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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Confessions of an academic

We had a meeting with the food group last week. It was encouraging as there were several people/organizations that are interested in working with student groups this coming quarter. We will probably do two or three projects with my Facilities design class (Industrial Engineering) and with students from Neal MacDougal’s Ag business classes.
I am observing myself and my trepidation about these projects. I will record these feelings here in hopes they are unfounded. Somehow I want to qualify myself (this is funny in itself, because I don’t really value people doing this). I have been working with local (and distant) companies for 15 years with small groups of students working with an organization and developing ideas for efficiency improvements. These projects are on the whole valuable to the organizations and the students alike. Over the years I have developed some rules of thumb for these project. First, the organization must be fully informed as to the commitment they are making to the students. Second, there must be a culminating presentation to the client group at the end of the project. And third, students must have access to the organization, this might include interviews, observations, production or sales quantities. In the food group it is quite difficult to identify a client/decision maker. I have noticed this before when working with non-profits. The decision-making is much more distributed/collaborative. I need to do a bit more work to identify these three contact points. This is not too hard, just a bit more difficult than when dealing with money-making organizations.
The thing that is a bit more curious to me is my own internal reluctance to coordinate with Neal.
Let me make it clear that I really like Neal. We have worked well together in the past, but the idea of having to meet and discuss this over and above our regular teaching and preparation is a bit overwhelming. In addition, I have a very egotistical background conversation that goes something like: “Oh, my students can figure out anything they need to know about food and agriculture. I am not sure what an ag business student could contribute.” Ok, so you just saw one of the ugly parts of me…maybe this is part of many of us academics who have been taught that we know pretty much everything, or can find it out if we need to. So I am humbled to see this in me. I want to understand Neal’s discipline, and I want my students to appreciate others' contributions. So I will do the extra work it takes to connect with Neal. I am hoping he is willing too, because it will take us both.
Should I do some Hail Mary’s after this confession?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your candor. I'm hoping to have the courage to be as candid (and humble) myself.