Sunday, December 23, 2012

Remembering Chet - Entry #26

Earlier this month a friend and colleague passed away (  Chet McPhee hosted the classical radio show, on rotating weeks, on the Trinity College radio station, 89.3, in Hartford, CT.  My radio program, “On Broadway,” followed his show.  For over 16 years, maybe more, I got to know Chet during the 15 minutes of overlap before my 5:30pm start time.  Or I thought I knew him.  After reading his obituary and attending his wake I unearthed a more complete picture of this gravelly-voiced, well-loved personality.  

This week I sent a sympathy card to one of his surviving sons.  Chet would always give me a feigned look of exasperation about having to drive there for Sunday dinner.  The last time I chatted with Chet he spoke of the recent trip he and this son took to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.  The Goodspeed is one of the most honored regional theaters in the country.  It was the first occasion the two of them had gone together and Chet said they had a great time.  In addition to conveying my condolences I wanted his son to know how much this shared time together meant to Chet.

I had known the three worlds of Chet—jazz aficionado, both as an accomplished musician and radio disc jockey; host of two radio programs, the aforementioned classical show and his longtime morning jazz program, “Sunrise Serenade,” which aired for decades every Friday morning from 6:00 – 9:00 am.; and his coaching history at Trinity College.  I was most familiar with his radio background due to our shared love for college radio.   His encyclopedic knowledge of jazz made him a listener favorite and he brought in big bucks during the yearly station fundraising drive.  Interestingly, he began his stint as a classical dj because there was an opening in the schedule that needed to be filled.  Chet volunteered.  Even though he knew next to nothing about the genre, he studied and listened to recordings and became a very credible classical music host.

I knew Chet was a highly skilled and accomplished jazz musician, but it wasn’t until I attended his wake that I had a better understanding of this part of his life.  As the line  snaked through the funeral parlor there were multiple photo collages displayed as well as a television monitor scrolling through many dozens of pictures.  Most were from his college coaching days, but a good percentage showed him in his younger years, along with members of his jazz trio, adorned in the hip dress of turtle neck and blazer.  Throughout the years Chet would tell me about this gig or that one.  He never stopped playing the bass.  In fact, I believe he had a job lined up for this New Year’s Eve.  Not bad for someone in his early 80’s.

The one part of Chet’s long life I was not too aware of was his college coaching and teaching career.  I knew he was involved in the athletic program at Trinity College in Hartford, but I didn’t think it was too significant.  Goodness, was I wrong.  First, the man earned two Master’s, a Doctorate, and taught at the college.  In all my years, he never once mentioned his high academic achievement.  According to his obituary, Chet “coached freshman football and started a lacrosse program where he coached the varsity team. [Later he] became the head coach of the Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Teams.”  This was over a span of almost 40 years.  In 2010 a new scoreboard in the school’s natatorium was named for him.  Again, at his wake, there were countless photos with him and his athletic teams.  In line I stood in front of, I believe, the former Trinity College football coach and one of the former captain’s of the Men’s Swim team.  During my 45 minutes in the receiving line (they were expecting over 500 people at the wake) I heard their countless stories of how Chet changed lives and how he was as devoted to his charges as they were of him.  Faculty, staff, and former students flooded the funeral parlor to pay their last respects. 

So, how will I remember Chet McPhee, the man with a voice made for radio?   Good soul, beloved Trinity College alum, jazz connoisseur, and a raconteur always ready to entertain me with a good golf joke or story. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Down Under in Australia/NZ - Entry #25

I have been very fortunate over the past five years to be able to attend the past three biennial Australian New Zealand Student Services (ANZSSA) Conferences.   I love to travel and in December 2007 I stumbled upon this two-year gathering.  Through happenstance I was able to become one of the official National Association of Student Personnel Association (NASPA) delegates.  Their partial funding cut down on travel costs and bestowed upon me the designation as “one of the Americans.”  It wasn’t hard to pick me out as someone from the States since there are never more then a handful of conference goers from outside the region.  There are a number of reasons why.  First, not many student affairs types even know of the ANZSSA Conference’s existence.  As a group, we are more stateside-centric when seeking professional development opportunities.  I would dare say that most people in the field don’t know there are many international conferences held each year around the globe.  Second, Americans do not travel outside the United States in great numbers.  According to a CNN Travel story ( only 30% of Americans had passports in 2011 as compared to 60% of Canadians and 75% of those in the United Kingdom.  That figure is dramatically higher then just a few years ago only because passports are now necessary for entry into Canada and Mexico where 50% of all international trips by U.S. citizens were taken.  Third, the cost to fly to the other side of the world is not cheap.  Factor in food, lodging and transportation within the countries and that’s a lot of Australian or New Zealand dollars.  Lastly, is the distance.  It is a long plane ride no matter where you depart from in the States.  When I left for the 2011 Conference from Connecticut it took me 28 hours.  That included a flight to Washington, D.C. (with layover), second leg to LAX (with layover), flight to Auckland, New Zealand, and then finally Australia.  The actual flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was only 11 hours and it was at night so one could “sleep.”  Taken as a whole the trip was rather lengthy, but if you judged it as separate segments the journey was not too bad.  Anyway, it was an adventure (HINT:  If you can afford it book a Premium Economy seat.  The difference between that level and coach is night and day).

The ANZSSA Conference is quite small which, over the years, has enabled me to meet and talk with many of the participants.  During my excursions to these two countries I have also made it a point to visit as many universities as I could. Everyone I have ever met has been collegial and accommodating. As a NASPA delegate visitations are part of the post-conference itinerary but, in addition, I have mapped out trips to many more schools.  I am always interested in the differences and similarities of administrative practices.  For example, in Australia student activities revolve around the student union and the sports association (or union). These bodies, composed entirely of current students, receive most, if not all, of the student union and sports association fees collected each year. They would then allocate the funds to the various groups, clubs, and services under their jurisdiction. The unions are an entity unto themselves with almost no administrative oversight from the university.

When I first started making my travel arrangements for the 2007 Auckland session I was clueless on how many people were involved in the conference.  My reference point is a NASPA National, which can number 7,000 to 8,000 delegates.  I’ll never forget my reaction when I read one of the emails from the conference organizer about the proceeding’s size:  “Since this year’s ANZSSA is in New Zealand we are hoping for 175 people.”  “What,” I thought?  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I sputtered.  Even my regional conference (Region I of NASPA comprises New England and Canadian Maritime Provinces) is 400+ participants.  I was, literally, momentarily stunned.  But, stepping back, it made sense.  There are only a fraction of the number of institutions of higher education in those two countries as compared to the United States.  Residential life, huge in the States, is very small there due to a lack of housing stock and the proclivity of students to commute to their local universities.  In Australia and New Zealand there is not the mass migration of students around the country as in the U.S.  Student activities is predominately run by…the students, which further cuts down on their number of professional staff. 

However, due to the small numbers, over the past three gatherings I have gotten to know a number of Australian and New Zealand student affairs professionals.  We would chat before sessions but, primarily, at either morning or afternoon teas.  How civil.  How scrumptious.  Little sandwiches.  Cakes.  Fresh fruit.  Tea or coffee.  Too bad conferences in the U.S. are too big to offer these type of breaks.  But I digress.  ANZSSA members I have met over the years were the recipients of my cards these past ten days.  I usually started off writing about the weather, whining about the cold Connecticut mornings in contrast to the very warm December climate over there.  Brisbane, for example, where the 2009 Conference was held, could be in the 90’s this time of year.  For some I reminisced about excursions we took together.  One memorable day trip was to the Wairarapa wine district outside of Wellington, New Zealand to sample their superb Rieslings.  For a colleague at the University of Southern Queensland I reminded her about the vegemite on toast she “forced” me to consume.  In my notes I also touched upon academics and their upcoming summer break as well as Christmas holiday.

The main thrust of my correspondence to the ANZSSA members was simply to keep in touch.  This viewpoint--staying connected with someone halfway around the world--is one of the nice residuals of The Writing Project.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Higher Ed. Expenses - Entry #24

A college or university education is becoming increasingly expensive.  Compounding the problem is the yearly ritual of hikes in tuition and fees.  Undergraduate and graduate students are forced to take out more loans as grant money via financial aid continues to shrink.  Burdening students further is the need, for many, to either find an outside job or expand their current working hours to pay for school.  The focus on money, or lack there of, can have a significantly negative effect on a student’s academic performance as less energy is committed to studies and more time is devoted to generating a sufficient cash flow.  Other concerns include spending a greater amount of time to complete a degree program or simply withdrawing from the attending institution without a degree in hand.

There are ways to work within the higher education system to reduce costs such as attending a community college.  Unfortunately, traditionally aged students usually want to enroll at a residential school as opposed to a commuter institution, which would be dramatically cheaper.  The cost of receiving a college or university education was the basis for one of my recent letters.  I mailed a note to one of my nephews congratulating him on the pathway he chose to graduation, which cost a fraction of what most people pay.  Additionally, I applauded his understanding of the importance of landing a meaningful internship while still in school which, in his case, landed him a full-time position within his field of interest at graduation.

His post-secondary journey began at one of the community colleges in Connecticut.  Commuting each day, he finished an Associates Degree in Business within two years.  From there, still living at home, he drove each day to one of the state universities, completing his Bachelor’s degree in two and one-half years (the extra semester was due to an internship, described below).  While I do not have the exact cost breakdown it is safe to say he and his parents’ outlay was probably less then what two years at even a modestly priced private school would have charged.  This avenue through the higher education system is not for everyone, but it does demonstrate, as I explained to him, a determination and perseverance to get the job done within the means at hand.

While his educational savings were substantial the more important aspect I addressed in my correspondence was his understanding of securing an internship.  In today’s marketplace graduating without some sort of experience, no matter what major an undergraduate is pursuing, puts a student at a considerable disadvantage when they are looking for full-time employment.  Some students understand this need, while others are oblivious to it.  Even though advisors, career services staff, faculty, and fellow undergraduates may highly encourage students to obtain an internship, co-op experience, or participate in service learning too few of them actually follow through.  I can’t tell you how many times I discussed this with juniors or seniors only to be met with disinterested and lukewarm responses.  My nephew, on the other hand, recognized right away the value of acquiring an internship within his major.  Junior year, through determination, and maybe a bit of luck, he landed such a position.  Over the one and one-half years within the internship his job responsibilities increased.  His commitment and job performance were in perfect sync with the company.  The end result—a good job with benefits upon graduation. 

I believe I wrote in my card that I use his experience—both the route through the community college system and the achievement he attained via an internship—to demonstrate to parents and undergraduates what can be accomplished even as tuition and fees continue to rise and the job outlook for graduating seniors continues to be uncertain.  I have full confidence the next phase of his life will be just as successful.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Six Month Update - Entry #23

Six months.  Over 180 cards and letters and stamps.  It’s hard to believe it has been six months since I began The Writing Project.  During this period I have made sure individuals receiving the mailing from me should have it delivered by the U.S. Post Office.  For some, I could very easily drop them in a neighbor’s mailbox or send them to colleagues via intercampus mail, but then the presupposed effect would be lost.  We receive so few letters among the mountains of third-class-mail, circulars, bills, and catalogs.  Discovering a stamped piece of correspondence among the detritus makes us want to “Put on a Happy Face,” as Dick Van Dyke declares in the musical, Bye Bye Birdie:
Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.
Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,
It's not your style;
You'll look so good that you'll be glad
Ya' decide to smile!
Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that "full of doubt" look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!
Put on a happy face

During this first half-year period I have occasionally received a card in return from my correspondence.  These missives are gratifying to receive especially from colleagues or friends I have not been in touch with for a long time.  But, for the most part, I have not heard back from individuals on my list, which is fine.  I never started this journey thinking I would be inundated with return cards or letters.  However, when I see people face-to-face it’s a different story.  Case in point—earlier this month I attended the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region I Conference (New England and Canadian Maritime Provinces) in Mystic, CT.  I had been very involved with the organization in the late 1990’s and early turn of the century.  This year, in August and the first part of September, many of the recipients of my cards/letters were to my former colleagues from the group.  At the Regional Conference a number of them, many I had not seen in a few years, were in attendance.  Upon seeing me I received hugs and huge smiles.  “Your card is right on my desk,” was a constant refrain.  Even the Director of the national association, someone I’ve known for 20 years (and the recipient of a card on August 30, 2012), exclaimed that my card was displayed prominently on his desk.  Their reactions put a smile on my face and made me realize that even though I do not receive correspondence in return my cards/letters are being appreciated, which in essence, was one of my goals.

While I have kept up with the basic tenets of The Writing Project I will concede I have not always been true to the cause.  Two examples:
1.  The Fountain Pen – I must admit I have not written recent cards/letters with the silver coated fountain pen I purchased just for The Writing Project.  In the beginning, I would sometimes forget to bring it with me when I would be composing away from home.  On other occasions I would lose patience when it would lose ink as I glided it across the page.  More recently, the ink cartridges that provide the sustenance for the fountain pen have all run dry and I haven’t been back to the store to purchase new ones.  Instead, I’ve used a very inexpensive Pilot Rolling Ball marker.  It is lightweight and skims across the paper.  Until I make the time to purchase new ink cartridges the Pilot will be my writing utensil of choice.
2.  A Card a Day – My intention of a card a day, when I first began, was something very achievable.  However, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks melded into months this undertaking became harder to maintain.  Sometimes two or three days would go by before I wrote cards, needing to catch up to stay on track.  Other times, if I was in a groove, I might churn out correspondence to be 2-3 days ahead of the game.  Nevertheless, I have been able to maintain a +3 to -3 range throughout the six months, which I think is an acceptable fluctuation.

So, as the holiday weekend winds down, with 180+ to cards/letters to go I think of my colleague’s words of encouragement--“It’s all downhill from here.”  How true.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thank You, Canada - Entry #22

Last week I saw the movie Argo, which is probably one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.  The setting is Iran during the takeover of the American Embassy and subsequent hostage crisis in the late 1970’s.  The drama, tension, and attention to detail make this a must-see flick.  I was in college during this confrontation and remember the time vividly—Ted Koppel on ABC-TV starting the late night Nightline broadcast to update viewers on the day’s events, the disastrous rescue in the desert, and the general hostility and distress felt by the populace and U.S. government. 

[Spoiler Alert—if you do not know the plot of the movie please stop reading.]

I also recall attending the ticker tape parade down Broadway for the returned hostages.  I was in graduate school in New York City and wanted to show my support for these individuals.  It was also a way to release the pent-up frustration we all had during the 444 days of the takeover.  I remember being very patriotic at the time.  The one fuzzy part during the crisis was the announcement, one day that six Americans had hid out in the Canadian Ambassador’s home, were spirited out of Iran, and were now safe.  Upon hearing the news reports I thought, somehow, they were just fortunate enough to escape to the Embassy of our northern neighbors, lay low for a while, procure Canadian passports, board a plane, and fly home.  I never really gave it a second thought.  Now that Argo has been released we all realize otherwise.  Without the bravery and cunning of CIA agent Tony Mendez, his Hollywood support team, and countless others, not to mention the Canadian Ambassador and his wife, these six individuals would have been hunted down and forced to join their fellow State Department workers in captivity. 

I remember saying a private thank you to Canada.  I didn’t dwell too much on their flight to freedom since so little information had been revealed.  With the true story now being seen by millions on screen I know differently.  When Argo ended the mostly older audience clapped.  They silently stood as the credits rolled.  I believe people in the theater were silently reliving that time, honoring the bravery and sacrifice of all the hostages.  It was quite a solemn and moving moment, one I had never felt before after watching a motion picture.

I also felt like calling the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. or sending them a telegram thanking them for what the Ambassador and his wife did those 30+ years ago.  While it was the American CIA that thought of the crazy scheme known as Argo, it was the Canadian husband and wife that sacrificed much if they were caught or implicated.  Let’s not even think of the international incident their involvement would have caused. 

So, I wrote a short note to the current Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer.  I told him how the movie had dredged up memories from the past.  Now that I knew the full story I wanted to thank his country, more formally, for all it did those many years ago.  I hope it’s not necessary to return such a favor one day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Political Bipartisanship - Entry #21

A strange turn of events happened last week in the Presidential election.  Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, a keynote speaker at this past summer’s Republican Convention, and a harsh critic of President Obama—just two weeks earlier he was lambasting the Chief Executive for his lack of leadership abilities—was suddenly extolling his virtues.  The Governor and President were on the phone with each other, sometimes more then once a day.  The President was invited to tour the state.  A real bromance was brewing.  Why?  One word—Sandy.  The so-named hurricane wrecked havoc and destruction up and down the Garden State’s coastline changing, probably forever, the way of life for many state residents.  Pushing partisan politics and rhetoric aside the Governor, rightly so, took the high road in working with the President on securing much needed federal aid and attention to help ease the plight of New Jerseyans.  President Obama, acting more Presidential then like the Democratic nominee, began working with the Governors of the hardest hit states, regardless of their party affiliation.  But it was the praise both Christie and Obama heaped on one another that captured the national spotlight.  The act of bipartisanship was a breath of fresh air during this very long, drawn out, and frequently nasty election campaign.

As a former long-time New Jersey resident, who still has family there, and someone who is a Democrat and union member Christie’s actions were both stunning and commendable.  The Governor rides rough shot over Democrats in the statehouse and he has bullied unions throughout his tenure in office.  However, I had to tip my hat to him for putting the state’s needs first and politics second.  I wanted him to know how I felt so I wrote him a note extolling his actions. 

During press conferences Christie also explained how the New Jersey beaches are a part of the state’s character (as well as a huge economic force) and need to be rebuilt.   I let him know I agreed.  In my correspondence I told him that, as a young boy, my family would often take day trips to the Jersey shore’s Long Beach Island.  As the day drew to a close we would head to the expansive parking lot for a picnic dinner on the back of our Ford station wagon (usually Shake and Bake chicken), before heading to Seaside Heights for an evening of fun and adventure.  Part of the rebuilding efforts along the coast will include discussions on whether construction should even be allowed near the water.  While these are necessary, and quite important, conversations to have, I wanted Republican Governor Chris Christie to know, at this moment in time, both from a political and leadership standpoint, he had my appreciation and respect for all he was doing to shepherd the state through this crisis.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Neighborhood Food Drive Thanks - Entry #20

Three years ago the economy was going nowhere.   Part of the fallout affected community food pantries even in well-to-do areas.  In September 2009, while walking my dog around the block, I was thinking about an article in our local newspaper on the urgent need for non-perishable groceries to be donated to the town's food pantry.   Over the years, our family had sporadically deposited items at their door, but not on a consistent basis.  As our lab-hound mix tugged and pulled me down the sidewalk I started to formulate a plan for a weekly neighborhood food drive.  The idea was KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).  I would seek out families on the street via a flyer dropped off at their homes.  On the recruitment flyer I touted three goals:  1) to help make a difference in the community  2) to get to know the neighbors on the street 3) to begin to instill the value of community service with our children.  From that group a delivery schedule would be developed.  Volunteers would then receive a weekly email designating which house would be the point for collecting and depositing bags of non-perishable goods for a Friday drop-off date.  There would be no pressure to donate each week.  People could decide whether they could deposit goods or not.   

The last component was coming with a name for the weekly project.  My street name is Griswold so I came up with the alliteration of Griswold Grocers.  It just rolled off the tongue.

This October 19th we will celebrate our three year anniversary.  We will have delivered approximately 1,300 bags of non-perishable goods by then.  I believe people on the street have become a little closer because of their involvement.  The town's food pantry has greatly benefited and it is gratifying to see small children lug a bag of groceries to drop-off at a neighbor's house. 

While I organized the weekly effort the food drive would not be a success without the participation of the 26 households on our street.  I wanted these neighbors and friends to know how much I appreciated their volunteerism and dedication.  I have mentioned my thanks here and there over the years, but I thought a handwritten note would mean so much more.  Now I will admit there was an ulterior motive to my correspondence.  In addition to acknowledging their involvement I am hoping my notecard will prod families to drop off groceries on a more regular basis. But that is a by-product of my sincere thanks for making the Griswold Grocers a successful neighborhood endeavor.

A sidebar to the success of the Griswold Grocers is how the concept and structure has spread to other neighborhoods in town.  The set-up may differ slightly (bi-monthly or monthly deliveries), but the basic configuration is the same.  I have even developed a short  "how-to" document for individuals that want to replicate our drive.  Anyone that would like a copy, send me an email.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Collegial Staff - Entry #19

I work at a small commuter, regional campus of the University of Connecticut.  We have a great administrative staff.  In my view, the most positive aspect of the group is our collegiality.  We have very few “silos” at our location.  If the Admissions Counselor needs assistance skirting tables for the Fall Open House individuals from the Registrar’s Office or our head librarian will assist—no questions asked.  When we host our annual 5K road race through the streets of downtown Waterbury everyone pitches in—from staffing the registration table to handing out cups of water to parched runners to setting up the post-race refreshment tables.  No grousing.  No complaining.  The varied staff gladly volunteers.  It’s just the culture of our campus.

I have tapped into this all-for-one attitude the last few years for our Parents Orientation.  Most schools organize this function with, what I term “The Talking Heads,” where a plethora of staff take turns presenting information to the assembled parents.  I take a different turn.  The thrust of our 90 minute program is staff facilitated discussion.  Our Multi-Purpose Room is set-up with 10 person round tables—eight or nine parents and one administrative facilitator per table.  The focus of the activity is twofold.  First, to give the moms and dads a chance to have their questions answered in a more comforting setting.  Second, to engage them in conversation about their thoughts and feelings having their son or daughter enter the ranks of higher education.  There are few opportunities for parents to be introspective or reflective when they visit.  Our normal modus operandi is to just feed them information.  My role in this environment, in my best Phil Donahue impression, is to bop from table to table, wireless microphone in hand, answering questions, prodding the discussions, and addressing the assembled crowd.  I have found this interactive approach to be beneficial for a number of reasons including keeping their attention more pronounced during the evening; less head-drops.

I could not possibly succeed with the program unless I have buy-in and participation from our campus staff.  So, over a ten day period I sent handwritten notecards to my colleagues that assisted me.  I told each of them that they are the backbone for the program’s success.  They are the face of our campus and their enthusiasm and knowledge base are the reason the evaluations for the night are so overwhelmingly positive.  I know a simple email thank you or verbal appreciation would have sufficed, but I wanted them to feel as special as the parents did that early September evening.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Connecting With Colleagues - Entry #18

I have been involved with professional associations since my graduate school days in the early 1980’s.  As with most students, my choice was heavily influenced by the faculty at the institution I was attending.  The professors at Teachers College, Columbia University were firmly aligned with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) as opposed to the competing student affairs group, the American College Personnel Association (ACPA).  Therefore, I became a NASPA fledgling by age 22.  The choice proved a wise one as the location of the NASPA National Conference during my graduate studies just happened to be a few subway stops away in mid-town Manhattan.  It afforded me the opportunity to attend a national gathering on a shoestring budget, further enmeshing me within the organization. 

When I began my professional career I started to attend state, regional and national conferences from many different associations, but I also made time to fly out to wherever the NASPA National was being held.  When I moved to Connecticut I contacted the woman who was the NASPA Region I (the New England states and maritime provinces of Canada) Vice President about becoming involved.  Before I knew it I was appointed to the regional executive committee serving as the secretary-treasurer.  I stayed involved with NASPA for many years, serving in a number of capacities at the regional and national level.  Along the way, I befriended many colleagues throughout the country.  Most of the time I would just see them at a regional or national conference or a quarterly board meeting.  It was always good to meet and greet and catch-up with old friends at these assemblages.  At larger gatherings (nowadays, a national conference will attract thousands and thousands of student affairs professionals) it is comforting to know that many colleagues will be in attendance.  While I can be affable and out-going, national conventions can be quite intimidating.  However, knowing that many of my peers would be in attendance made the experience less daunting.  I knew there will be people to chat with, share a cup of coffee in some quiet spot, or arrange dinner companions.

As I have pulled back in my involvement and conference attendance with NASPA, my contact with colleagues has sorely diminished.  The beginning of the 2012-2013 academic year coupled with the seemingly endless stream of conference email announcements (Register Now!  Early Bird Special Until!, Mark Your Calendar!) brought about a melancholy.   I had been very active within the organization, but had now directed my professional efforts elsewhere.  I felt the need to send notecards to many of the student affairs administrators I had worked side-by-side with for so many years.  I didn’t wax poetically, become profound or reflective in my thoughts.  I included a few personal comments, but the missive was more to reestablish contact with individuals within New England and beyond.  The thrust behind each correspondence was simply to say hello.  In fact the constant for each card was the sentence, “I wanted to reach out to NASPA colleagues to say hello.”  Most of the people I wrote to were still entrenched at their institution but, interestingly, as I researched mailing addresses I discovered changes had taken place.  Some of my colleagues had left their longtime school for a better position elsewhere while others had left the field to become consultants. 

I ended each notecard, wistfully, about possibly meeting up one day at a regional or national conference.  Initially, this was just a way to craft a closing paragraph, but as I penned these thoughts I realized I just might need to reconnect.  So, who knows?  You just might see me in Mystic and Orlando these upcoming months.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Writing Project Reactions - Entry #17

“Mr. Brown, you come over here so I can give you a big hug.”  This was the response by one of the children librarians to my note thanking her for all her years of service, primarily, during my children’s formative years.  My short, handwritten card had struck a very appreciative chord.  I was a little embarrassed, but gave her a well-deserved embrace.  It was at that moment I realized the power of the handwritten word.  A verbal thank you is gratefully acknowledged and an email or text is considered a nice gesture.  But a handwritten missive, especially one that recognizes service or accomplishments, can have such a powerful effect on an individual.  As John Kralik, the author of “365 Thank Yous” points out, “a handwritten note just feels like sincere gratitude.”  Maybe it’s the age we live in where everything is measured in 140 sterile characters, dulling the magnitude and potency of what we are trying to convey.  Or, simply, no one writes anymore so being on the receiving end of some type of correspondence is a cherished event.

Soon after writing a card to my son’s teacher I received a phone call from him.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t home but his voice quivered while he left a sincere and heartfelt voice mail.  As I listened to message I felt somewhat ashamed.  Through all my children’s schooling, from K-12, I never wrote a thank you note to any of their teachers (I’m sure my wife wrote a few).  Extrapolating on this realization I wondered how often parents write truly wholehearted or commendatory notes to their child’s secondary educators.  I’m not talking about the quick thank you attached to a year-end gift, but a card that requires time and thought and genuinely expresses one’s feelings and/or gratitude.

Librarians seem to greatly appreciate a kind word, especially in handwritten form.  In addition to the hug I received the Director of another local library emailed me a lovely response to the note I mailed to her.  I complemented her patient and helpful staff in regards to working with my son.  She read my notecard aloud at a staff meeting and “they all had such smiles on their faces!”  She went on to say the library hears from dissatisfied patrons concerning fines and complaints on other matters, but few notes like the one I sent.  As I reread her email I had a smile on my face.

Not all the responses I have received are of the thank you variety.  A colleague in Maine wrote a very nice card in response to my post about my golf fanaticism.  He talked about his love of flyfishing, a passion where skill and art merge.  Not only did I appreciate his notecard, but in just a few short paragraphs I learned a lot about the sport.  But the most interesting aspect of his correspondence was not within the card, but on the outside.  There was a reproduction of two men casting from a small boat (see picture).  It turns out, unbeknownst to him, an artist, Dave Tibbetts (also an avid flyfisherman), caught my colleague and his friend in action.  He was able to reproduce the painting for notecards.  I thought that was cool, neat, first-rate, keen, nifty, and swell all wrapped into one.

Today I mark my three month start date.  I continue to draw inspiration from Judge Kralik.  In a card he sent to me earlier this month he stated there will be down days in trying to complete this project, but not to be discouraged.    He wrote, “Life throws us fresh challenges all the time.  But in the end you will have experienced something special you would not have missed.”  Thus far, he is right on the money.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The UnConference - Entry #16

Earlier this month I attended the annual #satechBOS UnConference for student affairs administrators.  It was a very good conference for information and networking purposes.  More importantly, over the two days we met, a number of student affairs professionals, myself included, were able to come together and, by working totally in sync with each other, were able to create a resource that will benefit the student affairs profession.  My notecards went to a number of the individuals I worked with on this project.  More on this later.  First, let me explain more about the UnConference concept. According to it is “a participant-driven meeting…that tries to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as…sponsored presentations” or an organized agenda.  Held at Boston University, the broader purpose of the two-day meeting was to look at the impact of technology, primarily, within student affairs.  But, more specifically, the UnConference was designed so:

Participants will not only engage in peer-peer learning around topics they have chosen, but also will be asked to “create” something in those smaller groups through “creation stations.”  Participants will be asked to create, foster, or develop an idea that they can take back to their respective campuses and communities and use immediately.

After the opening keynote, the 100+ attendees split up into breakout areas with topics voted upon by the group.   I attended a session that was billed as “Professional Branding and Managing an Online Presence.”  I didn’t really know what to expect but, if my memory serves me correctly, the 20 or so people in our group started talking about how using social media can build an on-campus presence.  Allison Stinson from Merrimack College spoke about their Pic[ture] of the Day.  Students, Faculty and Staff can submit a photo with some relevance to the school.  One picture is chosen each day (and linked off the institution’s home page).  Allison stated this daily activity had driven traffic to their website and, more importantly, created a buzz on campus.  I thought it was a great idea and lamented there was no repository of social media ideas that individuals could tap into.  Heads began to nod and we all began to brainstorm such a site.  What about developing an administered blog?  A Website? 

After lunch we reconvened into our incubator setting, broke down into subgroups and continued to fine-tune the idea.  We came up with a name—satechSHARE—registered its domain and created a Twitter account.  The impressive aspect of our endeavor was how a gathering of total strangers were able to quickly come together, agree on a direction, and begin to implement it.  There was no grandstanding, no posturing, no glory-seeking.  It was all for one and one for all.  I had never encountered such a collective experience.  We were bees in a hive; ants in a colony with one sole purpose.

Fast forward—there is still work to be done for satechSHARE to become a viable tool for student affairs administrators.  We are hoping to have a finished product by the end of Fall 2012.  The notecards I sent to a number of the main contributors to this idea summarized our experience and expressed my joy of being part of such a collaborative group.  In my 30+ years in this field I have never been involved in such an intense, time constrained undertaking.  I think the saying is catching lightning in a bottle.  We surely did and I wanted to share my euphoria, my glee with these individuals. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hug Your IT - Entry #15

I have always had good relationships with IT staff.  Even though people on campus feel I can solve any technology problem I am always knocking at the IT office door pleading for assistance.  It can be something simple or more involved and complex, but no matter what situation I present to them I am always welcomed with a smile and a “let me take a look” attitude.  My most recent batch of notecards went to my campus’ IT threesome as well as a member of the somewhat imperceivable IT presence at the main Storrs Campus of the University.

Here is one of my patented terrible analogies—both times I have visited Paris the French have been very nice and accommodating.  They overlooked my pitiful language skills.  They were gracious.  They smiled.  My experiences were always positive.  The reasons—I wasn’t demanding, nor did I treat them as inferiors or with contempt or impatience.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  How many times have you been in a meeting or having a casual conversation with a colleague and as soon as the discussion turns to tech support an emptiness engulfs your space?  Nearby plants begin to wither.  Dogs begin to howl in the moonlight.  Think of the effect Dementors have on Harry Potter.  It’s almost an Olympic sport—the IT Dehumanization Clean and Jerk.  Why is this attitude so prevalent on our campuses (and probably in the corporate world as well)?  I’ve never figured that one out.  Maybe it’s a function of the frustrations we have with the ever-expanding technology in our work-day world.  “How do I mail merge this document?”  “I can’t open my flash drive!”  “I need this database up and running yesterday!!”  “The %#&!@ computer crashed…again!”  Technology, in all its faceless glory, has no identity except for the IT staff member with the big red target on their back.  All the irritation, annoyance and dissatisfaction now has somewhere to be redirected.  But we are talking about human beings with feelings and needs, people who want to be included as part of the team, not as an add-on contracted vendor.  I’ve always found IT personnel helpful and ready to assist.  My secret?  I don’t send off an arrogant or demanding email.  I use the telephone or my feet for an in-person visit.  I ask, nicely, for their assistance.   And, more times then not, voila, we are in sync and in business.

My notecards wanted to convey my thanks for all the assistance I have received during my time at the University.  Whether large, more involved projects or small, one-time fix-me-ups, my life as an administrator is that much easier because of the IT staff.  So, go out and hug an IT staff member today!  Tweet about it at @istudentaffairs.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Broadway Musicals - Entry #14

Three weeks ago, in passing, I mentioned my Broadway music radio program. Since my last blog post my notes have been more specifically related to my weekly on air show.  There were two groups that received correspondence.  One segment was composed of press agents for theatrical productions in Connecticut and New York City.  The second cluster consisted of individuals involved with the production, manufacturing and distribution of Broadway original cast recordings (OCR).  The people that head these companies are so important to show music djs like myself.  They are the ones that are meticulously documenting the Broadway musical through a show’s OCR even though all but a select few recordings will ever sell huge numbers. 

This was not always the situation.   Cast albums of popular musicals in the 1940’s – 1960’s sold millions of copies.  The cast recording of Oklahoma!, which was the very first OCR to feature the complete score of a Broadway show with the original performers, sold over a million copies.  Some OCRs not only had blockbuster sales, but also spent weeks on the pop charts.  The Music Man’s OCR spent 12 weeks as the number one album in the country.  It stayed on the Billboard charts for a total of 245 weeks.  Not only have the OCRs of earlier musicals been hits with the public, but individual songs from Broadway shows have been popular.  For instance, “Some Enchanted Evening,” from South Pacific was the number one song in the United States for five weeks in a row; “Hey There,” from The Pajama Game spent six weeks at number one in the summer of 1957.

During the 1940’s through the early 1980’s there were major record labels such as Columbia, Capitol, Decca and RCA Victor vying for the rights to record Broadway productions.  Today, with consolidations in the recording industry and the demise of show tunes as a fixture on radio there are fewer record labels devoted to OCRs.  This was one of the reasons I mailed cards to some of the people that run companies devoted to preserving the scores of Broadway shows.  Without CDs from the current crop of musicals my radio broadcast would just be a museum piece of older shows and their respective LPs.  I wanted the people behind Ghostlight Records, PS Classics, and Masterworks Broadway to know I appreciated their endeavors as well as providing me with the CD and/or digital version of their latest offerings.  There are very few Broadway music radio programs around the country.  Those of us “in the business” become slightly more relevant when we can play selections from such Broadway hits as “The Book of Mormon,” “Billy Elliot,” and “In the Heights” among others.

Part of the pleasure of hosting my own radio program in Hartford, CT is the ability to take in shows in The Big Apple and Connecticut.  I then offer up reviews to my listeners and readers of my blog (  Over many years I have cultivated relationships with press representatives at some of New York’s largest agencies as well as with individuals at Connecticut’s nationally known regional theaters.  Without these contacts I would not be able to be the critical eyes and ears for would-be audience members.  With the upcoming Broadway season and subscription series for Connecticut theaters about to begin I wanted to thank the press people for returning my emails and answering my phone calls.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fore! - Entry #13

Last week I reached a milestone—I have surpassed over 10% of my goal of sending out a letter/notecard every day for one year.  So far, I have mailed 42 pieces of correspondence.  Time goes by fast when you’re having fun… or is it as you grow older…or is it both?

This past week has a hodgepodge of cards.  Two were sent to the graduate students that for the Spring 2012 semester wrote our 2012 Student Affairs Job Hunt blog.  They shared their experiences—the high’s, the low’s--as they searched for their first professional position in the student personnel field.  I am glad to report that both were successful in the job hunt process.  I wanted to, first, congratulate them, but to also thank them for sharing their exploits, their feelings and, most importantly, their advice for others that will one day be looking for a position in student affairs.  This is the 7th year that graduate students have been staffing the job hunt blog.  Their insights, joys, heartbreaks, and successes have entertained as well as informed hundreds, maybe thousands of people over the years.  Note to self—track down all the previous bloggers to inquire what they are now doing.  Maybe start a reunion or where-are-they-now blog.

The majority of cards I mailed were related to golf.  I am a golf fanatic.  I love being outside for a few hours, walking the green courses, and soaking up the tranquility of the surroundings.  I try to get out to a local course 3-4 times a week, usually having time for just nine holes.  Before the night sky darkens I might be out on the putting green practicing my 2-3 foot putts.  After work I occasionally drop by the driving range to work on my assorted wedges.  Last week I finally figured out why my drives were slicing.  Golf is one of the most mentally challenging sports you can play.   Anyone who participates can tell you your focus must be right on for every shot.  My confidence level and shot making ability is at a point where I am usually self-assured, in a modest and humble manner (so as not to offend the golf gods), that I can break 100 for 18 holes.  So, what does The Writing Project have to do with golf?

I wanted to thank two of the professional staff members from my hometown course for keeping the golf course so well-maintained.  The fairways are green throughout their length, mowed to a consistent level, and devoid of brown patches and dead grass.  The first cut rough is demanding without being overbearing, and the putting greens are rolled to a challenging, but not overly difficulty consistency.  My friends and I play a number of courses in the area and none are as nicely manicured as our home 18, which consistently ranks as one of the best public golf courses in Connecticut.  I wanted those individuals responsibility for its upkeep to know their hard work and long hours are applauded. 

One of the other pros on staff, who seems to regularly be assigned the early morning shift at the check-in counter, always welcomes me by name and with a hearty hello.  It makes me feel like one of the barflies from the television show, “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name.  In today’s, sometimes impersonal, world where logins and passwords and electronic devices rule the day I truly value this small act of name recognition.  It makes me feel like I am part of a community and appreciated as an individual rather then just a member of a faceless foursome ready to tee off.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reconnecting - Entry #12

This week I reconnected with a number of colleagues, spanning from graduate school to my current position.  Keeping connected with friends and colleagues that are not in close geographic proximity is a lot of work—on both ends.  Or it should be.  Sometimes I feel frustrated if, in my view, I am exerting an inordinate amount of energy to make an existing relationship work, but the effort is not reciprocated.  Do I continue my perseverance or admit to myself that the bond we once shared has evaporated?  Think of how many friends we retain from high school?  College?  Our professional lives?  My guess is there are only a select few we still stay in touch with on a consistent basis which could run the gamut from weekly to monthly to bi-annually.  Otherwise, staying connected could be a full-time job.  I do silently chuckle to myself when people brag about how many Facebook friends they have recorded.  Really?  That many?  Good for you.  But, I internally wonder if someone could be friends, no matter how loosely defined someone construes the word to, say, 1,000 people or more.

One card I sent out was to a couple I have known for over 30 years, dating back to graduate school.  The husband was in my wedding party, we use to hang out together at the old Ritz nightclub in Greenwich Village (where I saw the first U.S. tour of U2, Rockpile, and Split Enz), and occasionally consumed too much Chinese food.  Over the years we had talked, sporadically visited, and made countless promises for all of us to get together.  Distance has not been the barrier.  In fact, all of the people on last week’s list are within a 2 – 2 ½ hour radius.  The issue is carving out a dedicated period of time, which I promised in my correspondence to do sometime this summer.

I have known another colleague for almost the same amount of time.  I actually hired her as a Resident Hall Director and, in a quirk of fate, seven years later she hired me for the position I have held now for over 20 years.  We are good friends, confidantes, and have shared the high’s and low’s of life.  I included her on my list simply because I felt the need to convey these thoughts.  How many times do we really tell someone how appreciative we are for their friendship?  We could have a conversation, a real heart-to-heart, about anything and know we would receive an honest response or evaluation of the situation.  I don’t have many people in my professional life like this (not counting my wife).  I wanted to use the opportunity of The Writing Project to let her know.

One of the other individuals I wrote to had started his career at the University of Connecticut around the same time I had begun mine.  He could be categorized as one of those lifers (like myself) except a couple of years ago he announced he was leaving to take up a position in Boston.  Most of his friends and colleagues were in disbelief.  “Jim (not his real name)?” we chorused.  “Really?”  (It was actually a good move for a number of reasons).  I have been able to stay in touch, through the usual channels (i.e. email), but since my daughter lived near him and my mentee from the NASPA Region I New Professional Mentoring Institute also worked at his institution it was easier to stay connected.  However, my notecard did not delve into campus gossip, nor matters of state, or even family chatter.  Instead, I focused on one of the very important aspects of my life—golf.  He was good and I was someone that usually broke 100 (18 holes, not 9).  I now felt confident to tee up alongside him.  So, the game of golf and arranging a date to play was the focus.  We can talk about weightier matters on the course.