Summers, Schedules, and Smitty’s

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Two summers ago, I found myself in the midst of something unexpected. After designing a new system for first-year registration, my boss at the time stepped down from his position, leaving the new system’s implementation in some very nervous hands, mine included. At the time, Stetson was eager to build student agency, capitalizing on the university’s commitment to personal and social responsibility. Naturally, it seemed fitting to begin this process with students before they even arrived on campus, and so it was decided that first-years – in becoming responsible agents over their own lives – would play a significant role in building their first-semester schedules. In other words, advisors would register students for two of their four classes (usually a First-Year Seminar and a course in their major), and students would register themselves for the remaining two courses (usually a Math or English course and a general-education requirement). A 2+2 system, if you will.

Though taxing and sometimes unpredictable, the new system was ultimately a success, and come October, it was very nice to work with a first-year class who already knew the ins-and-outs of registration.

This summer, though still consumed with schedules, will be a bit different. Starting today, I’ll be assisting many others in my office as we build schedules for Elon’s incoming class of over 1500 students. Graciously, my fellow advisors have eased me into the process with bribery, allowing me to work with intended Arts & Sciences majors, particularly those with interests in English, History, and the Social Sciences. They know me so well…

Additionally, our advising guru – aka, the person everyone goes to when they have a question – has put together a fantastic cheat sheet for building schedules. Trouble is, I’ve never been through this process apart from standardized drop/add and preregistration procedures. So while building schedules is nothing new, the thought of building schedules for 1500+ students based on rules and regulations that can’t be memorized (due to their sheer number) has me feeling like a very small fish in a very large pond.

Regardless, here’s hoping the process is relatively painless. And whether it is or isn’t, I know one thing to be true. Once schedules are released, I will be rewarding myself with one of the best things Elon has to offer: Smitty’s ice cream.

Until then!

- Maggie

 

 

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TA Training: Turning Vision into Reality

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T.S. Eliot once said, “April is the cruellest month,” and while in graduate school – consumed with deadlines and unforgiving fatigue –  I had no choice but to agree with him. But now, having ventured to the other side of higher education, I’m happy to report April is much more than four weeks of non-stop paper writing. In fact, it’s probably the most exciting month I’ve spent at Elon.

You see, after months of programmatic assessment and research, Elon 101 TAs were given the option to attend one of five trainings in the spring of 2014. Each training lasted a total of three hours and covered the following material:

  • TA Responsibilities/Expectations/Professional Development
  • The Honor Code
  • Elon’s Core Curriculum
  • Student Success/Campus Resources
  • Personal, Collective, and Transformative Leadership

Additionally, the learning outcomes of these trainings were designed in accordance with the learning outcomes of Elon 101 to assure the preparedness of TAs to help first-years navigate the expectations of a liberally founded, academically rigorous, and culturally diverse education. Moreover, to ensure deep learning and relevancy, TAs worked in pairs and larger groups to think about the following:

  • Name one class from Expression, Civilization, Society, and Science. How does each of these classes supplement a degree in Business, Communication, Education, and the Arts/Sciences?
  • Why are the four pillars of Elon’s Honor Code important? How do they relate to an Elon education? How do they prepare students for life after Elon?
  • Define personal, collective, and transformative leadership. How does each relate to your role as an Elon 101 TA? How will you inspire leadership in first-year students?

At the conclusion of each training, TAs completed evaluations based on learning outcomes, skill implementation, and suggestions for future trainings. While most TAs agreed the training should be shorter, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and a breakdown of collective responses was recorded.

Between now and August 1st, TAs will supplement their formal training with the completion of five online summer modules through the TA Moodle site. Each module will include a corresponding quiz for assessment purposes, and that data will be made available in a fall 2014 report. In keeping with the overall learning outcomes of TA training, these modules will cover the following material:

  • Leadership
  • Skill Development/My Plan
  • Elon’s Core Curriculum/Preregistration
  • Diversity
  • The Common Read (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind)

Over the summer, I will be available to answer questions and troubleshoot issues that may arise as TAs complete the online modules. Additionally, I will continue to assess the qualitative data from this spring’s trainings, taking note of emerging themes/trends. Already identified (and under consideration for the make-up training(s) in late August/early September) are the following:

  • Make the training shorter (2 hours)
  • Keep trainings relatively small (no more than 12 people)
  • Reserve classrooms that lend themselves to discussion, not lecture
  • Make the training even more interactive
  • Let former TAs have more time to share experiences

Data

At a glance:

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Instructors’ presentation styles, TA development, and learning outcomes:

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TA growth and/or learning in the following areas:

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Professional development opportunities:

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TAs and the Residential Campus Initiative:

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Next Steps

  • Continue working with Chris Leupold regarding leadership development for Elon 101 TAs
  • Select 2014-2015 Major Ambassadors and TA Task Force members
  • Pilot the Major Ambassador Program (MAP) this fall
  • Hold 2 TA meetings during the 2014-2015 academic year (one in the fall, one in the spring)
  • Distribute and collect TA evaluations in December 2014 (design is underway)
  • Work with the TA Task Force toward a Task Force facilitated training next spring

 

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Holy Advising, Batman!

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To many, The Dark Knight Rises marked the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, one that followed Bruce Wayne through the tortuous but rewarding journey of losing his parents, saving Gotham, and finding his purpose (aka, becoming Batman). But when viewed through the lens of academic advising, this film becomes much more than Batman’s farewell; in fact, the characters of Bruce Wayne, Bane, and Selina Kyle all offer examples of how to advise students to success.

Bruce Wayne/Batman

After surviving the murder of his parents, the betrayal of his mentor, Ra’s al Ghul, and the loss of his love-interest and childhood friend, Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne is once again put to the test in The Dark Knight Rises. Specifically, he is taken to a remote prison – which tortures its victims with the possibility of escape – while Bane ransacks Gotham. Additionally, this prison mimics the very well that’s haunted Bruce since childhood, calling forth unforgiving memories that choke him with fear and hopelessness. Still, Bruce does not capitulate to his circumstances. Instead, he spends day after day in this prison building strength and cultivating hope, never letting the darkness that surrounds him define his capabilities. Not surprisingly, his perseverance begets success, allowing him to escape from the prison and return to Gotham. Once there, he restores order, sacrificing himself yet again on the altars of selflessness, justice, and social responsibility.

Now, while I certainly don’t expect my advisees to spend their nights as caped vigilantes, I do expect them to care about their university, its surrounding location, and the people who inhabit both. In other words, I expect them to follow in Bruce’s footsteps regarding service, philanthropy, social responsibility, and a belief in the greater good. I want them to be involved students who matriculate into global citizens. I want them to graduate in four years not just with degrees but with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. I want them to be the very students who impact Elon in meaningful and sustainable ways. But most importantly, I want them to be the kind of students who endure. Through tests of intelligence as well as character, I want them to embrace honesty, integrity, responsibility, and respect, drawing inspiration from the character of Bruce Wayne. As any advisor can attest, a college education will challenge the very core of who you are, but like Bruce, I want my students to emerge from these challenges with an even stronger sense of self.

Bane 

Though Bane’s character is certainly flawed, he is not without redeeming qualities. For example, Bane may attack Gotham with unrelenting violence and derive pleasure from the mental anguish of Bruce Wayne, but this same character risked his life to save a child and isn’t afraid of challenging the status-quo. In fact, much of what drives his revolution is the grotesque discrepancy between Gotham’s upper and lower classes and how those with power suppress the success of others.

Still, I’d never suggest my advisees approach any situation with violence; it is rarely – if ever – the answer. I would, however, encourage them to take stock of the political arena of their university, their nation, and their world. Though resentful and determined to enact revenge, Bane is also politically engaged and no stranger to the oppression of others, and I believe this kind of political engagement and social awareness should be a part of every student’s college experience. To that point, I hope my advisees not only recognize inequality but stand up against it, ready to fight for justice. I hope my advisees not only long for change but bring it forth, gaining unparalleled experience in the process. Lastly, I hope they are brave enough to challenge structural injustice, the kind that adulterates tradition in favor of its own perseverance.

Selina Kyle/Catwoman

Though Selina spends a great part of this film as a capricious thorn in Batman’s side, she also undergoes noteworthy character development, realizing the greater good for all outweighs the self-righteous demands of any individual. Furthermore, like Bane, she abhors the disproportionate structure of Gotham’s economy and how it’s sustained by those who wield power for nothing but selfish, inflated agendas. However, what really distinguishes Selina’s character is her adaptability. Like someone fluent in two languages, she can travel between the realms of the wealthy and the slums of the destitute, practically going unnoticed. This ability, though engendered by unsavory intentions, is what allows Selina to connect with Bruce, make amends, and finally understand why Gotham is worth saving.

Like Selina, some college students can and do fall victim to the “me” philosophy, never wanting to part with their time or energy unless the opportunity in question will provide foreseeable benefits. And while this makes sense, it also opens the door for talking with students about servant-leadership, and Selina’s character offers a great example of what can happen when people look past individual solutions to structural improvements. Moreover, her character learns the importance of remaining open-minded and versatile in the face of change, especially considering change is inevitable. Lastly, she epitomizes the empathy and humility necessary for establishing relationships among different “cultures,” taking ownership of one’s mistakes, and collaboratively righting wrongs. That said, I hope my advisees follow her transformative example, for adaptability, social responsibility, and humility are critical to a successful college experience as well as a successful life.

Till next time,

Maggie

(P.S. I totally know what movie I’ll be watching tonight!)

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Assess, Actualize, Adapt: The Future of Elon 101

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Thanks to unparalleled advancements in technology, it often feels like we have the world at our fingertips. My first cell phone – an old TracFone that was barely adept at making calls – is nothing compared to the lightning-fast gadget I have now: a phone/tablet hybrid that keeps me socially plugged-in, globally informed, regularly entertained, and seamlessly connected to those I care about most. However, technology’s impact is reaching far past cellphones, actually altering the very pedagogy that determines how and when students learn. To adapt to such ubiquitous and rapid impacts, college campuses across the nation are re-envisioning and re-purposing technology’s relationship to learning, making the entire process more effective and more enjoyable. Elon is no exception, especially considering its recent commitment to flipped instruction, defined by the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning as “a teaching approach in which students get a first exposure to course content before class through readings or videos, then spend class time deepening their understanding of that content through active learning exercises.” Don’t be fooled, though. Elon’s classrooms aren’t the only places benefiting from technological advancements.

Offices themselves – from the Registrar to the SPDC to Academic Support and Advising – are also benefiting from said upgrades. As of last fall, students can now do a myriad of things online: withdraw from courses, add half-semester courses, sign up to take courses pass/fail, complete self-assessments, and declare academic majors – just to name a few! Understandably, the ability to do all these things electronically has significantly reduced the amount of paperwork across these offices, resulting in happier staff as well as a happier environment. Granted, any major changes in technology come with unforeseen obstacles, but in most scenarios, the benefits of these transitions almost always outweigh the costs.

Accordingly, 2014-2015 Elon 101 Peer Mentors (official name is yet TBD) will be jumping on the technological bandwagon, using Moodle to complete up to 3 online modules during the summer months before their position officially starts. These modules will be designed to refresh and reinforce the learning outcomes of the Elon 101 Peer Mentor Training (to be held in April), a draft outline of which may be found below (all speakers are tentative; feedback is welcomed).

 Peer Mentor Training (offered multiple times in April, 2014)

  • Introduction/Overview of Topics
  • Icebreaker Activity: “I am ELON”
  • History of Elon 101; Defining Your Role; Knowing Your Responsibilities
  • $$$ How to Get Paid $$$
  • Needs of First-Year Students; Elon’s Class of 2018
  • All About Advising!
    • Elon’s Core Curriculum
      • First-Year Core
      • Studies in the Arts & Sciences
    • Foreign Language Requirement
    • ELR
    • Advanced Studies/GST Interdisciplinary Seminar
    • Major/Minor checksheets
    • OnTrack
    • Study Abroad
    • Preregistration Appointments: Do’s & Don’ts
    • Residential “Office Hours”
    • “Online Scavenger Hunt” Activity
  • Skill Development
    • My Plan
      • Personality Test (like MBTI)
      • Interests Test (like The Holland Code)
    • Strengths Test Center (like StrengthsFinder2.0)
    • “MBTI Scenarios” Activity
    • “In Their Shoes” Activity
    • “Application” Activity (to be completed with Elon 101 Professor)
  • Student Success & Intellectual Engagement
    • Resources Jeopardy (advising, tutoring, campus involvement, wellness, post-grad preparation)
      • “I wish I’d known . . .” Activity
      • “Role Play” Activity (Peer Advisor, Student, & Evaluator)
    • How Students Learn (speaker: Deandra Little; PMC: Ch. 8)
    • Online in August:  Common Read Focus Groups
  • Diversity & Inclusion
    • “What is Diversity?” Activity
    • A Campus of Difference/ADL Training (speaker: Leigh-Anne Royster)
    • ADL Training Sign-Up (2nd Mondays, 3rd Tuesdays and 4th Fridays from 12:45pm – 4:45pm)
  • Professional Development
    • Elon 101 Peer Mentor Panel (formerly, the TA Task Force)
    • The Major Ambassador Program (MAP)
  • Leadership
    • “What is Leadership?” Activity
    • How Do You Lead? (speaker: Steve Mencarini)
      • Yourself
      • With Others
      • For Change
    • Summer Modules
  • Evaluation & Assessment (Q&A Moodle Forum)

As can be seen, technology will also play a pivotal role in the training itself, providing access to online resources, assessments, and interactive tutorials, and technology’s impact on Elon 101 will only continue to grow. In fact, significant modifications have already been made to the Elon 101 website, depicting the expected changes and enhanced responsibilities associated with transitioning our TA program to a Peer Mentor model (http://www.elon.edu/e-web/academics/support/peermentor.xhtml).  Likewise, the TA Task Force wiki has proven invaluable for brainstorming next steps and new initiatives. Never used a wiki? Jump on the bandwagon! They’re great for group projects or collaborations of any kind.

To get started, visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY

To see what could be, visit this link: http://stetsonbonner.pbworks.com/w/page/18250271/FrontPage

Coming Soon!

A New Name

The Task Force and I have been busy brainstorming new names for Elon 101 TAs/Elon 101 Peer Mentors, one of the latest options being “Student Engagement Advisors,” or SEAs. We’re currently collecting feedback, so any and all thoughts you have are welcomed!

The Elon 101 Peer Mentor Application

To be completed by every 2014-2015 participant in the program: (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Dj2Ds5H4AmIAeUDCO5-tzj1j7gsyLTJTMIeONKMjWD8/viewform)

Additionally, we will also release applications for the two professional development opportunities above: the Elon 101 Peer Mentor Panel and The Major Ambassador Program (applications are still in development).

Online in August: Elon 101 Common Read Focus Groups (tentative)

To support Elon as it delivers on the promise of intellectual engagement, Elon 101 Peer Mentors will lead Common Read focus groups during the month of August. These groups – set to meet “online” through Moodle – will discuss the Common Read as it relates to being a first-year student, a member of the Elon community, and a global citizen at large. Through various discussions and reflection, Peer Mentors will be charged with helping first-years draw connections between their own experiences as well as those in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Stay tuned!

Maggie

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‘Tis the Season . . . for Taking Chances (Part 2)

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Jumpin’ Off the Edge (into Long-Term Goals)

Though New Year’s Day is already two weeks behind us, its palpable thrill still lingers. You can see it in the faces of students who excitedly venture to their Winter Term classes. You can hear it in the exchange of jovial resolutions that echo through brick hallways. You can feel its presence in the pit of your stomach, igniting feelings of hope, wanderlust, and redemption. 2014 is here, and opportunity is officially knocking.

As a result, there’s a lot of pressure to meet this opportunity with enthusiasm and diligence, both of which are pretty easy to come by in the month of January. But what happens on February 1 when you’re not seeing results, things haven’t gone as planned, and you’re one step away from calling it quits and starting over?

Perhaps you scour through old projects searching for inspiration. Or maybe you go looking for that promising list of 2014 initiatives, the one that’s now saved in Microsoft Word under a name you can’t remember. Better yet, maybe you realize that January isn’t the end-all-be-all New Year’s Resolutions make it out to be. And that’s a good thing. After all, they’re called New YEAR’s Resolutions for a reason; people shouldn’t feel stung-stained with disappointment only a few days, weeks, or months into their goals.

Nevertheless, they often do, and maybe that’s because we live in a culture that glorifies immediate gratification. But even still, we know that faster isn’t always better. Microwave dinners can’t compete with 5 course meals. Cinematic interpretations are never as good as the book itself. An hour at the beach or in the mountains is nothing compared to a whole weekend. And with this in mind, I’m resolving to make 2014 the year of creating and capitalizing on long-term goals.

Granted, some of these goals are personal: build a respectable savings account, start learning a third language, be relentless in the appreciation of other people’s differences, etc. But mostly, these goals revolve around the slow but steady transition of Elon 101’s TA program into a dynamic peer mentoring culture poised to become a national model for advising and mentoring first-year students.

But how exactly will we get there? What steps need to be taken? What steps are being taken?

Creating Solid Ground Below

For starters, we’re swapping out the name “Teaching Assistant” or “TA” for the more appropriate (and approachable) title of “Peer Mentor,” one that more adequately captures the services these students provide to both Elon 101 Instructors as well as first-year students. We no longer want Elon 101 TAs to be mistaken for the paper-grading, exam-proctoring, pseudo-professors at other institutions. Instead, we want them to be classified in a way that captures the work they actually do, which more often than not involves providing an informed student perspective that enables and encourages first-years as they successfully adapt to college life. Additionally, we’re drawing ideas from current scholarship – as well as peer and aspirant institutions – to supplement a formal training for these Peer Mentors, one that hopefully capitalizes on their strengths, teaches them new skills, and helps them develop both personally and professionally.

Speaking of professional development, I’m working with the Elon 101 Peer Mentor Panel (formerly known as the TA Task Force) to create and market opportunities like the Peer Mentor Liaison Initiative, all of which will help Peer Mentors cultivate transferable skills like public speaking, active listening, and intentional leadership, just to name a few. Right now, the Panel and I are deciding on opportunities that will fit nicely within – as well as supplement – this new mentoring culture, and those developments will be shared as they are determined.

Also being determined – albeit not for the immediate future – is how Peer Mentors are selected. Currently, there is no formal application process for Elon 101 Peer Mentors, and many students who’ve served as TAs in the past were asked to do so by former Elon 101 Professors (alternatively, some TAs asked to work with Elon 101 Professors of their choice). As it stands, a formal Elon 101 Peer Mentor application has been created through Google Docs and will be uploaded to the Elon 101 webpage under Academic Support. In the coming weeks, Peer Mentors – even those already chosen by Elon 101 faculty – will be encouraged to complete the form for data purposes, and this is crucial considering that some of this data will pave the way for establishing “peer advisors” in the form of seasoned mentors who live in residence halls with first-year students. Moreover, it will provide – at a glance – the number of Peer Mentors who would be willing to serve on next year’s Panel or act as Liaisons.

Though we certainly don’t have all the answers yet – and may not for a while – these new developments are sure to have some exciting impacts on Elon 101, first-year students, and the university at large.

Stay tuned!

Maggie

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‘Tis the Season . . . for Taking Chances (Part 1)

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Driving to and from Florida for Thanksgiving break, I spent the majority of my car ride jamming out to some new CDs. After a while, the song Taking Chances – originally performed by the one-and-only Celine Dion – made its way through my speakers, its chorus later resonating with me in a way it never had before.

“But what do you say to takin’ chances? / What do you say to jumpin’ off the edge? / Never knowing if there’s solid ground below / Or a hand to hold / Or hell to pay / What do you say? / What do you say?”

Somewhere in South Carolina, I found myself mindlessly belting the aforesaid words, not really taking a moment to consider my answers to these lyrical questions. Perhaps it was because I knew I wouldn’t like my answers. Or maybe it was because I wasn’t completely sure of my answers. Either way, I just kept singing, not really letting the gravity of these words sink in.

However, since being back at Elon, it’s been practically impossible to push these words from my mind. With the semester coming to a close and my calendar producing new meetings, deadlines, and projects at rapid speed, I begin to wonder if I’m bound for success or failure. I consider cutting corners. I assess the risks associated with these new and continued endeavors, straining to see their rewards through a haze of anxious “what-ifs.” I spiral into a restless bundle of nerves, unable to produce and move forward because I’m temporarily paralyzed by what might go wrong. I’m worried that there won’t be “solid ground below / or a hand to hold.” I’m terrified that there might be “hell to pay” after all.

But then I remember one of my favorite quotations from the movie Coach Carter . . .

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Suddenly, I realize that my fear of failure is nothing compared to my fear of greatness. And this is because greatness is terrifying. It forces me to live up to and accept other peoples’ faith in my abilities. It generates power, cultivates responsibility, and necessitates executive decision-making. Greatness demands that I actually believe in the confident façade that I so often put on for others. It challenges my definition of comfort, forcing me to grow in ways that might not always be easy.

But why in the world am I terrified of living up to my potential, having power, accepting responsibility, being confident, making a difference, and growing as a human being? Are these not some of the most rewarding parts about getting older, finding your passion, and moving the world forward?

Of course they are. So from this day forward, I’m choosing to see them as such. I’m saying yes to “takin’ chances,” I’m bracing myself for “jumpin’ off the edge,” and I’m using my greatness to create “solid ground below.”

Takin’ Chances

With two professional degrees in English, I’ve done my fair share of writing about literature. I’ve analyzed it, deconstructed it, and re-appropriated it, among other things. I’ve followed MLA guidelines like recipes from a cookbook, careful not to deviate for fear of spoiling the final product. However, on October 25th of this year, I was handed new guidelines, APA guidelines to be exact. On that Friday, Jason and I met to discuss developments and next steps for the Elon 101 TA Program, giving careful consideration to changes already made and changes yet to come. We weren’t long into the meeting before he mentioned the inevitable: putting all of these changes, ideas, and initiatives into a nice, neat package to share with others: an Elon 101/TA Fall 2013 Report to be exact. I was immediately comfortable with this idea, eager to start gathering and analyzing results from the TA survey, creating appendices out of TA emails and initiatives, and putting together a timeline for the spring semester.

But just a moment later, Jason said two words that stopped me dead in my tracks: Literature Review.

I’m fine with the word literature. I’m also fine with the word review. But the second he put those words side by side, I could feel my capable, young, professional self wither away into the shell of a timid college sophomore who’d just received her first B on . . . you guessed it . . . a literature review. I felt scared and fraudulent, unsure if I’d actually be able to do what he was asking of me. If I couldn’t pull together a literature review of Gloria Anzaldúa’s work on the new mestiza after an entire semester of Theory and Criticism, how was I ever going to produce a literature review of peer leadership and mentoring in higher education? My degrees aren’t even in higher education. I’ve never even used APA.

Nevertheless, I took a chance.

Instead of divulging my fear, I put on my best poker face and accepted the challenge willingly. “You have two degrees in English,” I told myself. “You know how to research. You know how to analyze. You know how to write. Apply those transferable skills you’re always talking about, and get to work.” And so I did. I scoured through databases like PSYCinfo, SocINDEX, ERIC, and JSTOR, finally coming across 5 articles, all of which addressed the nascent stages, current climate, and future implications of peer leadership and mentoring in higher education. While 5 may not seem like a lot, I was careful to look for articles whose lessons could be directly applied to an institution like Elon, taking into consideration things like size, affordability, demographics, public vs. private designation, and finally, the use of peer leaders and/or mentors in first-year seminars.

It didn’t take long before I was up to my eyeballs in new theories, new approaches, and a ton of great ideas, many of which are outlined (and were well-received) in the 12 page lit review that came about just from taking a chance.

In the coming weeks, the fun will continue as Jason and I put the finishing touches on our Elon 101/TA Fall 2013 Report. Brace yourselves for charts, graphs, and appendices galore as well as some exciting new developments!

Stay tuned,

Maggie

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It’s All About Perspective

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There are few times in life when I feel compelled to count my blessings, recognize my good fortune, or acknowledge my success. Often, I’m too busy, too envious, or too tired to notice the “good” in my life. Yet, it seems I always have a reservoir of negative energy to spend on the smallest flaws, the most insignificant shortcomings, and the most undeserving pangs of self-doubt. And I wonder why that is. I wrestle with how my life has become a paradox of idle enthusiasm and tireless criticism . I seek help, continually gathering answers from friends, family members, books, movies, and exercise routines, never stopping to accept the fact that maybe I already know the solution to my problem.

Perspective.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” The first time I heard this philosophical tidbit, I couldn’t help but agree. But then I started thinking about some of my reactions, especially those reactions to less-than-favorable situations. And suddenly, I didn’t want my reactions to be what mattered. If anything, I wanted to recoil at the very thought of them. For example, I felt nothing but shame when I recalled feeble attempts to fix my broken T.V. remote, an endeavor that resulted in nothing but petty tears of frustration. Things didn’t get much better when I recalled the insufferable pangs of defeat and envy I endured when all of my friends got accepted to grad schools of their choice and I didn’t. In all honesty, I found myself a person I didn’t want to be. I needed to change. I needed a new perspective.

I immediately fired up Google and started typing in key words and phrases like “positive thinking” and “how to be more optimistic.” It didn’t take long before I stumbled upon a list of quotations by author Alphonse Karr, and to this day, one quotation from that list still stands out: “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

There it was. This one sentence. So simple. So true. So liberating.

It was then that I made a promise to myself: no matter what happened to me, I would be thankful for the experience. I would try to see the good. I would try to understand. So far, this philosophy has served me pretty well. It’s helped me survive heartache, move away from home, write a Master’s thesis, and the list goes on. But this promise is not always an easy one to keep. In fact, it’s probably one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made, and that’s because seeing the bad is always so much easier. We don’t have to go looking for it. It’s blasted on our radios, plastered on our televisions, and re-blogged through social media until its presence becomes unavoidable. We learn negativity like children in a classroom and regurgitate it on the test of life, unsure of what to do with our lessons once class is no longer in session. But if that’s the case, we can just as easily learn positivity and hope. We can learn to not only look for the good, but to find it, celebrate it, and share it.

With final exams right around the corner for our students and deadlines just around the bend for us professionals, it’s easy to get bogged down by the negative. It’s easy to be consumed by the chaos, anxiety, and frustration associated with the end of an academic semester. But instead of focusing on our “thorns,” I’d suggest being thankful for our “roses.”

Thorn: Our students might have difficult exams/essays/projects that generate a lot of fear and anxiety . . .

Rose: . . . but at least they’re at an institution that values academic rigor and supports students as they challenge themselves to new heights of understanding and intelligence.

Thorn: Our faculty might feel overwhelmed and even defeated due to the impending influx of exams, essays, projects, and meetings . . .

Rose: . . . but they get to spend the majority of each semester sharing their passion with other people. There are few better feelings in the world.

Thorn: Our staff members might feel overworked or under-appreciated as more and more deadlines appear on their calendars . . .

Rose: . . . but all of the work they do – from the tangible to the conceptual – directly impacts the life of another human being, and as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.”

As we move closer to this semester’s end, may we all remember to be thankful, actively seeking out the roses of gratitude in a world full of aggrieved thorns.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

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