Monthly Archives: July 2012

The World’s a Roller Coaster

…and I am not strapped in. Those lovely words from a song off one of my favorite CDs can sum up how I’ve felt the past week. Suddenly, I feel busy. I have so many meetings to go and they are all about planning RA training and orchestrating move in and last minute changes.

It’s like the past month and a half, I’ve been waiting on one of those terribly long lines for a roller coaster. The type of line that you can’t even seen the beginning when you get on and there are electronic displays telling you how long the wait is from that point in line. You’ve probably seen the kind of line I’m talking about at a place like Six Flags, Universal, or Disney. That line is long and boring and hot and that’s almost exactly how the past six weeks have been. I’ve just been sitting on my desk waiting for the next thing to do and looking at my calendar to see how much longer I have to go.

And right now, it’s like once you’re on the roller coaster. You’re held in by some seemingly inadequate contraption and the cars are slowly starting to move forwards. You’re scared and excited…and if you’re anything like me, you’re hoping you don’t throw up. You’re climbing up that first hill and it’s so big and it feels like it’s taking forever, but you can see it! You can see the point where the fun (or terror, depending on who you ask) begins – the very top of that hill. I’m on that big hill right now. All these meetings and all this planning, it’s all for when the RAs and students arrive. Which is in…three weeks, wait now two weeks, wait NEXT WEEK. They are coming next week. And down the hill we go…

Once the RAs (and later the students) arrive, everything moves so fast. There’s twists and turns and ups and downs and occasionally, the upside down loop or two. I’m kind of hoping I don’t get any of those anytime soon. I’ve never been a fan of the upside down roller coaster. The days and weeks will fly by and will be filled with programs and recruitment and student meetings and philanthropy events.

Then suddenly, much sooner than you expect, the roller coaster slows down and you pull back to the platform. Your hair will be a mess and you may have lost your hat or a sandal (or your lunch). And then it’s over. In May, we will pull up to the platform after the school year ends. We will be tired, but hopefully we will have enjoyed ourselves. And then we will quickly run to get in line for the next ride.

You might want to turn off the sound before watching the following video.

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Drive

I apologize for basically having two book review entries in a row, but I wanted to somewhat keep up with the #SAchat Book Club.

The book for the month of July was “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. The book talks about how motivation has changed along with the type of work being done in modern day and age, but many companies and employers are still treating employees like it’s the industrial revolution. I’ll be honest and say that I was not the biggest fan of the book. Last month’s selection had some sort of plot and was much more an “easy read” than this months. I’ve mentioned earlier (or at least in my page about the books I’ve read) that I’ve just come off what seems like a lifetime of assigned readings. This book read like something from grad school – lots of theories being mentioned. I wound up skimming many sections. Luckily, I found the video below that summarizes the main points of the book nicely and even includes some of the anecdotes that were enjoyable to read.

Some things that stuck out…

Near the beginning of Chapter 2, there is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer about how Tom basically tricks his friends into painting a fence for him by making them think the work is fun. Basically, Tom HAD to paint the fence, so to him it was work, but his friends didn’t HAVE to, so they thought it was fun. This makes me wonder if I can “trick” my RAs into thinking some of the more mundane tasks of their job are fun. I don’t think there is any one person on this earth that likes every single aspect of their job and my past RAs are no exception. Some love planning and hosting programs and meetings. Others enjoyed making floor decorations. I can only think of one RA off the top of my head who enjoyed being on duty. Maybe two. Ironically, both are pursuing careers in law enforcement, but that’s a different story. Anywho. There are many tasks that RAs HAVE to do, but how can I make it feel more like play and make it something they WANT to do?

Another section mentions using fines to make daycare parents come get their kids on time. In theory this should work. But it didn’t…once the parents knew that there was a fine in place, they knew what would happen. Before the fine was in place, the parents did not know the consequence of not picking up their child on time. Now that they know, they aren’t “afraid” of the consequences. I have worked at schools where students were fined for a variety of infractions. At one school, students were charged if the common spaces on their residence hall floors were excessively dirty. In some halls, students were made aware of these charges at the beginning of the year whereas some just knew that they would be fined without knowing the amount. The halls in which the students knew how much they were being fined (or had already been fined once and therefore knew the amount) tended to be dirtier because they knew the amount was not much and that, heck, if they were already paying the school $10,000 for the semester, what’s another $10 charge? One of the things I am nervous for in my new job is that the RAs are fined if they do not have the required number of programs, post the required number of bulletin boards, etc. While many of the RAs are RAs because they like the job or need the money, I am worried about that small percentage who might think, “pay $$ or post a bulletin board?” and then opt to just pay the fine. If I see that this is a problem during the academic year, I am going to have to show this part of the book to my supervisor to encourage her to come up with alternate sanctions for RAs not meeting administrative requirements.

One part I made sure to make note of was three practices for getting your employees to do simple, routine tasks. This is something I’m going to use with my RAs, especially on some of those tasks mentioned above. Here are the three very important practices… 1. Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary. 2. Acknowledge that the task is boring. 3. Allow people to complete the task on their own.

Another idea I am very much in favor of is ROWE – Results-Only Work Environment. Basically the idea is that you can work whenever as long as you get your work done. This does not apply to all lines of work, but could definitely apply to some degree in student affairs. There’s not really a comp time policy at my current institution, so it is understood that you are here all day in the office and then attend whatever events you need to in the evening and for X days per month, be the on call person. I knew coming into the profession that I’d be working more than forty hours a week, but there will be certain times of the year where I’m going to be overwhelmed and I believe as long as I’m doing the things I need to be, I shouldn’t need to be just sitting at my desk during traditional working hours. There have been times where I am not doing much at this desk, hence how this blog was born.

At Google, employees get 20% of their working time just to create something new. So many projects we use today have come out of that 20 percent…GMail, Google News, Google Talk (which we all call GChat). I’m sure Google+ came out of that, but I still don’t believe people really use it. While I can’t think of much of a use for it in my office, I just thought this was interesting because of  how many of the services my friends and I use.

I really enjoyed the “Take a Sagmeister” section.  Every seven years this guy closes his graphic design shop and takes a year off. His reasoning is that he’s just taking the time from his retirement and enjoying it when he is physically able to. As of 2008, the average person stayed with an employer for just over four years. While I don’t think I can be taking any full years off any time soon, once I get loans paid off and my life in order, maybe taking a full year off in between jobs wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world? I’m glad I’m hearing about this idea now when I am starting my career and can possibly plan for it, rather than finding it out when I’m forty.

One thing I appreciate is the amount of freedom that I have now compared to when I was working in retail where every minute had to be accounted for. I also thought back to my days as a student employee in admissions. The secretaries that supervised us when we helped with data entry, filing, and mailings probably hadn’t heard the three practices for routine tasks. I knew why we had to be doing many of the tasks and I certainly knew they were boring, but I never heard any of them acknowledge it. Also, we were definitely not allowed to complete the tasks on our own. They implemented a headphone ban sometime during my first year. For the life of me, I could never understand why I couldn’t listen to my iPod while stuffing tons of envelopes.

I definitely can see how the concepts in this book can apply to individuals that are higher on the food chain than myself. I think that’s maybe another reason I did not like the book as much as last month’s. It’s less applicable to my own life. I can see some improvements I can make in the areas where I supervise and advise, but I do not have the authority to make institutional changes…yet.

So while this wasn’t my favorite book, I have been reading many more books and I will continue to post book reviews and I’ll even make sure to space them out. Maybe I need to start updating more often…

Any readers out there read “Drive” for either higher ed reasons or in another profession? How did you apply what you learned from the book into your workplace?

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Office Organization

One of my closest friends from grad school is a P and I’m a J. No, those aren’t our initials and this isn’t one of those games where “I like apples and the color green, but not lemons or the color blue.” The letters are part of our MBTI code and don’t worry, this is not an entry about the MBTI. No matter how many MBTI activities I have to facilitate to RAs and student leaders, I do not feel qualified enough to write one of those.

I’m just writing to talk about how my J-self organized my office for the upcoming year. Sometimes, I contemplate starting a side career as a life planner/organizer/manager. Several of my friends have asked for my help and I’ve given it free of charge, now all I need is a testimonial from one of them and a wealthy but disorganized individual…

Back to the subject. See, I need to be organized because I clearly have the attention span of a golden retriever in a field of squirrels. I’m very much a list maker, a calendar lover, and a color coder. I love being able to take a glance over at my calendar and know exactly what is going on because of the colors. I love being able to cross off tasks after I’ve completed them – it makes me feel accomplished! So what sort of organization systems have I implemented here?

Calendars EVERYWHERE!

I use my Google calendar and my pen-and-paper planner constantly. The important part for this is choosing a system that works for you. I like Google because of the ability to share, the many choices of color coding, and the tasks option. I also have my planner that I can write important tasks that need to be done, like going to the store or sending a birthday card. Additionally, I recently ordered a four month dry erase board calendar. I plan on using this to map out the entire semester so I can make sure major projects aren’t running into each other and that I’m not try to schedule a major event during midterms or homecoming. I bought many colors of dry erase markers so I can bring some color coding to my walls!

Keep Everything Together

I made a list of all the function areas that I will be working in and made a binder for each of those. They all have a section for important dates as well as project sheets which basically details what I want to do and when I want it done by and provides a place for me to take notes. I also made an “About the Staff” section that includes little profile pages for each of my staff members, so I can access things like their major and birthday quickly. For the buildings I supervise, I made sure to include a section for facilities issues and the building’s roster. I’m sure as the year goes on, I will find more sections to create and will be designing more printables!

Lists

I make lists for everything. I’ve seen a picture going around that says “1. Make List 2. Cross Off #1”. I can totally relate to that. There were days in grad school where I’d do something, then add it to the list just to be able to cross it off. The other day, I found myself getting overwhelmed by the amount of project sheets in my binders. Every time I come up with a (brilliant) idea, I create a project sheet for it and assign it a “due date”. Some of these things aren’t “due” until the beginning of next semester, but others are things I have been working on since my first day here. I went through each binder and all the projects that were “due” before the school year started and basically made notes in one place saying what the project was, where I was on it, and what else needed to be done. For some of these, the “what next” was replaced by “next steps” just because of the amount of things that needed to be done and because certain aspects couldn’t even be started until I finished something else. Creating this list and breaking larger projects into smaller ones was a way of making my work manageable for me.

How have you implemented your organization skills in your office? Please let me know below, I’m always looking for better ideas!

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Throwback Thursday: My First Goal in Residence Life

Like many graduate students enrolled in a higher ed program, my assistantship was in Residence Life. I was a Hall Director at my school. I felt extremely lucky to get the position, as I had no Residence Life experience during my undergrad years. My supervisor was making a bulletin board about the staff members and asked us all what our goals for the upcoming year were. I was too new to think of something about building community and inspiring others, so I said what I thought. My goal for that year was to make sure my building didn’t burn down. I had to start somewhere and shelter is a rather basic need. Also, I had heard that my building’s kitchen had been recently renovated due to a fire.

This goal soon became a running joke on my staff. Our department had pretty strict guidelines of what students could and could not have in their rooms with most prohibited items not being allowed because they were deemed a fire hazard. One of my RAs decorated his floor in a way that broke the majority of these rules during the holiday season. Christmas lights? Check. Items hung from ceiling? Check. Lights covered by something? Check. Doors completely covered by paper? Check. I remember asking him if he knew what my one goal for the year was before I made him take everything down. Before I left for weekends away, my RAs would always make sure to say “…and don’t worry, we won’t burn the building down!” You could imagine how much they teased me when I freaked out during our first night time fire alarm (another experience I did not have as an undergrad).

Fast forward to my second year as a Hall Director. I was now in charge of two buildings. I was at an event in one when my phone rang. It was one of my RAs. Now, I’m the sort of person that let my RAs call and text all the time (although I told them to limit late night things to emergencies), so getting a call at 8 pm was not unusual. When I answered, my RAs just said, “Uh…yeah…the building’s on fire.” I sprinted out of the event without telling any of the RAs in the room what was going on.

I met the RA that had called on the street in front of the other building. It turns out that somebody had set something in our building’s entry way on fire. Luckily, it was not a large fire and the fire department had put it out before it could really damage anything other than posters on that wall and a light fixture. The RA that had called had been informed by a student who knocked on the window, screaming frantically. I’m proud of my RA for remaining calm, pulling the fire alarm, calling campus safety, and making sure the students stayed out of the fire lanes. The RA had to do a lot of follow up with the investigating officer, as it had been determined the fire had been started intentionally. Even though the school had been improving security over the past few years, none of the cameras in the vicinity pointed at the entrance to this building.

As word got around campus, my former RAs and supervisor made sure to text me to see how things were but also to joke that I didn’t meet my goal that year. Unfortunately, that fire was just one bad event in a series of bad events that year.

I was very happy with the quick response time for this incident. During my freshman year, I came home from class one day and as I was letting myself into my building, I saw through the window of the building next door that the microwave in their lounge was on fire. I stood outside and called campus safety. I noticed that I did not hear the fire alarm going off in that building and made sure to tell the dispatcher this information. After the phone call, I went inside, upstairs to my room, took off my jacket and backpack, sat down at my computer, turned it on, signed online, and checked my email all before the alarm went off. Even though I had called when the fire was just in the microwave, by the time it was put out, it had damaged the cabinet and counters in the kitchen section of that lounge.

I’m hoping that for my first year as a professional, bad incidents like these aren’t as frequent as they were last year for me. I plan on discussing cooking safety with my students that live in apartment-style housing where they have their own kitchens. The microwave fire I witnessed my freshman year was something that could have easily been prevented.

What sort of incidents have you experienced as a Residence Life professional that could have been prevented? What are some of the goals that you had when starting out?

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The Unlikely Disciple

The first book I read as part of the #SAChat Book Club was “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” by Kevin Roose. I definitely enjoyed reading this book, as it was interesting to see Kevin’s transition, as well as read about the events happening to him, at his university, and in the larger world and how all of that affected “Brown Kevin” and “Liberty Kevin” and later, how those two identities merged.

I was excited to read this book from the moment I read that it was going to be a part of the book club. I am always interested in learning about experiences that drastically differ from the experiences that I had as a student. I had a few friends from high school that wound up going to religious colleges and since I was at a school with very few rules, I was always shocked to hear about the rules they had to follow – only certain hours they could have guests, what they were and were not allowed to do in their free time…very different than the free-for-all I had! Overall, I enjoyed this book. It read like a story, which was a nice change of pace from all those theoretical texts I spent the past two years reading.

This book really made me think about the similarities and differences between schools. We always hear that each institution has it’s own culture, and yes, the four I have worked at have all differed to some degree, but the culture at Liberty University is completely different than anything I’ve seen before. Like Kevin, I had an image in my mind of what Liberty was like and what the students who went there were like. I imagined the students to be like none I had encountered before. To some extent, I was correct. Many of the students said they liked the rules because they prevented the students from sinning. The students pray a lot. When one student was about to face disciplinary trouble, his friends prayed for him. I don’t think that is something I have witnessed, either as a student or an administrator. While I have heard of students doing missionary work during spring break, I usually thought of those trips being to impoverished countries. Not places like Miami Beach where “sinful” students are partaking in “sinful” activities. But that’s where they went…not to join them but to try to get students (and locals) to “know” Christ.

At the same time, outside of the modest dress and church services, these students are very much like “typical” students. They goof off in their dorm rooms, they talk about things going on in the outside world, they tease each other. The boys want to date the pretty girls on campus but what they do on those dates is what sets them apart. Basically, they’re still students, they still have fun, and I would be a very happy person if more of my students understood that fun exists in other ways and shapes than drinking and partying. Students who don’t like the strict rules in place at Liberty University (or a similar religious institution) aren’t likely to apply or attend this type of school.

Kevin’s visit unfortunately coincided with two major events in Virginia. The first was the Virginia Tech shooting. This was an event that affected everybody involved in higher education and plenty of people outside of it. Students at Liberty quickly gathered to pray for those affected by this senseless act of violence. At first, Kevin was upset because while prayer was helping his friends and classmates, he was still questioning why this had happened. Later, Kevin was “fuming” because a student compares the deaths from the shooting to abortion. This is one instance of many where Kevin knows that his classmates are good people, but they their strict interpretation of the Bible before everything else and say things that Kevin completely disagrees with.

The second event happens at the end of the semester. After Kevin returns to his room from a final, he finds out the news that Jerry Falwell has been taken to the hospital where he later died. Many students on other campus do not regard their campus leaders the same way Liberty students did Jerry Falwell. I don’t think Kevin would have felt it as much as he did, had he not interviewed Dr. Falwell just days prior to his death, which had made Falwell seem much more human to Kevin. Ironically, the whole situation reminded me of the end of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” in which Hogwart’s Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, dies at the end of the term. I say ironic because Jerry Falwell was probably one of those Christians against the Harry Potter series.

Eventually, I had to step back and stop looking this as a series of journal entries and start looking at it from my new position as a professional in the student affairs world. This isn’t one of those books where I can say “Now how can I make my RAs…”. That’s fine. I’m pretty sure I have a few of those on my reading list. This book gave me a better understanding of a religion I am not very familiar with. Waiting until marriage until your first kiss? I thought that was something only a select group of people (the Duggars) did, but reading this book I found out that there is a much larger population that follows the Bible a little more closely than most of the Christians I know. I also wondered what it would be like to work at such an institution. I remember during some of my graduate courses hearing about interview questions about your faith in God and Jesus and I couldn’t imagine being asked something like that! Then again, I remember interviewing at some Catholic colleges for assistantships and they were very clear in the interview that I would need to follow some of the same rules as my residents – my boyfriend would NOT be able to stay over. I guess working at an institution like this is similar to what I said about being a student – if you don’t like what’s going on, you’re not going to apply.

In the end, I think it’s a good read. I’m not mad that I spent my time or money on it. It gave me a good look at a different type of institution and I think this might also help if I have extremely conservative students as residents or if a student one day transfers from Liberty to my institution to be closer to home or for some other reason. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I missed BOTH of the discussions for this book. My supervisor had said she was going to read it, but I don’t think she got around to it. If anybody out there read it, leave some comments about what you thought!

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#SAChat Book Club

Last month, the Student Affairs Collaborative announced the first and second book for the Summer 2012 #SAChat Book Club. As I have mentioned previously, I like reading and now that I’m not being forced to read by professors, I’m excited to read books that interest me. Reading books is definitely a form of professional development and the type I can afford! So I decided I’m going to participate in this book club.

The first book was The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest Universityby Kevin Roose. The discussion was planned for a little over a week after I read the announcement, so I quickly downloaded it onto my nook. I’ll write more about the book itself next week. I was so eager to participate in the chat after I finished it. There were two scheduled. I unfortunately slept through the first one and then Twitter was down when the second one was supposed to happen. The second book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. I’m currently waiting for it to arrive through my college’s inter-library loan system. I’m hoping it comes soon, as the discussion for it is next week!

I’ve been participating in #greekchat and #SAChat each week. I’ve mostly been watching and learning, but it is interesting to see different perspectives from different institutions. It’s something I plan to keep on my calendar for the school year. You can find me on twitter @collegeforeverr. Leave your twitter name in the comments so I can follow more student affairs-minded people!

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What NOT To Wear

Now, I know my professional closet can still use some sprucing up, but this entry is more about the lovely ensembles I’ve seen some potential students sporting during their visits to campus. I am hoping that my colleagues will find this humorous, that my former co-workers from will have tears in their eyes from laughing so hard, and that any prospective students reading this will take this to heart and write down everything I say.

But seriously. I don’t know if I’m the only one paying attention here, but these are some of the things that I’ve seen students wearing on tours: crop tops, sky high heels, flip flops in the rain, shorts and jeans with holes in them, full suits, clothing advertising another college…the list goes on. The particular prospective student that inspired this entry decided that teeny tiny yellow shorts was something appropriate to wear to an on-campus event.

One thing prospective students need to keep in mind is the “feel” of the event they are attending on campus. You might want to dress one way for an interview with an admissions office and another way for an overnight event with social activities. If you are unsure of what to wear for a visit to campus, ask around! For example, if you are planning on going to an open house, you can ask friends that may have already been to one. You can also call the admissions office and ask what activities are part of the day. You can even ask the person on the other end of the phone what to wear, especially if it is a day-long or weekend-long event. I promise, if “what should I wear” is your “strangest” question, you’re fine. Admissions officers have heard A LOT worse.

Another important thing is to check out the weather forecast, especially if you are visiting a school far from home. Spring in New England looks (and feels!) a lot different than spring in Arizona. If it’s going to rain, bring an umbrella and shoes you won’t fall out of. If it’s going to be hot, wear a nice short sleeve shirt (nothing with large logos or writing), but make sure to bring a sweater in case you’re sitting in an ice box – I MEAN- air conditioned office. You definitely want to be comfortable during your campus visit!

The last thing I want prospective students to keep in mind is to be prepared. If you are doing a road trip and looking at ten different colleges, bring clothing for all types of events and weather. Bring extras in case a button falls off or you spill something. Even if you are only visiting a nearby campus for an afternoon, having a spare sweater or shirt in your car won’t hurt you.

So prospective students, as you head out on your college tours, remember dress to impress! And any colleagues, feel free to share your “favorite” student ensembles in the comments.

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Forever EVER?

College Forever! What does that mean?

It’s something I just used to say and it just became funny once I decided I was going to “do college” “forever”. Hopefully it won’t be forever. I do hope to retire one day. Another thing I used to say as a quick response to when people asked me why I was going into student affairs was, “College was the best four years of my life so I decided to make it the best forty!” Some people might be able to identify me just from that statement alone.

But the web address is College Forever Ever?

Well, I tried to register “collegeforever” and it turns out that was taken. I did some investigating and that currently links to a blog with one entry. Sigh. I had the option to register “collegeforever” with a different domain and pay for it, but, as many of you already know, student affairs isn’t exactly a profession one goes into if their ultimate goal is to get rich. So with that I decided to get creative. You know the song “Sorry Ms. Jackson” by Outkast? If not, go listen to it.

And that, my friends, is how this blog got its name.

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Why? Why Not?

Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is The Author and my goal is to update this twice a week with stories from my adventures as a new professional in the lovely world of student affairs. You can read more about me in the About The Author section.

So, I kind of got the idea to write a blog about my adventures during a quiet moment in my office. It’s summer, there’s no students on campus, and now that I’ve gotten settled in, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve found myself…bored. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my job and I am sure that I’ve entered the right profession. I’ve tried starting blogs before, usually more about my life or school, but most haven’t gotten off the ground. I mean, who wants to read about school from a grad student’s perspective? “Today I had to learn ANOTHER theory of student development and then wrote a paper about it.” That does not make for the most interesting read and I am hopeful that this blog is going to be more interesting than that and is not going to be just a list of complaints.

Once I had the idea for this blog, I was suddenly re-energized. I thought of ways that writing this blog could help me as a professional. I’m going to have to stay on top of current events in student affairs. I’m going to want to look up different topics and read new books. I can also find others who blog about higher education (anybody out there?) and do some networking! This blog can essentially be part of my professional growth and development! Working on entries will also make for a nice break in between meetings or projects. Also, I’m excited to finish some of the projects I’m working on so I can talk about them on here!

Lastly, I want to use this blog to connect with other professionals. Sometimes funny things happen at work. Sometimes I have questions about different things. I want to share all these things with people. And I want to entertain people.

Happy reading and I hope you return for more stories about my time in college…past, present, and future!

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