Jan 17

Reflections on the Woman’s March

On Saturday I stood with a crowd of 15,000 or so individuals at the Statehouse in Montpelier.

It was pretty amazing to stand with so many people and to know that there were marches like this all over the country and the world.

I felt a sense of hope. A sense that united together we were showing how many people care and will stand against hateful rhetoric from the man who was elected our president and the individuals in the US Senate and House of Representatives. That we will, when tested, stand up for our sisters and brothers of color, our Muslim friends, those who we don’t know who come from countries far and wide striving for the same freedoms my ancestors from Poland gained when fleeing from oppressive regimes. That we will stand and fight for fundamental access to health care, reproductive rights and free speech. That we will use our white power to protect, support, and defend the social justice issues that are what really make America great.

We stood together on that day as a crowd of majority white people. Many of us privileged in many ways. As women of color, Muslims, Lakota and migrant workers spoke, we cheered and clapped. Migrant Workers at Woman's March in Montpelier, VTWe listened to song from Nicole Nelson. We were stunned and amazed by Muslim Girls Making Change, we listened in rapt attention when Ebony Nyoni challenged us with #blacklivesmatter. We cheered in support when migrant justice workers asked if we would stand with them. We offered our applause for Rep. Kiah Morris. We stood in solidarity with Mary Gerisch as she spoke eloquently for native rights. We cheered loudly as Vermont’s teacher of the year, Rebecca Eun Mi Haslam spoke about the importance of education in a democracy.

There were whites who spoke as well, representing politics, choice, history, LGBTQ, and social justice views — Lt. Gov. Zuckerman, Sue Minter, Meagan Gallager of Planned Parenthood, and former Gov. Madeline Kunin, Linda Quinlan of Rainbow Umbrella and a passionate young woman from high school Greta Hardy-Mittell.

And of course there was Bernie.

I have been thinking a great deal about that day. I have been asking myself important questions such as why are we so proud that this was a peaceful march? As I read my Twitter feed and listened to people of color and native Americans I realized that while we did something amazing that day, because it was majority white in many areas, it was peaceful — not because white people are more peaceful (far from that) but more because law enforcement expects us to be more peaceful and “law abiding” so they showed up in pink hats and smiles, rather than riot gear and snarls.

I questioned myself. Will I REALLY STAND UP when it is time? Or will I retreat into my privilege, into my bubble, into my whiteness and just keep on going through my day because I can. Because I’m white. Because I’m baptized Catholic. Because I “fit in” to the definition of “American” being enforced so blatantly by our new President and his administration and the republican-led Congress.

As I was brought to tears by Muslim Girls Making Change. As I thought passionately about how I would support Kiah Morris. As I nodded my head vigorously in support of #blacklivesmatter. As I stood in witness of the migrant workers specifically asking us if we would protect them if needed….

A question kept slipping around my brain.

Would I? These individuals had the courage to stand in front of us. This huge white crowd. I am in awe of their courage. Their every day courage in the face of ignorance, fear and hatred. And I asked myself…will I REALLY stand with them? Will I stand BETWEEN them and help protect them?

All week I’ve been thinking about this.

What will I do besides march?

So far I’ve written one blog post, this post, emailed Sen. Sanders, Sen. Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch. I’ve posted content on my office window to help students use a new tool “5calls.org“. I’ve reached out to my local reps in Vermont because states will be the front lines. I’ve tweeted a lot. I’ve posted on Facebook.

Is it enough?

Well based on the news today, it looks like we will all get the opportunity to stand up and take action based on what we pledged last Saturday. In just one week the President of the United States and his team have begun to lock down this country and frighten people — and perhaps the worse at this point is what has happened to our friends and neighbors who have green cards who are not allowed back in this country because of their nationality and religion. This is not America.

So now we have our chance.

I for one am committed to writing and calling and getting into #goodtrouble. I’ve asked myself the questions and I know that if I am to look myself in the mirror I will not be silenced nor will I stop standing up for what is fundamentally American — FREEDOM.

Sep 14

EPIC 2015. Welcome to the Future.

I started teaching Internet Marketing in Y2K. Yep, I’ve been teaching this topic since:

  1. Google was a fledgling little company — they filed for incorporation in 1998.
  2. Before Facebook existed — they launched in 2004, and opened up to more than .edu in 2006.
  3. Before Twitter came on the scene — they started gaining popularity with a launch at SxSW in 2007
  4. Prior to YouTube — which had it’s first video uploaded in 2005
  5. Amazon started selling things other than books — which began in 2000 when they opened their kitchen store

I’ve been around long enough to see many things come and go, and to build curriculum that I believe will help my students to leverage the good side of all of this tech.  I’ve also been around this stuff long enough to see the dark side. To watch, and wonder, and worry about where it all taking us.

Like many people I watched Minority Report which came out in 2002 with fascination and thought…there is our future.


But perhaps most prophetic of all was a little film created in 2004 by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson as part of a presentation they gave that year as they considered the future of journalism. They released a second version in 2005.

I began showing this video in my classes as soon as it came out. It sparked a great deal of conversation because it was future looking. Students were often skeptical of the concepts raised and didn’t really see the issues with a network that is built to show just those things that are relevant to someone based on their browsing and reading history.  The history of the early start of social networking sites, Google, Amazon, and RSS feeds is fascinating. And then somewhere in there…they move from what they know…to what they envision.

You can watch EPIC2105 here:

And so here we are. 2014.

We have Facebook which serves up maybe 10% of the content an individual is subscribed to. We have retargeting of advertising. We have Twitter which is rumored to be planning an algorithmic timeline approach based on individual interests. We have Amazon which feeds us up recommendations and content based on what we’ve searched for both in Amazon and on the web. Google results are personalized to location and ads are served up to us based on our browsing history. We have multiple “Buzzfeed” type sites that serve up snippets of information that we share to our friend networks, influencing what they see. News items come through our Facebook feed, or on Twitter. Our newspapers are getting smaller, many of us use the Daily Show and Colbert Report to get our news.

We are tracked, data mined, and put into content buckets. We are segmented. We are wearing technology that monitors our every move, and Apple has provided us with an Apple Watch that will make our days more convenient and will make sure our heart still beats.

So you tell me? Are Minority Report and EPIC 2015 just works of fiction or are they prophetic works that envision our world today?

Judge for yourself.  I already know what I think.

Jan 14

Goodbye PFinn, Welcome Pres. Laackman

The search for a college president is an interesting process. Last year when PFinn announced his retirement there was much surprise from the Champlain Community. An in-depth position description or “Champlain Presidential Search Prospectus was developed. Go ahead. Read it. It’s quite something isn’t it? Fast forward to today and we’ve been through a rigorous search process that saw four interesting and diverse individuals brought to campus at the end of December. While I haven’t been at Champlain as long as some of my colleagues I have lived through the transition from Pres. Perry to Pres. Finney.

As they say, “May you live in interesting times.”


The transition in leadership at a college is a very interesting process…even more so than the search! Being a college president is a high stakes game with expectations high, pressure to see changes and make a mark within the “first 100 days”, and grappling with a diverse population of employees and constituents.  A college president reports to the Board of Trustees and must answer to students, staff, and faculty. They must frame a direction, and move an institution along a path that will eventually (hopefully) continue the success of the institution while balancing the disparate points of view of faculty, staff, and students. They must manage a group of individuals who believe we should “stay the course” while others believe we should make “radical changes” while still others aren’t even sure what we should do in the face of increasing costs, higher competition, growing our national and international reputation, and grappling with external pressures to show ROI for everything we do. And don’t even get me started on how technology is changing how we deliver education! It’s quite a challenge overall!

With that in mind, I thought I would post two open letters to the outgoing and incoming leaders of Champlain College.

Dave Finney 2013Dear Dave (he’s been here long enough, we are on a first name basis):

Goodbye. It’s been quite a ride here at Champlain. From the moment you walked in you shook us up, challenged us to make big changes, and moved us toward a vision that, at times, seemed out of reach. And yet, here we are nine years later with a completely different curriculum, growing standing in national rankings, a more diverse student body and faculty, and a stronger emphasis on study abroad for our students. We have new buildings, and a campus that gets rave reviews. Sure we have our issues like any college does, and I certainly have not always agreed with your point of view, but as we all look back on the past nine years, I think we can all agree that Champlain is stronger today then when you walked in the door and took the helm.

Of all your work, I would like to publicly thank you for your passion that our students study abroad. You gave them passports. You moved us to have a Montreal and Dublin campus. You have opened up the world to our students and as a faculty advisor I can tell you that each student I have who has gone abroad comes back changed, more open, with a greater capacity for empathy and global thinking. While the buildings are nice, it is my opinion that this one thing is your lasting legacy. Every student who studied abroad during your tenure went there because you opened those doors and made it easier AND made it an expectation. And for this, you have my heartfelt thanks.

laakmanDear Mr. Laackman (I hope I can call you Don?):

Welcome to Champlain College. We are a cool bunch of people who, for all of our differences, have one thing in common: our passion for our students.  When I met you so briefly on your whirlwind interview back in December you seemed like a person who shared that passion. I hope that is true. I don’t know you yet, and you don’t really know us yet. Over the coming months you will be given opportunities to get to know us better. From my perspective as one professor who does not speak for anyone else but myself, I hope in the coming months and years you will:

  • Come visit my classroom. Yep. Just pop in. Grab a seat. Watch what I do. Pay attention to the students. Look around the room.  The more you know what happens in the classrooms at Champlain the faster you will get to know first hand what it is like to deliver the kind of education we deliver every day. 
  • Walk around. Get to know not just the buildings but the people in the buildings. Show your face so we all get to know you not as “The President” but hopefully as “Don”.
  • Practice the three Fs: Friendly, Fair, and Firm. I think any leader can get a lot accomplished if they are friendly to their employees and community, treat everyone with respect and fairness, but at the end of the day, they make the hard decisions and stand firm.
  • Put yourself out into the community. Vermont is a small town. It’s amazing how connected we all are to other people, and how easy it is to get to know others. Doors are opened on a handshake, and you never know who you’ll meet downtown on Church Street, or on a hike in the Northeast Kingdom, or in our many little shops throughout the state. Get out and about and use your faculty and staff colleagues to help make introductions.
  • Foster connections online. More and more University and College presidents are building their college’s brand by being active participants on tools like Facebook and Twitter. Need a good model? Check out President Santa Ono from the University of Cincinnati.  You can find him on Twitter at PrezOno and on Facebook as Santa Ono. Not sure how to get started? I know a person or two who can help.

I look forward to getting to know you better over the coming months and years, and look forward to having you sit in on my future classes. You have a standing invitation!  Best of luck in your coming days and welcome to Vermont!

Now, only time will tell. But as a very biased employee at Champlain College what I can tell everyone is that even in the midst of great change, we have always been a college that focuses on relevant, career-focused education. And I know for myself that will not change.

UPDATE: 3:30 1/10/14: Turns out our new Prez does have a bit of a social media footprint already! That’s what I get for not first doing a search. You can follow him on Twitter at @donlaackman and you can also read his blog at DonsDesk.wordpress.com.

Apr 13

The Brave New World of Communication in a Digital Age

Twitter Is Serious Business LOLCatThis week we learned just how serious Twitter is. In the midst of tragedy, horror, anger, pain, and fear we saw just how much this digital communication tool, and a host of other almost “instant” communication channels have changed the way we look for, engage with, and participate in information dissemination and sharing.

I know I don’t need to recap the events, nor provide timelines. Nor will I post pictures here.  There are plenty of those all over the internet at sites including the Boston Globe, and Mashable.

I would like to address something different. Something that has been on my mind as I have been working on my book this year. And that is the impact that real time communication, and the need we humans have to participate, share, and engage to feel part of community is having on two very important areas of our lives:  Journalism and Law enforcement.

First I’d like you to think back.

Think back to 1986 (if you were alive then). I was a sophomore in college. I was in my biology lab when someone ran into our classroom and shouted: The Challenger just exploded! (That’s a link to the live feed from CNN). We had no Twitter. We had no Facebook. I had a computer, but it certainly didn’t talk to anything. We had no cell phones. Challenger_explosionWe all just got up, and headed down to the student union and watched CNN, talked to each other in hushed tones, cried, and took it all in. Over the days that followed the news media were our source for information via newspaper, radio, and TV. As a community at my college, we talked, we shared, we commented. Face to face. We looked to our journalists to provide us with facts and information, which we took in, and for the most part, trusted. Through all of this, investigators controlled the message. Journalists speculated and dug, but information was not easy to come by unless released by NASA. Some video camera footage from individuals was used.

Now to that fateful day in September of 2001. I received news of the plane hitting one of the Twin Towers from a phone call (on my land line)  from my ex. I tried to get online to see what was going on, but CNN wouldn’t load. 9-1122I then went downstairs and put on the TV. I got on the land line to try to reach friends in DC (because by that point one of the planes had hit the Pentagon, and we had close friends who worked there).  I won’t go into much detail here as we all an remember it. But I will say that I got my news from CNN. I listened to NPR. I read several different newspapers.  I went online when able to (CNN had to drastically change their design to cope with the traffic to their site). Again, there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. We got on the phone, we emailed, we talked in person, we gathered around the TV. We looked to our journalists to provide use with facts and information, which we also started to verify and explore on the internet, but we still, for the most part trusted those journalists.  Through all of this, messaging was controlled by investigators and law enforcement, but we started to see that control slip as theories and other information popped up on the internet weeks afterwards. But control of the information and “leaks” were the word of the day.

Now to Boston. And this week. What did we experience as a nation and a world?

  • Investigators CROWDSOURCING data from all the individuals who took pictures and video, tweeted, blogged, facebooked and added information to Reddit.  Each individual who created content based on their experience added to a pool of data for investigators to comb through: Read recaps from Bloomberg and US News.
  • The loss of respect for news media including the NY Post and CNN (not that they had much more to lose, really, but just take a look at this scathing take down from Jon Stewart if you haven’t already) for their rush to break news that was false.
  • Law Enforcement having to use social media to keep people informed, refute wrongful media reports, and try to manage the chaos of a “lock down” situation throughout the streets of Boston. Just look at the Twitter feed from the Boston Police Department.  And some of these notable tweets:



  • Birth of the new journalist. If you didn’t pay attention or know @taylordobbs before this, you should. A journalism student, a Vermonter in Boston. He started covering the MIT shooting via Twitter. Factual. Real Time. Excellent coverage. Main stream media trying to figure out the new way to report should take lessons from this man. Here’s a recap from the Burlington Free Press.
  • Individuals participating all over the social sphere. Sharing, supporting, commenting, getting in the way, compromising safety, creating fake accounts — in other words human beings being human beings. It’s a brave new world and when the police first ask for information from everyone to get as much data as possible,  but then during a chase and hunt, expect people to stop participiating, it’s just not going to work.  When you broadcast via a scanner, people are going to then turn around and share that information — they aren’t going to just sit there and listen.  (Honestly, it is beyond me WHY police scanners are now broadcast via the internet. There is such a thing as too much information!)

So what does this leave us with?  Well in my opinion as an educator there are a few things we now need to do, and I’m not convinced these things are happening.

  • Law Enforcement officials need social media and digitial communication training. Not just on how to utilize it to gather data, but how to manage it on a day to day basis as well as during a crisis.
  • Journalists need to take a hard look at their profession. Hopefully J-schools are educating their students on how to report in a crisis using these tools. All current journalists need to go back to school to relearn their craft.
  • K-12 education has to change curriculum in order to accomodate an “always on” practice — etiquitte, privacy, personal responsibility — all key in the digital age.

Human nature is not going to change. We share, come together,  prank,  cry, yell.  But now we do it in multiple channels, multiple ways and those young people coming after the so-called millenialls (those 18 and younger) see no difference between face to face communication and digital communication. If you think managing all of this now is hard. Just wait for it.

The events of this week were just a look at what is to come. What comes next is up to all of us and what we have learned from experiencing all that we have experienced this week.


Jan 13

A joyful re-entry isn’t that hard…really!

I’m stunned. Seriously. It seems like just a few hours ago that I left campus for my sabbatical, and here it is already the third week of classes in the Spring 2013 semester. I’ve been officially back to work now for three weeks. And I’m already sick, and have already had to miss one of my classes (thankfully, didn’t need to cancel it since my partner in crime, Professor Kelly Thomas was fit and healthy!).

sicklolcat Put me back into the petri dish that is a college campus at the beginning of the semester and no matter how much antioxidant foods, and antibacterial soaps I utilize, it is no match.  For those of you who teach, you know what I mean.  That third week pandemic that hits every semester. It’s shear luck to beat it.  Clearly my luck in this case did not hold.

You’d think I’d be upset about it.

But I’m not.


I’ve been away for months. I’ve had the summer and fall of a lifetime enjoying this amazing privilege called “sabbatical”. I’ve rested. I’ve relaxed. I’ve re-energized.  I’ve done amazing things, like level my blood elf, Lisaralisa, to an 88, overcome my fear of riding motorcycles, continue on a journey of health and wellness and I’ve slept… a lot. Oh, and I’ve been writing a book too! But something in all of that has been missing.  As wonderful as it has all been (and it’s been wonderful!), there was something that I have come to realize about my absence that has moved my re-entry from being onerous and difficult to a time of joy.

I’ll start by saying that it was clear to everyone, even myself, that I was burned out, exhausted and needed a break. Life as an administrator was very difficult and even my spring semester last year, when I no longer had the administrative responsibilities was still very difficult. I am the first to admit I was not a pleasant person to be around, and certainly not a good model for my students.  I even questioned if I should continue being a teacher. I’ve been doing this for thirteen years.  I didn’t feel I could reach the students any longer.  I walked into my sabbatical unsure, unclear, exhausted, and burned out.


Thanks to several former students (you know who you are), I pretty quickly came to realize that I love teaching and I love being in the classroom with students who are learning, growing, and teaching me new things every day.

This became even more clear to me as I walked back onto campus this January. My first day back, I started meeting with students. My first office hours were jammed packed. My classes have been fun, engaging, and super interesting. Quite joyful actually.After just a few short weeks into my sabbatical I was able to notice that the one thing I missed was the interaction I had with students.

It’s all about the students.

The reason why I became a professor in the first place was to teach. I felt that my background and interests would translate well into the classroom and that I could bring a lot to students. Over the years I’ve had good classes and bad classes. I’ve had great relationships with students and I’ve had very bad situations happen. It’s been an amazing ride and my sabbatical has provided me with a real gift.  A gift to come away, see things clearly, and remember why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.

My father was a teacher. I remember as a child watching him help high school students learn, and I remember him trying to teach me math (algebra was when we realized I make a really good writer). He was patient, kind, and met students where they were.  I’ve always respected his ability to calmly and thoughtfully reframe answers over and over helping his students make mental connections that allowed them to learn.  When I became a teacher I think he was proud of me.  We talked about it once recently while he was in the nursing home and he told me stories of his teaching and how he was able to connect with and reach his students in meaningful ways.  I talked about my work and I remember how engaged he got as I told him about issues with students. He would give me advice and we realized that we had some common ground, which is nice to remember.  My Dad passed away on Monday, December 3. This Thursday would have been his 77th birthday.  I think about this connection we shared as I walk into my classrooms now after sabbatical and after saying goodbye to this wonderful teacher and I am filled with gratitude.

And that, my friends, is why my re-entry is joyful.

Sep 12

Thank you Mr. Cannon for inspiring my daughter…and for inspiring me

On Monday morning I received a text message from my daughter.

She asked me if I could take her to lunch that day.  I fired off a list of things I had to do as I was walking on the treadmill (don’t do this at home, it’s very dangerous to text and treadmill at the same time).  Honestly, what was she thinking, asking me something silly like that.

And then I got her response.

Mr. Cannon died.

Just like that. Everything stopped.

Mr. Cannon died.

George Cannon, South Burlington High School Teacher via the Burlington Free Press

Photo via the Burlington Free Press. George Cannon teaching Chemistry class.

And just like that everything changed.

Several days have now passed. I won’t bore you with the details of the process we’ve gone through here in my household except to say that it’s been a time of sadness, tears, avoidance, reflection, laughter, stories, and unease.

My heart goes out to Mr. Cannon’s family and close friends and to his students. Based on the memorial group in Facebook, it is clear that he touched so many lives in a positive way, it is almost unbelievable.

But I believe it.

I’ve seen what he has done for my daughter in just a few short weeks. She went into her chemistry class with a sense of uncertainty, and some curiosity…and came out after the first day ecstatic.  I began to hear stories of burp charts, juggling, chemistry experiments, and saw her come alive as she talked about her favorite class and what a great day she had.

As an educator myself reading the comments from students (even some of my students) who had him at South Burlington has been a learning opportunity. Taking a break from my teaching on sabbatical has allowed me to rest, refresh and begin to think about my teaching approach. I never thought that a man I never met would leave me with inspiration to dig even deeper to explore how I might do things differently. Change my approach. Rethink my process.

And yet, he has.

There is much to say about a man who can touch lives of people he hasn’t even met.

I’m grateful today for the internet. No. Really.  It is because of YouTube, and several video interviews that George Cannon participated in that I can be even further inspired and challenged in my work.

On Classroom Climate:

On Advice to Educators:

As the SB Community comes together to mourn and then celebrate the life of this amazing man (here’s a link to the obit) I’m left with a sense of loss of never having had the chance to know this man personally, and yet also a sense of optimism as I reflect on his advice that has been left for educators all over to consider:

The biggest impediment to optimal student learning is the limitation of their teacher.

Anything that comes out of a student’s mouth, in my mind, is the beginning of correctness.

So thank you Mr. Cannon.  Thank you for what you have done for my daughter. For your kind words last week when she turned on the showers, and they wouldn’t stop, and you thanked her for creating a wonderful and memorable learning opportunity for the class as you raced around sopping up the water that was leaking everywhere.

Thank you for inspiring me to be an even better teacher.

Aug 12

Advice to new college students and their parents: Have fun, learn new things, give and get stickers

I’m on sabbatical. This of course, is a very good thing for me as I’ve been working for 12+ years in higher ed with no break — teaching, running programs, building curriculum and being an Assistant Dean.  It’s a little secret that we faculty suffer from burn out. Well, maybe it isn’t that big of a secret really, but in my case, I knew I was running on fumes, but it wasn’t until the end of the spring semester when I realized, in a very hard and personal way,  just how bad it was. I had a group of individuals let me know, very clearly and quite bluntly just how they felt about the work that I do. They took their opportunity to let me know in no uncertain terms that maybe I should rethink my chosen profession. It hurt. I cried. I felt perhaps they were right. And then I had this summer. And now I have the fall.

To that group of students I want to say thank you.  While I wish you had come to me personally because I thought I had formed close relationships with you over four years, and I wish you had had the courage to tell me to my face you were unhappy, thought I was pushing you too hard, thought I wasn’t listening to you, I understand.  The upside is you’ve given me a great deal to think about. The downside is because you all chose to be anonymous and not come talk to me, I didn’t know you were unhappy until it was too late.

So in honor of  that class and the valuable lesson they have taught me, as we begin a new school year, I would like to take a few moments to provide you, first time college students, and your parents with some words of advice that you might not get any where else.

First to parents:

This is your child’s “first year”. They are first year students. They are away from home for the first time. Everything is once again a first. Please take some time to consider the following points:

  1. It’s time to let go. Your work is done. Really. Now it is time for your child to stand on their own two feet, make their mistakes, learn, grow and have experiences that will continue to shape them into the adults they are becoming.
  2. Sit tight and wait for the 5th week slump. Be ready for it. Arm yourself. Encourage your child to seek out help. To talk to their professors. To go to the counseling center. To use their resources. But unless we are talking an extreme circumstance, don’t bail them out. Trust me on this. They will be stronger for it.
  3. Please. Please. Please. If your child has a medical condition, a learning issue, or any type of issue that will effect how they act in the classroom, make sure they talk to their professors about it (see my advice to students below).
  4. Care packages with stickers are always a win.
  5. Unfriend your child on Facebook. Really. Now is the time to let them share with you what they want to share with you, but you don’t want to see everything. There are some thing that parents just shouldn’t know. Think about when you were their age, and what you didn’t share with your parents.
  6. Do get your child’s class schedule so you know when NOT to text them — for example during a class.  Professors really don’t like that.
  7. Don’t try to get your child an internship or a job and please don’t set up their schedule for them. They can do this…and they have resource on campus to help them.
  8. If your child gets a bad grade it is what they earned. I’m sure your child is awesome. But, don’t call the professor to argue about the grade your child received. As a matter of fact, don’t ever call the professor. Encourage your child to talk to the professor.  I provided some advice on this last January in a US News article.
  9. Be ready for reality. Maybe your child isn’t really ready for college. It’s ok. Don’t push them to be here if they aren’t ready. When they come home to visit after midterm and their grades are bad, don’t be angry, but be ready to have the conversation about what they really want. The first semester is overwhelming and homework often isn’t the priority.  Many can turn it around the next semester. For those who can’t it might be time to rethink the college plan.
  10. Celebrate the fact that your child is in college and away from home. Have fun with that. Focus on your other children, or on yourself. It’s a good time of life.

And now for you first year students:

Yep. Feel that energy? That excitement? You are FREE! So much to experience and so much responsibility all at once. Everything is new. New friends. New experiences. Oh…and yeah…there’s that academic thing. Those classes.

Your priorities are well…let’s be honest, not the same priorities that I, as a professor, set for the classroom.

So here’s my tips for you:

  1. Yep have fun. Experience everything you can…but please be safe. College is awesome, but just like high school, it is not the end all and be all of your life. Trust me on this. There is so much more awesome to come.  This is the start of it. Do it right, be safe, live to tell the tales of all the epic you had in college.
  2. Get to know your professors. We don’t have to be your friends (although that can happen), but it is better to come talk to us during office hours, or when we are in the cafeteria. Get to know us as individuals and not scary, judgey, stodgy, old people who find you annoying. Honestly we really don’t find you annoying. Most of us teach because we like to be in the classroom — and we like to teach you and watch you develop into kick ass adults.
  3. If you have a medical issue (say like you are on meds to help with ADHD for example) tell the professor. Get yourself to student services for the accommodation form. Seriously. Now is NOT the time to think you can go off your meds or change your support system now that you are out of high school. I cannot tell you how many students I’ve watched flame out because they thought that now they were out of high school, they could go off their meds. First year is TOUGH. Don’t make it harder.
  4. Don’t let your parents help you. Ask for their advice, certainly. Talk to them, of course. But, when you aren’t sure what to do for signing up for classes or in a class or how to cope, use your resources on campus to help you. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s hard. But trust me on this one, you’ll find that your professors care and will help you. Your RA’s care and will help you. Asking your parents to help you do it will not help you in the long run.
  5. If you are not happy in a class — if you feel that you aren’t learning anything you have some choices.  You can whine and complain to your friends. You can whine and complain to your parents. Neither of which will get you much (although parents might call, which is expressly against #4 above). Or, you could meet with your professor. You could ask for help, explain that you are not understanding, or that you would like more interactivity, or that you need more clear direction. What’s the worst thing that could happen? The professor says no. Then you have some more choices, such as drop the class, or go talk to the Dean. In other words, now is the time to learn how to advocate for yourself. Complaining to no one in particular gets you nowhere — practice advocating for yourself in a positive way and you’ll be able to do it once you are in the workforce.
  6. If you are not happy in a class you can always express your opinion in the class evaluations. See my intro above to the downside of this method.  Upside is you express your point of view which can often impact the performance evaluation of a faculty person. The downside is it doesn’t help you get what you need (see #5 above).
  7. Ask your parents to send you care packages. That’s what they should do to help you. Stickers are awesome. Ask for stickers.
  8. Join stuff. Get involved. Clubs, events, outings. Do it all.
  9. Plan ahead. For study abroad. Whatever it takes. No matter how scary it is. Study abroad. Start planning now, in your first year. Talk to your professors about this. Get internships in the areas that are interesting to you. If your college doesn’t have an internship program, go out and do it anyway. Start thinking about this your first year. Take action in your sophomore year. Then do it again in your junior year and again in your senior year. It will make your classes so much more meaningful. Your professors can help with this too.
  10. Stay humble. You are learning a great deal. But this doesn’t mean you know everything. These days we are all life long learners. When you walk into a classroom, don’t judge your professor by their age or by their looks — you don’t like it when we judge you that way. Be open to learning always and remember you will NEVER know it all. As a professor I only know the stuff I know. There’s tons I don’t know, and I learn from my students every day.

So parents and students of the class of 2016 (for those of you on the four year plan) I wish you luck during this time of transition. It’s a wonderful time. It’s a scary time. Opportunity is in the air. Seize it each and every day, because before you know it, graduation will be here and you will be remembering your first year experience with nostalgia.

Aug 12

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: And I won’t be there

Orientation 2011, just before P-Finn tells the parents it's time to go

For the first time in 12 years I’m not going to be there. In less than one week, August 24th, to be exact, the first year students will move onto campus.  They’ll check into their dorms, get their IDs, get money on their cash card (thanks parental units!), set up their computers, meet their room mates and get to know the people in their dorm.  P-Finn will give his annual President’s Welcome address at 1:00 p.m. and then at 1:30…well that’s the moment. It’s the moment that I watch every year. As my daughter gets older and closer to her college experience, this moment becomes even more fraught with emotion.

It’s when our President looks around the Aiken lawn at all the families gathered around with their now college students.  He smiles.  It’s a smile of someone who has been there, done that. Of someone who knows how it feels, who has experienced this same moment — when someone else told HIM the same thing. He is both empathetic and a tad gleeful, because this moment is both the end of something and the beginning of something.

It’s when our first year students say goodbye to their high school years, to living at home (well most of them), to the stressors of “finding a college” and they say hello to the true beginning of their adult lives. This is the moment when it all starts.

P-Finn will kindly, and yet firmly, tell the parents that it’s time to go.

Pictures are worth 1,000 words.  This is what happens when P-Finn says those words:

And this:

And this:

It’s joyful. It’s tearful. It’s one of those moments in life that I’m privileged to witness every year.

But this year I won’t be there.

And I think I’m really going to miss it.

You see I’m on sabbatical for the Fall Semester. So I won’t be on campus again until January. I’ve got a great project that I’m working on (more on that to come later) and I’m really excited about the opportunity to focus in on the project, write, reflect, and spend time replenishing the well (you know that well — the well of creativity, passion, innovation…the one we all have that gets dried up and useless when we work too hard, don’t put balance in our lives, and get so focused on the day to day that we forget to step back and see all the awesome around us).

So it’s a good thing. A very good thing.

But this. This moment. This I’m sad to miss.

Welcome class of 2016. Welcome families of 2016. I look forward to getting to know you in the years to come. Enjoy this coming Friday. Embrace the change. Bring your tissues and your hugs. You’ll be saying goodbye to one phase of life and welcoming your child into a new one.

It’s a good thing.