Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On mentoring and words of wisdom

Wow! I finally finshed the AV department budget report about mid-day to day. Good news, though it as put me behind on everything else. Here is an excerpt for posterity. Pretty exciting stuff:

This report provides a snapshot of AU’s AV Department. It recommends changes that would provide services more efficiently, track performance, maintain equipment at a high level of reliability, plan for meeting capital replacement needs realistically and ensure business continuity. There are two sections (see also the detailed “Contents,” below.)
Facilities and Installed Equipment. This section details an inventory of portable equipment and equipment installed in instructional spaces, major venues (Bender Arena and other ‘major event’ spaces) and the Katzen Center. Estimates of the equipment’s capital value and operating/ maintenance expenses are detailed. Potential problem areas requiring urgent attention, especially the Kay Spiritual Life Center and the University Club in Mary Gradon Center are identified. A response to the Provost’s Office memorandum on Technology Enhancements via the Capital Replacement Fund is provided that places somewhat greater emphasis on enhancing existing instructional facilities, coupled with improved scheduling, before expending funds to equip new ones.

More interesting, perhaps, is the note to AU faculty members on the upcoming Ann Ferren Teaching Conference, a sixteen year AU tradition. Normally students would not be likely to seem the periodic, semi-personal communications I write to faculty, but they might provide a useful window. I will share others in this space if the sprit moves me.

Dear Colleagues,

Already, you probably know that AU’s Sixteenth Annual Ann Ferren Teaching Conference is upcoming, on Friday January 7th, beginning at noon (preceded by 10:30 technology workshops on “Blackboard for Beginners”, “Blackboard 6.1” and “Endnote.”)
The conference continues a long-standing AU tradition, but will differ from its predecessors in several respects.

Holding the conference on Friday, and beginning later in the day responds to requests from many colleagues. For some, Friday is a day of religious observance. Others simply prefer to spend Saturdays with their families. For last minute types, like me, who are still revising syllabi and course plans on the weekend before classes, the conference may provide additional grist for that creative process.

Even more than last year, thanks to Lyn Stallings’ leadership colleagues have been involved in a lengthy program design process that began early last spring. The emphasis on approaches that foster interactive learning, shifting students from being passive recipients of information to engaged, and discerning (even demanding!), learners reflects this. If you check out our website,
www.american.edu/cte and click on the conference website (Faculty > Conferences and Workshops > Ann Ferren Teaching Conference ), you will see a number of variations on this theme, reflecting many contributions, from many colleagues, ffrom the vantage points of diverse disciplines and discourses.

If you heard Pat Aufterheide’s remarkable convocation address (or have heard her speak on any occasion) you know that the opportunity to hear her speak personally to us about teaching will, in itself be worth setting the Friday afternoon before classes begin aside. I expect a compelling, evocative keynote. I expect it to help me think newly about teaching. I expect to be supported in attaining a goal virtually all of us share: empowering our students to become engaged, passionate learners.

Finally I want to say something about the experiment that will conclude the Conference, beginning about 3:30, our Words of Wisdom reception. What is this all about?

Some years ago, a young colleague was my office neighbor while she was going through the most stressful time in an academic career, the last pre-tenure year. Having both been denied tenure and awarded tenure allowed me to share personal experiences as I tried to be a caring, supportive and yet realistic mentor. But it is not only elderly colleagues, such as myself, who have something to offer. When I want to learn about how to blog more effectively, I seek out Patrick Thaddeus Jackson. If I was going to teach a large undergraduate class, Mark Walker’s phone might be ringing off the hook. If I was planning to raise funds for a new CTE education project, Sarah Irvine Belson would soon be asking that I make appointments before dropping in to her office.

All of us have something to offer to each other in areas that might be termed academic mentoring, research mentoring, AU ‘culture’ mentoring, tenure-process mentoring, pedagogical mentoring, community-context mentoring, and the like. All of us – older community members like me, and dynamic young scholars like my ID Program colleague, Miguel Carter, have something distinctive to contribute that can improve the effectiveness and quality of life another one of us.

But all too often, whether we do or do not benefit from such potential contributions, is left to serendipity.

Our Words of Wisdom reception is intended to begin a process of changing this; of facilitating and empowering a more vibrant mentoring community among American University faculty members.

Seeking advice from many sources, Lyn Stallings and I are designing a process for the reception that is intended to seek out mentoring needs and begin drawing fourth a collective body of wisdom and experience that can respond to those needs. I could provide you with some of the details we have worked out so far. In fact, Lyn asked me to do so, but this message is already longer than I like to write. Suffice it to say that we intend to create an evocative, engaging process in an area of great need and great opportunity for all of us.

And it will be only the first step toward the goal of not leaving the mentoring needs of our community to serendipity. Among other things, we intend to follow up the reception by creating an on line Faculty-Community Mentoring Corner.

Serving as CTE Director has given me the opportunity to know many more of you personally than would otherwise have been the case. That is the job’s greatest reward. We are a rich, intellectually and creatively gifted, incredibly hard working, dedicated and caring community of scholar-teacher-performer-artist-activists. How few opportunities we have to gather together in the same space, sharing common concerns and each other.

This is the gift that the Ann Ferren Teaching Conference provides.

I look forward to being there, and to seeing you there.


Nearly 1 o'clock. How did it get to be so late!


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