Monday, June 30, 2008

In the Moment

One of the many great things about living in the Mohawk Valley is the geographic convenience to so many attractions. As our daughters' first year of school in our new home came to an end, we brainstormed multiple weekend getaways to celebrate. Since our youngest recently hit the 48 inch height milestone, we chose Canada's Wonderland in Toronto to get our summer off to a great start. The amusement park has the third highest number of thrill-ride roller coasters in North America and since Jennifer and I grew up a few hours away from Cedar Point (roller coaster heaven), we thought we would rekindle some wonderful childhood memories.

We arrived at the park early, excited, prepared and focused. After quickly making our way to the root of our inspiration - the Behemoth roller coaster, we had to separate as our youngest daughter didn't make the 54 inch height requirement. While they went off to ride the wooden Minebuster (or more aptly named "mind" buster) coaster, our oldest daughter and I stood in the long line (even though the park had just opened) to await our fate on Canada's tallest and fastest roller coaster.

I showed our daughter the
video simulation of the Behemoth that's available on the Internet but that really pales in comparison to the full experience. The first hill is 230 feet high and drops at a 75 degree angle and reaches speed of almost 80 miles per hour (125 kilometers per hour sounds faster). By the time we reached the second hill, pretty much all of my childhood reverie was long gone - it was now about survival. Three minutes later when the ride ended, I tried to put myself back together in contrast to my daughter who was a bundle of energy and couldn't wait to do it again. We regrouped as a family and were able to ride nearly all of the rides together for the rest of the day - with each one draining slightly more life out of the adults and adding more life to the children.

After riding the Flying Dragon with its double loops three times and the wild beast with its classic jolts that can only come with a wooden coaster, I had to find a survival mechanism to get me through the day. I knew that I wasn't leaving the park without a return trip to the Behemoth. After all, I was the one who was playing up the roller coaster experience these past few weeks and here I was walking slowly with increasingly less animation and motivation to speak to anyone in an attempt to suppress my correspondingly increasing nausea. I overcame all of this by committing to being in the moment - being there for our daughters. After all, this was about them and not about me. When we returned to the Behemoth for the final ride of the day, I was able to focus on our daughter's face, listen closely to her words, listen to her screams instead of mine and enjoy the ride.

I share all of this as a reminder of how important it is to being there for someone else. Our professional lives can feel like a roller coaster, particularly during times of significant change and reorganization. Imagine where the college would be if we all focused only on our own fears and forgot entirely about the people we serve. While many thoughts flashed before my eyes at various points in the day, the most important theme for me was the importance of being in the moment to help enhance an experience - as in this case, making sure someone else had a great experience actually enhanced my experience as well. I believe the same is true in creating an effective workplace or providing great service. Whether it's a co-worker, a student - past, present, or future - or someone else, the extent to which we can all be in the moment and focused on the person in front of us is the extent to which we will create a positive and memorable MVCC experience for everyone.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A College Never Sleeps

It's always nice to have those constants in life to give us a sense of balance. As a college administrator, one thing I have come to expect with the start of summer is the periodic conversation where someone who works in a non-academic environment says, "so, you have the summer off, right?" The reality for all colleges today is that the learning business is a year-round enterprise. So for me, the summer is divided into two parts - finishing up things from the previous academic year and then getting ready for the start of the fall semester.

When I was preparing to come to New York a year ago, I asked a friend who worked at a community college in the northeast what the summers were like. My friend said the summers are the way they should be - it's cooler than most other places, so unbearable heat is unlikely; there is much to do, from day trips or longer vacations to just enjoying being outside so much; and that people cherish summer in an area where the winters can be a touch long. I've found this all to be true; however, while the pace of work might be a little different the tasks remain equally significant.

Facilities staff are focused on readying the campuses for the coming year after the comprehensive use of the buildings and grounds during the past year. Major projects are being completed, from the dramatic landscaping upgrades at the Utica Campus to reviewing classroom and soft space furniture around campus. Lest you think that our college isn’t as popular in the summer, rest assured that we are anything but asleep. We recently had hundreds of people at the Utica Campus for a wonderful Relay for Life event and hundreds more for a Cybersecurity conference. Soon, our youngest clientele will keep the campuses hopping with College for Kids programs and sports camps. People are often surprised when I respond to the "summer's off" question with the fact that we have 1,200 students enrolled in credit classes this summer in addition to all the other activity. Students are filing and processing for financial aid and registering for the fall semester; and quietly in the background, the administrative departments are executing that two-fold action plan of wrapping up last year and unwrapping the year to come.

Henry James once wrote, "Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." Sometimes we are so captivated by the beauty and energy of summer, we forget that a college never sleeps. And while the college isn’t sleeping, neither are our many constituents. Our students, no matter where they come from, aren’t sleeping during the summer. They are engaged in their own balancing act of work, family, rising gas prices, and a sluggish economy. They are weighing their options for their future, wondering whether starting or continuing their education is the right move right now. For them and only for them we cannot afford to sleep – so that they may afford their dreams.

If you have any reflections on summer at MVCC, let me know at rvanwagoner@mvcc.edu.