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.