Tag Archives: college

Signs That Summer Is Turning To Fall

Late summer--loud buzzing song during an afternoon of mowing the lawn. I look up and the singer is hanging on a narrow branch of the tulip tree.

Late summer–loud buzzing song during an afternoon of mowing the lawn. I look up and the singer is hanging on a narrow branch of the tulip tree.

The first editorial meeting for the MMU Times, the student newspaper at Mount Mercy University, was today.

Like an inevitable tide, it feels like fall is sweeping in. This week is Iowa Private College Week, a reminder, as if one were needed, that the next semester is basically two weeks away.

Sign in the Mount Mercy Sisters of Mercy U Center advertises 2015 Fall Faculty Series on the Vietnam War.

Sign in the Mount Mercy Sisters of Mercy U Center advertises 2015 Fall Faculty Series on the Vietnam War.

What happened to you, summer of 2015? In weather terms, you were mostly gorgeous, although you also blew in all kinds of tempests in my life. Still, where did the time go?

And yet, it was a thrill to see the students in the newsroom again today, eager young adults ready to take on the world and tell it like it is. An enthusiastic student news staff is an awesome thing, and a pretty good tonic for any regrets at the fading out of summer’s free time.

So I’m back on campus at least four days this week, and no doubt will be working more-or-less full time from now on. I know, I know, those of you with 9 to 5 full-time, year-round work are not exactly dripping with sympathy—although in my defense, 60-hour work weeks are bearing down on me soon enough.

Bee on a cone flower. Lots of these by the side walkway between my driveway and the gate to my back yard--lots of flowers and bees.

Bee on a cone flower. Lots of these by the side walkway between my driveway and the gate to my back yard–lots of flowers and bees.

The oddest thing to me about becoming a professor after a career in the “real world” is how uneven the academic sense of time is. June drifts by in a fog of recovery and resting and lazy days, July the drumbeat starts to pick up, and then, bam, August. And after August, the frantic rush and pressure of the school year.

Yes, I know, longer breaks are a perk of the academic life. But until you’ve taught full time and survive the frenzy of a finals week, you might want to reconsider how green the grass on the other side actually is.

And so, we are on the verge. A new school year dawns. Am I ready? Heck no. But I have a couple of weeks …

Not a spider, so don't freak out. It is a Daddy Long Legs on a marigold. Looks freaky, totally harmless unless your an aphid.

Not a spider, so don’t freak out. It is a Daddy Long Legs on a marigold. Looks freaky, totally harmless unless you’re an aphid.


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What Would I Ask If I Could Ask Anything?

Looking down at the crowed in the U Center, MMU, this morning. This is during interview sessions, later even more would pack the center. Given the snow this morning, turnout was great.

Looking down at the crowed in the U Center, MMU, this morning. This is during interview sessions, later even more would pack the center. Given the snow this morning, turnout was great.

I had an interesting morning today, participating in “Scholarship Day” at Mount Mercy University. MMU gives out one full-tuition scholarship each year, and other scholarship awards, as a result of various factors, including how well the invited incoming first-year student do in interview sessions with faculty and staff.

Today, I was paired with the director of financial aid, which was nice because I haven’t had a reason to sit down and chat with her before. That’s one of the perks of Scholarship Day—being paired, as a faculty member, with someone on the staff.

The kids were bright and eager, and a bit nervous. They handled our questions well.

But we were using a script. It’s a decent script, but it got me to thinking. What would I really want to know about an incoming student? Here are some ideas of my questions:

  • Do you laugh at lame jokes told by old people? Especially if those old people are college professors?
  • The Beatles arrive in America 50 years ago, on Feb. 7, 1964. Library of Congress photo from wikimedia.org.

    The Beatles arrive in America 50 years ago, on Feb. 7, 1964. Library of Congress photo from wikimedia.org.

    Can you name a Beatles song, or a Beatle? Have you ever heard of “The White Album?”

  • In the past month, what’s the longest period of waking time you’ve spent without checking your mobile phone?
  • Can you walk up a hill every morning and recognize that it’s an opportunity to get your blood flowing and not a deficit of nature or an evil plot? In particular, can you refrain from complaining about walking up said hill, especially when you make yourself look ridiculous to an old man who rides a bicycle up that same hill every morning?
  • Are you kind to squirrels? Are you scared of squirrels? Are you smart enough to know that there is no reason to feed squirrels? (Yes, yes, blog pals, hold on. I know, I’m not smart enough to avoid feeding squirrels. But, I don’t feed the aggressive ones found on a college campus—and neither should anybody else. They are too bold already).
  • Are you flexible when things don’t go completely as planned? If a professor tries an experiment and it’s not a wild success, do you trash her for trying? Can you handle change with grace and poise?
  • Will you try something new? For the first time, make music? Act on stage? Dance at a marathon? Cheer at a ball game? Play with Jell-O on a hillside? Do things you haven’t done before—take a chance just because you can?
  • Are you a picky eater? If the cafeteria doesn’t prepare the food exactly the way mom did, is that a crisis for you? If given an open-ended license to choose whatever you want to eat from a reasonable range, do you still whine about how bad the food is?
  • If you failed to learn in a particular class, is it always the teacher’s fault? If you get a poor grade, is it because the teacher didn’t “like” you? If you’re given a schedule at the start of a 14-week cycle and a paper is clearly listed as being due on Wednesday of week 6, do you blame someone else for not “reminding” you of what you’ve already been told? When you screw up, do you accept that you screwed up or do you blame others?
  • Are you willing to open your mind? Can you accept that there are other points of view? Do you recognize that you don’t know it all? Are you put off by the reality that the reason most college professors think that they are smarter than you is because most college professors are smarter than you? (I’ve got news, kids. You’re 18. Most janitors are smarter than you).

OK, so maybe the questions are a bit pejorative. And maybe I’m being an old curmudgeon. I suppose I have some standing for that role, and I wouldn’t want my list of questions to suggest that I didn’t enjoy meeting some pleasant young people today. I did. It’s just that there are other things I wonder about.

The fact that I might be curious about some of the answer doesn’t mean I would be rude enough to ask the questions. And composing my fake interview list also made we curious about something else: What questions would my students like to direct to their professors that they don’t often get a chance to ask?

Well, a number of my students write their own blogs. Final question: Any takers on that challenge?


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It Starts: And I Like Spiders and Snakes

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Not universal opinions, I know, and it is a contextual rule: I was at Prairewoods, a Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration retreat center in Hiawatha on Monday, cutting some dead limbs from pine trees, and photographing students and flowers and trees in between the work.

I didn’t see any snakes, which is too bad, because during last year’s service trip to Prairiewoods, I did, and I don’t mind seeing snakes in their native habitat. Given, of course, that they are Iowa snakes—we don’t run heavily into venomous serpents here, mostly it’s garter snakes. Technically, they do have venom, but it’s not strong enough to do much to you if you’re bigger than a cricket.

The day was cool and foggy, and quickly became sunny and muggy. It felt good to be outside and to do some work that is good for trees. I do like trees.

I hope the students enjoyed themselves, too. Sadly, I was unable to shower before a big community meeting at Mount Mercy, so I showed up in grungy clothes with wood chips on my shoulder. Anyway, additional photos are available on Mount Mercy’s Facebook page.

Later that day, I got to speak at Founder’s Day, the official starting ceremony at MMU. I was introducing Ben Wood, a student who is Editor of the Mount Mercy Times. He promoted student involvement as a key to college success, which it is, and I think he turned “I can” into an acronym that helped him make his point. Sadly, I didn’t take notes so I can’t say more about what Ben said. Another student spoke to promote international travel, so our incoming students heard from their peers that they should join things and travel the globe.

Well, amen.

Students, if you’re reading this, as you strive to change the world, first change yourself, both by stretching yourself beyond classes (Ben’s point) and by going places you’ve never been before (Jennie Dondlinger is the student who spoke on her trip to Europe with an MMU class).

Here’s what I said to set up Ben’s speech:

Hello, my name is Joe Sheller, and I’m an Associate Professor of Communication and faculty advisor for your student newspaper, the Mount Mercy Times.

It’s my pleasure to speak to you and to introduce Ben Wood, who is this year’s Editor in Chief of the Times. Ben is also a resident assistant, a member of the choir, an actor in many plays.

You name it, Ben Wood would do it.

He understands something that is a key to each and every one of you.

Ben Wood knows, because he shows it by his actions, that what you get out of your university years goes well beyond what you learn in your classes.

As adults now, you have more freedom than ever before in your lives. You can choose to succeed, or not. As a former Dean at Mount Mercy famously used to say, every student has a right to fail.

But the good news is that most MMU students succeed. And those that succeed the most know what Ben knows, and do what Ben Wood would do:

Ben joined the staff of the student newspaper, “The Mount Mercy Times,” as its business manager last year. Although his job was to sell advertising, he also wrote many stories. That interest in the editorial product translated into his current job as Editor in Chief.

Flag of MMU Times

Flag of the MMU Times this year. Who would create it? Ben Wood would, of course.

He was worried about applying for the top job. After all, he’s in so many other things—his RA job, SGA, etc., etc. But, I think, in the end, he understood the importance of some words of wisdom that were often shared by Kathi Pudzuvelis, a speech and drama professor who retired last year.

When students came to Kathi to ask if they should do something difficult, like join the student newspaper or try out for a role in a play, she often said: “Life is a swimming pool. Here is the deep end. Jump in.”

MMU is a place that’s rich in “deep ends.” Whatever your major or interest, there are clubs and organizations that are anxious for your involvement. In return, you can get a priceless experience. So join the paper, or SIFE or sing in the choir or walk on for a team or find other ways to get engaged at MMU. It’s what all the smart students do. It’s what Ben Wood would do.

Ben is a jumper into many deep ends. It’s my pleasure to introduce Ben to you. Class of 2016, some people who will try to grab your attention in the next four years aren’t worth listening to. Some are. If I were you, I would listen to Ben Wood.

Well, I think my remarks and Ben’s and Tracy Tunwall’s (she is a Business Professor who introduced Jennie) and Jennie’s were well received, as were the points made by Dr. Melody Graham, our Provost, and Dr. Christopher Blake, our President.

So it starts. No snakes, shucks, but another year underway. The start frankly feels way too busy, which is nobody’s fault but my own, but also invigorating. There’s a nice hopefulness about the start of a new academic year. May it be a year of growth and change, not just for newly trimmed and tended trees at Prairiewoods, but also for students and for the faculty who are privileged to work with them.  Let the learning begin!

MMU service group, two portal classes, at Prairiewoods. Audrey and I, in back on left, are with our classes.

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What Are We All Searching For?

Tour at MMU

A group walks to parking lot during IPCW at MMU.

Last week was Iowa Private College Week, and on Wednesday I was part of the crew that greeted prospective students at Mount Mercy University and answered their questions.

Also, ate lunch and had an afternoon snack with them. Duties that I performed admirably, if I say so myself.

It took me back a few years to when my children were seeking colleges. IPCW is a good opportunity to see lots of colleges and consider which one makes sense for being “home.”

The sense of “fit” seemed to be what drew most of my kids to their colleges. My youngest son is a student at Iowa State, and my youngest daughter studies at Creighton University. Two other daughters graduated from Simpson College, another from Mount Mercy. My oldest son is an ISU grad.

In our  college touring years, we joked during IPCW that there were several key points to consider in visiting colleges:

  • Did they offer a cool T Shirt? MMU switched to sunglasses this year, not a terrible idea, but still, For my family, the shirt was a key piece of IPCW swag, and the shirt of the “winning” college was often proudly worn.
  • What was the lunch like? Clarke University in Dubuque scored points for an apple-Snickers salad, although they didn’t score enough to get one of my kids as a student.
  • Where restrooms easy to find and was there time to visit them? OK, this was my own personal point. Every college offered water/coffee/soft drinks and a free meal—and you can’t be giving caffeine to an old man without thinking of the consequences.

I hope our MMU guests enjoyed IPCW and many of them will become Mustangs. Our central campus is a bit ripped up right now, with the building of a new University Center, but you can start to see how much nicer and more “central” the center of campus will be when the project is complete in a few weeks.

What are we all looking for? A place to call home for four years, which will help guide young people at a critical developmental time of their young adult lives.

I hope for many of you, MMU will be that home.

By the way, there was a great parenting moment at a transfer registration today. I dread when transfer students, who are usually over 20, have mom or dad at their sides helping to make decisions. It’s a bad move for parents of freshmen, and totally out of place for parents of college juniors. Anyway, one young woman had mom with her, but mom wasn’t at the table. We were considering an evening class to enroll her in, and the student wanted to consult with mom about whether that was a good idea.

She brought her mom over. The student outlined the issue and asked mom what she should do.

“Whatever you want to,” mom said, or words very much like that. “It’s your decision.”

Then, mom walked away.

It was one of the best “mom” answers I had ever heard. Although slightly flustered, for a minute, the student paused and decided to take the class. And she was happy and joking about the incident—displaying confidence. Mom told her to make up her own mind and walked away so she could do so.

Wow. Among other things, we’re all looking for moms who are willing to ground the helicopter. That’s what I’m looking for. Parents who treat college-age kids as adults.

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When Fall Rolls Around

Mount Mercy University Times Web Site

We'll have to come up with a new online flag, since we aren't using the "dragon flag" this year, but the site already had coverage of this year's first big story--as Mount Mercy became a university.

At the end of the school year, it’s pretty normal for student journalists to be pretty frazzled.

It has been a long slog through weekly deadlines. Add n the stress of hearing complaints all the time for trivial errors, but not so many compliments for what you do well, and the experience of a student journalist can be difficult.

Yet, at the beginning rather than the end, I have the gut feeling that we’ll have a pretty good year a the “Mount Mercy Times.”

Early signs? The editors were mulling over today the shape of the first issue, which will be published next week. After considering the Mount Mercy University transition stories, a fairly vibrant set of sports stories, articles by editors and students in MMU fall writing classes—the editors agreed to put out 16 pages.

Well. The paper is usually 12 pages and sometimes 8, but rarely 16.

It’s a lofty goal. But there is lots of “cool” stuff. Tom has done about half a dozen versions of the flag, and every time he starts tweaking, it gets better. The latest version today was a pretty darn sexy beast, I think, and I am anxious to see it in print.

Erich and Sophia are already pumping out video news reports. We don’t print a paper until next week, but the paper feels as if it has already “arrived.”

And Cindy has already “published” an issue online. You can see it here. It’s six pages of U transition coverage, and yet we’ll have new material next week on the same topic.

There is a downside—due to scheduling conflicts, the paper cycle didn’t get as far down the road today as usual, and the editors plan to work on it Sunday.

I’m a bit old-fashioned—I don’t like weekend shifts of this nature—but, everybody seems really cool with it. The attitudes of Cindy, Bizz, Ryan, Tom, Jennifer, Amy, Jason—they seemed really upbeat today.

May it be a good year. I think it will.

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