Graduation and Transitions

Careers, Essays, Life, Thoughts

It is spring and that means it is time for graduation! I wrote a short piece for the State College paper, The Centre Daily Times, on preparing for transitions. Change happens, we cannot stop it, but how we cope with these transitions can shape and mold our lives. So be aware that the change is coming (not just the festivities that surround it), embrace it and your loved ones, and live into the new reality that is post-graduation.

April 23, 2016

“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”

“April showers bring May flowers.”

Spring is a time of dramatic changes in weather, the cold hard earth softening and bringing forth new life … and endless clichés. Spring is not only the time of nature’s rebirth, it is also graduation season. As someone who has given scores of commencement speeches I can attest that avoiding clichés is nigh on impossible (so I tend to embrace them). We resort to them because they contain fundamental truths; graduating from high school or college is both an ending and a beginning, it is the next step on a lifelong journey. In short, it is a time of transition.

We know that they are a part of life, we face them all the time, and so we tend to assume that we can just roll right through, just another event in a life full of events. Or we allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in the moments of the event. Whether we look past the graduation or focus upon the minute details, we fail to contemplate and appreciate what the event signifies and the effect this change will have on our lives, parents and graduates alike.

Graduation is an opportunity to celebrate not simply the past accomplishments of our students, but their future as well. For many parents our child’s future success involves a very real diminishment in our direct role in their lives. We will never cease to be their parents, but now they must stand on their own. That may be scary for them and a point of grief for us. And that is OK.

So embrace your graduates and the uncertainty that this latest transition brings, because the brightest spring begins in the bitterest of winters — and today the sun is shining.

The Land-Grant University of the 21st Century

Essays, Thoughts

Over the last year as our college and university engaged in developing our next strategic plan I have thought a lot about what it means to be a “land-grant university” in today’s world. Then I was invited to provide the keynote address to the annual meeting of the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association. The theme of their conference was “Creativity Starts Here.”  This essay has grown out of my remarks that evening and as such has particular reference to agriculture and its concerns.

Creating the Future We Want

Although I didn’t know it, my introduction to land-grant colleges and universities came when I was just 6 years old, tagging along with my brother to the Cooperative Extension office in Gaithersburg, MD to learn how to make bread. 4-H became a part of my life even before I was old enough to officially join. I did demonstration and informative speeches, canned goods, learned photography (still a passion of mine), kept rabbits and sheep, judged consumer goods and poultry. (I even stole my first few kisses while in 4-H and my brother found his wife at 4-H camp, as had our grandfather.) While my academic background may give the impression that I have never been anything other than a bookworm and having grown up outside of DC might suggest I am simply a typical suburbanite, the experiences I had through 4-H, FFA, and our county fair have been deeply formative in my life.

I loved that the school I went to, Cornell University, was the only Ivy League school that was also a land-grant university and when I arrived here at Penn State in 2006 the first thing I did was ask to see the poultry barns. On my short 4 miles to work I pass horses, experimental fields, poultry, dairy, swine, turf grass and meat science buildings. “Green Acres is the place for me (Farm livin’ is the life for me!).”

Back to our Roots

We all know the history. Our institutions, both collegiate and collegial, are founded upon the basic premise that our society needed to provide “a broad segment of the population with a practical education that had direct relevance to their daily lives.”[1] All of this, I might add given my own academic background, without “excluding other scientific and classical studies.”[2]

There are many today who question the very viability of public universities in today’s world and the reduction in state funding brings doubt as to the relationship between the words “State” and “University.” But I believe strongly that there is a future for a land grant institution in the 21st century, but we must reimagine what that means in this new era. I think this can best be done by remaining focused upon this original mission, even if the nation and the states and commonwealths allow their own support to wane.

Social Media Split Personalities? – Chronicle of Higher Ed

Essays, SHC News, Thoughts

This weekend an article came out in the Chronicle of Higher Education about academics and academic units with multiple online “identities.” I was interviewed along with several others, but for some reason I was the only one of whom they took silly pictures.

It is a very good article on a topic that really is a challenge for everyone, not just institutions. Everyone needs to ask themselves, what does my facebook/twitter/blog say about myself. If you are happy with the answer then you don’t have anything to worry about.

Academics and Colleges Split Their Personalities for Social Media

By Jeffrey R. Young

Christian Brady, an associate professor of classics and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University, has created two Twitter accounts, one for personal comments and research (@targuman), and the other for his role as dean (@shcdean).

Chronicle of Higher Education

@targuman: Modern catechism? “Wireless as a common good.” @shcdean: If you are an SHC student or alumnus in the DC area this summer can you let me know? I would like to get a dinner together in mid June.
@targuman:David Letterman is the best and most underrated interviewer on TV. Interviewing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. @shcdean: I want to assure you all that the new, gorgeous softball stadium Beard Field is named after a wonderful PSU supporter and not my chin hairs.
@targuman:Currently listening to the gutters finally being repaired (fell off in January!). Every clunk and thud makes me think $$. @shcdean: Students: assuming funding, why wouldn’t you want to study abroad for a full year? Admits are telling me you are afraid to disconnect.

‘It’s Not Schizophrenic’

Christian Brady, an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, has split his social-media identity, as Ms. Feal does. “It’s not schizophrenic and it’s not to hide anything,” he said. Both of his Twitter feeds are public, and he expects that someone who searches for his name on Google will quickly find both his personal feed, @targuman, and the one he uses for his role as dean of the university’s Schreyer Honors College, @shcdean.

Deciding which account to post to is a matter of considering his audience, he says. Those looking to hear from the honors-college dean may have no interest in his research into Targums (ancient Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible), or in his collection of comic books. “I wouldn’t call them multiple identities, but views or perspectives on yourself,” is how he puts it.

Though Facebook was born only a few years ago, Mr. Brady says scholars have long made adjustments in their public personae: “If you’re writing an op-ed piece for the local newspaper, you’re going to use a different tone than if you’re writing for a journal in your discipline.”

Don’t Be Creepy

Some professors use only one Facebook page but wrestle with how open to make that information. One of the most-discussed questions about social networking on campuses is whether or not professors should “friend” their students on Facebook. Mr. Brady’s policy on the issue is one I’ve heard from many professors: He will accept a friend request from any student, but he never makes the first move. “I think it’s a little creepy when the old guy asks his students, Will you be my friend?,” he told me.