Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PACC Fall Retreat

It's been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks! I've completed my first five site visits and have another nine to do before Thanksgiving and we just had, what I would consider, a very successful Fall Retreat. It seems only appropriate that this post start with a picture of our great group of PACC*VISTAs in front of one of the cabins they stayed in at Pearlstone Center.
I'd like to point out a couple of things about this picture: 
1. It was almost lost when my phone unexpectedly stopped working on Friday evening. It was touch and go there for a while. I faced a very unsettling red blinking screen all weekend but thanks to the capable Genius at the bar (Apple that is) my phone was saved and the evidence of PACC's time together, recovered. 
2. It was pretty chilly and windy at this point and yet the vast majority of people still seem happy. 
3. This was on day three of the retreat, the cars were loaded, the trainings had been completed, the late night jam session had run its course and everyone still is awake more or less. 
4. This is not the full group. Char had to leave early and Mike was unable to join us for this retreat. But, Tyreek? He's there. He's the Philly's hat strategically situated behind Kevin's head. 
5. This picture seems to really capture an event I know many of us were looking forward to as a milestone of the Fall.

Planning this retreat was a challenge for me. The word "challenge" gets a bad rap. I often describe myself as "directionally challenged" and what I really mean by that is that my proclivity for getting lost has become a well-known fact in my life. The "Ice Bucket Challenge" was getting people to do something that would make them moderately uncomfortable to ultimately raise money for a worthy cause. If you are "challenged" to a duel that means someone is asking you in a manner in which you'll feel odd saying, "Eh, I'd rather not." If you look at the etymology of the word, in Middle English it used to be an accusation. Meaning, if I'm challenging you, I'm accusing you of a shortcoming of sorts. However, (if I haven't lost you on this digression yet), I mean that this was a task that really tested my abilities. It was a challenge I spent a lot of time and thought on.
I tend to have a hard time making decisions about what I want to eat. So, choosing so many meals for such a big group of people with many dietary restrictions made me feel a bit like this.

And sometimes trying to plan the actual events that will transpire for a group of people with diverse interests and expectations feels a bit like trying to catch a shadow. This dog trying to do the same captures this feeling quite nicely.

All in all, despite the challenges, I think the retreat was a success. There were a lot of highlights for me and I won't attempt to describe all of them. However, I will give a synopsis of a few. 

We jumped right in with "Show & Tell" items. I asked everyone to bring an item that they believed helped reveal something about themselves. An artifact of their lives. We had necklaces, flutes, chess sets, books, and scarves just to name a few. The first person to share, spoke for about 5 minutes about their item. If everyone had done this, we would have been showing & telling for nearly 2 hours. However, her explanation was thoughtful and her willingness to share her vulnerability really left a precedent for people to share with the same level of consideration and reflection. 

This tone for the retreat continued for the next two days. Robert Brault once said "enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." I think that this group has been very good at enjoying the little things with each other and realizing the value of these moments and exchanges.

Sustainability Workshop:
This is our workshop on sustainability. The meeting room was incredibly hot, so we relocated to the cabins for this piece. Well, that and so we could eat guacamole. Each group was responsible for pitching a solution to their supervisor regarding the sustainability of their program. Prior to the role playing part, I asked VISTAs to come up with a definition for this word that I say so very frequently. "If sustainability were the top of a building, what are the pillars you would need to hold it up?" Was the question. Here are some of their answers: Value in the cause, Empowerment, Accountability, Adaptability, Lasting, Legacy, The ability to persist without a lot of management, A form of resilience, Enough Resources, Point people-delegated to tasks to keep the program running.

"A Better Life" Movie Night:
Movie Night
Here is the trailor for "A Better Life." It is a film that I would argue is one of the most important I have seen in the last several years. I'm not sure I can put into words how much this film both impacted me and stayed with me. It is both a film I struggle to think of watching again and want everyone to see. In a world where immigration is often shown to us in statistics, it addresses the issue in terms of the story. It really generated a powerful and rich discussion for us on how this movie speaks a lot to the idea of origin and identity and power and privilege. Which we then discussed in depth with Sarah Halley. 

Power and Privilege Workshop:
Sarah Halley came to Peralstone on Friday to do a 3 hour workshop on Power and Privilege with the VISTAs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncovering The Wolf PACC

It's been a couple of weeks since my last entry, so I thought it was about time to check in. I am in sunny Jacksonville, Florida currently for the Eastern Region Campus Compact Conference. Not only is it 80 degrees, which I couldn't be happier about, but I'm also getting to hear about the impactful and impressive initiatives currently happening at other universities throughout the Eastern Region but particularly in Florida. 
This is Stephen Black, the grandson of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, and one of the most eloquent and inspiring speakers I've seen. He was the Keynote at ERCC. Hope you enjoy his words as much as I did.

There's a lot of exciting things going on in the PACC world! All of the Fall Site Visits are scheduled and making my calendar full and colorful, the Fall Retreat is quickly approaching and the planning is underway (although I'm pretty sure even if I were to just stick this group of VISTAs in a room together, they'd find a way to enjoy it), and we launched the 15-16 PACC*VISTA Application. 

Meanwhile, I've been getting snippets of what all of the VISTAs are doing, and I know they are extremely busy. There's a lot going on worth sharing, so this is just my first attempt in getting some of the information out there:

Conference Calls:
Kelly and Emily M. ventured down to good ole' Harrisburg for a meeting to discuss Veterans Affairs in the Poconos region and the collaboration between Universities. We set up a conference call with Ashley and Lucio and the Student Veterans Coordinator for VFW (there's so many ancronyms in these VISTAs' speech now that I can hardly keep up). We spoke about all of the cool projects they've planned lately, involving such things as self-defense classes and motorcycles (these were not in the same activity) Ultimately, our conversation involved a lot of discussion on "Collective Impact," which is the "sexy" word in the Higher Ed. Civic Engagement world currently. I found it to be a really productive and exciting conversation about the future of these programs. However, the conference call was, as it always is, a rather awkward form of communication. I think this video sums it up best:

I went to an event that PHENND (Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development) put on a few weeks back and along with the many initiatives they spoke about being involved in (Daisy Villa, a PACC*VISTA Alum is coordinating one of the programs), they devoted a sizable portion of the meeting to "election engagement." With the elections approaching, it made me consider how important it is to really encourage folks to vote. So, if you are not registered, I would encourage you to do so (though you've missed your opportunity to vote in this upcoming election, there are other ones afoot). If you are registered, make sure you actually get out and vote. Here's a video that has gone pretty viral at this point but Lil Jon really captures the essence of the importance of voting and gave me a little chuckle while he was at it:

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I sign my emails. I would say that this is a part of the professional world that I'm still actively navigating. Maybe that says something about how many emails I'm writing if I think about the act of emailing even when I'm not currently emailing. I love to write, I got a Masters in Writing for that very reason, but I'm still very uncomfortable with the culminating curtsy at the end of an email I've taken a while to craft. Last year, I taught my students about the "dénouement" which translates into "the untying of the knot." In a disney movie this is when they live happily ever after but in an email I think it's the salutation. The ones that resonate most with me are "Warmly," "Best," "Be Well," "Sincerely," and "Thanks" but I'm often left wondering, "am I offering them an alternative temperature?" "The best of what?" "Are they currently unwell?" "can you sincerely sign an email about tax forms or performance measures with something as sincere as sincerely?" In the old days, before emailing, when people wrote letters or made calls it seems likes how to sign off was more straight forward. But, I suppose few wrote letters with the same frequency as we write emails. In conclusion, how do you best "untie the knots" of emails with a salutation?

Forbes addresses this very issue in the link of provided, though, with very little resolution:

And if that doesn't work, I found these alternatives to standard salutations:

In other news, here's what some of the PACC*VISTAs have been up to:

Click Here to see a new piece about a program that offers free tuition to low-income students to break the cycle of poverty at Alvernia University

With the Walking Dead starting back up last week and our VISTAs hard at work, it only seems fair for Zombies to pop up in the service you're doing. I know Kevin Zuidervliet put a lot of time and hard work into this zombie race to raise money for the Lewisburg Community Garden at Bucknell University. It looks like the event was quite a hit. Sarah Dickerson even showed up to share her support while running away from a Zombie that seems to have quite a lively stride (see what I did there). Anyway, this project really exemplifies the diversity, commitment, and creativity of what you all do. 

(VISTAs, keep sending me news about your projects, so that I can continue sharing all you're doing!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PACC*VISTA Fall Workshop

The Fall Workshop was held last Thursday, September 18th, and it was so exciting to have it all come together so well. It was the first time I had seen many of the VISTAs since July and it was great to catch up with them now that we’ve all had some time to settle into our new roles. The other big excitement of the day was finally getting to meet the supervisors and put faces to the names I’ve been emailing for the past few months.  From host site haikus to roundtable discussions, to lunch, I really enjoyed hearing about all of the commendable work everyone is doing. Despite everyone’s busy lives and many obligations, the energy and enthusiasm in the room were palpable and contagious.

We started with introductions which included host site haikus. I should have collected them at the end, because they were pretty great. Someone started the "snaps" after each which gave our windowless conference a coffeehouse poetry slam feel...kinda.

Then we did 45 minutes of "host site speed dating" where I would ask a question and the VISTA and supervisor each had 90 seconds to answer. The questions ranged from "If you were dropped on a desert island with one food that will be replenished exactly as you like it every day. What is that food? Why? to "What has been the most influential class/training/workshop you’ve ever been a part of? Why?" Ideally we were hoping this would allow VISTAs and Supervisors to have conversations that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to.

The Leadership Compass:
The Leadership Compass allowed for us to understand how someone "primary direction" might impact  the working style.  All directions have profound strengths and potential weaknesses, and every person is seen as capable of growing in each direction.

Notice how all of the "Norths" are standing and many of them have their arms crossed? It's "let's talk business time." Not surprisingly, they also finished way before any other group
The East "visionaries" when asked to plan a trip had decided exactly how the water would feel and look. 
The "Wests" moved carefully through this process. They followed the procedure explained while being thoughtful and introspective

The Souths were careful in ensuring that each voice was heard and that the feelings were validated. 


The rest of the day was filled with Roundtable breakout discussions based on affinity groups, lunch, a tutorial on Performance Measures by Debra Lytle from CNCS, and breakout discussion groups where Char spoke to the Supervisors and I spoke with the VISTAs (which for me was kind of tease as our session was WAY too short). It was a packed day that went by quickly and made me really excited for host site visits and the Fall Retreat. I decided to end this post with a couple of lists that I've generated in reflection from the day:

Five lessons I’ve learned from planning this event:
       1. I am ravenous at workshops, I seem to have very little self-control in matters of cheese and cookies

      2. Technology will inevitably become an enigma when people are waiting for you to do something

3. Overestimate the amount the average person needs coffee. Remove coffee when all parties start to shake

4. Conference rooms seem to always be too cold, assure others you are working on getting it fixed and perhaps consider collecting a box of chunky sweaters for emergencies (Holiday sweater season seems like an opportune time for this endeavor)

5. Seeing the sense of humor in these things ensures that the rest of the conference runs relatively smoothly.

Five best questions of the day:
1. Where are the Bloody Marys?

2.     Have you experienced a Channing Tatum encounter?

3.     Which compass direction are you?

4.     Will the cinnamon rolls be continually replenished with the coffee?

5.     Why don’t we have more time together?

Dedication Ceremony of Veterans Resource Center at Marywood University

On September 15th, I had the opportunity to go to Marywood University for The Dedication Ceremony of their new Veterans Resource Center. I was so impressed by all of the hard work that our VISTA, Ashley Woodward, her supervisor, Lauren Williams, and others put into making this ceremony and this center a reality. Below is a bit of background on the new Veterans Resource Center: 

“Marywood University donated Bethany Hall to be the site of the new Veterans Resource Center (VRC). The space will house the Office of Military and Veteran Services and the R-VETS office on the first floor, along with a quiet study space and lounge. The second floor will house the Student Veteran Alliance (SVA) lounge and computer/study space. This space has a full kitchen that can be utilized by all student veterans and their dependents…Marywood's Student Veteran Alliance was recently awarded a grant from the National Organization, Student Veterans of America and The Home Depot Foundation, through the VetCenter Initiative (VCI) partnership. Through the VCI, funds were distributed to construct veteran-specific resource centers on campuses across the country. Marywood's Student Veteran Alliance was one of the eleven recipients of this grant. The grant funding is being used to assist in renovating space for the VRC. This center will help build camaraderie among current and future student veterans, which in turn will assist with ensuring that these students graduate and obtain gainful employment.

VISTAs, Kelly Langan and Emily McGaha, were also there to support Ashley and Marywood University. After getting a tour of the newly renovated building and speaking to Kelly, Ashley, and Emily in depth, it is really clear how much they’ve learned about this work! The experiences they were describing and the acronyms and names they were dropping showed not only the knowledge they've already gained about Military and Veteran Services but also how much they’ve been actively working on collaborating with each other. On top of sharing resources and attending events together, they also reported that they’re speaking every week on gchat, just to ensure that they are supporting each other and working together as much as they can. With “collective impact” being such a hot topic right now in the civic engagement world, it’s great to see our VISTAs modeling it so well!

Congratulations Marywood on the opening of your new
Veterans Resource Center!

"Place Matters" Conference at Albright College

On September 12th, I attended the “Place Matters: Partnerships between Higher Education and their Local Communities” Conference at Albright College. Here's a description about the event:

 “To celebrate the opening of its new Center for Civic and Global Engagement, Albright College in partnership with PA Campus Compact, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Reserve Bank will be hosting a conference to explore how colleges and universities can work with local partners to positively impact their communities and provide transformative learning opportunities for their students. This one-day conference will include a keynote speaker, panel discussion, workshops, poster session and networking.  Please plan to join participants representing higher education, government, NGO’s and economic development entities.”

One hundred people attended the conference, which was such an impressive turnout. I was responsible for checking people in, which gave me the opportunity to meet a few of our PACC*VISTA supervisors and many influential people involved in civic engagement throughout Pennsylvania. 

Each speaker brought a lot to the table in terms of how higher education and local community partnerships can be more sustainable and impactful. Our very own, Char Gray, spoke about collective impact and really got the roundtables thinking and talking about mapping our local communities, considering partnerships, and really understanding the complexity and power of collective impact. 

Keith Wardrip also offered a really fascinating presentation that was completely data driven. He compared 12 former industrial cities in this region, mainly focusing on Reading where Albright College is located. He used several charts and graphs to show data collected on housing, employment, population, and education in these areas. I found his presentation particularly fascinating, as I think there is a lot of power in numbers accompanying narratives when evaluating community 
need and conceptualizing and cultivating possible partnerships. 

The Speakers and Presenters included:
Steve Dubb, (Keynote) The Democracy Collaborative; Co-Author of The Road Half Traveled: University Engagement at a Crossroad, Keith Wardrip, The Federal Reserve Ban, Lisa Wilder, William E. and Mary Dearden Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Economic, Char Gray, PA Campus Compact, Andrea Chapdelaine, Provost and Vice President, Academic Affairs-Albright College  

All in all, a lot of work went into the day and it really showed in the quality of presentations, the scope of knowledge, and the conversations it initiated with the attendees.