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Friday, October 28, 2011


First of all, October 28th, 5PM is our self-imposed deadline. If I think about it, we have until January 1, or 4th, before we know for sure we don't have enough students. There are a lot of other artificial deadlines before then also. For instance, registration begins 11/8, freshman (without special priorities) start registration 11/17, registration ends right before Winter quarter begins January 4. Let's not give up yet. I know we might not want to wait until the last minute to make a decision in order to be responsible to the students we have already recruited, but we need to be deliberate and not afraid.

Yesterday I spoke to a student who came to my office because of an assignment from the instructor of the introduction to Industrial engineering course for her to see her faculty advisor. I spoke with her for a few minutes about her courses, and then realized she could participate in SUSTAIN. She talked and listened and asked a lot of questions. Then she filled out an application right there.

This is a really great opportunity and I actually believe we will get 75 students to join us in the adventure. Today I have hope and patience.

Waiting on the applications

It is Friday, Oct. 28, 4:46 PM.  I am in the SUSTAIN office, waiting for the flood of applications.

We now have 22, with three additional that were submitted on line, but no paper versions in hand.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

what the provost said

yesterday...2 meetings with the provost.   in the first one, he agreed to teach a joint section of a CHEM class in the SUSTAIN grouping in the spring.  i know he is incredibly intelligent.  as we sat down with the chair of the CHEM department, he listed off his qualifications.  what i noticed was that the word "collaboration" was not on the list.

in the second meeting, he told us that we (the SUSTAIN initiative) have already had an effect on the campus, whether we knew it or not.  the dean's have unanimously agreed that there must be pot of money reserved for learning innovations on campus.  so starting in the fall, there will be $5M reserved for innovations in learning.

i am watching my cynacism around this...that they agreed to do so because they were thinking of their own pet projects, that we will not have any access to that "relief funding" shall we say, since people will view us as rich already, that we have been useful (provost's words, "i used you as an example of how difficult it is to do this in the system and convince them that we needed to set funds aside to do these sorts of things.").

i am noticing what it is like to have worked all this time, for the sake of the journey, only for those behind us to benefit, for us to be excluded from the promise land, so to speak.  interesting. i am not happy with seeing my self pity.

letting go

i feel myself letting go of the possibility that we'll ever get to run the SUSTAIN initiative with the students as we had hoped. i'm recording this so that i can hopefully look back after we've done it and say , "see? one just has to have a little faith."

today was allegedly our application blitz.  we have about 4 completed applications on-line (about 30 people attempting to do them), about 16 in hand, some that are probably duplicates of the ones on line.

we've had all kinds of students (probably now a few hundred) express significant interest.

all of us have bets riding on how many applications we will have by 5 PM tomorrow night. roger and i talked about what we would do if we didn't have enough student interest.  we can't really do it unless we have about 75 students.

i'm feeling like it was my horrible mistep in creating the on-line process that has possibly killed our chance to launch the iniatitive this year.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Borrowing hope

I am in quite a state. I am simultaneously angry and sad and frustrated and tired. Those who are closest to me see this in horrible relief. Roger and Linda and I just had a 45 session where each of us displayed our habitual coping in the face of being overwhelmed....I think.

Anyway, so you have this as a backdrop, I have no hope, but I am remembering what I love about my job. I can observe and feel the hope of the students. At 20 or 22, they believe they can still change the world, make a difference. They haven't had bosses tell them their idea is stupid (too much). They haven't run in to obstructionists (too often). They think things can change. I am hungry for this so I watch and listen. My happiest times are in the classroom, being with these remarkable people.

Today, it is a necessity.

P.S. the course Linda spoke about in the last blog was approved, without me shedding a tear (which if you know me is quite an accomplishment).

every one's an expert

i am writing this in a half-amused, half-crazed state.  as i write, liz in probably in a faculty meeting where her faculty are determining whether or not they will allow her to teach a class for which she is fully qualified to teach.

what we didn't know when we began this rather simple (but complex) experiment in learning is that we would have to change the entire university system to do it.

what we are finding is that when we take a step in the existing system to do something like schedule a class or reserve a room, people mistakenly believe we have invited to sit in judgment over our entire initiative from their place of superficial understanding.  it is quite interesting how consistent the pattern is...from department chairs to academic advisors to deans of graduate research, to colleagues who have no intention of getting involved with is remarkable.

this is not universal.  many people are actually intrigued and want to know more.  in fact, it is probably more the norm that people are interested.  it is just that now we are in the thick of managing the various pockets of resistance.

Marketing & Branding

Our brief discussion of marketing and branding that came about as a result of the comments from the NSF officer has got me thinking a lot about how we approach/come across others (students, faculty, staff) that are not like us.

First of all, as a "self-hating" business instructor (which is to say that my impression of some of the topics in my discipline are not ones that I would necessarily like or embrace), my initial reaction to the suggestion of doing a better job of branding and marketing SUSTAIN outside of Cal Poly was a little negative. Like many others, my sense of branding and marketing is one of "selling" what is unnecessary to others. I come to that sense because of what I see on TV, newspapers and other media -- a veritable tsunami of effort to sell us crap. So, what overwhelms me is the amount of "bad" marketing/branding that I face rather than the fundamental idea of marketing and branding -- which is to convey information in a way that allows people to grasp ideas in an efficient and, often, an emotional way. This is really quite hard to do (hence the amount of "bad" marketing/branding that we witness every day) but this is something that we are struggling with on campus. We are not undertaking improper marketing approaches but we are realizing that doing a "good" job in marketing is pretty damn hard -- especially given our ethic of not imposing out models on others.

As we move ahead with recruitment, we continue to look for that emotional hook for the students. But we also need to find that same emotional hook with faculty and staff since younger students will still seek out their advice. Over the past week I have been trying to find that emotional "hook" for students and faculty in the College of Agriculture (CAFES). There is a lot of underlying information about SUSTAIN that is available that we feel is necessary to inform students and faculty about SUSTAIN. Yet we still run into the difficulty (like all good marketers) of the short attention span of everyone (including us) not to mention the difficulty in managing the common disconnects between espoused models and actual behaviors. In my brief (but intensive) marketing spurt of emailing faculty in CAFES, I tried to focus on SUSTAIN as an extension of the college's history with "learn by doing". LBD is the mantra for all of Cal Poly but in CAFES there is a sense that we helped create it (with the creation of Cal Poly) and that we remain "true" to it in a fundamental sense. This can be seen in how students in CAFES embrace it (and wish they could get rid of all classes and just do LBD). I think that this common ground of LBD -- discussed in a way that doesn't criticize current LBD but which does offer SUSTAIN as a new option in Cal Poly's arsenal (Neal, why all the war rhetoric?) of LBD. I am still trying to figure this out (this is something I have been doing my whole career at CP -- how do I talk about something that is personally important to me but which so many in my college can find "bad" and threatening?) but I have to accept that a good marketing/branding approach (once we figure it out) will make our lives easier. Not because we don't have to think about stuff but because it will get people to ask questions faster and establish a commitment to SUSTAIN that much faster.

I hope this hasn't been too off-topic but it was on my mind and I wanted to get more into the "document the hell out of the project" mode.