzy today: it had me working with some of the best folks I know.

One of my many teachers bloomed from a math teacher to a bad-ass STEM guru. She really took off with the material we provided. She made it her own. She stumbled, she fell, but she always asked for help without feeling bad. And I was there to catch her. In return, she offered to return the favor whenever I asked, allowing me and my team into her school, into her life, and interrupting it more than we probably should have.

Yes, this was really that positive of a relationship. All those teachers and students loved me and I love them still.

I nominated this teacher for a prestigious math and science award last year. It’s so fancy she might win a trip to the White House, meet the president himself (hate him all you want, he’s still the guy in charge & you’d like to brag you met him too), and win a boatload of money for herself and her school. This teacher is so humble. She is so generous. She is so talented. But she forgot what a bad ass she is. She sent me a photo over the weekend of her receiving her STATE FINALIST award (what??) and said, “there were so many great teachers there, it was an honor.”

EXCUSE ME?

I replied, “you ARE one of those great teachers, don’t ever forget that!”

She replied, “you’re an angel.”

Little does she know that by spending time in her school, with her kids, and engrossed in her community, she empowered me.

You read that right: SHE EMPOWERS ME.

Every day.

Someone once asked me why I like doing what I do. It was a great question. My final answer:

“I like the underdog. I was born an underdog but I feel as though people invested in me every step of the way. When I invest in people and commit to them through research and building their capacity, I have yet to lose. I always win. When you invest in people, you will usually always win.”

Whether it’s supporting an amazing group of teachers, nurturing a struggling grad student, or taking time to listen to a trusted colleague, investing in people usually nets you more wins than losses.

I hope this teacher wins. Not just to hang a plaque on her wall, but to empower her. To show her what a great talent she is. To show her that she is one of the best educators in our country. To give her struggling county some of the recognition it deserves. To show that women can teach and raise our children, but in many cultures, they continue to be marginalized.

Every time I invest in people, I always win. I joke with my dad that the warm feelings won’t pay the electric bill, but I don’t need any heat today, I’m radiating sunshine for her and everything she represents.

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Taking the Time When You Need It

Taking Time When You Need It {New Faculty}

I’ll admit it: I sat by the pool and went swimming this afternoon while the grad student I brought with me is doing stats homework. Amount of guilt I feel: NONE. I did that time. I earned an hour of pool time to swim laps.

The grad student and I traveled together to a three day conference in sunny FL. I am more excited to bust out my sandals than to sit in three days of meetings (oops, i was honest) but honestly, anywhere warmer and nicer is welcome for me. The temp was 83 when we flew in, a slight breeze, and only moderate humidity. Um, hello FL, I love you in March.

Back to my point. I feel zero guilt at present. I did read an abstract that a student texted me about because it’s due and I wanted to view it, but other than that, zero work today. ZERO. Why? Because as much as I know there’s always more work to do, today I give myself permission to: fly, eat, swim, lounge watching the NCAA tourney, and whatever else I want. I might even take myself out for a cocktail later. I know we just came off spring break, I’m not an idiot, but I also know I will spend the next three days solid being “on” and my introvert personality is already coping with this fact. And by coping I mean “panicking” in case you were wondering.

Due to my nature of planning, I knew I had to plan in some down time for myself. The week was productive, fruitful, and busy as always but there was no down time built in. I did this to myself but also knew it would be a doozy of a week after break.

So, to make a long story short: I’m taking the time because I need it and you should too!

Listen to your inner monologue and respect it.

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Spring Break Meltdown: The Snow, Not Me

Spring Break Meltdown {New Faculty}

yeah, i took this pic!

Spring break sprung and I was struggling the week before. I was more than ready for a change of scenery, a change of pace, and a change in location for a few days. I’m missing ‘family vacation’ later this month due to a work trip, so I decided I’d go home and see my parents for a few days in good old, freezing as hell, upstate New York. I was warned, there was three feet of snow on the ground still and cold weather gear was a must.

I packed all the warm things I could, including the very nice winter boots I rarely wear down here because to me, it’s never really ‘that cold’ for long. We get ‘cold’ weather for a week or two, but nothing like the north. Anywho…I packed it and I shipped myself to the farm to see my parents, my dog, my friends, and my cows.

Don’t worry, I did a little work. But, the day before I was set to travel my mom texted me, “I have pneumonia.” Well, hello spring break. Not only have I gone farther north, but now I’m soup-making my way through it. Truth be told, I love cooking. I’ve never had a problem making meals for people and still haven’t mastered the art of “cooking for one” so it was perfectly ok that putting meals out was one of my tasks last week.

The snow was deep. Too deep for snowshoeing. Too deep to walk (ok, try) to walk through, and generally, it was cold. The weather was set for a warm up on Monday to help pack the snow down. I was set to conduct observations at a school that I’m doing research with so no love lost there on the weather.

All-in-all, it was a good spring break. I didn’t get a lot done. I made lots of meals, snowshoed almost every day with the dogs, poked around the barns, and generally enjoyed myself. I needed the respite. Even the 9+ hour drive each way was more tolerable thanks to a backlog of podcasts and audio books.

I share this with you not to brag (trust me, the to-do list did not dissipate during those four days), but to tell you that I knew I needed a break and it was the only way to get one. When I stay here in college town USA, I take small breaks, a day here, a day there, but rarely several days in a row. I think my brain still associates “work” with “this town” because I moved here to “work” years ago. It’s not a bad thing, but there’s nothing like physically vacating a space to also vacate some space in your brain.

Hopefully you were able to take a day or two off during your break as well. Even if you spent it doing things like making that meal you like, getting the oil changed in your car, being home for supper time with everyone, or whatever it was, I hope you took a moment to step back, reflect, and enjoy it.

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Investing in Yourself: Additional Training & Professional Development

Professional Development {New Faculty}

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I have taken full advantage of professional development since joining faculty. Even in my old position, there was very little I would say “no” to in terms of building and expanding my skill set. I know it can be a trap to say “yes” to too much, but when reflecting on it and strategically thinking about where I wanted to go professionally, I chose to take the attitude of “participate, don’t anticipate” and it’s paying off. I had always wanted to learn more about federal grants and sitting on panels for several years in a row really paid off. I had wanted to learn about how I could develop as a faculty and have been participating in a year long faculty development institute at my university. I was encouraged by my department head to get trained in KAI and recently finished training to facilitate KAI for organizations.

See the goal, make it happen.

Not all of the opportunities I’ve had cost me money, some have netted me some cash. I’ve had to agree to participate in research as a result, but I’m a researcher so I whole heartedly see why we need to do this. Building my own skill set has been a rewarding experience for me thus far in the young faculty member game and I’m glad that I said, “yes” several years ago to myself to get into these things. Each has been useful in a different way and each continues to serve me on many levels.

There’s a few things that I’ve had to work through to get myself developed professionally:

Buy in from my superiors. I have to say, I have an extremely supporting department head. I cannot say enough positive things about his attitude toward my development as a young faculty member. And no, I’m not saying that because this is on the internet. I’m saying it because it’s true. Hands down. He recently asked me during my annual review, “where do you want to go and how can we help you get there?” That kind of support is valued, appreciated, and amazing. I know that not all of my peers will have this kind of unwavering support and I’m grateful for it.

Support from my peers. My colleagues within the department and outside of it are more than supportive. Whether it’s filling on a class to guest lecture, excusing me from meetings knowing I’m doing this other “thing” or simply asking, “how did KAI go?” it means the world to know that they care enough to ask, cover, or excuse me. I’m not home watching TV, I’m working and I know I would reciprocate for them as well.

Time. In our society of “the busy contest” I don’t have any more or any less time than the next person. However, I give myself the gift of time to do these things. No matter what is getting in the way, I do my best to block my time and try to plan ahead. Life happens, but giving myself permission to spend four days reviewing grants or five days being trained or two hours on a day when grades are due getting some development is worth it later.

It’s a long-term investment. Sometimes, because I’m impatient, I have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. I get ahead of myself and then I forget that spending a year in a program won’t pay off tomorrow, it might take time to see the effect. I might teach a course next year where I implement what I learned. My ROI is slow on some of the things I do but it is there. I just have to be patient.

Money. Some of my development has been 100% free and evens comes with snacks. Faculty professional development on my campus is pretty good. A few hours each month, a little homework, and a lot of great relationships have been free to me. My department supports this venture. Other things, like trainings, have cost money that I was asked to attend and therefore paid. Research PD has paid me in the end. It has actually evened itself out financially. Sometimes you gotta front some cash, but you always get it back.

In the end, spending some time and resources on professional development can be 100% worth it. I have more positive things to say than negative things on my experiences thus far. There are times that I’m the worst student you ever met (they say teachers make the worst students) and have absolutely no patience to sit for another hour at something, but I’m finding that when my ass is numb, my brain is usually full of good stuff.

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