Do Something New

Keeping it simple. Sort of…

My wife and I had a one-present Christmas, as in, one gift only to exchange. “Let’s keep it simple.” But while one present should be easy, it also adds some pressure. Do you go functional? Something she’s asked for to show I am listening? Or is that predictable and boring? Should I give her an experience (show tickets or a night away)?

In the end, I gave her a jacket. On the surface, that may sound lame. But this is not just any jacket. It’s the Patagonia Houdini, the best low weight, versatile jacket on the market. I’ll not delve into all of the virtues and attributes of the jacket, but message me if you want more testimony.

If you always do what you've always doneOn Christmas Day, after our kids ripped through their gifts like small, wild animals, I looked for her gift in anticipation. What would she choose? And what would that say about our relationship? This was particularly intriguing because rather than a big box or a new bike in the driveway (shoot!), there was a small envelope. “Tell me this is not a gift card!” was all that was going through my head. I know she’s got more creativity than that. I mean, gift cards are an uncle’s gift, c’mon.

I opened the envelope and read curiously. I was definitely surprised. Does this mean she loves me or hates me?  It was in fact a gift card… from her Yoga studio, a class called “Yoga for the stiff guy.” Six weeks to cover the basics of positions, poses, props, etc.

A Humbling Experience

I’m not going to lie to you. The first class was humbling. I think the instructor was pretty easy on us. I hung in there overall, but just when I started feeling more confident, she’d say something I could not even reconcile, like “Now, move your belly towards your thigh.” Wait, what? Balance, breathing, Bhakti. I was just trying to comprehend the language and instructions. At times I could sense her eyes scanning the room, and inevitably they’d land on me.  I’ve learned that “You may want to modify that”  is Yoga-speak for “you’re not ready for this.” And even when I thought I had mastered some poses, I’d hear “Oh no. Much, much wider.” Okay. Watch your much’s–one will do.

I was challenged.  I was humbled. But it has also helped me think more about my posture, my breathing, my core strength, and a general awareness of my body. I still don’t know how to bring my belly to my thigh, but I figure that comes in the latter part of the six weeks.

Incredibly Different

So as we launch into 2017, I’ve decided she gave me the perfect gift, because it’s such a divergence. So incredibly different. A nudge to grow and stretch (literally in this case).  Here are three reasons I hope you’ll also get out there and do something different in 2017.When was the last time you did something for the first time

1- You will see new places.

No matter where you live, your community focuses on a few colleges or universities. As a culture we get very myopic, especially among the most academically talented students, and focus on an incredibly small set of schools. I want to challenge you to at least visit, apply, and strongly consider attending a college nobody in your family went to, or a place nobody in last year’s senior class decided to attend. Not saying you need to actually attend, but do go see it. I guarantee you will learn, grow, and benefit from the experience.  The courage to explore…the desire to try something completely new and different, will lead you to places you’d otherwise never experience.

2- You will need to process. 

At some point in the college admission process, you will likely be deferred, denied, waitlisted, or receive a financial aid package that makes it impractical for you to attend a certain school. You will likely see someone “get in” or even get a scholarship when you do not believe it is right or fair.  This is called a “process.” But you need to remember it’s a verb too. Process things. Grow from your thoughts and your experiences. To do that you will need to clear your head and get perspective. Do something different. New music, new road trip, different type of podcast or book or movie. If you do this, you will grow. You will change. You will be preparing yourself in ways no AP or IB course ever could for what it means to really be ready for college.

3- You will challenge and ultimately make others around you better. Do you know someone who is always picking up a new hobby or listening to a new artist or reading something you’ve never heard of? If you don’t, go find someone like that. I have a friend who is a DJ, a Taekwondo master, and an airplane pilot. Another friend is a pediatrician who in the last few years has built box gardens, picked up the guitar, BMX racing, and is emerging as an accomplished storyteller in Portland. When I listen to these guys talk about their curiosity, lessons learned, and the people they meet and know, it’s inspiring. It makes me want to expand my knowledge, my skills, and my worldview.

Push, Stretch, and Be Challenged

At the end of the day, that’s what college should be about, right? To be surrounded by people who will push you, stretch you, and challenge you to be better, to be smarter, to explore and experiment and consider things that you have not to this point. It’s easy to list school size or location or cost or other highly quantifiable traits. But as you pick schools to visit, apply to, and ultimately attend, these are the types of communities that you should be listening for in talking to students, faculty, and alumni.

I’m currently reading Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. It’s the story of a 66-year old mother of 11 and grandmother to 23 who in 1955 left her Ohio farm with a pair of Keds and a hand-sewn bag to become the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It’s remarkable because after a lifetime of intensely hard work, a marriage riddled with physical and mental abuse, and years of pouring her life into raising a family, she walks into the woods. Her experiences inspired our nation. And many say her reports from the trail “saved the Appalachian Trail.” We all need those outlets that give us vision beyond the immediate. I’m urging you to try something new and different this spring. Namaste.

By the Way…

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Lessons from the Election

Note: Next week we will get back to talking about fantasy football. But for now we’re calling an audible and saying it’s halftime, because it’s important we deal in reality. And the reality is the last week has been terrible. (How’s that for an intro?)

The dramatic election Tuesday was followed by turbulence and fall out on social media, in personal conversations, and in the press. I have had a lifetime of preparation for this kind of division. See, I grew up in a split household. My mom is about as liberal as they come: raised in the northeast by parents who both worked at Princeton, she took us to help at a homeless shelter as soon as we were old enough to volunteer. She is pro-choice, advocates for gay rights, and will be in Washington for the Women’s March in January. Conversely, my dad was raised by a widowed hairdresser, served in Vietnam, and ran his own small business until he sold it a few years ago. Fiscally conservative and socially conservative, his motto is “keep the government out of my business.”

When we were kids, they’d come to the breakfast table on Election Day, raise their coffee cups and say, “Okay, let’s go cancel each other out.” Their differences extend well past politics. She’s an extrovert, while he’s an introvert. He loves the beach and the sun, and she would be happy if it never warmed up past 75 degrees. They are the first hit when you search Wikipedia for “opposites attract.”

Their marriage has not always been easy. But I always saw effort, forgiveness, and an acknowledgment of their own faults. And that’s what led to reconciliation.

A House Divided…

This election was filled with some of the most divisive rhetoric of any in modern American history.  And those lines have only been reinforced as the pollsters and press dissect how America voted: urban vs. rural, black vs. white, rich vs. poor, educated vs. uneducated. Regardless of who, if anyone, you supported, emotions are swirling: surprise, excitement, bemusement, vindication, fear, or some combination of these and many others.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln addressed his Republican colleagues in reference to the pressing issue of slavery and said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In talking and listening to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and random people on the train, the concern for our nation is palpable. There seems to be a dearth of empathy and a plethora of anxiety; an abundance of fear of the future;  a lack of faith in the inevitability of unity; not to mention a lot of finger pointing and too little hand shaking.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

In uncertain times, there is solace in remembering some things have NOT changed, and recalling the things you can count on in the future.  As election season gives way to admission decision season, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Things are going to happen in life that you did not “vote for,” and that you cannot control. You may be denied or deferred from the college you really wanted to attend. Or you may get in to your dream school but not get a financial package that you can afford. If (or more likely when) one of these things happen, it’s understandable that you may need a week to cry, scream, mope, curse, or question. But ultimately, you have to shake that off. Keep working and have confidence in yourself. And it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t do that alone. Share your frustrations with friends and family, but also lean on them, listen to them, and learn from them as you move forward.

You will see someone get in who you don’t think is the “right” or “most qualified” person. We see and hear this every year in the admission process. “Well, they only got in because they are <<insert group here>>, or from <<insert school or state here>>.” “She got that scholarship because she’s  X (or had a Y) and I didn’t because I’m Z.” Broad generalizations like these are essentially saying  “Well, that’s the way THEY are.” And that, my friends, is divisiveness. I think it’s important to note that Lincoln’s speech was quoting from the Bible. In the original text, the “house” was not a not a nation but a person’s soul and character. Open your laptop, check a few trending hashtags, or go sit on a park bench and listen. You’ll see why those types of broad categorizing statements are toxic. Saying it’s a slippery slope is not even accurate–this is a cliff you tumble off, taking the character and achievements you’ve worked so hard to build and throwing them into an abyss.

I’m coming out of the fog and muck of last week. I have an advantage by working at a college. Walking across campus yesterday, listening to conversations in the dining hall, and sitting down to talk with students from all over the nation and the world has brought me much needed encouragement.

What Awaits You in College

I can’t tell you which campaign promises will be kept or abandoned or adapted. But what is certain, and what I hope provides you great excitement and optimism, is what awaits you in your college experience.

  1. College will continue to be a place that seeks students who want to learn. Students who ask why and how; who want to make the world around them now and in the future better, safer, and more interesting.
  2. College will continue to be a place that draws students with diverse thoughts, passions, and interests. Students who commit to one another; who seek to understand one another; who know that learning from their differences and tapping into everyone’s strengths and talents will allow them to collectively solve problems.
  3. College will continue to be a place that cheers together in athletic victory, cries together in campus tragedies, studies together in the wee hours of the morning, and ultimately embraces each other on graduation stages and in life well beyond its gates.

Wedged between election season and admission decision season is Thanksgiving. I hope you will use this time as a respite; a time to be reminded of and surrounded by the things and people who bring you rest, joy, and assurance.

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25 Reasons YOU SHOULD NOT Apply To Georgia Tech

The admission industry takes a lot of heat for not being forthright. Some claim we only take pictures on sunny days and never show pictures of crying students. We are lambasted for not being transparent and accused of not admitting our weaknesses. Many review our brochures with an eyebrow raised and wonder, “How is it possible that every student has class outside under a tree with a caring professor who is sharing great wisdom yet manages to do so at a distance that connotes ‘caring but not creepy?” We are criticized for telling students who may not be a good academic or ethos fit that they should still apply, “Well…we like to think of our 500 student campus as large… you know. It’s all what you make of it, right?”

brochures

Who We Are… and Who We’re Not

But our goal at Georgia Tech is to break open the black box, to lift the veil, and to be as clear as possible about who we are– and who we’re not. I recently read a college essay from a student begging colleges to differentiate themselves. After all of her tours and receiving these glossy, shiny brochures she’s in fact more stressed and concerned by the choices because they all seem to blur together. And when I’m really honest, I realize we send emails like “Why apply to Georgia Tech?” detailing all of our strengths and points of pride. But sometimes you need the converse too, right? Perhaps we’d appreciate our date saying, “Yea. I may look pretty but I snore a lot and my feet stink.” Or “Yes. I am the captain of the tennis team and hold all state records, but I steal about $20/week from my little brother’s top drawer.”

So while normally I write this blog more broadly on admission, rather than specifically about Georgia Tech, today I’m here to give you the other side. Now, for the record, in some form or another I’ve shared these truths about Atlanta and Georgia Tech before, but this is my attempt to consolidate all of those kernels of insight and give you the key reasons NOT TO APPLY to Georgia Tech. Consider this is your “anti-fit” litmus test: a series of if- then statements (admittedly influenced by Jeff Foxworthy’s You might be a redneck) that will help you understand our campus and city– and whether applying is in your best interest.

THE TOP 25 REASONS NOT TO APPLY TO GEORGIA TECH

  1. If you come to Atlanta and don’t get (or even worse don’t enjoy) a Frosted O from The Varsity, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  2. If you think yellow or gold make you look shorter or bigger or washed out or less likely to get lots of likes on Instagram, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  3. If you can’t deal with “The 3 H’s” (heat, hills, and humidity), don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  4. If you find yourself struggling to remember your birthday, name, or address on the application…well, not sure what to tell you here.
  5. If you don’t want to be around students wearing mathematical formulas on their shirts or are annoyed by impassioned debates about theoretical chemistry, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  6. If you think Georgia Tech is really Georgia Tech University or The University of Georgia Tech, rather than The Georgia Institute of Technology, don’t apply to Georgia Tech. Try Massachusetts Tech University.
  7. If “improve the world around you” sounds like a bumper sticker, rather than your earnest desire, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  8. If when visiting colleges you treat either the person on the phone or the person at the front desk poorly, don’t even apply elsewhere. Go apologize to your mom. If she’s the one doing that, consider applying for emancipation.
  9. If you don’t like to be pushed, stretched, and challenged personally and academically by professors, roommates, sorority sisters, and lab partners, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  10. If you don’t believe in George P. Burdell, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  11. If you enjoy making route connections rather than having access to direct flights, and you prefer airports with street side parking, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  12. If you are afraid of bees (and B’s for that matter), particularly large ones that do push-ups after touchdowns, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.buzz
  13. If you want a school that has hundreds of majors and makes statements like “we are all things to all people,” don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  14. If your tolerance for traffic is two lights and a railroad crossing, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  15. If you’d rather attend a school that has “an Olympic-sized pool,” rather than The Olympic pool, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  16. If status quo, homogeneity, and easy A’s are your goal, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
    WRECK
  17. If you’d rather win a national championship than…wait… not quite willing go there.
  18. If “Ramblin’ Wreck” is how you’d describe your GPA, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  19. If the term “y ‘all” is completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and you can’t even see that it’s incredibly efficient, y ‘all should definitely not apply to Georgia Tech.
  20. If you are unwilling to entertain the possibility that drinking Coca-Cola fundamentally makes you a better human being, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  21. If you have severe allergies to tree pollen and are vehemently opposed to shots or meds to combat them, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  22. If whistles give you flashbacks, cold sweats or the “hee bee gee bees,” don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  23. If being part of a place that discovers water on Mars and identifies gravitational waves in the atmosphere within the same year seems uninteresting, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  24. If you think that the word “DOG” is actually spelled “DAWG,” don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  25. If references to Jeff Foxworthy seem irrelevant to admission or indicative of pedantic humor that fail to convey great truth, why are you still reading? And definitely don’t apply to Georgia Tech!

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Becoming Part of the Solution

I know I said we’d be delving into Part Two of the Welcome Manual this week, but that will have to wait for now.

The tragic deaths in our country over the last few weeks demand that our conversation change; that we all pay attention; that we all ask questions about how we can live and love differently; and about how, regardless of our age, race, job, or state of citizenship, we raise our voices to achieve the society described upon the founding of our nation.

declarationThe words of the Declaration of Independence could not be more clear: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Wake-Up Call

When the shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas took place, I was in Boston and Plymouth. These pivotal places in American history, which represent hope and freedom, only made it more painfully obvious that nearly two and a half centuries since we declared independence, we have yet to live up to the beautiful ideals of “life, liberty, safety and happiness” for all our citizens. These deaths have been a poignant reminder of this fundamental failing, and they’ve rattled me, as I’m guessing they have many of you.  Police being targeted and killed while serving their cities is horrifying and unacceptable. Protests, sit-ins, viral videos, and daily unrest make it clear our racial divide is not narrowing. We are living in a crucial moment in history. Real change will demand collective grace, understanding, risk, patience, and many other qualities that require tremendous selflessness and self-awareness. It’s also going to take people in positions of power and privilege using their platform to bring this change about.

Until recently, I have not thought much about my role or opportunity when it comes to providing a forum for discussing and improving race relations locally or broadly. I have simply lived my life as my parents and my faith have taught me– to treat everyone with respect. As a native of Atlanta, I’ve associated with of our identity as “the city too busy to hate.” As an employee of Georgia Tech, I’m proud that we were the first public university in the south to voluntarily integrate. As an American, I stand behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to judge not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  But I have begun to appreciate that not being part of the problem is also not being part of the solution.

“What can I do?”

At Georgia Tech we proudly recruit, cultivate, and graduate students who passionately seek solutions to complex problems. They are insistent upon collaborating to refute the status quo. It’s my responsibility,  as a citizen, a staff member, and someone who holds a position in national organizations for higher education, to bring that  mentality to our nation’s current racial climate. This is uncomfortable and I feel unqualified; yet I also feel compelled.

“What can I do?” This is a question that I’m thankful to hear many asking right now. As for me, I attended a conversation in a colleague’s home on Saturday. About 25 friends old and new. The group as effectively half black and half white, and fairly similarly balanced from a gender standpoint. We talked about big and small issues regarding barriers to racial equality. We listened to stories, we shared our own trepidation, as well as our hopes. This week our staff gathered to listen to black co-workers talk about their last few weeks, their families’ struggles, and their desire to see change in this country they dearly love. Next week well over 100 admission staff from our area, including Agnes Scott College, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Oglethorpe University, Spelman College, and The University of Georgia, will gather for an annual day of professional development. We have changed our agenda to include a facilitated discussion on this topic of augmenting race relations in America. And in the months ahead, I’ll be discussing the need for discussion, understanding, and appropriate action at both the local and national level through my professional roles, positions, and network.

What Can You Do?

  • You can listen: There are many great recent and archived perspectives, but I was struck by this poem “White Boy Privilege” by an 8th grader here in Atlanta (Be advised he uses some profanity in this video). And then you can ask: “What am I doing to challenge those around me? How am I using my voice, my position, my influence to make racial equality a reality in America in my lifetime?” And then you can REALLY LISTEN as Pastor Greg Allen- Pickett demonstrates in “Reflections on the train: Racism and being an ally.”
  • bbYou can read “My hopes, dreams, fears for my future black son.” And then you can think about the literal and proverbial fences that still stand between races in America; about how critical it is for freedom to mean the same thing to all Americans; and how crucial it is for all citizens to trust and support our policemen so they can do their job well.
  • You can watch: “Color Blind or Color Brave” And consider Mellody Hobson’s words: “Then I realized, the first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness. And so I decided to actually talk about race.”

While the overall solution in our nation is nuanced and complex, part of the equation is recognizing that education is a privilege. AND SO YOU CAN TAKE ACTION: If you are headed to college next year, I urge you to listen and lead—and to challenge others to do the same. Create opportunities to have these hard conversations.  If you are continuing in high school next year, be a part of the solution: use your voice and position to build a school community that is equitable, that respects all races, and that gives opportunity regardless of skin color. If you are parenting a student in school at any level, keep coaching your kids to step in and step up. And the same in your own home, your community, your place of worship or work. Be reminded of Hobson’s words, “You can be color brave. If you are trying to solve a really hard problem, you can speak up and be color brave. Now I know people will say, but that doesn’t add up to a lot, but I’m actually asking you to do something really simple: observe your environment, at work, at school, at home.”

We have the opportunity to ensure that 21st century America is  known as the time in which we finally made life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a universal reality in our society. Perhaps someone much smarter than me will come up with a grand plan to bring this about.  But for now, I’m looking at myself and my sphere of influence. I encourage you to do the same.

Plan the Work and Work the Plan

I’m not going to lie to you. In recent weeks, I’ve been a little down. Powerful, potential presidents acting like middle-schoolers, the horror of the Orlando shootings, humidity that qualifies Georgia as a living sauna. And to top it off… we moved. The good news is I’m still married (Or I at least have not received the documents at this point, but it was a severe test). Days without sitting down, straight sweat for 72 hours, countless trips (literally and figuratively) up and down stairs. You know the scene: kids eating numerous Chick-Fil-A meals and drinking Capri Suns because you can’t find a pan or spatula; random men taking all of  your possessions and driving off in a truck. Sure, I had some paperwork but there’s still that conspiracy theorist in me that wonders if they aren’t headed for the coast with my pint glass collection…

But things turned around three days later when I rose early, dodged all the boxes, boarded a plane and flew to Oregon (You know–the way caring, devoted husbands do.)

So now I’m in Eugene at the University of Oregon. If you have never been to visit, put it on your list. Amazing town with lots of running trails, excellent restaurants, and incredible pride around their college (as evidenced by more green and yellow than anywhere above the ocean’s surface).

Colleagues from public universities from around the U.S.

I am here for a conference. Each year the Directors/VPs from major public universities gather to discuss major issues in our field. These are some of the finest folks in our country and thankfully some of my best friends. Our time was spent talking about legislative issues like the Fisher vs. Texas case and Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Fair Chance Pledge. These are practitioners. People who are charged with seeing their campus, American higher education, and the lives of the students and families they work with improve.

There are always little jabs about missed field goals or a coach or president who just left one school for another. But that is typically over dinner where the majority of the conversation surrounds how to continue to serve our schools by bringing in a class that is diverse in every sense of the word, or the rising cost of tuition, or the increased media focus on ROI or “product” versus the collegiate educational learning and growth experience. Deep concern was expressed about how best to reach and engage under-served communities where counselor:student ratios are well over 500:1, or where many single parent homes, first generation families, or low socioeconomic conditions greatly impact a young person’s educational experience, and yet talent and potential exist.

I always walk away from these meetings encouraged– not just because my understanding of the higher education landscape has been broadened– but because I know that literally tens of thousands of students that I will never meet or work with are in the hands of these tremendously talented, bright, and passionate folks.

PLAN THE WORK

It also serves as a touchstone for me. Because we meet at the same time each year, I am able to reflect back over the last year:  What we have accomplished? What are my peers doing better or more creatively that we need to build on? What have we failed to implement or accomplish? And what do I want to achieve in the year ahead?

It’s easy to ask these questions and consider solutions while running on trails along the Willamette River or enjoying a local beverage thousands of miles from home. But taking these ideas back and putting them into action requires a solid plan.

So to borrow from the great track tradition here at U of O, I encourage you (as a high school junior or senior, or as an entering college freshman), to look at this as a race.

WORK THE PLAN

1- ASK: Where is the finish line? What is the one thing you want to accomplish in the year ahead? Maybe that is to earn a certain GPA, or to score a 4 or higher on an AP test, or earn a spot on specific team. WRITE IT DOWN.

2- WRITE: What needs to happen in the next 3 months to accomplish this? Within 6 months? By 9 months?

3- CONSIDER:  Continuing the racing analogy, what are the hurdles that could keep your goal from coming to fruition? We all know the race to the tape won’t be smooth. Distractions, other priorities, bad weather, ruts on the track, variables you can never predict.

4- STAY FOCUSED: At your 3, 6, 9 month hurdle ASK: Am I  still on the track?  If yes, what needs to happen before the next one to clear the bar? If not, why did I crash into that last hurdle? How can I correct this and still finish strong?

oregon rainbow

5- TEAM UP: Even in track, individuals succeed because their team and coach surrounds them and pushes them in practice. If you are going to win, you will need encouragement and accountability. And this goes back to my time at Oregon with my friends and peers. They ask great questions about my work and care about my success, even if technically they are competitors. They remember what I am working on and check in with me. So WHO IS YOUR PERSON? Share your goal with them. Tell them you need them to check in with you along the way.

On my last night in Eugene, as the sun was setting, a rainbow emerged on the horizon. It was a reminder that despite the last few weeks of turbulence, better days are ahead. You just have to commit and plan to bring them about.