Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Faculty Appreciation - Entry #30

Many college and university faculty think they are the main cogs in campus governance.  On the other hand, the full-time professional staff believes they are the indispensible faction that keeps the campus purring along.  In reality, both groups are important in keeping any institution of higher education meeting its mission of teaching, research, and community service.  In the best of both possible worlds it is a symbiotic relationship—one for all and all for one.  Yes, sometimes it can be a strained existence, one lacking mutual respect tinged with suspicion and distrustfulness.  But for a school to truly succeed, for its undergraduates to be properly serviced, these two groups must forge some type of alliance.

I have worked for almost 25 years at one of the regional campuses of the University of Connecticut.  With a population that hovers just over 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students we are quite small.  Many of my administrative colleagues at the main campus, with close to 20,000 students, would probably say their relationship with the faculty is tenuous at best.  An overgeneralization?  Perhaps, but at a large campus (more like a small city) the professional staff will have more peripheral contact with faculty members than at a regional site.

One of the strengths of being employed at a regional, non-residential campus is you really get to know many of the teaching staff.  It’s hard to avoid.  You see them everyday walking the halls, in the bookstore buying a cup of coffee, and coming and going to the attached parking garage.  My position is also unique.  I am the Director of Student Services and supervise such standard functional areas as career services, student activities, and counseling.  But I also have my hand in the other side of the house.  I coordinate academic advising and help train faculty advisors.  I am the go to person for questions on academic integrity.  I participate on campus committees and am involved with faculty searches.  I am also the person faculty seek out to vent about whatever is on their mind. 

I respect them for what they seek to accomplish and they, I believe, respect me for the way I work with the students and themselves.  It is this relationship that I highlighted in notecards to many of the faculty on our campus.  I wrote about our shared goals, friendship, and collective frustrations.  I expressed how thankful I was of their support for my office and volunteering for campus-wide programming activities that my staff coordinates.  I also wanted them to know, in a handwritten way, that someone out there acknowledges their dedication to the campus and appreciates all that they do to make our regional locale the best within the university system. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Keeping the Enthusiasm Going - Entry #29

How time flies!  I am fast approaching the eight-month mark of my Writing Project.  Letter/note number 264 has just been mailed.  It seems like only yesterday, when the weather was mild and in the low 70’s (as opposed to this week’s low 30’s and two feet of snow), that my first piece of correspondence was deposited with the U.S. Postal Service.

I do see light at the end of the tunnel—May 25, 2013 is the end date—but sometimes my enthusiasm has waivered.  Deciding who will receive a notecard and figuring out what I will say that doesn’t sound pretentious or silly can be taxing on, what Agatha Christie’s sleuth Hercule Poirot would say, “those little gray cells.”  However, whenever I have difficulty mustering the necessary zeal to forge ahead I look back at some of the notes I have been sent.  First, and foremost, was the card I received from John Kralik, author of 365 Thank Yous:  The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life, and the inspiration for my year-long writing project.  Among the thoughts he wrote were:
Do not be discouraged.  There will be down days.  Life throws us fresh challenges all the time.  But in the end you will have experienced something special you would not have missed.

Kralik’s words refer to the overall demands, the ups and downs, we experience through our everyday existence.  I also interpreted the words in his correspondence as a quick pep talk to continue on course with my stated goal.   I found his last sentence the most important and it has been reinforced through the responses that have popped up in my email in-box, in cards that have arrived at my doorstep, and heartfelt phone calls people have made to me. 
WOW, I just got a wonderful letter from you!!  Thank you for the thank you!!  It is letters like yours that make it all worth while.  Hope to see you again soon and hope you and your family are well!!!!

“Professional colleagues.”  This is the designation etched along most names on the spreadsheet I created, which chronicles my letter writing output (yes, I have a record of every piece of correspondence I have mailed).  The appreciative email, among many I have been sent, all with the same earnest tone, indicated how a small gesture like a handwritten note can have such a positive effect on someone.  This was not an isolated case.
There is something very unique and special about noticing and appreciating those in our lives…It was a thrill to receive your hand-written, lengthy note.

We say thank you many, many times to colleagues.  We acknowledge each other.  But something more tangible such as a thoughtful notecard truly demonstrates the worth and value we place on someone.  It also provides a significant boost to their self-worth and self-esteem.

Other reactions have centered on the very fact that a handwritten note is so out-of-the-norm.
I received your Christmas card today.  It’s so rare for my generation to receive cards by mail – much less from overseas – a real pleasure!

How nice to get your note.  Very pre-Internet/email.  No one writes letters anymore and I kinda miss that.

All of these responses have kept me on track when I find it difficult to sit down on my straight back chair, fountain pen in hand, and compose a letter or card to one of the remaining 365.  The handwritten correspondence may be categorized as more retro, but there is nothing old-fashioned about the sentiment embedded in each letter or card I craft or, I’m sure, the notes I receive in return.