When I have the opportunity to speak at Accepted Student Day events, I begin with the following statement: We succeed in community and fail in isolation. This concept has not been one that I've always embraced--which is a nice way of saying that I have not always been successful. I was a terrible student in high school, in large part because I cared more about my role on the football and baseball teams (my communities) than I did my academics. During my first two years of college, I cared more about football and surfing (once again, my communities) than I did academics. I was successful in my football/baseball/surfing endeavors--just not my academic endeavors. And I was okay with that.
Then, my junior year of college, I transferred to Whitworth College, and I found a community in the English Department. How did I find this community? Because a professor, Dr. Lewis Archer, invited me in. He asked me to speak up in classroom discussions. He took me out to lunch to pick my brain as to my interpretations of 20th century American literature. He smiled whenever I walked into his office during his office hours. And because Lew Archer made me feel included, I then extended my social network to include other students who majored in English. As a result, I finally began to define myself as an academic.
And that's when I began to be academically successful. I understood the value of academic community; it's just that I didn't every think I was smart enough to be good at it. So I would always study alone, because I didn't care enough to study with other people. Sure, I learned how to surf with my surfing buddies, just like I learned how to play football by being a member of the team. But academics is different: you have to go out and find the team. It doesn't always come to you.
As Dean of Students, I want to help foster a community that invites our students to all aspects of MSOE. The students must have the community they need to be successful. And it must be an easy community to access: one that understands the needs of the students and meets those need in such a way that each student is the center of the paradigm.
I just want to do what Lew did: create community.
Note: In researching this blog entry, I ran across an obituary for Lew. I'm sad to find out that he's no longer physically with us, though his sensibility is always going to be a part of me.