More Reflections…

More Reflections…

So I think this is the stuff that Tina and Susan have wanted me to write about all year and I’m finally getting to it – my work as a grad student at the College.
Today was our last staff meeting with our Orientation Area Directors.  The OAD’s are a group of student leaders that plan Orientation from literally the moment one Orientation ends until the next August.  I have had the amazingly unique opportunity to know most of these students from their freshman year.  I’ve seen Charlotte and Juliette hone their love of details over the years and become some of the most highly motivated students I have had the privilege of working with.  Tommy and Thomas drive me up a wall with the way they constantly challenge me in ways that I don’t expect.  It’s what our students always do, they think for themselves and stand up for what they believe is right… even if it drives someone else a little bit crazy.  Jay and JB are constant sources of jokes (usually at my expense) and despite the fact that our meetings are at 7:00 a.m., they always find a way to make fun of me.  I can’t even express how much I appreciate it (seriously).  Maurene and Karyn… these were the two I was most worried about at the beginning of the year.  The guys of the group can be a bit rowdy and I wasn’t sure these ladies would put up with it.  Boy was I wrong.  I’m more afraid of what the two of them could do if they were to let loose… Then there’s James.  He’s the rough gruff rugby player that comes off as a real tough guy.  He’s taught me not to judge people too quickly, because you never know what’s underneath.  Despite the tough exterior, James is one of the most deliberate students I have worked with and the thoughtfulness he puts into his work in the Dean of Students Offices impresses everyone.  Finally there’s Baby Natty.  He’s the lone sophomore of the group.  Just because he’s young doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he’s doing.  I’ve known him through Kappa Sigma and Orientation, and in both groups, which are obviously different, Natty has proven to be mature and to have a good head on his shoulders.  Not to mention he’s a Hispanic Studies major, which earns points in my book.
So the point of this isn’t to boost the egos of my staff.  They don’t need that, trust me.  The point is to show how lucky I have been as a graduate student at the College to have the chance to work with such a diverse and talented group of students.  I have friends in Higher Ed programs elsewhere and they just don’t get this kind of interaction with students.  I get to work one on one with these students to not only help them plan Orientation and grow as leaders, but also to learn my own trade. 
I am confident that in two weeks when I graduate, I am going to be prepared to work with any set of students because I have already worked with the most challenging students out there.  No, I’m not talking about the troublesome kind of challenging, but the overly talented kind that challenge me as a practitioner to leave my comfort zone and work hard just to keep up with their ideas. 
None of this would have even been possible if it weren’t for the other side of my GA position that I have.  I get to work with Mark Sikes.  If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even be in this field right now.  Mark let me work for him as an undergrad and as a grad student, and he is the one that has given me the opportunities to work with these students and learn the things I have.  While this is normal in our program here at the College, it’s just not normal everywhere else.  Everything that I will take with me into my first job, I’ve learned from Mark. 
So what exactly is the point of this ramble?  Well for one, I was too emotional at our meeting this morning to share these things with everyone.  But really, the point is that I’m not sure if people realize just how unique and special the experiences our grad students have are.  Sure, our faculty get to boast student coauthors and researchers, our Admission Deans get to brag about the new class every year, our OSVS gets to celebrate the great service that goes on through the College.  But how often to grad students get to brag about our awesome students that we work with?  Not very often. 
These are great students, as are all the students here at the College.  But the ones I get to work with are better.  Just because… well because I said so.



Wax and Wane, Part 1

I figure I have this platform for only a few more weeks until I’m no longer a student (shudder) at the College, so I might as well take full advantage of this thing to get my message out there to people about how wonderfully amazing this place is and what it can do for the members that belong to this community.  And, since my friends are getting sick of me blubbering on about how much I love this place, I need to get it out somewhere, so it might as well be on here.
WARNING: these probably will come off as overly sentimental to many, but hey, you spend 6 years here and see what it does to you.
The first thing I want to talk about is that over-used mantra that we wave like a victory banner over our heads every chance we get: Community. 
Ok, so I know it’s trite and it’s been done 100 times in these blogs, but I truly believe that this is the ONE thing that makes William and Mary the special place that it is.  When I think of Community here, two distinct areas come to mind: undergrad student life, and faculty/student interaction.
Undergrad life is the heart beat of William and Mary.  We all know that and see it.  It’s obvious.  But what makes it so special?  I see the relationships built, projects started and years spent with our undergrad friends on this colonial campus as the foundations for the rest of our lives.  The experiences that we have with these people around us shape who we are and what we become.  I never would have imagined coming into the College back in 2003 that I would have been traveling to Nicaragua with people I led Young Life with, living with the captain of the swim team for 3 years or sharing a house as a graduate student with fraternity brothers who I’ve known for four years now.  These relationships have played such an integral role in who I am today that I can’t imagine what life would have been like without them.  The College is such a ripe place for developing these bonds.  Our Orientation program drives home the importance of building relationships, contributing to the community and investing in campus life.  The Greek Life system is flourishing here and despite whatever misconceptions may exist about fraternity life, I can vouch that the brothers I have through Kappa Sigma have been some of the most stalwart friends that I could have ever hoped for.  The OSVS has begun to truly cultivate a tradition of service at the College and the impact it’s had on the community and campus is indeed palpable.  I can’t tell you how many times I feel like knocking someone upside the head when they tell me that there’s nothing to do at William and Mary.  Open your eyes.  Enjoy the Undergrad life that will be some of the best years of your life.
Another earmark of the College is the faculty/student relationships that develop here.  Where else do you find this stuff?  I still remember my freshman advising meeting with Carla Buck in Hispanic Studies.  Two years later I traveled to Spain with her on the Cadiz summer program.  My freshman seminar professor Sylvia Tandeciarz sparked in me a desire to dive into issues of identity and cultural policy that eventually led to a complete shift in my own conception of the world and how we live together.  During my sophomore year, Regina Root invited me to travel to a conference at VCU on Latin American Studies and five years later, I’ve been able to present at the conference 3 times now.  Dot Finnegan, my graduate advisor, works tirelessly to ensure that we are producing work that is meaningful to us as practitioners.  She pushes us to develop our own programs for our assistantships, to dive into new and uncharted academic territories.  This type of investment in students is what makes this such a special place.  Make sure you take advantage of this.  Make sure that you seek out your professors, ask to do research with them, ask to be a part of their programs.  Doing this will ensure that you tap into the greatest resource this university has to offer. 
The community that we cherish here at the College is so unique and special to this place.  I’m not sure if we know that all the time.  I know that it took me a few years to realize what a different place this was.  But one thing is certain, after spending six years behind these bricks, I’m not sure if I’ll ever come across a place that shares the same bonds and values to such a high degree that we do here.
 



What a Competition!!

107 Positions. 
447 Applications.
Holy Cow.
 
OK, so I know that the Admission bloggers are all excited and blogging left and right about 12,000 applications for the Class of 2013 and here I am all pumped up about 447 folks.  However, this is a record for our office.  It isn’t, however, a surprise.  Over the past 4 years that I have been working with Orientation here at the College, the position of Orientation Aide has become one of the most coveted on campus.  In the past 2 years, we’ve doubled applications and have the most diverse staff we’ve ever had. 
The downside to all this competition and increased numbers is that we have to turn more people down.  I know it’s rough to get turned down – it happened to me the first time I applied for a spot.  I was crushed.  Of course, I blamed everyone in my interview group, the application readers, the OA’s doing the interviews, etc.  Ok, so it could have been the fact that I had zero involvement on campus and didn’t really speak up at all. 
Anyways, we know the story ended up well, as the next year I reapplied and next thing I know I’m overseeing the staff and helping the students make decisions on who will next wear the coveted yellow t-shirts. 
As usual, I’m blogging to put off work… this time it’s sorting through 447 OA Apps to get ready for tomorrow’s staff meeting.  I guess I should get back to business…



Harking Upon the Gale from Managua, Nicaragua

While many see the week between Christmas and New Year’s as a time
to gear for New Year’s Eve parties and rest up for the semester ahead,
one group of ’07 alums travelled down to Managua, Nicaragua to spread a
little Christmas joy and get some kids enrolled in school.
The trip was part of an organization named Visedal,
which was started by Dylan Waugh ’07.  Dylan spent about 6 months
living in Managua after graduation and saw a need for a program that
helped take kids off the streets and put them in school.  A year later,
there are 20 kids enrolled in the program that provides an education
and ultimately end the cycle of poverty they are born into. 
Emily
Vitrano and Nefret Hanna who graduated with Dylan and I also came on
the trip along with Dylan’s parents and aunt.  We got down there on a
Saturday night, and by Sunday afternoon we were swamped by the 20+ kids
that were so elated to see us.  This was my fourth trip down to Managua
and I really didn’t know what to expect. 
So often, people I
talk with about my time in Nicaragua react with “oh that’s so great
you’re doing so much good” or “wow those people must appreciate it,
because they are so poor.”  It’s easy to think.  It’s easy to go down
there with the attitude that I’m going down to do good and I’m the one
doing the service.  This couldn’t be further from what I’ve actually
felt.
Every time I go down to Managua, I am blown away by how much I
get out of the trip.  I’m not talking material goods or food or
whatever.  I’m talking about that intangible sensation someone starts
to feel when they are among people who have less than they have.  I’m
talking about the feeling of envy that rises up when you see how happy
and fulfilled life is in the midst of poverty and how much that
contrasts with our feelings of material inadequacy and emptiness.  I’m
talking about real happiness.  That special kind that comes from being
surrounded by friends and family, from being a part of a community,
from being forced to live day to day trusting that somehow everything
will work out and you’ll get to eat dinner.  Despite the poverty (Nica
is the 2nd poorest nation in our hemisphere), there is a richness of
life in Managua. 
I don’t think that it’s anything special that
there were four of us on this trip that started out at William and
Mary.  If anything, I think it’s quite ordinary.  I mean look at us. 
We’re a school that thrives on international experiences, service and
giving our time to things other than our books.  You got your George’s
and Cosmo’s and Devon’s and Meghan’s and Dylan’s.  It really is a
contagious thing around here.  I’m not sure of another school that has
so many students starting so many different non-profits and
international service experiences.  Kinda cool.
If there was one
thing about Nicaragua this time around that I will never forget, it was
the Gringo shrine in one of the kid’s houses.  The family had put all
the pictures we’ve shared with them, including some of us, on a cork
board that hangs in the main room of their tiny, dirt-floored home.  It
took me a good solid 3 tries before I could really look at it without
getting choked up.  Besides the cool factor of the families cherishing
these pictures, there was a much bigger message hanging on the wall. 
We were having an impact on these people’s lives and we were making a
difference.  It was clear that these families are engaged with the
program. 
This picture is the four of us WM grads hanging out
on the street in Managua where the Sandinistas were throwing a huge
concert (hence the stylish FSLN hats Dylan and I have).  We had a blast
in Nicaragua, serving the kids and getting so much out of it
ourselves.  And still, it’s so weird for us to stop and think that our
friendships all started six years ago on a hot and sweaty August
move-in day in Williamsburg.



It's the Final Countdown…

Only one more week of classes for undergrads.  If only us grad students were so lucky.  While we don’t have finals per say, or two weeks to prepare for them, we still have to go to classes through break. 
Honestly, I can’t believe this semester is coming to a close.  It seems like just the other day I was writing about our Orientation program drawing to a close and Convocation shooting goosebumps down my arms.  Weird.
I was talking to an undergraduate friend of mine last night about how this is the last semester for the both of us here at the College.  It made me think about a few things as this fall comes to a close, and maybe some of the seniors this year might even learn a thing or two from an old guy that’s been around the track a few times. (I guess any high school seniors out there might find this applicable too)
1.  This semester only happens once in your four years… don’t rush through it!  It will be so easy to focus on May and think that you are almost there.  The worst thing you can do is focus on counting down the days and lose focus on what’s going on all around you.
2. Savor the moments and the people: as idealistic as we all want to be, you can’t stay in touch with EVERYONE after you graduate.  Hold close to your friends and continue to expand your horizons by meeting new people and reveling in their different experiences.
3.  You aren’t done yet: don’t give up on your classes… no matter how tempting that might be.  Trust me, from personal experience, it’s no fun to be cramming a whole semester’s worth of information in your last week while you’re trying to say goodbye to everything you’ve had over the past four years. 
Hopefully all that isn’t too sentimental. 
As we wind down the semester, take care of yourselves.  Get some rest.  Get your work done.  But more importantly, relax and save time for the good times.



I-64 Battle and Sophomore Flashbacks

This Saturday is going to be HUGE. 
Every year WM and UR play in the I-64 bowl game, but this year I feel like there is a little something more in the air.  It’s cold outside.  The leaves are gone.  And Tribe football is on a roll.  It all kinda takes me back to sophomore year. 
It was my first uninterrupted fall, thanks to that 13 day hurrication my freshman year.  That means it was really the first full football season that I got to experience.  There were the exciting moments of every game, like when former president Sullivan would come to conduct the fight song as the team re-entered for the 3rd quarter (from the old locker rooms, mind you).  I always took my 3rd quarter break to go pig out at my parent’s tailgate.  All these things were fun, and I kinda remembered them from my freshman year, but what was new all of a sudden was that we were winning… a lot. 
The first big one was the Delaware game.  It was tied in the fourth and we went into over time.  The Tribe marched down the field and scored, I can’t remember if it was just a field goal or if we got a TD, but I know we scored.  Then Delaware did the same and matched us.  Round 2.  We scored again.  Delaware came back down to our Red Zone.  This one was right in front of the student section.  We held them off for 4 downs.  I’m confident saying that was one of the few times that students rushed the field in Zable, but boy was it fun.
Then came ESPN2 and the portable lights.  We were on tv, we were in the playoffs.  I don’t want to talk about the outcome of that game, but it was a ton of fun while we were playing. 
Now we have our own lights, our own tv screen and new digs.  And the only thing that stands in our way from playoff glory is Richmond.  Bring it on, Spiders… I just bought a new can of Raid.



Theory, Practice and Boston

This past weekend, I was at the National Orientation
Director’s Association Conference up in Boston, Mass.  First off, that was
my first time that far north of the ‘burg, and I must say I was quite nervous
at first.  I got to the conference a day early to wander around the
city.  I was on the phone with someone in my Master’s program and they
asked me what I thought about Boston so far.  I think my exact words were
“it’s kinda Williamsburg, but on steroids.”  It made me realize
how special and unique our town is.  Sure, Boston has some old buildings
and this one little school that was around a few years before us, but honestly,
it’s just not as cool a town to walk around as the burg.  There may be
bigger buildings and more people, but there’s something missing in the big city
you just can’t replace.  I personally think it’s the horse dung on the
street, but others may say it’s something more like the idea of community we
have here at W&M. 
Back to why I was in Boston… I had the opportunity
to present at the conference this year about what ranks as one of my favorite
things.  I got to talk for an hour about William and Mary’s Orientation
program.  Jackpot.  The focus of the conference this year was
“Inspiring Historical Legacies.”  What a better example of historical
legacies than what WM has with Colonial Williamsburg.  One of our programs
during Orientation is an Evening on the Green in CW. 
Once we cross the street, students engage in
activities and discourse that represent the community and change that were such
a vital part of early American life.  Patrick Henry greets the students
and they proceed to the great Palace Green.  There they partake in
colonial life-experiences.  Students become musicians, interpreters and
dancers.  They actively participate in this program and gain an
understanding for the long-standing relationship the College has had with
Williamsburg.  They are introduced to the rich history of the town and the
importance of their own presence in Williamsburg, both in the eighteenth century
and the twenty-first. 
For me, all of this is not only representative of my
favorite orientation event, but also a combination of theory and
practice.  I study student development and how students change while they
are in college.  This event captures the idea of engaged learning in a
beautiful nutshell.  Sure, Patrick Henry is talking about how Williamsburg
was engaged in the Revolutionary War, but what underlies that message is that
of civic engagement.  Freshmen are hearing that for hundreds of years,
William and Mary students have been engaged in the community of Williamsburg and
the happenings of the world.  Now it’s their turn.  They can’t simply
stand by as others craft tomorrow, it’s their duty to do so as well. 



COME HOME!!!

HOMECOMING IS THIS WEEKEND!!!!!!!!!
I’m not sure there are enough exclamation points or capitalized letters that can express my excitement for Homecoming this weekend.  It will be my first as an alum, since I missed last year’s due to a conference (no, I don’t still dwell on that… at all). 
This weekend is sure to be filled with amazing reunions, festive gatherings and a great football game.  For me, the traditions associated with Homecoming are incredibly special.  Every year, I would march in the parade with the Pep Band, then play at the game where we would be joined by the alumni band.  This year I’ll be one of the guys in different colored shirt as opposed to years past when I was just a “regular” band guy.  Then comes halftime, when the band marches on the field and plays the fight song as the team rushes through.  It really is a special moment.  
There’s the excitement of seeing old friends, reliving the past and celebrating what the College does for everyone that crosses through the Portico – create a special and unique experience that is never to be forgotten.  I’ve tried explaining this idea of Tribe Pride and my unbridled excitement to my fellow graduate students and understandably they seem to think I take it a bit overboard.  I can’t wait for this weekend when there are thousands of others that share the same enthusiasm descending upon campus to create an amazing weekend.
GO TRIBE! 
 



Here comes the dorkiness

In the Master’s program for Higher Education, we have to complete a culminating project at the end of our two years.  Basically, it gives us the chance to unleash the inner dork and dive into something we’ve been wanting to research. 
For me, I feel like this opportunity is perfect for me to combine all my academic interests in my last full-on project as a student (at least for a LONG while until I give in and go for a PhD).  So when I was thinking about what I wanted to research, I wanted to find a way to combine all my passions into one last shot.  That means I somehow need/want to combine everything I loved about Hispanic Studies (identity theory, nationalism, cultural studies, new and different cultural traditions) with everything I love about studying college students (identity development, involvement theory, and motivations behind students’ choices). 
So for me, all this hashes out to something international, something to do with Hispanic culture and something to do with college student identity development.  Cha-Ching! 
Needless to say I am excited about this opportunity.  I get to pursue my own personal research agenda that combines all the passions I have developed over the course of my six years here at the College.  What is to follow is sure to be a fun ride, and I can’t wait to get started!



Tribe Football and Technological Insufficiencies

So the student bloggers were moved over to the new Cascade content system a while back.  Now even though Tina provided all of us detailed instructions with how to post new entries and keep active, somehow I still proved to be inadequate with this technology stuff.  Kind of embarassing.  Needless to say, I have no idea who is reading the three posts I thought I put up over the past two weeks. 
On a more positive note, how about that football game on Saturday?  Other than the humidity, I felt like the true essence of the Tribe was palpable in the air.  I love home football games.  For the past 6 years, my parents have come up with their friends and they tailgate out front.  It’s just a great sense of community that I’m sure you find at bigger schools with “better” tailgates, but at the same time, I am almost 100% positive that you can’t walk around the stadium and find all your friends at those big places. 
Someone asked me the other day why I was so excited about the home opener this weekend.  At first, my answer was a simple, “well it’s called football and it’s fun.”  Then I started thinking… football games here are so much more than a display of athletic prowess (well, depends on how well the line holds).  Here football games represent the community coming together, celebrating each other and being a part of something larger.  Families come together, friends reunite and for a few hours, Swem is only at half capacity.  Starting traditions is a hard thing to do around here, but I think we may have seen a good one starting this weekend.  I’m not sure how many people noticed, but the gold t-shirts reading “Class of 2012, Tradition Never Graduates” outnumbered the rest of us about 2 to 1.  Hopefully these freshmen continue to come out and support the Tribe.  I whole heartedly believe that if they embrace gatherings such as these, they will quickly come to realize just how special a community we really are, and how lucky they (and we) are to be a part of it.