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.