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.

Sounds of the season

There’s a briskness in the air. Although fresh and cool, it comes with a bite and a sense of calm.

The sound of water shooting from a garden hose as it hits the bottom of five-gallon plastic buckets, followed by sloshing and mixing as shovels mimic life-sized egg beaters.

Strewn throughout campus are piles of snow and yellow, skeletal structures with lights dangling on wires like birds on power lines. You will hear the sound of beeping from front-end loaders as they move piles of snow, and dumptrucks as they haul it away from campus. Taylor Swift and Fun can be heard blaring from a car stereo–doors propped open, bass throbbing. The connection between fine-tuned brooms and a hard plastic ball reverberates throughout the east end of campus as three broomball matches battle on simultaneously; cheers and jeers erupt from those watching.

Listen closely and you may hear the blaring of “In heaven there is no beer” or the “Blue skirt waltz.”

In my first blog post, I asked that your actions speak louder than your lips. These are the actions of Michigan Tech as we prepare for our biggest and most celebrated tradition of the year, Winter Carnival. These are the sounds of the season; this is the spirit of Michigan Tech.

May your life preach more loudly than your lips

I received this quote a few weeks ago in my email inbox as my daily dose of inspiration from the LeaderShape Institute.  The quote by William Channing resonated particularly with me because of the work we do day in and out with students to prepare them to create the future and make an impact on our world.  The beauty of the Michigan Tech experience is that our students are bright, motivated, adventurous, and humble!

You don’t have to look far to find widespread examples of our students’ lives speaking louder than their lips. Since August, our students have assisted with moving and helping to relocate senior citizens after a fire destroyed their apartment building.  These same students came to the rescue when a fire occurred in our own archives in the library.  A senior design team built two prototypes of hand cranked, three-wheeled bike to be used by the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded War Veterans;  or you can watch it cruise down the road.  Over break the Michigan Tech Hockey Team brought home the MacInnes Cup after a drought (or perhaps a freeze-out) of thirty-two years.  As we all know, Tech has been known as a hockey school for years, and this championship breathes new life into the program. Men’s Football won the GLIAC North Division title and Women’s Soccer had an almost perfect season. And what about 700-plus students who made an impact on the Keweenaw by participating in Make Difference Day in October?

Nearly everywhere you look, from the woods to research labs to companies that hire our students, you’ll find proof of Huskies living lives that matter. As we delve into a new year, I look forward to embracing and supporting our students in their creative endeavors, celebrating their success…and allowing our lives to preach more loudly than our lips.

As we stand at the beginning of a New Year, I challenge each and everyone to take some time to consider how you will live your life in a way that enlivens your spirit, strengthens your foundation, fosters your creativity, and enriches your perspective.  For me I particularly like the treatise put forth by the Holstee company which they proclaim is more about promoting a lifestyle than a clothing company.  “This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”…so goes the Holstee Manifesto.  You can check out the video at Holstee Manifesto.

Happy New Year and may the life you lead speak louder than your lips.