Tag Archives: undergraduate

Hopping on the Struggle Bus

struggle bus | new faculty

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I’ve been thinking about these tender undergrads quite a bit lately. Mostly because they’re riding in the front seat of the struggle bus! Let me explain:

I’ve been training up bunches of students on facilitation and teaching this summer to run summer camps. We all know that our middle school students relate better to undergraduate students and high school students compared to someone they would deem as “old and moldy” like me. We work with various groups on campus and within our community to recruit, hire, train, and help them facilitate our camps to middle school groups far and wide.

I trained up a group of high school students about a month ago and they showed up for their training ready to go. They had studied the curriculum, had questions, and were eager to learn how to facilitate the group of students they were going to have for a week long camp.

I was presented with another group of undergrads not too long ago to train and I could tell the ‘struggle bus’ was going to be showing up within an hour of starting.

Not a single undergrad had looked over the material. One said it wasn’t “their fault” that they didn’t do it. When I asked the student when he was hired, he said, “april.” When I asked him when I had sent the materials he said, “may.” When I asked him what his new excuse was as to why he hadn’t done anything, he had no response for me. Another was joking with his peers that his plans to ‘get shitfaced’ the weekend before camp were well received in the morning. His tune had gone sour by 1 p.m.

I don’t think this generation is dumb or clueless but rather the opposite:

LEARNED HELPLESSNESS HAS BEEN INSTILLED IN THEM BY US!!!

The fact that they know so little is OUR FAULT, not theirs. The fact that they come out of college and move back home with their parents is OUR FAULT and their parents fault for not having enough expectations. I’m not parent bashing here, but what I am saying is that because we’ve made it easy for them, they’re taking full advantage of it. We’re not being honest or realistic with them. We raised them to think that they’d get a big ol’ bite of the pie when they got that piece of paper and now their dreams have fallen short. The jobs aren’t paying a ton but we told them to get that piece of paper.

It’s tough as hell for some of them to get a job. We’ve told them they have to go college to get what is now being touted as a worthless degree and push them into a job market with little prospect. For some of them, it’s easier to move home and wait it out. For others of them, they’ve learned that mom and/or dad will support them because that’s the only thing left to do. With crushing student loan debt and a crummy, yet recovering economy, it’s a tough call.

But what about the ones that have learned to be helpless?

I’m not taking it standing up, sitting down, or lying down.

In the situation I describe above, these students are being paid (very well) to perform this task. The struggle bus gained momentum throughout the afternoon after they practice facilitated with me. The student who was talking about getting drunk did very poorly during his time and he even knew it was a big old bust. I coached all of them and encouraged them to rethink their weekend plans. I looked directly at mr. shitfaced and suggested:

“perhaps you should wait to get shitfaced later in the day and look over this in the mornings.” with a smile as wide as Texas on my face.

I’m not trashing on these kids, I’m telling you that these behaviors came from years of conditioning. At home, at school, at social activities, and at college.

It takes a community to raise a child and we all need to start assuming some responsbility. They can work. They can be held to high expectations. It’s our job to stop caving in when they hop on the ‘struggle bus’ and coach them to get off the bus.

What’s the harm if they do spend a little time struggling? That’s called LIFE right? Let’s quit rolling out the red carpet, praising them for waking & breathing oxygen, and start holding them to much higher standards. They will rise to the occasion and usually meet us halfway if not exceed as long as the expectations are manageable.

I’m happy to say that my undergrads pulled it together and did a great job facilitating. It started out rocky but they rallied as I expected they would. I didn’t hand out praise for a job “not” well done but I did let them know that I expected them to be ready the following week. It’s hard to watch them flail or fail but it’s worth it in the end.

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Annie, Get Your Clothes ON!

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It’s a holiday week! In honor of a short work week and hopefully some much needed down time or family time, I’d like to discuss something that keeps popping up on my campus: clothes with no one in them. What is going on undergrads??? Is this why the cost of a college education keeps rising-hidden costs when you just can’t keep track of your personal possessions?  This fall, I’ve started noticing something that I had not noticed the previous years spent on this campus: your clothes!! Your personal things. Your parking tickets that you wish to ignore even though they will ultimately come back and haunt you like eating garlic for dinner. Come on. Get your clothes on!

It started one Friday morning. I was walking in from the parking lots and I found someone’s hair extensions strewn about all over the sidewalk. Hey sister, did you know half your hair fell out?  I did not touch it or take a photo but you’re going to have to take my word: long, black, messy at that point. Must have been one wild night with a manic hair pulling/cat fight/dance party on the sidewalk.

The following week: pants. Pants? Not any old pants, black pants with a red trim line going up the leg. FANCY pants! 🙂 These also appeared to be stepped out of and flung aside for some wild Thursday night action. See evidence below:

A few weeks later: a shoe. A men’s Sperry to be exact. Where was its’ mate? Was it lonely?  How does one lose a shoe and not realize (no matter how much booze) that it’s missing because based on the weather here lately, ones foot would get cold sooner than later. The photo below doesn’t do it justice. When I came out of that building, the car was gone but the poor sperry remained. Lonely sperry…

Recently: parking ticket. I’ve only learned a handful of things on this campus that are set in stone and here is one. No pay, no NOTHING. If you don’t pay your tickets, the university cripples you. No scanning of student ID, no eating, no meal plan of any sort, no gym, no bus, no movement….they may even lock you out of your dorm just to force you to pay up. They are dead serious about that stuff around here. This student who randomly tossed his/her parking ticket aside will soon understand the ferocity of the university system. This parking ticket had been looked at, crumpled up, and discarded on the ground. I’m no psychic, but I foresee a day of frustration in this persons’ future….

I hope that with a few days of rest you’ll regain your footing, get some clean laundry, some family time, and maybe….just maybe….come back to campus rested and ready to tackle the rest of the semester!

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Boys vs. Girls

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I am fortunate enough to have a great group of researchers under my wing this year. With the collaborative effort of my PI and I, we are herding like them jello on a hot day–it’s actually going a-ok for the moment and I’m pretty happy with how things are going. These researchers all happen to be females and so am I. The PI they work for is male. They get regular face time with me each week for several hours as we collect data, work in schools, and generally travel around. They get one hour a week with the PI for a weekly research meeting where it’s all business. As it should be.

The interesting part working with a group of females is that sometimes I feel like the male counterpart doesn’t quite know how to hang with us. It’s not weird or inappropriate, but minus the amount of facetime, he sticks to business. While I see the value in that, these undergraduates want to talk to someone. They want to be mentored. They want the human connection. Call it a generational thing if you want, but they thrive on interacting now that they’re comfortable. I stumbled across this article from HBR and it resonated and validated my thoughts. It’s not that the PI is a bad guy, he’s just not into the emotional stuff, he’s into research. And shouldn’t he be?

A few weeks ago during our weekly meeting, the PI was caught in another meeting that back logged his schedule. Instead of wasting the time or canceling, I sat down with the research team to check in, see how everyone was, and where the research was heading. After completing business, the students began to chat for a few minutes. I figured they would leave shortly as we were done, but they stayed with me for almost an hour. I was surprised by this initially, but once we started conversing, I was surprised by how fast the time went. Empathy and awareness of others is a quality that I don’t always associate myself with. I have learned to be better about empathizing with people as I’ve grown older, but it’s not my strong point. My PI is even less empathetic by nature, making me look like a sainted academic in some cases.

As we chatted, we started talking about future plans, careers, and other ‘girl talk’ which was pretty harmless. After the hour, one of my researchers looked at me and thanked me. I asked her why she was thanking me. Her reply was simple, “you took the time that no one else will right now. my family is overseas (military) and they’re not always available for these kinds of chats. you make me feel less crazy about graduating and not always knowing what I should do next.” I told her I was happy to listen and the team left.

The following week we were all crammed in a van heading out to collect data and one of my students said, “I have two questions, one related to research and one not related at all.”  I said, “ok, ask me the non-related one first.”  She asked me how I’d become such a good cook. She had made a couple recipes off of my other blog and said they were really good. Was she pandering? Brown nosing? Being genuine?  I was honest and said, “practice.” I then shared a bunch of stories about a temperamental oven I had once where I kept burning cakes. I took the time to share my failures before my accomplishments in the kitchen on purpose. By showing and telling these young ladies (and gentlemen in the van) that I had failed and burned things hundreds of times before I ever thought about blogging the very ‘best’ of my culinary work, I tried to tune into the fact that cooking could be like life or research. Not always perfect. By being authentic instead of flashing my bravado around about my latest kitchen creation, I hope that it displayed the fact that I am human. I then shared the fact that my ‘kitchen aid fund’ had been depleted because I needed some new tires on my car. Priorities people.

I enjoyed this paragraph quite a bit: “From an early age, men often overvalue their strengths, while women too frequently underrate theirs. In reality, we all struggle to feel a stable sense of value and self-worth. Men often defend against their doubts by moving to grandiosity and inflation, while women more frequently move to insecurity and deferral. Men seek more often to win, women to connect. So long as the path to power is connected to proving you’re bigger and badder, it’s no surprise that men have mostly prevailed.”

I see this time and time again. In myself, in my peers, and in my students in middle schools. They have the tools yet they undervalue their worth as an individual. When did this happen? Should I stop seeking to connect and move into the category where winning become paramount? As a new faculty, it can be extremely difficult to navigate power issues, politics, and stakeholders in your new professional circle.  Can it be as simple as boys vs. girls? Armed with this new knowledge, how do new faculty bridge the gap of gender and identity to create their own space in academia?  This is a tough set of questions for me and my brain.

How do you connect with students? Do you skip building relationships and move into productivity? How do you manage the expectations from all the parties who are invested in you?

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Teaching vs. Research Universities

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The shiny names, the big teams, the fancy diploma.  Oh wait, you went where?  Measuring learning is something our society and higher education continue to struggle with.  We want our kids to go to ‘big name university’ so it looks good and some where along the way, we began to equate the ‘big name’ with a ‘big education’ only to sadly find out it merely included a ‘big price tag.’ I don’t have two legs to stand on in this case since my degrees are from those perceived ‘big names.’ I will tell you this: I spent two years at a state school or community college and I have to say, I received the best teaching and more education in those two years than I did during the rest of my BS educational experience.

Why are we scoffing, turning up our noses, and pitying those who want to earn their education, get specialized attention, and pay a reduced tuition?  I saved a TON of money going to state school for two years.  I was in classes with only about 30 students.  I got a lot of one-on-one attention from all of my teachers.  I didn’t  know what a TA was until I transferred to big box U and my GPA plummeted like dropped pie my first semester.

A teaching university or college is just that.  They specialize in teaching.  A research university says they combine both, but can they do it consistently and do it consistently well?  Me thinks not all of the time. Sure, you can hire a laundry load of TA’s, GRA’s, and GTA’s, but those folks are there to mostly do research, complete their advanced degree, and segue way into a post doc, or another advanced degree program.

To meet the rising numbers, decreased funding, and lack of space, we’ve gone virtual.  We’ve gone part time. We’ve hired over 100% more adjuncts and instructors here at my university in the last year.  I love a good teacher and I tip my hat to these folks because these are the people WHO LOVE TEACHING. There are those faculty on faculty lines who love teaching too, but the national trend is shifting and TT positions are disappearing like pizza in a dorm. Instructors and adjuncts do the heavy lifting of teaching much of the time with marginal salaries, no benefits, and little thanks.  Their jobs are always ‘up in the air’ depending on funding and that’s no way to live.  While I watched NBC’s education nation this fall, I became more inflamed while parents would bitch about their kids lunches, their kids gym, their kids everything, but never assume any kind of responsibility for their child but instead, leave it up to the school to raise their kids.  Compounded with the facebook posts I saw about parents complaining that they had to watch their children grow for 8 weeks of summer vacation **gasp** what a travesty to have to spend time with the child you had!

It does take a community to raise a child.  It takes great teachers, cooperative parents who do challenge but don’t undermine, and it takes a solid place for that to take place.  Parents send their kids off to college and hope they get a great education at these ‘big box’ universities, but what happens when they get spit out after four years with no other skills other than computer tests and office hours?  I have done a lot of mentoring with students on job skills, job searching, research interests, and even life things like comfortable and affordable heat/AC temps, where to go when you need a check up, and how do students handle work vs. roommates when they need to study.  I am happy to help any student, but I can’t help but wonder, where are the parents?  Do they think that big box U will do it all for their kids since they have relinquished their responsibilities the day they dropped them off?

I am a faculty at a big box U and I know plenty of other faculty who LOVE teaching like I do but once you look at a tenure packet and realize that teaching is NOT the priority, it really begins to shape your future and very quickly.  I would be so far fetched to say that students and faculty may be better off at a smaller institution where they can get the attention from great teachers and these teachers will be there because they love teaching, it’s their passion, their muse, and their craft.  Parker Palmer says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” We should all strive for that as faculty and begin to rethink the proporitions of teaching vs. research. Let faculty hired as researchers conduct their research, and those faculty hired as teachers should teach predominately.

Where’s the balance?  How can we restore it?  How can we give students knowledge and job skills that will last a lifetime?  As a new faculty, I ponder this one quite a bit.  I meet with students each week with big ideas, but no skill set on how to carry them out. I try my best to help them, but then I stand there and wonder, how come at age 18-21, this is the first time they’ve heard this stuff?  Who is or isn’t doing their job along the way?  What will it take?

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Creating Hype in Higher Ed

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The Apple announcement made me do some thinking. We wait, we buy tickets, we speculate about the newest iPhone, iPod, iPod Touch, new iOS, and pine away as each detail is announced via live blog, feed, or better yet: we get one of those coveted tickets to the events that only happen twice a year.  How come higher education can’t be more like an Apple event?

You may be thinking that it sort of is and you’re right.  But let me go on this tyrade for a few minutes while I scarf my lunch before my next set of mtgs/student things….

College and a higher education used to be this sacred, amazing thing.  Now we’ve gone online, offline, asynchronous, synchronous, MOOC, Kahn Academy, rolling admissions, summer sessions, part time, full time, no time for any of it in the whole grand scheme of things.  The prestige of education has been sucked out due to a lot of factors, politics included.  If we want an educated workforce, that’s great, but what about the trades that don’t necessarily require an M.D. in order to fix my toilet but trade training in plumbing instead? Why aren’t apprenticeships and admissions to trades and other occupations kept under lock and key like the newest iPhone?  Why are these jobs looked down upon in many circles? I know I certainly can appreciate and will compensate whoever can cut my hair because I know I’d look like a fool if I tried to do it myself. That person did get special training and had to pay for it, so why do we marginalize their worth because they didn’t get their phd?

In order to create hype in higher education, it’s time to take a good and hard look at what we value.  Yes, we value an educated workforce, but no one is saying what kind of education.  I know that I value my ‘arsenal’ of people who I depend on to keep my life moving: the mechanic who works on my car, the stylist who keeps my ever curling/waving hair in check, the teachers who I work with, the students whose parents all did NOT go to college but wanted the best for their children, the dentist who keeps my pearly whites just that, and the folks who offer me service at my favorite grocery stores, restaurants, who brew my beer, make my wine, cut my cheese (hahahah-sorry), and all the folks who get my goods and service to me and ship them to others from me.  A whole plethora of people with different educations ranging from drop outs to advanced degrees keep each of us moving at the speed of business.  I value them equally so why can’t the rest of society?  Some of the smartest dumb people I know have advanced degrees and some of the dumbest smart people I know deliver my pizza.  I put equal value on them because I want my chiropractor to re-align my vertebrae and I like my pizza hot and fresh with the cheese evenly distributed.

Our education system needs to be like the newest Apple event: hyped up!  Instead of assuming everyone is going to college, it’s time to take a good, hard look at why we go to college.  Is it to ‘find ourselves’ by learning how to do a keg stand or is it to identify with our own identity in order to find something we are truly passionate about?  More and more, I hear students outside my window, on the bus, in line at the eateries, and everywhere bitching about their professor, their lack of funds from mom and dad, or the car that someone else bought them and I can’t help but think that this sense of entitlement that our society has come to know is becoming engrained in our children and will sadly trickle down.

Education is not a right past the 12th grade. The strike in Chicago is a whole other ball of wax, but it’s time we value those who educate us and the education system.  Creating hype might be the answer. It should be a big deal to get into college, much like the Target ad that ran during the Olympics and while we can joke about #ivykidproblems or #firstworldproblems, the bottom line is that education is a great gateway and instead of keg standing our way through four years, we should be taking it more seriously. Instead of opening access to everyone, making higher education more private (not privatized) might bring back some of that prestige to an education.  It breaks my heart to hear these entitled kids piss and moan about how mom/dad won’t drop another $200 into their bank account so they can buy liquor for the home game weekend while I know other students who are scraping every nickel they have to pay their own way. Trades could do the same thing.  I want my electrician to be certified, I want them to earn a fair wage, and I’m happy to pay it.  Something like my home should not be a highly negotiated thing if I’m getting electrocuted when I plug in my coffee maker.

If we continue to marginalize our education by dumping all over it, our future students will do the same.  Instead of this fantastic experience, it’s become this thing that ‘we HAVE to do’ instead of a privilege that we WANT to do. It’s no longer an honor to go to college, it’s turned into this spoiled child syndrome thing. Some may say I can stand on my little soapbox and say these things because I do have my college degrees, but hear me out. I was raised (very well I might add) by parents who did not both contain college degrees, so when did a degree become a measure of any kind of intelligence of gauge of future success?  Standardized testing has done much the same thing in our country and quite frankly, I hate standardized tests.

As a new faculty, it’s sometimes really tough to get my students excited about the fact that they are and will earn their degree because they see the world as a place where you have to have it, not as a privilege to earn it. It’s difficult to communicate the ideals that education is something special because society, employers, media, and everything else has watered it down.  I wouldn’t mind bringing some of the hype and prestige back into higher education so when I have kids in a billion years, a university education can be something so coveted and special that they think twice before ripping off their clothes, taking a bunch of photos, and posting them to whatever Facebook is in 2035.

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Shouldn’t You Be Flipping My Burger? The Big “D” in Academia

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My student is Hispanic.  Correction, he’s El Salvadorian.  I’ve discussed him before. He’s awesome.  No matter his skin color, he is one cool kid.  He and his mom arrived on the bus with all of his stuff at 4:30 a.m., went to my house, slept for a few hours, and then we made our way to campus with his belongings to check him into this dorm, get his financial aid done, check with the bursar, head to a big box store for random school supplies, and get his mom back on the bus back to NYC at 2:30 p.m. Trooper doesn’t describe these two people.  His mom wouldn’t get back to the city until the next afternoon.  My student and I finished the day by unloading/unpacking the rest of his room and I think we both crashed like the Exxon Valdez that night in our respective houses/dorm room.  I checked in with him the next day to see how he was and he was making friends, writing cover letters for part time jobs, and was on his way to get his computer set up for the university system.  He is a champion. Not for doing these things independently, but for enduring his move in.

While moving him in, we went to the lounge to set up his computer system and a man (a parent I assume) popped his head in and asked us, “aren’t you supposed to be flipping a burger for me?”  He made a point to walk through a closed door just to cause trouble. That takes balls. Big ones. With a giant helping of idiot on the side. I hope his child doesn’t model that behavior. We were shocked, I didn’t even respond and my student merely smiled and waved at him. Who the eff was that guy?  Why would anyone make a point to enter a room just to throw a racial slur?  I’m sure we could wax on this all day and I’m sure it would be a waste of time.  Needless to say, I was furious and I could not believe that within an hour of moving this student to campus, someone was throwing racist prose his way. Since he clearly came in to cause a stir, saying nothing was the best course of action in this case.  You may disagree but in that moment, arguing wouldn’t have accomplished anything, this man wanted to get a rise out of us. Not giving him one was the smartest thing to do at that time.

Discrimination in academia is something that I’ve been plagued with. In real life, I’m 100% Korean and was adopted when I was six months old.  I am an American citizen.  I can speak English.  I have a name you can probably pronounce and no, I don’t need to renew my I9 to be in this country.  My teeth are the same as anyone else’s and in case you were wondering, I am supposed to be here (although in blogger world there’s really no ‘here’ but that’s here nor there at this time).  Why the qualifiers?  Because since moving to XYZ university I have been asked on more than one occasion if I’m American, if I can speak English, if I have a name you can pronounce, and yes boys and girls, I was refused service at a dental office because of my skin color.  I overheard the hygienists in the hallway bickering about who was going to look at my perfect, white, not a cavity in sight teeth and they so nicely used the descriptor of “the yellow skinned lady.”  I left immediately and no, I don’t have jaundice.

What is happening in this country?  I feel as though we’re going backwards instead of forwards.  Without making it too political we’re arguing about abortion rights, women in the workplace, and now race.  Is it over sensitivity?  Is it just plain stupidity?  Is it a life force bigger than you and I?  I continue to struggle with my own skin color and identity and have never had more trouble than I have in the past four years.  Why is this?

Academia is an area where there should be no discrimination.  We are all here for a few things:

  • Ourselves (if we’re being selfish and brutally honest)
  • The field we’re studying
  • The benefit to the knowledge base
  • And once in a while you make some money

That’s it.  Simple things.  You could throw tenure into the mix but I feel like the vast array of colleges, universities, and other educational institutions all do the tenure thing differently.  They ARE in business to teach, educate, transform, research, publish, mentor, and maybe even build a retirement fund.  No where in that previous sentence is there any tone of “let’s be mean because you’re not the same color, religion, value, moral, or any otherwise silly predictor different” but for some reason, this country is worse than ever about differences.  The slices are so small. Silly things are getting in the way.  It’s oozing out of my tv every day, nit picking, back biting, it’s like two old female hens having a pecking fight in the barnyard.  It’s trickling down to our younger generations, it’s making our older generations look foolish, and most of all, it’s discriminating against people who are just as smart and deserving as anyone else.  I know my student deserves to be at this university.  He is one smart cookie and it doesn’t matter what kind of cookie, he’s really effing smart.  He’s a baller and I mean that in the best sense of the word.

When did discrimination get back into the drivers seat?  Some would argue that it’s always been there, but from where I’m standing right now, it seems to have become much more amplified and I think some tolerance should be on everyone’s grocery list.  Even my own family member was watching the Olympics with me and said, “those athlete’s don’t look very American.”  My reply, “what does that even mean, we’re American and we’re Asian.  I can’t believe you just said that.”  Their response, “I guess you’re right.”   So, what does an American look like?  If we lined up 100 people of different races, ethnicities, religions and so on, what would they look like?  In my mind, all 100 of those folks would have been American’s but not everyone thinks so. I believe that we have the right to have an opinion, but at what point does that opinion become more damaging than good?  While it might not be my place to judge that, discrimination in academia is something that can get it in grave and get buried anytime.

As a faculty member, I struggle with discrimination, I feel the side effects of it, and it breaks my heart to see my students be treated like lesser humans for things they cannot change about themselves.  I seek out mentoring opportunities for minorities, I go the extra mile for them, but I know as an educator, I cannot save them all.  If I could, I would, but the best I can do on most days is support the ones I do come in contact with.  I try and nuture them, mentor them, and give them concrete life experiences they can grow from.  I hope that as you go out into your own classrooms you are aware of discrimination in academia.  It’s still happening between races, religious beliefs, and everything in between.  Educate yourself and your students. I had to have a long talk with my student about the incident and help him make sense of it.  His final comment to me, “does this happen a lot?”  For his sake, I sure hope not.

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The art of listening-incoming & returning students

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In exactly one week over 5,000 freshman will move into our quiet college town and the beauty of summer will be gone for another 365 days.  I look forward to new students, returning students, and getting back on a schedule.  As I’ve reflected on the summer (it was an excellent summer), I found myself talking to many future students about what they would “need” for college.  Besides a laptop, a dining plan, and some awesome study skills, I started thinking about the other things new and returning students needed.  If I could offer one piece of advice to a new freshman or a returning undergraduate student, it would be to close your mouth, open your ears, and LISTEN.  Listening appears to be a lost art in our society and I can share with you that the times I learned the most, I was listening, observing, and not talking or the center of attention. Let me explain….

As I began this post, I was in the middle of a week long camp on STEM that my office is hosting.  It was interesting to see how different kids are now versus just a few years ago when I left the classroom.  Listening has become a skill that seems to be lost and only holding on by a string, not to mention other basic skills like typing.  With such demand and reliance on computers, it’s amazing to me to know that these kids cannot type properly (not chicken pecking) and when asked to even find the ‘shift’ key, many could not. I realize that this issue is a funding problem, any electives in many schools have been stripped due to funding and budget cuts and unfortunately, it does not appear to be improving.

Chronicle ran a nice article on the art of listening that I read closely and took to heart.  I also saw an interesting article from the New Yorker on why American kids are so spoiled and it compounded my affirmations. As I write this, I’m watching two very capable undergrads work at facilitating one of our sessions and the students in the camp are having trouble with a very basic skill.  Communication.  Listening is an act of communication that seems to be failing this group of young people.  They all want to speak, yet they don’t want to listen.

This excerpt from the article really resonated with me: “”Listening” is at the center of an education: It takes many forms (visual, auditory, sensory), but is the only way to understand another’s life and experience. But my students—and probably yours—have been taught the opposite. They have been raised in a culture that constantly reinforces that what is important about an education—and a life—is to express your opinions, to tell the world what you think. All day long, they text, they tweet, they post updates on their Facebook pages—all centered on them.”

While on one hand, communication is important, my observations of this group of students found them always trying to talk, always trying to be the center of attention, but when someone else was called on, they could not control themselves.  They could not sit and listen to their peers.  Some of this may be due to their age, they are in middle school, they have more energy, they don’t like to sit still. Even after only about five minutes, these students could NOT physically control themselves from speaking.

When our facilitator asked for a volunteer during camp, almost every hand in the room shot up, the students cheered for the student who ended up being chosen, and immediately, students asked the undergrad why THEY had not been chosen.  You could say that the opposite would be a pain-no hands, no volunteers, but it seems the balance is gone in kids.  Another student even went so far as to continually yell, “hey, hey, hey” and when he was not chosen, he turned to his peer and said, “I had my hand up, what’s the big deal?”

The New Yorker article said, “American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority.” Why is this even an issue? When did parents stop parenting in the U.S.?”

The New Yorker also shared, “the French believe ignoring children is good for them. “French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them,” she writes. “To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.” One mother, Martine, tells Druckerman that she always waited five minutes before picking up her infant daughter when she cried. While Druckerman and Martine are talking, in Martine’s suburban home, the daughter, now three, is baking cupcakes by herself.” I don’t know how I feel about baking cupcakes, but I do know that growing up, I was left to my own devices, engaging in the act of play. I would get frustrated but I knew I couldn’t ask my parents for the quick answer, I had to work on it myself before I broke down, admitted defeat, and asked for help.  Today, it seems to be backwards.  Instead of even trying, kids just give up because they know someone will help them out.

Out at restaurants is another great example of our child centered culture. I grew up with the mindset and discipline that going out was a privilege and children were meant to be seen and not heard unless you needed help cutting your food.  Today, I see kids dominating meals outside the home.  Parents no long her the opportunity to chat, have an adult conversation, or exist as an adult for even a few moments.  While I admit that it’s good to engage your kids in conversation and an excellent way to communicate with them, is there a reason that every second of every day is dominated by a child?  Parents have become so critical of other parents, that they turn them into the authorities if they witness a child receiving a spanking from their own parent in a grocery store.  If a child misbehaves in school, parents now rush to the aide of the child instead of letting the school do its’ job.  When did this backwards culture creep into everyday life?

I encourage you to help your students learn the art of listening and hone your own listening skills.  As your new students flock to your office, fill your classrooms, and you answer their endless questions via email, it’s sometimes easy to get annoyed or be brusque in the defense of not having enough time.  Besides teaching them the content, we have become responsible for teaching them so many other things and now I would like to add listening to the list.

As I observe, facilitate, teach, and work with students in my every day life, I find it to be one of the most rewarding and most frustrating ventures I choose to undertake.  As a new faculty, how can we help our students learn the art of listening, learn to be more patient, be less concerned about being in the spotlight, and understand that the world may not always revolve around them?

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Winning in academia

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I love the Olympics.  I love the pageantry, the sportsmanship, the beauty of sport.  I have been glued to my TV like a 5 year old to a Dora marathon since the games began.  It’s been great. As PIC and I have watched event after event, we started thinking about the notion of winning.  Our culture seems to be obsessed with it.  We have a whole generation of kids who have been raised to feel like winners but now are lagging behind in so many other areas.  They can’t keep jobs, their job skills are poor, their emotional intelligence is low, and as a generation, they need some more help. We raised them always winning a ribbon, but it seems we missed out on some pretty important steps along the way.  The Olympics is much the same way.  While this is the worlds competition, we’ve become so obsessed that we’re doping our bodies, throwing matches (badminton-really?), and pushing ourselves without taking a moment’s thought about what it took to get there.

Is it because we’re obsessed with winning?  When did we stop to think about the athletes and the stress they put their bodies under, the sheer amount of training, discipline, and sacrifice.  Isn’t getting to the Olympics ENOUGH???  Most of these athletes can’t even drink legally yet we hold our nations pride meter on their sometimes tiny, sometimes wide shoulders.  When did we forget about what the journey involved? One athlete after another bursts into tears if they don’t win, apologizing to their country for not performing. While this show of respect to their home nation is to be admired, I also can’t help but wonder where this pressure came from? Was it all within?  Was it more than just their home country?  Did they know they were destined for labor camps like the North Koreans?  I hope not.

I met with a student who wants to pursue graduate school and was concerned about her GRE score.  She, like me, suffers from ‘terrible test taking tyranny’ (TTTT) as I like to call it.  I could not score over 1000 on my GRE’s either time I took them and look at me now, I earned an advanced degree.  With no great measure of intelligence, these and other tests our society is forced to take are making a mockery of our intelligence from the people who design these tests, to the people who take them, to the folks who make what they believe are informed decisions based on them. On the other side of the coin, we’ve become so obsessed with ‘winning’ at these tests that we’re willing to cheat, lie, steal answers, and commit crimes in order to have the chance at getting in to a college, enrolling in a program, or getting our name at the top of the list. I worked with my student to share with her my terrible test history and she said to me, “you just made me feel a million times better.”  By simply sharing with her my dismal history of tests, she knew she could still be equally successful in her own mind.  When did this happen?  (the beginning of time i’m sure)

Now, don’t get me wrong, some tests, like a drivers test is a necessary test.  Quite frankly I don’t know how some people pass it judging from their road etiquette or lack thereof, but the tests we are subjected too based on our subject areas is a daunting task and not for the faint of heart. Standardized tests could be much more useful if we would learn to read beyond the ‘pass/fail’ rate and really dig into the data of why kids are or aren’t learning but we don’t take the time too.  We’re too busy racing to the top that quite frankly, doesn’t really exist.  Our society is learning some hard lessons about competition.  Penn State is an excellent example of sacrifice for the sake of winning.  I feel terribly for that community because they are paying the price of poor leadership, terrible morals, and with the notion they promoted that winning games and dollars was more important than saving boys who were helpless children. My heart bleeds for their community, not for the terrible acts, but for the lying, concealment, and lack of good judgment all of those involved did not use, only to leave someone else to clean up the mess and bear the brunt of the storm.

Our system of win or be considered ‘the loser’ and the longtime thought that “second place is the first loser” has got to go.  Do I think healthy competition is necessary in life? Absolutely. I encourage my students to go for the big scholarship, but instead of just saying, “oh, you didn’t win” and walk away, I’ve learned to take the time and ask them, “what did you learn from the experience?” Even without the ‘win,’ students and all humans have power to reflect and improve themselves for the future.  It’s not the ‘we’re all winners’ culture I’m promoting, but instead to think about losing as an equally valuable mind set we can all grow from.  I’ve lost big and small in life and each time, I manage to bounce back.  Losing has forced me into depression but I didn’t go back for more of the same, I figured out how to cope with those feelings and manage them for the future.  By building these skills in our students, we can help them be successful in jobs, with relationships, and on the playing field.  If we continue to ignore them and only recognize them when they ‘win’ we will continue to raise a generation who dope, lie, throw matches, and do other things that are less than moral so they can feel the recognition.

As I prepare for a new academic year, I hope you will join me in thinking how to help students build skills they will need for life.  I did not realize at the time how much my simple statement about my own GRE experience could help another student.  How do you work with your students?  How do you teach them about the game of life and teaching them it’s a marathon, not a sprint?

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Creating professional distance

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I was in a bit of a conundrum when I was hired in my current position.  I stayed at the same university.  I also remained engaged in research with my former department where I earned my phd.  Now, this is not a negative conundrum, it has had many advantages which I’m very thankful for.  Not having to learn a totally new system, already being in the system, and having immediate colleagues are a few of the many advantageous things I’ve been enjoying.  The biggest downside: figuring out how to distance myself from my graduate students.  It has taken me a while to wrap my mind around this one, but professional distance is turning into a must for me.

I attended a colleagues defense last week and saw some of the other graduate students I had worked with.  This colleague defending is the ‘last’ one in the cohort that began with me and I felt compelled to attend. Upon seeing the other graduate students I was friendly and said hello, but skipped the other pleasantries.  I also made a point of going up to my old advisor and the other faculty members afterwards to say hello.  While it wasn’t meant to be an unfriendly gesture, I had made sure to exchange pleasantries, it was more for my benefit.  I am not a graduate student.  I find myself moving farther and farther away from them from a professional standpoint and it’s time to physically do that as well. Does it mean I think I have a higher ranking or am better?  Hell no. Quite to the contrary in fact.

I don’t know when the shift happened, it’s been over the last few months, but I find myself seeking out the camaraderie of other graduate students less and less and these were people who I considered friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I keep in touch with all kinds of folks and live with a graduate student, but it’s a different feeling.  For me, it’s been a psychological shift.  I still keep in regular communication with many of my former graduate student colleagues who have all graduated and gone onto various jobs/roles in their professional lives. Heck, I was even texting a former grad student who is also my editor now because she’s fantastic and runs her own business now.  She ‘hahahah’ed’ me and said, “isn’t it fun to analyze our own cognition?”  You know what? She’s right–it is fun and also necessary.  It just so happened that two nerds texting is also like two nerds talking.  😀

As I become ingrained in my current position and have started to mentor/advise undergrad researchers for summer work, I have found myself shifting from the role of ‘equal buddy’ to ‘mentor/advisor’ in a good way.  I think what tipped it over for me was mentoring summer researchers.  As we meet each week, they continue to look to me not only for answers, but for that mentoring role that I feel better about providing than I did a year ago. As I talk to them about theory and research and methods, it’s a solid base for them to start with and I feel confident discussing these things with them. It’s also a fine line in getting to know them to be able to mentor them but also keeping professional distance so we both know there are clear(er) lines of professionalism between us. As I mentioned in an earlier post, sometimes it is about being more forceful and reminding people of their responsibilities and that will ultimately move you from the ‘friend’ to ‘colleague’ zone.  Whatever the reasons, I’m ok with them.  I don’t need to be friends with these grad students, but friendly and professional with them.  I can take an interest in what they are doing and then separate myself from them because they will be just fine in life.

I know this will continue to evolve but as I examine my own cognitive shift from student to faculty, it’s been something I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on and will continue to muddle through.  PIC asked me why I wasn’t making more of an effort to spend time with a current grad student since we had worked at an informal relationship and my answer was simple, “I just don’t feel like it.”  It has nothing to do with the student and everything to do with my own introverted perspective.

As a new faculty, how do you handle students you mentor closely?  How do you draw boundaries with them versus other colleagues?

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The value of mentoring

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As I looked through the previous posts on the blog, the last few were a bit stressful so I thought I’d lighten it up with a less cynical post about something I really enjoy and have learned so much about over the past year: mentoring.  I have grown to see mentoring as a positive and very necessary thing for both undergraduate and graduate students.  From prior work in research to actual mentoring with both sectors of students, mentoring is something that is near and dear to my heart.  It helps my students understand themselves and what they want to be when they leave the comfortable walls of the university and it shows me what I am and reaffirms my passion for working with students.

Mentoring is truly a harmonious balance between people.  I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my life and career and have worked hard to model these people and find balance in that task.  I attended an all-day mentoring workshop a few weeks ago and the keynote speaker did an excellent job of working through the process of mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences.  He used a nice mix of humor throughout his presentation and I found myself nodding in agreement when he was speaking.  I was truly engaged in what he was saying, not just because I agreed with it, but because I knew how to implement the words of wisdom he was sharing.

As I stated earlier, I’ve had some great mentors and role models.  My first role models were my parents.  No two people could have given me a better combination of love and discipline.  My mom assumed the main role and my (step) dad was the supporting cast.  This taught me that in mentoring, you need balance.  Never being the ‘heavy’ all of the time and sometimes only speaking up when it most important is a tightrope walk in mentoring.  I have found myself holding back with my students to see how things play out and then choosing what is hopefully a key moment to speak up.

My former FFA Advisor taught me that sometimes speaking up is important and that confrontation is a necessary evil in life.  I reserve this as a last ditch effort and am working on the art of confrontation because it’s never fun and I have yet to meet anyone who thrives on it.  He also taught me the art of peanut M&M’s and a soda.  While food is not the way to fill an emotional void, there were times when it was a comfort to sit down and snack.  This also allowed us to be more informal.  Today, I try to take each of my students to lunch or coffee early on in our mentoring partnership.  It helps break the ice, chat about less formal things, and get to know each other.

Finally, my phd advisor.  I have known this woman since I was in high school and she showed me that it’s important to let people get to know you. This helps build rapport and sets the stage for expectations.  By showing others that you are indeed human and that every day might not be good but there is good in every day, you can be a better person.  My phd advisor also has a great amount of empathy towards others, something I hope to be able to find more of in the future.  The unique combination of care and support are necessary to the completion of any grad student.

As a new faculty, it’s tough to find students that are interested in your research, are willing to put in the time and work, and see a project through. A good mentoring relationship is an excellent way to recruit and retain students for the long haul.  As I have been taught, I try to balance my time with my students, form a good rapport with them, and am working to give that unique combination of support and care that they require.  Whether it’s an undergrad or a grad student, they each require a similar and different skill set.  How do you mentor students?

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