As the late Biggie Smalls said "if you don't know, now you know!“

I have thought about that lyric in so many different contexts. My great grandmother, grandmother and parents never made it past the 9th grade. There are so many things that I have always felt I didn't know growing up that other kids always seemed to understand.   Not knowing has hurt me in so many contexts and I think often about what our first gen and low SES students don’t know and how it holds them back. 

This talk for me is personal and political. 

It's personal because America doesn't believe that people who look like me grew up in poverty. That I was a welfare kid. That our heat got shut off every winter. That I knew the exact shade of yellow that the eviction notices were because they lined my block every year. Some first gen kids like me can be invisible. We have the privilege of passing.

When I was a freshman in college, I didn't use my meal card for the first three weeks of classes. I didn't understand how it worked. I thought it was a credit card. Although I had never had a credit card I had heard enough talk in hushed tones from the people on my block to know it was bad news.

A month later I received my financial aid check. It was an enormous sum $932.86 cents and I could barely touch it the number seemed so big.

I was told to go to the bank across the street to cash it so I did. It was my first time in a bank. The teller looked at me and impatiently said "I need you to endorse it before I can give you your money." I stared at her blankly.

Endorse? Like show my support for it?  Like present it?  What did she mean??

She rolled her eyes.  "You have to sign it". I looked at her again. "Ummm, where?" I didn't see a line for my name anywhere on the front of that check. Needless to say I probably wasn't her favorite customer that day.

But I just didn't know.

I drove myself to college, about 3 ½ hours away from home with a backpack and a duffle bag and not much else.   My RA came by as I was unpacking looked around my empty room and said “Ummm, I’m going to Target to pick up a few things.  I can’t believe I forgot to pack my towels!  Do you want to come with me?”

I didn’t know we had to bring towels…I had been to a motel once when our heat got shut off and they had towels so I assumed that college would have towels. 

But what did I know?  The only things I knew about college I learned from the TV show “A Different World.”  And my RA was not Sinbad so perhaps I really didn’t know what college was about.

These are two of about 2 dozen stories that I have about navigating college as a first gen kid

17 years after the great check-cashing incident I now have the extreme privilege to work at an urban institution where I have the greatest job in the world--serving as the Campus Dean to bright, talented, low-income, mostly first-gen students.

I see their anxiety when they encounter situations that most college students have been taught to manage that they have no exposure to. I see how frustrating and isolating it can be to not know the answers and maybe to not even know the question to ask to get to the answer.

They don’t always want to be discovered…but they need you to find them anyway. So what can we do? A few strategies to helping first gen kids succeed.

1) Don't stereotype them as millennials.  While their birth year might automatically deem them as a part of that generation, low income and first gen students largely don't fit the mold. Those generational stereotypes are based on middle class notions. 

A senior was graduating and I said, “Let me see your ID, I want to see how much you have changed.”  He looked hesitant.  I was confused—did he take an unflattering picture?   Why didn’t he want me to see his face?

He finally took the ID out of his wallet and sheepishly handed it to me.  His face was bloody and bruised.  He had been beaten up the night before classes by some guys in his neighborhood started because they said “who do you think you are, going away to college?

2) Don’t assume that everyone in their home community went to college or is excited for them to be enrolled at a university.

3)Make career preparation as much of a focus as you do about the identity and leadership development. We are denying students their transcripts because of $600 holds.  What policies are preventing the students who need to secure employment the most?

4) Know that not having a safety net impacts them. They get their phone shut off a lot. They are often making decisions about whether to buy a subway pass to get to class or to eat lunch.  We assume the poorest students aren’t in 4 year institutions or at private school.  It’s time to re-frame our thinking on this.  They are in all of our institutions.

5) We marginalize these students when we assume that some things are “common knowledge.”   They don’t always know the rules of the game and while it’s true that some students have SAT pep courses, tutors, and may even hire a tutor to help them write their college entrance exam, we also have students who are winging it, one step at a time with little to no guidance.  

6) Don't lower the bar...don't fall into the trap of paternalism. Create opportunities so they can.  These students are used to people thinking they “can’t.” Show them they can. We don’t expect a lot out of students who are first gen and/or low SES.  We just want them to “make it.”  When really the goal should be to get them to thriving, not just surviving.

The most insidious disease that is infiltrating higher education? 

A lack of urgency. 

It is preventing students from graduating, finding employment and is preventing us from delivering the ROI they deserve.

We don’t have years to develop resources that enhance student success.  We need to think about improvement on the daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Moving at a snails pace hurts low SES students the most.

We are valuing process, politics and silos over moving students towards graduation.   We talk about students creating a legacy…how about your legacy as a practitioner?  It is time for us to own the numbers.  More and more students are slipping through the cracks…they may not have safety nets at home but we can give them the tools to build their own wings… 

These students success depends on our ability to understand their unique situations and meet them where they are at...not where other students are at.

And if you don’t know, now you know, so let’s flip the script and do better for these students—today.

AuthorAnn Marie

“You know, I have to say that you run really terrific meetings.  You always have a clear agenda, move through topics quickly and end our meetings on time,” a faculty member said to me recently.

While I appreciate the kind sentiment, was it really a compliment?  Is it extraordinary that someone would have an agenda, allocate a certain amount of time for each topic and adjourn the meeting at the expected time?

Maybe so…

In a recent  TED Talk David Grady and Jason Fried spoke about “How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings.” 

They listed some sobering statistics:

*Most employees attend an average of 62 meetings per month.

*Executives spend 40%-50% of their working hours in meetings.

And perhaps most startling…

*Executive average 23 hours per week in meetings where 7.8 of those hours are unnecessary and poorly run which is equal to over 2 months per year wasted.

I believe that in higher education we often use meetings as a crutch for actually doing the work.  The most important part is not the meeting.  It is the work you put into a particular project outside of the meeting.  If you are booked solid in meetings from 9:00-5:00 when is the actual work getting done?  After the kids go to bed?  Early Saturday morning? Over your lunch break?  All of the above?

We need to re-think how and why we have meetings and to structure our time differently.  While I am by nomeans an expert I have employed five key strategies that have helped me to be more efficient with my time and allow me to continually add more to my plate (as we are often asked to do in higher education).

1) Create more 15, 30 and 45 minute meetings and limiting the number of meetings that go beyond an hour:  Why is the 60-minute meeting the standard?  It doesn’t allow travel time to get to the next meeting if you are scheduled back-to-back and most meetings can be significantly shortened.  Some of my 15 minute meetings are the most productive!  

2) Have 1-1 meetings with direct reports in an as-needed basis: Unless you supervise students (undergrad and/or grad) or entry-level professionals, weekly and perhaps even bi-monthly 1-1’s are not needed.  My staff is always popping in my office throughout the week. That way we are getting the work done in real time without having to wait for the official 1-1 to sign-off on projects and get feedback from me.  I make sure that I meet formally with each person on my team 4 times per year but other than that it is up to them (or me) to decide when we need to have an official meeting.  It frees up their time, my time and allows us to work more fluidly.  

3) Spend the first day of the month blocking out times for the next month as “no meetings” on your calendar: I do this most days at 4:00 p.m., noon as well as blocking out hours to work on long-term projects.  I can always lift those holds as necessary whether to meet with students, parents, schedule lunchtime meetings, etc. but it invaluable time that is saved in order to make adjustments in my schedule and catch up on projects.  That way I am never saying I ”don’t have time” for something.  I always do.  Because I blocked off time proactively for these very kinds of reasons.       

4) Say “No Thank You” to 25% of the meetings you are invited to: Whenever I am asked to attend a meeting I ask myself 3 questions. 1-Does this meeting directly impact student success?  2-Does this meeting support the work of my supervisor and our divisional goals?  3-Is this a good use of my time?  If I say yes to any of the above then I’m in.  If not I will either see if I can send someone else or (more likely) decline and say that I am happy to help with this project/initiative in the future but for right now I am at maximum capacity and will not be able to attend. 

I recognize that this is a positional privilege and that many/most entry level people will not be able to do this however I encourage us all to think about how and why we are saying yes to meetings that do not advance our causes or are good uses of our time.

5) Attend part (but not all) of long meetings: I am known to attend one hour of a three hour meeting.  Just because you are invited to a multi-hour meeting doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time.  Consider if you and a colleague can divide up the meeting in order to have a representative there at all times AND to ensure that you are getting some administrative time in the office each day.  


Final Thought

Higher education is continually asked to prove how we are contributing to student success.  To me, that means we need to focus on outcomes and ensure that each day we can tangibly demonstrate how we added value to our organizations.  A meeting-heavy culture can stifle creativity, progress and can contribute to slowing down the process of providing new resources and moving our students toward graduation. 

Let’s talk more about this…but I’m not having a meeting about it.

AuthorAnn Marie
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In a recent Harvard Business Review article the author discussed the evolving landscape at work and the need to adapt our hiring practices to recruit employees who can meet present day challenges in the workplace.

5 hall marks.jpg

It went on to list the five hallmarks of potential and the author suggested that these should be prime factors when making an offer to a candidate.

Progressive ideas about recruitment and hiring say that "past performance is the best indicator of future success" and this article affirms that.

Stop hiring for competency. Hire for potential instead.

How often have you been in a search committee meeting where a strong candidate is summarily dismissed from consideration because he/she "has no experience in_______".

This completely misses the point.  The better question is "has he/she consistently excelled in the responsibilities they have been previously given?"

That is the better indicator of selecting a strong hire. I have been in too many meetings where we question the "readiness" of people. But I still think that's the wrong question.

 In addition to the five excellent qualities mentioned in the article, I would add one more that in my experience has separated good candidates from great ones. It is, quite simply, hunger.

Hunger is the more intense cousin of motivation. It is a restlessness that always says what else can I do?  It is raw and can't be easily quieted.

There are a few ways to identify hunger. Is the candidate a go-getter, ambitious, and wanting to take on more responsibility? Do they see themselves in the larger context of their organization and their respective field?

Hunger is also rooted in grit. It is unfettered by traditional notions of age, ability or hierarchy.

In higher education, hunger is often lacking or it is penalized as bragging or brown-nosing. We proclaim humility as a value and being humble as an important virtue and yet Student Affairs as a division continues to get looked over because our humility is preventing us from telling our powerfully compelling story of how we move students through this challenging transition called college.

Instead, we may opt to keep our head down, stay complacent, blush at recognition and continue on doing the same programs and events each year--business as usual.  This is not serving us--or our students--well.

Hungry people live by the motto "can't stop, won't stop."  They know there is always more that can be done. They find ways to be contributors. They don't shy away from telling people about their teams' good work because sharing our success stories can result in increased resources and opportunities for our students.

I want to hire hungry people because they also keep me hungry. If you spend ten minutes at a job placement exchange you can smell the hunger. These candidates are poised for action! As supervisors we should provide fuel for that hunger and reward it. Supervisors need to help newer professionals grow their talents and discover how they will cultivate their hunger. Our departments and students win every time when we support and role model hunger whether we are in our first year on the profession or our 30th.

Longevity does not necessarily equal talent and hunger without a history of consistent success doesn't help our students either.

The recipe is one part hunger, two parts follow through. That combination can be found at any age and any stage.  These are the folks who can move the dial, tell our story and be ready to learn about the next wave that will impact our campuses--and swiftly adapt, act and innovate.

I'm in search of hungry people. Anyone want to join me for lunch??

AuthorAnn Marie
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There are a number of resources available on finding a mentor. A simple Google search will point you in a good direction. Less abundant are personal accounts that describe what that mentorship relationship looks like when actualized - particularly in our profession. As such, we thought some might find value in our thoughts as we reflect on our mentorship relationship over the past year. For formality sake, we are Ann Marie Klotz (said mentor) and Matt Bloomingdale (said mentee).


How did your relationship form?

AMK: We first met as colleagues where I was a Residence Hall Director and Matt was in his graduate program and working as an Assistant Residence Hall Director. I did not supervise him in any capacity, I just always admired his intellect, confidence and follow-through. Despite his penchant for wearing a Nebraska baseball cap, I found him to be mature beyond his years.

Matt: AMK and I worked together at Ball State University while I was starting my graduate work. When I first arrived, I didn’t yet have a supervisor and she was one of the first professionals that I sought advice from until the position was filled. We collaborated on a common reading program she chaired and always appreciated her drive and the high expectations she had for herself and those she worked with.


How was the relationship formalized?

AMK: Matt and I have kept in touch over the years, but a few years ago he asked me to present a program with him at a regional NASPA conference and we realized how complimentary our styles were. We each brought different specific strengths to the table and have always been very honest with each other in terms of feedback.

In 2013, Matt asked if we could formalize our relationship and I asked him a lot of questions to be sure I would be a good fit for him.  I wanted to ensure that I could give him what he was looking for and I also wanted him to understand what my expectations of him would be, too.  These kinds of relationships are reciprocal and we should actually both benefit from our relationship.

Matt: About three and half years ago, AMK called and asked why I wasn’t more involved. I told her I was involved in plenty. She coerced me into applying to be a NASPA KC Representative which required me to attend the NASPA 4E conference. Since I was obligated to attend the conference, I told AMK that she was now obligated to present with me.

One of the things I recognized in working with AMK is that she has several strengths that I think correspond to my areas for growth. There are elements of her professional path that mimic future steps in my professional path. It is nice asking advice of someone who has recently experienced what I am now experiencing. This does not mean I always take her advice - but it is certainly nice having context from someone who has an intimate understanding of what I am experiencing. To be honest, I’ve always considered her a mentor, but thought it was important that she also have the choice to have me as a mentee.

I think formalizing the relationship is key and often overlooked. I think there are those that we think of as mentors, but perhaps have not taken the time to formalize this relationship. Asking AMK opened up a number of conversations regarding goals and expectations that we otherwise would not have had and it certainly has made our relationship more fruitful.


What does your relationship look like on a day-to-day basis?

AMK: This was one of the first questions I asked Matt when we were talking about formalizing our relationship.  I wanted to understand what he wanted from me in terms of time and in what way—phone, Skype, etc.--he preferred to communicate. We connect in some way—phone, text, email a few times per week.

In a simple phrase—we help each other to achieve our goals.  Matt is currently building a website for my speaking and consulting endeavors and I have written articles for his blog and assisted with his job search preparation. We are mindful of how our skills can push each other to move forward.

Consider this text exchange from last week:

Matt: The Student Affairs Feature 2.0 is going live tomorrow.

AMK: It’s January 1st.  Most people are hungover this morning.  You are publishing a book today.  You should be so proud of your labor of love.  You are remarkable!

Matt: You have to say that.

AMK: I surely don’t have to say that.  It’s just the truth.

Matt: Minority opinion, I’m sure, but thanks regardless.

AMK: Stop cutting yourself down—you need to quit that before you start in your new role. You are teaching people how to treat you.  Choose your words carefully.

Matt: Fair enough.  I’m *freaking awesome!

*He didn’t really say freaking, but this is a family show.

AMK: Matt recently received a promotion and so we have been chatting about how he will be perceived differently.  We are working on how he can still be his authentically, humble self while owning all of his success.

Matt: I think it’s rare if a day or two goes by in which we don’t connect in some way (via email, text, or occasionally Twitter). Often, I read something that gets me thinking and I use her as a sounding board before I jump on it. Some days, it’s telling her that her latest Facebook post was a little ridiculous, other days it’s asking for career advice.

What I appreciate about AMK is she’s always asking the next question. For example, I’ll tell her I have an upcoming interview. I think most would ask if I feel prepared. AMK asks when are we going to schedule a practice interview. There is a higher level of investment. I think she sees my successes as our successes. Not in a narcissistic way, but rather because she is so invested in my success that she can’t help but take it a little personally when I fail or take some ownership when I succeed.

I think there is this perception that because I’m the "mentee" and she’s the "mentor" that I’m always asking for advice and she’s always the one giving advice. But, I was surprised how often those roles are reversed. In a way, it makes sense. Any other type of relationship would be selfish, no? Certainly, I tend to ask advice of her more than she asks of me, but there are a number of times when I receive a text or an email (we both despise voice messages) where she wants me to review a blog post or get my perspective on something.


What do you consider to be your role/responsibilities in this relationship?

AMK: Sounding board, gentle pusher, sometimes not-so-gentle pusher, advocate, cheerleader, and coach—all depending on the day and the circumstance.

Matt: Being open-minded to growth and challenges. Communicating what is going on in my professional life. I certainly feel an obligation to follow-up on the things she asks of me. If I'm asking her for assistance and she requires something of me to fulfill my request, it finds itself high on the priority list. It's interesting. Because of the personal relationship we have, one might think that it would be easier to put these things off - that she would be more understanding - but in many ways I feel as obligated to her as my supervisor.


What do you ask of each other?

AMK: I ask for Matt to think big and dream bigger.  I ask for follow-through 100% of the time. That may seem very basic but it isn’t.  We also make a good team because we have similar thoughts on the importance of contributing to the advancement of the field.  If he is critical about something in Student Affairs I will ask him to consider how he can contribute to making it better in his small corner of the world.

Matt: Goodness. Everything? Certainly most of our conversations are profession-based. But, I think we are both personally and professionally invested in each other. I ask for a lot of advice. I ask for her to share her experience. I ask to be challenged. In fact, I knew AMK would challenge me to do things that few others would - certainly more than I would challenge myself. Ultimately, this is what made AMK most compelling as a mentor.


What do you expect from each other?

AMK: I expect him to stretch himself professionally all the time.  I see a part of my role as helping him to increase his professional confidence.  I expect that he continues to get what he needs from our relationship and if he isn’t, then we need to honestly talk about it.  I expect that he feels comfortable to challenge me and that he feels that I am a safe place to confide his professional struggles and aspirations.

Matt: Investment. Asking someone to be a mentor is a lot to ask. This is one reason why I think it's important that these relationships are formalized. If you fail to do so, expecting the level of investment that I expect from AMK would likely lead to disappointment. There is a level of sacrifice that we expect of each other. We both know it necessary for our relationship to meet it's fullest potential. If you are not willing to sacrifice for the other person, you relationship will be limited.


What does a good mentorship relationship require?

AMK: Consistency, honesty and a real commitment to their goals and future aspirations.

Matt: Honesty. Investment. Consistency.


How do you give each other feedback?

AMK: Honestly and right away. No holds barred. That works for us.  He tells me that I need to take more risks with my blog posts.  I tell him he needs to own his success instead of giving away all of the credit every time.  We consider the feedback and decide what, if any, changes we might make.  But we have a high level of respect for each other even when we disagree.

Like the time I told him he was absolutely crazy for breaking up with his girlfriend.  They are now married.

Matt: We sugarcoat nothing. Neither of us is worried about how the other perceives us. There's not a lot of saving face. When we have something to tell the other, we say it, and deal with it. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.


How do you prioritize your relationship?

AMK: If I have ten text messages or calls that I need to get back to, he will always be one of the first I respond to. I feel a sense of obligation to make sure I can support him. I also recognize that Matt needs a diversity of people who will help him professionally and I am only one part of his support network. As time goes on, Matt may decide that he no longer needs me in this capacity and that is absolutely fine. But for now I am really enjoying seeing his star rise.

Matt: When something exciting happens the first person I call is my partner. The next is AMK. I ask a lot of her - I recognize this. She makes sacrifices in order to serve as my mentor. In turn, I need to make the same sacrifices. Recently, she asked me to help her with a project. I didn't think of it as a favor. I thought of it as an obligation. In turn, I think she feels the same obligation when I ask things of her.

We have both benefited tremendously from this relationship because we are personally connected and professionally invested in each other. It works for us. Matt will still keep wearing his Nebraska hat and AMK will still post some things on Facebook that might cause Matt to shake his head. But we are fierce supporters of each other and felt compelled to write this blog post in the hopes that it might help you to understand how we have chosen to operationalize a relationship that helps us to move towards becoming better versions of ourselves.

Each mentoring situation looks differently—how have you operationalized your relationship?

AuthorAnn Marie
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Two people assume Director-level roles with a similar scope and size of institution in the same year. They graduated from strong masters programs and they came up through the professional ranks in higher education in traditional ways. They are universally liked and have similar skill sets. They have good co-workers and get along with their supervisor. Six months into their new roles, one person is completely floundering and the other is flourishing. So what is the difference-maker in this situation? Capacity.

It is your professional capacity to successfully add more work to your plate that is a key indicator of career progression.

At entry and mid-level roles there is always a lot of work to be accomplished. Student issues. After hours events. Crises management. However as you move up the ranks your supervisor will not monitor your workload or limit the scope of your projects nearly as much as when you were first starting out in the field.

Having an increased capacity means that you will never assume that something is going to be taken off your plate by your supervisor. Instead it is up to you to manage your current workload, delegate when appropriate, and add new responsibilities often while managing the same level of success in completing those duties.

Five years ago a colleague and I made a documentary about women in higher education. We interviewed Donna Carroll, the president of Dominican University. When I asked her what strengths she possessed that made her an ideal person to be a university president she responded instantly.

"I have always known," she said, "that I have a very large capacity for getting work done."

I was surprised by her answer. I thought she would say she was a skilled fundraiser or possessed a strong financial mind but instead of focusing on skills or tasks she focused on the process of working.

Since that day I have talked with others in our field about this concept of “capacity” and wondered if each person has a set-point (meaning that they either have a large capacity or they do not) or if there are actual capacity-building techniques could help a person increase the amount of work they can produce. After careful thought I have identified four key areas that I believe are capacity-building strategies:

1) Creating strong organizational process to manage your day: There are about a million different ways to organize your work--to-do lists, planners, electronic calendars, setting reminders on your phone, etc.—however people who have high levels of work capacity have consistent processes that guide their day, manage their time and signal when their goals for the day have been accomplished. This includes any personal appointments, family commitments or anything else that needs to get done during the course of a single day. People with high capacity may have set days or times for errands, volunteering in their home communities and working on special projects. They are rigid with adhering to those set times. They always make sure they are on-time to meetings, events and activities because they always have a plan B (and C and D) when life's little surprises occur.

2) Recruit, hire, maintain and promote an exceptional team: In order for everyone to increase their capacity, a high-level team must be created or else you (and your other team members) will be constantly working to compensate for their lack of productivity. The most important thing we do in our jobs is recruit and hire the most talented people we can find. Take that responsibility seriously. Recruitment is a 365 day a year process—it’s not just when you happen to have an opening in your department. Keep lists of folks who excel in particular areas in your professional field and create relationships with them. When an opening becomes available you’ll have a well-developed list of people to consider and recruit.

Conversely, know when you have to counsel someone out of the role who is no longer helping the goals of the team and/or their abilities do not align with their current position. This is a painful process and the dignity of the person must be preserved at all costs however an unwillingness to address a toxic or non-functioning staff member can cause serious damage to even an otherwise strong team.

3) A commitment to wellness: Eating well, exercising, getting a consistent amount of sleep and being spiritually centered (whatever that may mean to you) impacts your capacity. Another important part of this is the phrase “on a consistent basis.” If these components of wellness are a part of your daily routine they will lead to long-term capacity-building. The ability to wake up well-rested, fuel your body with things that will maximize the functions of your brain and body, and focus on particular tasks are all benefits of a healthy lifestyle. A key indicator of increased capacity for work is stamina—the ability to continue your work past your typical stopping points.

4) A commitment to a blended life: Capacity is increased when you can kill two birds with one stone. Many folks in higher education have enthusiastically embraced this concept. When you take your partner and/or children to a program on campus, is it considered work time or family time? It’s both. When you work on an article for a professional journal on a Saturday is it work time or personal time? It is both. By re-framing your life to simply be just that—one blended life—then you can focus attention on all areas without feeling a need to compartmentalize them.

Some of these areas may take years to perfect but I believe they are good steps towards increasing your productivity both at home and in your professional life. If not consciously developed, I believe that a lack of capacity-building can stall your career progression and can impact your happiness.

What are some capacity-building techniques that you employ in your daily work?

AuthorAnn Marie
20 CommentsPost a comment