New Year, New Focus

Happy New Year!

2016 was a busy and growth filled year, which saw the significant decline in my writing habits. As I sit in this coffee shop in Blacksburg, I am filled with a desire to write more regularly on this blog in hopes of continuing to work on my writing, keep up my scholarship and knowledge of the field of higher education.

The posts will take a different approach from here on out. Once a week I will link an article related to higher education and offer a short commentary on it; maybe 300 some words. Occasionally, I will post about something else (e.g. politics) but will try and stay focused on higher education commentary. These posts will have my commentary coming from my lens of a student affairs educator and my work at Virginia Tech.

Here’s to a new year, reenergized efforts to write, and a new desire to stay connected to the field!

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Quantitative Methodology in Practice

For the entirety of my final semester in graduate school, I have been involved in an independent study where I am using quantitative research methodology to investigate the impact that required LLC courses have on students sense of belonging.  Through this experience, I have learned the importance of using quantitative research methodology in my practice as a student affairs educator.

Specifically, I learned the importance of using data to drive decision making. Being able to understand the impact educational strategies have on students learning is essential in making decisions. In an era of ever increasing accountability, being able to reference the data and show that an educational initiative had a statistically significant impact on student learning is incredibly powerful.

Additionally, quantitative research methodology ensures that student affairs educators to understand how impactful their practices are on students.  For example, this semester I learned that required LLC courses have no impact on students sense of belonging.  Thus, the Office of Residence Life should evaluate as to what the purpose of required courses are.  If the courses are to foster belonging, then continuing to devote resources to supporting required LLC courses would not be good use of resources.

Finally, quantitative research methodology is important to advancing knowledge of the profession.  With George S. Blimling’s (2015) book Student Learning in College Residence Halls: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why as the essential text on high impact practices in residence life, it is important for student affairs educators to assess the impact those strategies have on student learning. It will be vital for residence life educators to ensure the practices that Blimling (2015) talks about are working for the students we work with.

Utilizing quantitative research methodology is not easy. It is time consuming and labor intensive to conduct quality quantitative inquiry. Yet, the results that come from conducting quantitative inquiry are incredibly valuable and heighten the educational impact.

Reference List

Blimling, G.S. (2015) Student learning in college residence halls: What works, what doesn’t, and

why. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The Final Act

It is a strange phenomenon to be stuck mid-stride; that is what most final semester student affairs graduate students must be feeling right now as we start our final semesters of graduate school.

The feeling is incredibly difficult to explain. You feel tired, anxious, and full of energy. The possibilities of the future (the ‘post grad’ life) are endless, yet daunting. The desire to discover where you will start the next chapter of your life in just a few months is intoxicating as you become fixated with the job search process. The immense fear of those possibilities lies beneath any hopeful conversation.

Of course, the attention of the student affairs graduate student is not fully fixed on the future. The reality of the current situation is very clear to the graduate student. They still have assistantship duties, coursework, and a personal life they must continue to balance. A strong desire to finish strong and leave a positive legacy is, perhaps, the goal of the student affairs graduate student. Or, the simple desire to leave and finish the graduate school experience is at the forefront of their present mindset. Either way, this feeling of stuck mid-motion is real.

Focusing on two realities is a challenge. On the one hand, I want to devote my every waking minute to applying to jobs, preparing for interviews, and finding the right fit for my first real job. On the other hand, my attention is fixated on the job at hand… I have students I need to work with and educate. I have coursework that needs to be completed and meetings to prepare for. The balancing act has never been more of a struggle up until this moment.

Maybe that is the real test of graduate school; how you finish. All the internships, meetings, coursework, presentations, and projects have been trials for this final challenge: balancing the desire to leave and move on with the desire to finish strong and be present. How we finish, coupled with how we transition out, is what defines us.

Dining Alone

The first real snow fall finally hit the Midwest. Michigan, where I am staying during my semester break, got anywhere from two to seven inches of snow. Of course I would have to drive to Oxford Ohio on the same day that the first real winter storm hit the Midwest.

I loaded up my car with a few bags and laundry baskets, careful to keep my balance on the fresh ice that had formed on the driveway. I drove for two and a half hours. My stomach was growling, indicating hunger. I was only an hour away from Oxford, but thought best to eat right then because I wasn’t sure what would be open in Oxford and I had a gift card to a Cracker Barrel.

Anyways, I pulled in, tires skidding on the ice. I threw on my jacket and wrapped my scarf around my head, desperately trying to stay warm and block the cruel, icy wind that was boring down on the Midwest.

I walked into the Cracker Barrel which was moderately busy. I approached the hostess and asked for a table for one. She blinked at me and questioned my desire to dine alone by asking “Just one?”

I assured her that I had not lost my mind and would like to dine alone in the Cracker Barrel. She acquiesced my request and lead me to a table.

I settled into my table and began to look over the menu. Immediately I could feel the gazes of the diners around me glancing nervously, no doubt thinking is he alone? Why is he out in public? He must have the plague!

I sat back, ordered my dinner, and enjoyed the reprieve from driving and navigating the docile Ohio drivers.


This is the second time I have dined alone. The first time, I was on a study abroad trip in Turkey and needed a break from my peers on the trip and wanted a nice fresh fish dinner.

During both of these experiences, I have been struck by how both the waitstaff and fellow diners treat the solitary diner.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being with friends and family while eating. Breaking bread and having great conversations is always a highlight. But every now and then it is nice to sit alone and enjoy a meal with just your thoughts.

Why the skittishness around a solitary diner? Why the nervous glances and muttering at the dinner table? We all need to eat and stopping at restaurant to grab a bite during a road trip is nothing anyone should be skittish about. Dining alone is on the rise and is a normal fact of American life. Yet, too many people are startled or perplexed when they see someone eating alone.

It is okay that someone is eating alone. There is no cause for alarm.

So next time you see someone eating alone, don’t worry about it. Let them enjoy their meal in the solitude they have been craving more than you have been craving that gourmet burger.

 

Book Review: The N- in You

In The N- in You, Dr. J.W. Wiley discusses the link between diversity, social justice, leadership, and language. It was an interesting read all around, as Dr. Wiley has a great gift at writing and talking about issues of diversity, social justice, leadership, and language.

The way Dr. Wiley broke up the book into different chapters on offensive words (e.g. retard, gay) was a great way to approach the broad subject and focus the writing. Of particular interest to me was Dr. Wiley’s commentary on racism and not hating the hater because of how Dr. Wiley presented the ideas and how they were different than ideas I had already heard.

Yet, I finished The N- in You wanting more. Dr. Wiley glossed over the leadership portion of his text (or rather overstated how much focus leadership would have in the text) as the leadership moments were just being an active bystander. Additionally, the discussions of non-inclusive language were nothing I hadn’t already encountered in my graduate studies in student affairs.

All in all, this was a good book but left me wanting more. It provides some useful insights into the practice as an educator that every educator should read.

5/10.

Book Review: The Art of Fielding

It is not often that you close a book and just sit there, thinking about what you read. Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding not only made me do that but was a gripping read from cover to cover.

I have a lot of thoughts still swimming in my head as I write this about The Art of Fielding, but the one that keeps jumping up is Harbach’s commentary on purpose. As someone who is about to start a job search, purpose is something I have been reflecting on and to have Henry, one of Harbach’s characters, struggle with the purpose usefulness concept of purpose has me thinking quite a bit. Is purpose essential to our lives? Are we always lost without a purpose? Does repetition and structure hold the key to finding purpose? What role does discipline play in finding ones purpose?

This is not to say that The Art of Fielding is purely a commentary on purpose and its role in human life. It is a fun, engaging, and powerful read about baseball, college, coming of age, relationships, and the expectations we put on ourselves. Harbach crafted a beautifully simple story with powerful themes that keep the reader yearning for more.

This seemingly simple book will leave you wanting to know more about Westish College, the baseball team, Henry, Mike, Pella, and Owen because of the powerful writing of Chad Harbach.

10/10.

Book Review: Freakonomics

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s famous work Freakonomics is nothing extraordinary, other than the simple questions they asked. Levitt and Dubner ask questions that seemingly have simple answers, but their research reveals that there may be other, hidden, answers.

I read this book after having graduated with a specialization (something akin to a minor) in political economy. Additionally, I listened to the podcast Freakonomics for almost a year before reading the book. I have a pedestrian interest in economics and thus was my experience (and mindset) as I entered this work.

I was not disappointed. The book, true to its reputation, was engaging and thought provoking. It was a pleasant respite from the normal works of fiction I spend my time reading. Yet, I was perturbed by how simple the book was. The podcast of the same name is highly more thought provoking and interesting than the book. Of course, this could be because you can do more in a podcast than you can in a book, in that you can present material in multiple ways in a podcast that you can in a book.

Yet, this minor annoyance that the book Freakonomics saddled me with, I enjoyed the book. I am still mulling over the implications of the last parenting chapters (what impact do parents have on children’s success? and what does a name mean?)

Dubner and Levitt created a fun and accessible way for the masses to engage with the field of economics and economic thinking. Well done and must read.

8/10