Re-invent and Integral
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the UPCEA South Regional meeting in Baton Rouge. Like all of my professional development experiences with UPCEA, I learned something new…. did you know that Baton Rouge means red stick? I didn’t but now I sound like one of those insurance companies advertisements. I do know something…
Seriously, I do want to say congratulations to Carol Fleming and her planning committee and to Lisa Verma and her crew for just a great conference. I loved Baton Rouge and look forward to returning.
As part of the conference I served on a panel moderated by Carol Fleming (JMU and chair of region south) with Bea Gonzalez (UPCEA President), Alice Warren (North Carolina State), Bob Hansen (CEO UPCEA). First of all, I was more than humbled to be on a panel with such great people and have nothing but great respect for them and what they have accomplished. In many ways we are kindred spirits, sharing a common thread of being in the latter part of our careers. Two big exceptions, Carol and Bob.
Our task was to share our insights about our career, our field, our associations, and hopefully to provide insightful advice. One of the things I admitted up front with the audience is that I’m always a bit dubious of these sorts of panels because whatever I have to say may not even be pertinent to the career path of others. I can remember being in the audience as a young professional listening to similar panels and thinking, “yes I can do this and I want to grow up and become the old gray haired guy providing insights!” Being on this panel is one of many indicators that I’ve grown older but I’m fairly confident I’m not that much wiser.
One of the questions Carol asked , was how has UPCEA impacted our careers. Quite honestly it hasn’t been UPCEA but it is the people in UPCEA that have impacted my career. In preparing for the panel I came to the realization that one of the great gifts I received in my interactions with UPCEA colleagues is that they helped me to be aspirational. I would talk with my colleagues, digging to find out what interesting things they were doing that had the greatest impact on their community and institution and come with the fire in my belly to aspire to do as well as my friends. Not a competitiuve thing, it was a raising of the bar, the notion of what we could to to be better.
We were also asked what bit of advice would we give to our younger colleagues pursuing their career as a professional continuing educator. My advice was a combination of career advice as well as what I’ve learned about how to keep our units viable at our institutions.
My advice can be boiled down to two words, re-invent and integral. One definition of re-invention is to take something and to change it so much that it looks new. Re-invention of ourselves and our units is key if we are to be viable. In our field, we have had to re-invent ourselves from being responsible for correspondence study units, to distance learning to online programming. In the process, we have become the campus expert in the new areas and we re-invented our units so that they became the leaders in these areas. I know that it isn’t as easy as flicking a switch but we do ourselves, our units, and our institutions a disservice if we are not actively providing leadership in re-invention to meet the changing needs of those we serve.
One definition of integral is to become necessary to make something whole. I’m convinced that when we, ourselves and our units, are no longer seen as integral to our universities then we not only become marginalized and are an after thought in our institution’s mission. Like re-invention, this isn’t simply just flicking a switch, it is hard work. For me at a new institution it is finding out what is important to my institution. And what is important is not always clearly stated in missions and visions for an institution. It is reaching out across campus and having conversations with lots of people that cut across the structure of the campus. Talking to students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, business and industry, and community members. Becoming integral goes well beyond providing additional revenue to the institution (while we all understand that this is important), it is assisting the institution in meeting their moral obligations of reaching the underserved, it is providing leadership in engaging with our communities, it is furthering the goals of the institutions and enhancing the reputation of the institution. For me it is also becoming a part of the community, being an active member of local boards and non-profits.
Carol had lots of other questions and I give credit to my fellow panelists in their thoughtful responses. I can’t speak to how thoughtful my responses were but as no surprise to anyone who knows me well, I did have something to say related to all the questions.
I do want to end this blog post by reflecting on my response to Carol’s question asking us, looking back is there anything you would differently as you advance in our careers. The general answer from all of us was not really. After reflecting a moment or two, I did say that while I can’t think of anything I would change related to my career, there was one thing I wish I could do over and that was our move from UND to JMU. I told the audience that quite honestly it was the most difficult professional and personal move of my life. The move was not about me. It was about Peggy. We moved to further her career. While I totally supported the decision it was a family move, in reality it was a hard step to take. I was filled with doubt. Wondered if we had made the right decision. It is one thing to take on new adventure. It is another to feel like you were jumping into the total unknown and that was what I felt I was doing.
Peggy’s was in a totally different place., She had no doubts. She totally believed that we were in the right place at the right time…and I must say, she was right. I wish I could go back and feel the confidence she had. But I did learn something from it. While I can’t go back, I can look at the unknown, the challenges, and throw myself into them, knowing that if done with faith, confidence and integrity, the vision will be revealed. Things worked out wonderfully at JMU, I can say without a doubt that Outreach and Engagement is a strong and viable unit at JMU that grew from 2.7 people to over 20 people.
Unfortunately I don’t know that anyone has created a rewind button for life yet so what I can do is pause and thank Peggy for all she’s done and for her support.
Oh yeah there was one question about how one deals with burn out, quite honestly I have two things going for me related to this, one I am enjoying my new responsibilities at ODU and I’ve got Shaeffer’s Forays, a place I can go to have a chat.