Attitude can make all the difference

Pick up any self-help book, motivational story or divine inspiration from writers like Stephen Covey, Daniel Pink, Ken Blanchard or Jim Collins and within the first few pages you’ll find details about the importance of one’s attitude and the value of the book. Quotes like the following litter the dust cover “a very important, convincingly argued, and mind-altering book”; “an amazing resource that can help even the most successful organizations become more successful” or “a timeless and unforgettable message…share it with everyone you know.”

While all these types of books can be helpful (I know I’ve read my fair share) and realizing that most people don’t; I think choosing your attitude is more important than most other things we choose, including our wardrobe. Last week I was traveling for work and saw evidence of this at almost every juncture. The captain of our United flight from Chicago to Phoenix was retiring that day and invited all of the kids (both big and small) into the cockpit and then proudly stood by and thanked everyone for flying United as we departed. The Michigan Tech alums that I met with that are both close to one hundred years of age and live in a very nice retirement community. Their energy was amazing and they commented about how overwhelmed they are because of all there is to do. I also had the good fortune of meeting a 2009 Michigan Tech alum that just happened to sit in my same row on a plane and connected with me because of the Michigan Tech pullover that I had on. Needless to say, another proud upbeat Husky. Luckily due to another great snowstorm in the Yoop (attitude remember) my flight was canceled and I was re-booked on a flight the next morning. From Rae at the United Club to Lauren (the flight attendant on her first day) to Captain Andrew, the pilot, they were over the top helpful, funny and had incredible attitudes about the entire adventure. There are plenty of books to encourage and inspire us although they aren’t really necessary if we simply take time to absorb the positive moments that surround us.

Life is interesting, every day can be an adventure and the journey is far more interesting when we enjoy/embrace each situation and look for the silver lining in each. It’s like self-help author, Richard Carlson suggests “don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff”. With finals upon us and graduation just a few days away, I hope that you’ll take time to reflect and find joy in each and every moment you have. Be happy, grateful and present and I think you’ll find the right attitude will join you for the journey.

A worthwhile investment

During the recent Olympics you may have heard about snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington and her father, who made a trip to market every week to sell a cow to fund Kaitlyn’s snowboarding. Similarly, as a kid I was very involved with our local 4-H program and it was understood that the funds raised each year from the sale of my market project (rabbits, sheep, etc.) would go into my college savings account. I also traded a horse and some of my hard-earned cash for my first car. Although most of society doesn’t have cows or horses to sell/trade, these are real-life examples of making an investment in the future.

Much like Kaitlyn and me, the Business Leaders of Michigan are concerned about investments—or, perhaps, lack thereof—in the state of Michigan. Last fall, they and the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan released a report delineating the value of Michigan‘s investment in higher education. It’s commonly known that those with a degree are more likely to command a higher salary, have less unemployment, and are less likely to live in poverty. A few weeks ago the Pew Research Center released a similar report on the value of attending college. The report concluded that:

• a college education is worth more today;
• college benefits go beyond earnings;
• college grads are more satisfied with their jobs;
• the cost of not going to college has risen;
• college grads say college is worth it; and
• college majors matter.

I know our students and their families are smart enough to recognize all of these points, but there are three in particular that I’d like to emphasize.

• College education is worth more today. If you look at average earnings of today’s grads, there is a nearly $20,000-per-year difference between those with a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree. The gap is significantly higher in engineering fields, with averages being closer to $35,000–40,000.
• The benefits go beyond earnings. Millennials have far lower unemployment rates, are less likely to be living in poverty, are more likely to be married, and (the big one!) are less likely to be living in their parents’ home.
• Major matters. Grads in science in engineering are more likely to say that their current job is closely related to the field they studied and least likely to say a different major would have prepared them for the job they really wanted.

By virtue of being at Michigan Tech and enrolled in college, I know our students realize the value of a college education. It’s also blatantly obvious that our employers realize the importance of a highly educated, skilled, and motivated workforce. Our world is a much different place today than it was twenty (or even five) years ago. But this change is exciting because of our students and the alums who paved the way, opened the doors and minds of others, and helped us to embrace change and possibility head on.

It’s a no-brainer that the investment you make today will undoubtedly reap great rewards tomorrow. Michigan Tech’s recent Generations of Discovery Campaign (and the $215 million from alumni and friends that it raised) is yet another investment that will pave the way for students and others. And like many of our students and their parents, my many years of 4-H projects helped me to make an investment for a lifetime in education. The pace of change is rapid and it’s important that each of us, the BLM, and the Presidents Council are working to ensure that government leaders and others continue to make this investment in higher education for Michigan and our future.

We are what we Tweet

In December I attended a session at a conference where the presenter talked about “leading by tweeting.” The facilitator professed that tweeting helps leaders and others establish a connection, to share their personalities and provide insight into our daily lives in a different way. Those who know me know that I attempt to stay on the cusp of social media and embrace the tools that our students use. I did say attempt, because I grew up in the western desert of Utah/Nevada minus electricity until I was nine years old, and without telephones until I was a in junior in college. OMG! Can you imagine life without a phone? Yes, we survived, and some might say most of us turned out okay.

All that said, in an effort to become more adept and progressive at social media and to be a student of our students, over the past year I have attempted to tweet more regularly. And just this week, I along with our leadership team attempted to educate our thirty-eight directors about Twitter, tweeting, and the lingo that comes with. The challenge that we proposed to each director was to become well versed enough to tweet the most important highlights from their department. Yep, somewhat of a challenge to say what you need to say in 140 characters or less.

Started in 2006 and now used by some 500 million individuals posting approximately 340 million tweets a day, Twitter is definitely worth tweeting about. At Tech alone, Twitter accounts for almost 80% of our social news mentions and shares.

We are all familiar with the adage you are what you eat. Since we often talk about social media and what we post, I thought I’d take this a step further and suggest that you are what you tweet. Yep, what we tweet says quite a bit about us. What I found is that the bulk of my tweets can be categorized into information I hoped to share, things that I care about, and ideas or thinking that is either thought provoking or just might inspire us into action. For example, if you took a look @LesPCook you will find the following information that I shared:

How awesome is this? Marilyn Swift from Swifts Hardware mobile broom sales for broomball! #michigantech #overthetop pic.twitter.com/sXfVuicjbD

Congrats to Pheonix Copley being named WCHA player of the week! Nice work. #followthehuskies #michigantech #mtuhuskies #lifeinthecrease

Investing in the future Michigan Tech raises $215 million dollars! Go huskies! #michigantech #exceedingexp pic.twitter.com/kpsIZqW0Ji

Employers, Students Brave Blizzard to Build Their Futures At Michigan Tech « CBS Detroit http://cbsloc.al/Xeo7JH


Or random tweets about something I had feelings or cared about:

Leadershape hits the DMG Leadership with heart  Daily Mining Gazette http://shar.es/99bfH  #michigantech #shapingrfuture @leadershapemtu

Mindful walking w Thich Nhat Hanh in Boston Commons. #lifeisamazing pic.twitter.com/xE6GYIRRBy

Like father, like son. Gotta love orientation #orientation2013 pic.twitter.com/t6Bc91emzB

Clothesline project comes to life at Tech. Responsible relationship days are everyday. #michigantech pic.twitter.com/azaKIFZtz5

Adison turned 15 today, graduated from a razor scooter to behind the wheel #getofftheroad

#naspa13 working on a college campus is a true gift and a privilege- pat whitely


Or provocative articles and interesting reads:


19 Things Remarkable People Think Every Day | http://Inc.com http://www.inc.com/ss/jeff-haden/things-remarkable-people-think-every-day …

Love this article! Four Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your People, And Dinner With You Isn’t One of Them | LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131104192204-86541065-four-sure-fire-ways-to-motivate-your-people-and-dinner-with-you-isn-t-one-of-them

Fast Company ‏@FastCompany Sep 4 This is your brain on meditation http://f-st.co/st7Lcdb pic.twitter.com/C0fLYw2Xnu

15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy http://worldobserveronline.com/?p=30

It Matters Whether Our Students Succeed http://huff.to/1deoPvU via @HuffPostCollege

Fourth Grader’s Essay on Marriage Equality Goes Viral, Earns National Praise | Parenting – Yahoo! Shine http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/4th-grader-s-eloquent-defense-of-marriage-equality-183606683.html

College Degree ‘Most Important Investment’ Students, Parents Can Make | University Business Magazine http://www.universitybusiness.com/news/college-degree-most-important-investment-students-parents-can-make

By now you probably have a sense of what @LesPCook is about. If not, I invite you to follow me.  I heard a funny quote about Twitter: “On Twitter we get excited if someone follows us. In real life we get really scared and run away.”  Twitter is similar in many ways to other social media outlets, you can sign up for an account and never use it or you can easily become absorbed in it. It doesn’t replace the face-to-face contact so essential to relationships and our beings, but does provide another outlet to share, communicate, and afford us additional opportunities to learn about people and our world. It has been said that Twitter is not a technology, it’s a conversation and it’s happening with or without you. Just like what you eat for lunch, it’s a choice and you get to decide if you want to be a part of it.

Do you hear what I hear?

You probably don’t, but I wish you could. Just last week, I was visiting with an alumnus who has been out of Tech for fewer than ten years. As we talked, he said, “I applied to Tech and five others. When I received my acceptance letter to Tech, I threw the other five away… best decision I ever made, and worth every dollar invested.”

Over the course of the last few months, I have traversed the terrain of Wyoming, navigated the “T” in Boston, and explored much of southwestern Michigan and Chicago. I’ve met with owners of construction companies and startups, doctors in fellowships and residencies, senior consulting engineers, vice presidents and presidents, post-docs involved in cutting-edge research, and others just beginning or nearly concluding very successful careers. The resounding refrain I hear is about the value of a Michigan Tech education and how well it prepared these people for their chosen professions. Just this week, we received a very touching letter from the wife of a 1957 grad who recently passed away; it included minor details about his death with a personal note scrawled at the bottom: “He owed his success to MTU.”

It is a powerful thing to work with students as they learn to create the future; it’s equally as powerful to spend time with alumni who are living this future. From a doctor who came to the rescue during the recent Boston Marathon bombing to a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who served in Afghanistan to a young alumnus working as the lead construction engineer on one of the largest fertilizer plants in the world, these individuals are living the future we describe. I met one alumnus who told me about how he’s using nanotechnology probes inserted into cells to stimulate cell growth to speed up healing processes, while another is on his second successful startup providing manufacturing solutions to industry. My visits with our alumni are powerful and incredibly insightful.

On top of their professional careers, Tech graduates also find time to be involved in their communities. One commented about her involvement with Destination Imagination. Another served as vice chair of the student arm of the American Medical Association. Another is the coach of a university crew team, others are involved as hockey coaches, rally truck drivers, outdoor enthusiasts, and mentors for youth in their communities.

Last week, I attended a conference where Olympic athlete and philanthropist Jackie Joyner Kersee commented, “It’s not the loud voice among us but the quiet whispers and courageous voices of our students that allows our work to shine.” To this I would add the voice of our alumni, for it’s obvious that these individuals are living the mission we so earnestly strive to create.

Can you hear it? I hope so. Our mission is to prepare students to create the future, and it is evident we are succeeding.

Resume or eulogy?

Are you living your eulogy or your resume?” So goes the title of Arianna Huffington’s blog in a recent edition of Huffington Post that just so happened to coincide with the Career Fair. Her post reminded me of the importancour résumée of our work in higher education and, more precisely, in Student Affairs. Huffington defined what she calls the Third Metric, which redefines success as more than power and money. In her mind, success also includes well-being, wisdom, and one’s ability to wonder and give. The premise is that because we are so consumed with our work, i.e. creating our résumé, we lose sight of what really matters: who we care about, how we engage in life, how we treat others and the way in which our passions our manifested, i.e. our eulogy.

So how do you decide between creating your résumé and living your eulogy? As students, you came to Tech for a reason: to get an education that will prepare you for a successful career and meaningful life after graduation. Yes, this education comes from lectures in the classroom, hours in labs, and energy spent on Senior Design projects—but it also comes from the process through which it is obtained. As educators we challenge you to consider all of the things that contribute to a robust resume: scholarly endeavors, leadership activities, and other experiences that will make you stand out and differentiate you from others. At the same time, we should be conscious of helping students to develop good life habits that include balance, exercise, rich social interaction, and positive relationships.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have watched or participated in numerous events and activities where I have seen these rich and meaningful experiences (the process) come to life. You can see this through the enthusiasm shared with new students and families during move-in and welcome week, the laughter and plentiful hugs at K-Day, the confidence at the Career Fair, the immense pride that comes from Parade of Nations, and the expressions on the faces of those at the cardboard boat races when their boat capsizes. And while one may argue that these are all pieces that contribute to one’s résumé, in my mind they are more a reflection of a eulogy. Building résumés and getting jobs are important, but in the end, it is about enjoying the journey and making a difference in the lives of others. I am confident that through your engagement as bright, motivated, and inspiring students, you are well on your way to doing just that.

Investing in Education

A few weeks ago, one of our gift officers and I embarked on a development trip across Wyoming. I was up at 7:00, met with an alum at 8:00, jumped in the car and headed across the plateau to meet another at noon and then another later in the evening. It was an interesting group; a mine manager, a forester in charge of timber management for the Big Horn National Forest, and a former corporate executive; each had rich stories to share about their days at Michigan Tech and some even more so about their careers beyond. After nearly a week on the road, some 2000 miles and meeting with loyal, passionate and successful alums one quickly realizes how lucky we are to have their support.

Similarly and simultaneous to my visits out west, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a special feature section about the Gates Foundation and the impact of their investments in education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at $36 billion is the world’s largest private granting organization. Investing some 472 million from initiatives designed to improve college readiness to access and completion the foundation is making a marked difference in reshaping American Higher Education today and likely for a long time into the future.

On June 30 Michigan Tech saw the completion of the Generations of Discovery Capital Campaign. With a goal of 200 million and a successful completion, it is evident that the campaign, much like the Gates Foundation, has impacted Tech today and has helped shape the University agenda for the distant future. Just this summer we have seen these funds at work with the creation of the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success, the new video scoreboard at the Mac, the new plaza and gardens outside the library, and through millions of dollars in scholarships provided to our students. One doesn’t have to look far to realize these contributions from generous alums, friends and corporate partners not only fund and support the mission and vision of the University but also help to advance and sustain it into the future.

The trip across Wyoming, much like the work of the Gates Foundation is an investment in Tech and more broadly, higher education. With classes beginning next week, students, faculty/staff and the University in general is thankful for the support of our alumni/friends who like Gates see the value of education and understand the importance of this investment.

Hope & Experience

Every year at Spring Commencement, I realize how fast time flies. It seems like just yesterday when I crossed the stage to receive my own bachelor’s degree. Little did I know at that time that I would continue on, doing it twice more. This habit of lifelong learning has evolved throughout my career in higher education.

As I reflect back on the conclusion of my degree, I vividly recall feeling a myriad of emotions—hope and excitement for what awaited me, fear of heading out into the world, and even a bit of emptiness and sadness. Each fall and spring, as the semesters come to a close and many of our students prepare to launch into their careers, I sense that they too have many of these same feelings. I hear the excitement in their voices as they talk about their next adventures, but also see the tears in their eyes as they share their feelings about the conclusion of their years at Tech. From Blizzard T. Husky, a biological sciences grad, a hockey player, a sled head and our student commencement speaker; their sentiments about Tech were touching and abundant.

Similarly, I see some of these same feelings from students participating in the internationally recognized LeaderShape Institute. I recently had the good fortune of serving as a lead faculty member for the program at Cornell University. Watching students arrive on day one, I could see the wonder on their faces and sense the enthusiasm in their strides. Over the next six days, the students were given numerous opportunities to learn about themselves, others, and the world in which we live. They experienced feelings of happiness, uncertainty, and vulnerability while focusing on their core values and learning to lead with integrity. Like Tech students at graduation, these LeaderShape students left feeling hopeful, and a bit sentimental.

Feelings of hope and joy should be expected as we journey forward and move from one chapter to the next. But feelings of sadness and loss are equally important. While they may be in conflict with one another, these are the feelings that remind us about the power of life’s experiences. Like the four or five years spent at Tech or the six days at LeaderShape, every day is an opportunity, an experience to live. The power of both experience and emotion is what fuels our happiness and evokes strong feelings of where we’ve been—and where we’re going.

Campus Matters

Almost daily you can log on or pick up a newspaper and read about the changing dynamics of higher education and the perceived lack of importance of the on-campus experience.  While I see the value of online education and can appreciate the convenience of MOOCs, I tend to agree with Chronicle of Higher Education’s Jeff Selingo, a prolific writer and commentator on the future of higher education. In a recent article, “Why the College Campus Experience Still Matters,” Selingo suggested that there would always be a place for the residential campus experience. I couldn’t agree more.

This really hit home for me a few weeks ago, as I bounced from one activity to another on a snowy Saturday (imagine that). My day began with welcoming more three-hundred prospective students and their family members and guests at Preview Day. Meeting these students and listening to their questions was, as always, energizing and exciting. Their hunger for education and the life experience they are about to embark upon is refreshing.

From Preview Day I jumped over to McCardle Theater to check in on TEDx Houghton, Michigan Tech’s first Ted Talks event. If you’re like me you’ve probably seen or listened to quite a few Ted Talks. How cool is that we were able to establish our own? Ideas shared over the course of some twenty different presentations ranged from happiness and wave particle duality, making waves in a kiddie pool, freeing energy from the grid, and the power of non-conformity. If tickets sales were an indicator of success, this one was a hit—the 100 available tickets sold out in five minutes.

Later that evening my wife and I attended Keweenaw Pride’s Drag Show, which culminated annual Pride Week activities at Tech. Nearly every seat in the Rozsa was filled as spectators watched the queens perform routines that were flamboyant, amusing, and—perhaps to some—outlandish. I’m not sure where they shop, but I’m guessing most of their outfits didn’t come from anyplace near Houghton.

These are just a sampling of the events that occurred on campus one Saturday. That same day you could have also participated in STANDATHON (an event to raise money for Bay Cliff Lodge), attended African Night, or gone geocaching with the Outdoor Adventure Program. This is typical for a Saturday at Tech, and there is so much more that makes the Tech experience what we all know and love.

Talk to anyone and they will confide that Tech is about the experience and it’s the people that make the experience. The onslaught of online options is out there, but nothing will replace what you get from being here.

An article titled “The Limits of the Virtual: Why Stores and Conferences Won’t Go Away” might have stated it best: “There is nothing as compelling as direct human interaction. It strengthens trust, creates serendipity, and fosters community in an irreplaceable way.”

Being content

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with one of our students about the challenge of balancing the need for constant stimulation with the desire to simply be content. I was reminded of this discussion when a colleague suggested I read an article about a hospice nurse and the five regrets that dying people had shared with her.

According to the article, there was no mentions of bungee jumping or more sex. The regrets were simpler and far less exotic. The one that really resonated with me was the wish to let yourself be happier. “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their lives again.”

Like many of you, I took a brief pause over Spring Break and headed west—to visit family, host an alumni event, and spend time with a group of our students skiing in Utah on Alternative Spring Break. The conversation about being content and living a life that matters seemed to reverberate throughout my visit.

My brother mentioned that he could simply saddle up his horse and ride off across the flats without a care in the world. While driving on Hwy 50, distinctly known as one of the loneliest roads in America, I passed numerous herds of sheep and herders there to watch over them. Miles away from the hubbub of the rest of the world and likely minus any high-tech tools, my guess is they were happy.

Riding up the lifts, I had a conversation with a student about his drive to make an impact on our world but also to find contentment and happiness. Like many Tech students, he was attracted to the University because of our strong academics; the unique natural environment; and others like him, crazy smart. Bright, motivated, adventurous students attract other bright, motivated, and adventurous students. The challenge is that bright and motivated often mirrors itself as “overachiever,” which can sometimes get in the way of simply being happy and content. It takes a special knack to find this, and it may not always be easy.

As the snow stops falling and begins to melt, you put your final touches on projects, and we begin to make our way to the conclusion of the semester, I encourage you to consider what makes you happy. In the midst of our drive to succeed, we need to pause—perhaps be more like my brother, the sheep herder, or the skier on top of the mountain—and to remember how good it feels to laugh, have silliness in our lives, and be a little bit crazy.

Normal Weather in the U.P. — Yeah Right!

Who would have ever imagined that the largest Spring Career Fair in the history of Michigan Tech would occur during one of the nastiest blizzards in recent memory? Not likely? Yeah, right!

Having lived in the Copper Country for almost ten years now, I distinctly remember at least eight to ten times I’ve heard people comment, “Oh this isn’t normal weather for the U.P.” As a matter of fact, I heard it when we came to town a few months before I started the job. It was June and the thermometer was in the nineties, not normal for the U.P.

The first time that my wife and I loaded the kids in the car and made our trek to Copper Harbor, I can still see how big the kids’ eyes were when we made the quick turnoff to see the giant snow thermometer. Luckily, we were told later on that although 280 was the actual average inches of snow in the Keweenaw, it wouldn’t all come at once. There would be some years when we’d likely get more, and many others with not nearly as much. The first winter we went for forty days without sunshine–not 280 inches, but lots of snow. I was assured that this was not normal weather for the U.P. More recently we’ve had years with snow levels at record lows and temps of record highs in January, again not normal weather in the U.P.

One fall we had summer almost until November and the following year in early October we had snow for cardboard boat races–not normal weather in the U.P.

This year, and perhaps these past few weeks, you would step back and say wow, OMG, not normal weather in the U.P. To think that I have been here almost ten years and seen Michigan Tech closed twice, and then this week rolled around and we closed twice–yeah, I know: not normal weather in the U.P.

I’m not an engineer or a scientist, but I think anyone with much sense has figured out that maybe there is no such thing as normal weather in the U.P. Not sure, but just maybe.