While looking back at my previous blog post that I wrote shortly after arriving at the National Forum, I realized how many new skills I have actually gained since starting in May. I will be graduating from the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in December and I’m on my way out of the National Forum, as well, but I think it’s important to reflect on these new skills. The following is a list of 3 new things I learned during my time at the National Forum as a member of the Finance & Stewardship team:
3. Creating agendas is vital – Things don’t always go as planned if you don’t have an agenda of what you think should be accomplished at the many meetings held at the National Forum.
2. Immerse yourself in the material – There is SO much going on at the National Forum that I’ve learned it’s best to just jump in to a project. Find out as much information as you can and then get started wherever you think you can be the most useful.
1. Look ahead – Again, there is so much going on at the National Forum that it can be difficult to keep everything straight. Looking forward on the calendar can help you better prepare for the busier times during the semester and know how early to get started on that final report or that LOI.
My time at the National Forum has been a great growing experience for me and I hope others have the opportunity to learn as much as I have in the past 6 months.
Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of participating in a series of events that each highlighted, in their own way, the necessity of foregrounding a public good mission in American higher education.
On November 5-6, the Rackham Graduate School here at the University of Michigan hosted a compelling Summit on Diversity in Graduate Education. The event brought together leaders from institutions across the country. Participants considered the role of higher education as an enabling force in the promotion and creation of knowledge. As at the undergraduate level, graduate education must engage historically underrepresented groups of Americans in advanced fields of study. American society can never achieve its full potential when only portions of the population experience the benefits of higher education. Dr. Penny Pasque, Associate Professor of Adult and Higher Education at the University of Oklahoma and a visiting scholar at the National Forum this academic year, offered the challenging insight that policymakers, educators, and the general public must develop a recognition that the private benefits of higher wage prospects and improved economic conditions are not mutually exclusive from the public benefits of a more engaged and engaging citizenry.
Still reflecting on the Diversity Summit, I took off with my colleagues from the National Forum to attend the annual Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) conference in St. Louis, Mo. Whether discussing the challenges and opportunities of access to higher education for undocumented students, considering new research on ways in which flagship universities are seeking to recover revenues lost as a result of declining state support, or learning about the experiences of Latino males in advanced science programs, I could not—or perhaps refused to—shake the lens of advancing the public good through higher education. As a community, those of us committed to a new vision for higher education in the twenty-first century—a vision in which higher education serves to promote equity and social justice, rather than perpetuate the inequities of the past—must inform this vision with a determined commitment to the public good served by institutions of higher learning.
One of the great higher education visionaries, Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, visited the University of Michigan on November 21. Through a series of presentations and workshops, Mr. Merisotis presented Lumina’s commitment to enhancing attainment of high quality higher education credentials nationwide by 2025. As he pointed out, the foundation cannot only support efforts to boost attainment rates for the sake of putting more credentials in the hands of Americans in the coming decade. This work recognizes the promise of higher education not only to enable a better economic future, but to equip graduates with the experience of working with diverse sets of colleagues, social capital to advocate for positive change, and passion to build stronger communities. As Dr. Pasque stated at this month’s Diversity Summit, “risks require patrons.” I am grateful to know organizations such as the Lumina Foundation are at the forefront of broadening access to higher education in an effort to promote the public role the sector must serve to realize its own full potential.
I have come to realize that the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good is literally a forum. In the short time I have been here, it has become a physical place where I go to engage in rich conversations with professors, staff and my peers around the higher education issues that concern us the most. Through these dialogues, I have been exposed to many topics in higher education that I had never even thought of before such as challenges foster care youth face in accessing higher education. I have also had opportunities to participate in conversations at the national level.
Through the National Forum. I had the opportunity to attend my first national higher education conference in my hometown Chicago, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). After delving into the histories, challenges and strengths of Minority Serving Institutions through a class I am taking it was beneficial to meet individuals from Hispanic Serving Institutions from across the nation and hear about the great work they are doing. The University of Michigan was recognized for being a strong associate of HACU and for its work with college access for undocumented students. A team from the National Forum presented on uLEAD, an online tool created at the Forum to encourage collaboration and problem solving for university leaders committed to educational access and diversity.
Most recently, I was able to engage in conversation with individuals from UC Berkeley and Texas State University on their efforts to provide support to undocumented and Latino students on their campuses. Being new to the field of higher education, I would have never guessed that so many initiatives are taking place to make higher education accessible to all students. I am excited to be a part of a team that is working towards the same goals.
At our first pre-screening of the film, The Graduates, the panelists talked about their experience with mentorship and how it has affected their lives. Listening to the conversation has led me to reflect on my life and experiences and the role that mentorship has played in all of it. As a Latina and first generation college graduate who has been working at the Forum for the past year, I cannot express enough how grateful I am for all of the hands-on experience granted to me on this journey. I have learned just how valuable and important mentorship really is.
Growing up, I lived in a community that often lacked the necessary resources to gain a quality education and to live comfortably with a single mother and five siblings. My determination, work ethic, and will power are all great contributors to my success, but I truly would not be where I am today without the people who guided me and continue to motivate me along the way. My middle school teachers, my three moms, my counselors, my peers, and my co-workers are my mentors. They have helped mold my being and their diverse support has helped me accomplish many of my goals.
I matured at a very young age and had a complicated, disturbing episode in life during my teenage years. While I worked hard to make the best of my situation, my middle school teachers reminded me all the time of how smart I am. They would always say I had a big heart and great potential. My moms taught me how to be a young professional. They pushed me to reach my full potential and by doing so, I attended the number one public high school in Detroit which is Cass Technical High School. They encouraged me to get involved in my community and to find ways to become a well-rounded person. My counselors helped me cope with my anger and sadness. They also helped me understand that everything happens for a reason. My peers have been by my side through the good and bad times. They have opened their arms to comfort me and their families have made me a family member too. My sorority sisters have taught me all about community service, academic excellence, professionalism, event planning, and leadership. My co-workers, especially those at the National Forum have heavily educated me more about my interests in social work and higher education. Here, I have been given the opportunity to put into action the knowledge and skills I gained during my time as an undergraduate student. In a matter of two months, I have been able to combine my bachelor degrees with my passions and serve underrepresented and under served communities.
With that said, I want to put emphasis on the importance of all youth having mentors, positive role models, and strong foundations in their lives to be able to succeed like we expect them to. I am especially passionate about helping at-risk youth and their families with getting the resources they need to self-improve and I also believe that we, outside of their homes, are responsible for their success as well. So, how can we help?
We need to be aware that we do not have to take drastic measures to contribute to the well-being of others. We can help by simply doing our jobs right all of the time and for the good of all people. We can help by being positive and influential family members. We can help by being mentors.
I am practicing this belief in my professional and personal life on a daily basis. I am thanking my mentors by passing on the knowledge they gave me. Professionally, I am teaching my peers who are still undergraduate students how to improve their writing, public speaking, and event planning skills. I guide my sorority sisters to learn about and practice professionalism. Personally, I have created a path to higher education and success for my siblings, nieces and nephews. I mentor young girls by helping them stay focused in school and improve their self-confidence and self-respect.
In reflecting on mentorship and the pre-screenings of The Graduates, I have begun to plan the next steps to further and positively influence my community. Making time to do what I love has allowed me to not think of participating in mentorship as a responsibility. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to be mentored and to mentor others on the path to greatness.
In my year of serving on the Finance and Stewardship team of the National Forum, I have learned much about the strategy and collaboration that goes into each letter of intent or proposal prepared by our project teams. While I am certainly not an expert in grant writing now, I think that many of the lessons I have learned may be valuable for project teams working on creating an application.
The Mundane – As unexciting as it may sound, one of the most important parts of applying for a grant is knowing when the deadlines are and creating a work schedule that will allow your team to complete an application on time. Having more eyes review a proposal is only helpful if you have enough time to allow multiple reviewers. Therefore, it is important to schedule backward from a deadline to make sure everyone has enough time to review an application before it needs to be submitted.
The Team – A creative team is key to success. While one person might have the first idea for a proposal, running the idea past a team will make it stronger in the long run. When the team has come into agreement around an idea, having one person write a first draft to be reviewed by the rest of the team can set up a terrific proposal.
The Secrets – Who you know and what information you find matter. Every time a member of your team goes to an event or conference, he or she should be “friend raising,” connecting with others at the event that have the potential to be project funders or partners in the future. These people may be able to share secrets about the funding process or provide insight into the direction a funder might take in the future.
Speaking of insight about a funder’s priorities…Where you get your information about a funding opportunity matters. A funder’s website is always a good place to start, but making connections with a program officer at a foundation proves to be even more helpful. If you cannot personally connect with a program officer, checking in the news to see where they have been speaking lately and what they have been speaking about can help you further your understanding of a funder’s priorities. Sometimes you can find Youtube videos of these speeches, which will allow you to hear where the program officer envisions the foundations future work going.
Bringing all of these strategies together has allowed me to provide support for our project teams this past year. As I move into my second year working with the Finance and Stewardship team, I look forward to seeing what new strategies I will learn.
Prior to my arrival at the University of Michigan and the National Forum I worked as the program director for the College Preparation and Leadership program (CPLP) at Mott Haven Village Prep High School in the Bronx. The program provides all college and career prep related services for the students in the high school, from organizing college visits to SAT/ACT prep to facilitating financial literacy workshops. Additionally, CPLP’s partnership with the school is so strong that CPLP staff is able to teach college and career prep classes to the students (9-12) during the regular school day for elective credit. This structure has made college and career preparation mandatory and helped to promote a college-going culture in a school of majority first generation college bound students. While the structure and integration of the program is very strong, the services it provides are very internal and the only time they reach out to external resources are either to connect students to extracurricular opportunities or to visit colleges.
Since beginning my work with the National Forum in August, I have had the opportunity to learn more about Local College Access Networks (LCANs) and even sit in on a LCAN development meeting for the city of Highland Park. LCANs are designed to provide college prep services and promote a college-going culture in the community for which they serve. What struck me most about the formation of this particular LCAN was how the entire community came together to create the vision and see it through, very unlike our approach at CPLP. Represented at the meeting were counselors from the local high school, representatives from Trio, Gear Up, The Boys and Girls Club, and the Department of Human Services’ Youth and Family Services as well as us at the National Forum. Though potentially harder to manage, this holistic approach is inspiring to see. Each entity will bring its own unique perspective and resources towards the ultimate goal of access to higher education.
One area that I hope receives attention in the Highland Park LCAN model is the importance of personalizing the college application process. Because CPLP is integrated into the school community, it is able to provide every student with individual support on their process. This means individual college searches, college visits, personal statement review, meetings with students’ families, connecting students with resources on campus and a whole lot more. Ideally the Highland Park LCAN will consider how to utilize its resources to provide this type of hands-on model. As the planning process for the Highland Park LCAN moves forward, I am excited to see how it takes shape and hopefully add some input based on my experiences with CPLP.
As we launch a new academic school year, I realize we are already half way through 2013. At my age, time seems to be flying. I worry we aren’t working fast enough or smart enough at the National Forum to address our goals. One way I try to assess how we are doing is looking at the national higher education agendas and seeing how we are contributing to them. Are we living up to our name? How is the Forum working for “the public good”? While the pace of change may be slow, is the nature of the work we are doing aligned to the types of change that our various audiences see as addressing a national agenda?
The 2013 and the upcoming 2014 U.S. domestic agenda will be primarily shaped by President Obama’s second term priorities. Health care and the economy will probably continue to lead the list of concerns, along with our relations in the Middle East. However, there are a few higher education issues that may come to the fore, including student loan rates and immigration, which has a direct impact on higher education. The renewal of the Higher Education Act will surface, I believe, at some point before the end of 2014 as a focus of conversation for a few, though not at the level of some of these other national issues.
In thinking about a national agenda and our role in that agenda, I was reminded of a list I saw at the beginning of the year setting forth a group of top policy issues for higher education. Published by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the list was slanted toward the interest of public institutions, but having just left a private college, I felt the list was somewhat reflective of issues that might also be of concern at private institutions (though in another blog I want to reflect separately on distinctive issues for private institutions).
The list or agenda included (in ranked order): 1) boosting institutional performance, 2) state operating support for higher education (down from number one for the first time in six years), 3) tuition price and tuition policy, 4) state student grant aid programs, 5) college readiness, 6) immigration, 7) competency-based and online education, 8) guns on campus, 9) consumer protection involving for-profit colleges, and economic workforce development. Of the ten, I was pleased to note the Forum’s recent work has touched on at least five areas. We have been involved in thinking about boosting institutional performance, described as achieving state goals for retention and graduation, and developing and implementing state performance –based funding strategies. Our work funded by Texas Guaranty, we refer to it as the TG2 project, focused on the impact of state funding on minority serving institutions and its inferences about institutional resilience connects performance directly to the resource pool available at institutions to serve underrepresented students. This work also relates to the second agenda item. The new research we are engaging focused on the Loan Repayment Assistance Plans (LRAPs) has a direct relationship to the issues of tuition price and policy. This research is exploring ways some institutions are starting to help students plan for and manage the results of tuition policies and prices. While the involvement at this point focuses on private colleges and universities, we believe the LRAP models may be options also for public institutions. Our involvement with the issues of college readiness has taken the form of work with the Local College Access Networks (LCANS) developing across Michigan. These high school-based college success centers are confronting issues of academic and financial readiness through college prep courses, FASFA completion, and ACT preparation. The goal of this work is to prepare and get more students into college. Some of the work the Forum is best known for is its championing of the issues of undocumented and immigrant students, their access to and support by higher education institutions. This has been a central focus for the Forum for over eight years.
I approached this blog as an opportunity to question whether our work is addressing or adding to one of these articulated national agendas about higher education. I was pleased to find we are. While we can’t tackle all of the issues confronting our industry, we know we have been, in large and small ways, trying to support issues we have identified as “for the public good”; we are contributing but must do more.
Whenever I return home to my Holy Cross community at Notre Dame, someone inevitably asks that most fateful of questions, “So, when are you going to finish this degree?!” Actually, many of my brothers ask that question, sometimes even those whom I have chastised in the past for committing this egregious sin of putting a doctoral student on the spot. On one hand, “all publicity is good publicity,” in the sense that they wouldn’t be asking if they didn’t feel my absence and want me to return home and get to work. I can certainly appreciate that sentiment. But you’re never supposed to ask the “when are you finishing” question to a doctoral student—trust me, we already feel bad enough about how long it is taking and we don’t need more guilt added to the heap.
What is happening in these brief exchanges is a very simple sort of sensemaking—my brothers are trying to reconcile the number of years I have been away, the average time to degree, my perceived ability, and my potential contributions upon the completion of this time in studies. Sensemaking is a framework for understanding the world around us. Weick (2008) claims that, “To focus on sensemaking in organizational settings is to portray organizing as the experience of being thrown into an ongoing, unknowable, unpredictable streaming of experience in search of answers to the question, ‘What’s the story?’” (para. 1). In other words, we look at the various cues in our environments, weigh them against the context we find ourselves in, temper them against our past experiences, filter them through our own sense of personal identity, and try to order what we are sensing in some sort of narrative form. Usually this process ends with us being able to recount what we have experienced in some sort of brief story, even if it is a simple story, such as: “I saw Dan the other day and he is almost done with his studies. He should be coming home before long. (He seemed, however, strangely put off when I repeatedly asked what was taking so long. . .)”
After several years of dodging questions about my progress in studies, I finally have good news to share and don’t so much mind the inquiries: I am working on my dissertation, and it is really interesting stuff (if I do say so myself!) I am studying the sensemaking of leaders in Catholic universities around undocumented student access. If you have been paying any attention to the news this year you know that we are hearing calls for comprehensive immigration reform from all sides—from the left and the right, from the religious and the non-religious, from within higher education and from the broader society. So it is a very interesting time to study an issue that, as of yet, remains unsettled. Reports estimate that there are one million undocumented children living in the U.S. (Passel & Cohn, 2011). As educators, what is our responsibility (if any) to reach out to these individuals?
Well, in classic academic fashion, while I have chosen this issue to frame my study, I am not actually examining institutional policy or practice. Instead, I am interested in sticking with Weick’s thinking and better understanding how key leaders make sense of the issue, how they figure out “What’s the story here?” In my qualitative study I have been asking presidents and provosts, vice presidents of mission and enrollment management, and directors of admissions and financial aid how they are making sense of undocumented student access. And their responses have been fascinating on a number of levels. My research is only just beginning, so it would be irresponsible to say too much about what I am seeing. But this blogpost would be pretty boring if I didn’t include at least a few nuggets from the field. Here are a few interesting tidbits from the early research thus far:
• Leader identity filters action: There is a difference between what leaders may believe personally and what they feel their positions as university leaders asks of them. While they may hold clear personal positions on the issue of undocumented students, they are very sensitive to what they say and do when acting as leaders and representatives of their institutions. This is not necessarily surprising, but it is interesting to hear university leaders reflect on this tension between what they believe and what they feel they can (or should) say and do as a professional.
• Catholic values have a clear and powerful impact: The magisterium (teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church) has thus far made no specific recommendations on immigration reform or undocumented student access. The church has, however, made numerous pronouncements about care for immigrants and guests, about a “preferential option for the poor,” and about general principles of social justice. One of the reasons I chose to situate my study in Catholic higher education is because I anticipated that these Catholic values would have an impact on leader sensemaking. That hypothesis is already being confirmed—leaders are reflecting on the powerful ways in which they feel compelled to act in certain ways because of the Catholic character of their institutions. I have personally found it very edifying to listen to stories of conversion and challenge as leaders strive to practice what they preach: higher education infused with Gospel values and oriented towards preparing “citizens for heaven” (Moreau, 1856/2006, p. 25).
• Stories are powerful tools for organizing our experience: It is interesting to hear interviewees spontaneously use narrative forms to answer questions which do not specifically merit narrative responses. Bruner (1990) has done some interesting work on the functioning of narrative, examining, for instance, the development of language in young children. He identifies four components of narrative: agentivity, sequentiality, canonicity, and perspective (p. 77). Bruner argues that as children struggle to become verbal, they are engaging in an embodied form of sensemaking, and it is essentially narrative in character. In other words, children make sense of the world by identifying stories and they learn to speak so that they can begin engaging their culture and environment personally. This is all to say that stories are very important to the ways we understand the world around us. It has been a pleasure to hear numerous stories of educators and leaders reaching out to these poorest among us—the undocumented who don’t even have a country to call home—not only because it is inspiring but because it confirms the role of story in the way we make sense of the world around us.
It will be interesting to see where the rest of my research takes me and what new lessons I learn. And it will be even more interesting to follow the next chapters of our country’s struggle with immigration reform and see what story we end up telling about the undocumented who so yearn to pursue higher education alongside us.
Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
Moreau C.S.C., B. A. (1856/2006). Christian education. Austin, TX: The Holy Cross Institute at St. Edward’s University.
Passel, J. S., & Cohn, D. (2011). Unauthorized immigrant population: National and state trends, 2010. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.
Weick, K. E. (2008). Sensemaking. In S. R. Clegg & J. R. Bailey (Eds.), International encyclopedia of organization studies (pp. 1404-1407). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
This summer, I had the privilege of teaching a group of teenage girls in Humjibre, Ghana for three weeks. The organization I volunteered through is the Ghana Health and Education Initiative (GHEI). Their aim is to enable community members to improve their children’s health and education. By having these focuses, GHEI seeks to improve the opportunities that children will have later in life. Over each summer, GHEI has four sessions which they recruit volunteers for. I applied to the “Girls’ Empowerment and Education” session, which focused on topics such as leadership, safe sex, family planning, budgeting, and self-confidence. These issues are ones that I feel very passionate about, which is what drove me to apply for the program. This trip broadened my experiences to an international scale; however it helped me to focus on the educational needs here at home as well. After working with the session participants, I am even more passionate about the role of education in lifting people out of the cycles of poverty, crime, and other social disparities.
When I first got on the plane to go to Ghana, I knew that I would have to let go of all of my training in child abuse and neglect that I received while I was a foster care worker. It was clear to me that there is a different method to parenting in Ghana than what we are used to in the United States. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is put into practice in the community, and although it may not be what I was used to seeing, this approach worked well. Instead of one or two parents supervising their children, adults throughout the community would make sure that children were safe and behaving themselves. Seeing this first hand allowed me to gain a better understanding of different methods of parenting and what it means to be a member of a community.
While in Ghana, GHEI provided us volunteers with experiences such as touring the local hospital and clinic, going to the local cocoa tree farms in the rainforest, and visiting the largest market in West Africa – with over 11,000 shops. The experience that impacted me the most was visiting the cape coast castle. The castle is situated to be overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and has a breathtaking view; however just below the surface, thousands of slaves were held captive before being shipped to the Americas. The combination of such beauty and sorrow was unnerving. Although entering the slave quarters was a haunting experience, it also gave me better understanding of the atrocities that humans can commit against each other. I believe that we should learn from the past, and by making a connection with the people who were brutalized, we can, in some small way, work toward ensuring that these injustices do not occur in the future.
When entering the Higher Education program a year ago, I never thought that part of my experience would include a trip to Africa; in fact, that idea would have scared me quite a bit. The media inundates us with images of malnourished children with swollen stomachs, diseases such as AIDS running rampant, and the constant extreme violence of tribal conflicts. These issues tear at our heartstrings and cultivate fear. Through working at the National Forum, I am lucky enough to have mentors such as John and Betty who pushed me to move past that fear, to experience new things, and to have confidence in myself. From this trip, I was able to gain a new passion and drive for the educational initiatives that I hope to work on throughout my career.
Detroit and its allies continue to strive for methods to remedy or at the very least mitigate the struggles that the city continues to face. In light of the city’s recent file for bankruptcy and its not-so-recent postindustrial hardships, community members turn to Higher Education as one of the ingredients for a better future for Detroit. Read more about this in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s article, “Detroit, Bankrupt, Looks to Colleges as Partners in Recovery.” So, what do you think? What is the role of education in developing community or revitalizing Detroit?
Because The National Forum agrees that Higher Education certainly has a role in the restoration of Detroit, it has engaged initiatives such as the Building Our Leadership in Detroit (B.O.L.D.) project which provides consultation and research support for Marygrove College. This project ultimately aims to develop and support future leaders of the city who have potential for pushing social change. In addition, the Forum’s involvement in this feat includes work with over 25 Local College Access Networks in the state meant to increase the number of students entering and graduating college.