Dear colleagues and friends,
February seems to blow by faster than any other month. I can’t believe that we are nearly midway through.
Today, February 13, my mother turns 80. We treated her to cake and lunch on Sunday to celebrate. I am reminded how fortunate I am to have my mother nearby. It’s a joy to spend these special occasions with her and I hope we will have many more birthday celebrations.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about my mom in the lead up to this milestone birthday and feel like I need to acknowledge the great influence she’s had on my career path and commitment to working in higher education at liberal arts colleges.
My mother is a 1959 graduate of Augustana, where she majored in English. She speaks of “dear old Augie” more now than she did when I was growing up. It’s a nice way for the two of us to bond. However, her real influence came when she encouraged both my sister and me to consider and ultimately attend a liberal arts college.
I am sure my mother knew from her own experience that Glenda and I would benefit from a liberal arts education. And, we both did. My sister attended Midland Lutheran College (now Midland University) and I attended Gettysburg College.
Looking back, my mom (and my dad who doubled majored in English and Classics at the University of Nebraska before seminary) knew something about the value of the liberal arts and being engaged deeply in learning. They pushed my sister and me to take a much harder path, considering that most of our friends attended public universities.
Today, my mom’s 80th, seems like a good time to say thank you.
A thought I can’t get out of my mind
On Sunday morning as I was pulling up to the front doors of the church to pick up my family, I noticed a guy walking out of the church with his family wearing a long, elegant dark overcoat. In addition, I noticed his knit stocking cap, which didn’t fit it at all. This gentleman is always dressed impeccably well. I took a little harder look at the stocking cap and noticed a very familiar color green and a very familiar logo—the John Deere logo.
At that moment I recollected seeing this same man at the grocery store a few weeks ago, with his two young daughters, and he had on a very rugged barn coat, again with the John Deere logo on it.
I am not sure why exactly, but I found myself asking, “why is it that John Deere employees take such great pride in their company?”
Now, I know that you might be thinking that I don’t know enough people who work at Deere or my case study—this one guy—is insufficient. But, as an outsider, there seems to be something special about Deere—perhaps even a bit cult-like. Those of us living in the QCA know the type and know what I am talking about—the work there, they wear the gear proudly and their garages have lots of green things. There seems to be a fidelity that is pretty special.
I think I found myself thinking about this because I don’t always see this in higher education, among employees.
My impression of Deere employees is that they love the place and what it does.
I do see a lot of that at Augustana and at many other places, but we can be our biggest critics, too. We spend a lot of time identifying and solving problems. We spend time thinking about what others are doing and how they do it better than we do. Personally, I do this a lot more than I should.
One wonders if we should be more intentional about taking stock of and celebrating what we do well, the lives we change and that most of what we do is better than damn good—it’s great? Shouldn’t we take more time to celebrate what we do well and the incredible impact we have on students? Shouldn’t we be able to muster up the same pride that the tractor makers do?
I am sure that not everything is perfect at Deere; I read some of the reviews on Glassdoor (had never heard of this before) and know that some employees believe Deere focuses too much on quarterly performance and intern have too much downtime. But, the guy in the big knit stocking cap has me convinced otherwise and left me with the impression that he loves the place and takes great pride in being a part of the organization.
One Thing Two things I think is are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
Men, Commit to mentor women—A new acquaintance of mine posted the something to Facebook last week with the simply comment “Yes!” It was a new project sponsored by Lean In, for which Sheryl Sandberg is responsible. This effort, #MentorHer, her is a reaction to recent data indicating that in the wake of the #MeToo movement that men have a growing reluctance to mentor women. I was inspired to visit it the site and learn more. While doing so it also dawned on me that all but two of my direct reports are women, which led me to wonder am I doing enough to mentor? I know I have room to grow in this area, but the advice is pretty straightforward and I think I can do a better job of what is required: commit to equal access, advocate for a woman, and give actionable advice. I think I can do better and hope people will hold me accountable. I commit to #mentorher
Something for you (and me) to think about
On a plane yesterday I finally finished George Anders’ “You can do anything: The surprising power of a ‘useless’ liberal arts education.” It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. Read it if you work on a liberal arts college campus and please recommend it to all of your friend who are in or approaching the college search process.
When describing a set of companies who believe that their success is dependent upon employees who understand and value the liberal arts, Anders offers that these companies are those who value employees “wanting to work on the frontier, being able to find insights, choosing the right approach, reading the room and inspiring others.”
This phrase stopped me in my tracks and I immediately made note of it.
What a great passage!
What an inspiring take on what a liberal arts college graduate is trained to do!
I believe this is what we are doing.
At our best, we are training our graduates to work on the frontier.
At our best, we are training our graduates to find insights.
At our best, we are training our graduates to choose the right approach.
At our best, we are training our graduates to read a room.
And, at our best, we are training our graduates to inspire others.
While these things all reinforce Andres’ premise that liberal arts college graduates can do anything, I think I will stick to telling them that they will be able to do all of those amazing things listed above. That’s an outcome!
I think of all of my friends and all of the Augustana grad who embody those qualities and know that what Anders writes is accurate.
There is no more noble mission, in my view.
Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?
If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest) to the list. I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission