Category: Making a Difference

Meaningful Micro-Moments: Elevating Excellence


News consumption, whether through traditional means such as television and newspapers or more recent means such as news apps and social media, has been focused on many areas of conflict and strife within our country. There are multiple issues about which we care deeply. We can start to feel somewhat helpless in the face of circumstances over which we have little control; yet, your voice and contributions are important.  Regardless, you might want to consider a bad news diet.

Now, for the good news. Step back and ask yourself, “What do I have influence over during the next few weeks?” This perspective, one that is good to share with students, brings focus to the present moment where there is some “control.”  I believe this perspective is paramount as we move into the last few weeks of the semester, a stressful period in and of itself. There is a lot that can be done for yourself, your colleagues, and your students.

It is critical for you to take care of yourself so you have the energy to care for others. There are the common statements of eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep; that’s a good start. There also are micro-moments during the day that can make a big difference too.

  • Take a short walk with a friend.
  • Get out your headphones and listen to your favorite song.
  • Read some highlights you made on your e-reader in a great book you read (the app is probably on your phone and the highlights are only several clicks away).
  • Pause, close your eyes, and focus on a few deep breaths.

There is a common thread of humanity that is important to remember as we choose to thrive over the next few weeks. This commonality can be the foundation for compassion and allow you to be someone else’s micro-moment.

  • Ask someone how s/he is doing while making eye contact and really meaning it.
  • Let colleagues know why you appreciate them – say it directly, leave a note, or fill out a Cardinal Cares card.
  • Ask newer professors if there is anything you can to do support them in the next few weeks, especially if this is their first semester.
  • Share something inspirational with someone in person rather than posting online.

Our students have more responsibilities than they did even ten years ago. The demographic of our students has shifted significantly with a higher proportion of historically underrepresented students, first-generation students and/or low income students. There are meaningful micro-moments that can make all of the difference for these students and other students too as we approach the end of the semester.

  • Share the importance of getting organized and “setting the stage” for finals. Taking a few minutes each day to organize notes, study schedules, and responsibilities can put some free-floating anxiety to good use.
  • Speak with our students about self-discipline and focus. For example, encourage 30 minutes blocks of study without electronic interruption; neural pathways are better built when uninterrupted. Help them understand that now is the time to push what may feel like a personal limit around self-discipline, something that will result in new understandings of self and greater success in the future.
  • Students can push the boundaries of perceived capabilities, especially if you are there in an intentional way to encourage them. In addition to class, walk through the Flint Commons, the Learning Center, or the library and find a few students to encourage. All of our students must feel, on a deep level, that we believe in them.
  • Emphasize the importance of self care. Explain that the capacity for grit and determination can be increased with self care.

SUNY Plattsburgh has a caring community focused on students in excellent academic programs. This drew me here 25 years ago and continues to draw students and new faculty here too. Let’s take a few moments each day in the coming weeks to amplify our caring community because it will lead to higher levels of excellence.

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
– Respect and Empathy
– Helping Students Achieve Goals
Image (n.d.) Retrieved December 4, 2016 from:



Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, the sun would rise and set with life-giving energy to seeds in a rich soil that were planted and nurtured with the sweat of my father’s brow and the faith in his heart. Faith that the sun would not bring days that were too hot and faith that passing clouds would release gentle rains. There was an optimal environment for growth that led to a bountiful harvest. There were years when drought or violent storms would destroy crops and bring times of sacrifice and rebuilding.

Over the years, the environment has changed and farmers have had to adapt with different types of seeds that grow disease resistant crops and irrigation systems that combat drought. Generations-old traditions have changed and creative adaptions have been embraced for farms to survive. This “way of the land” is similar in many ways to our academic environment and how we must adapt.

As we work with our students, we plant the seeds of knowledge and provide experiences that will result in optimal growth. The environment we create for growth requires the sweat of our brow and faith in our students as we inspire their best efforts. We nurture inner souls and challenge growth of the mind. Our collective efforts will make a positive difference for our students, their families and for our society if we do our jobs well. The students and our society are not the same as they were years ago and we, too, must adapt in order to survive.

The number of opportunities before us are endless as our adaptation results in revised and new curricula, new programs, and new delivery models. We cherish learning in our students, but also in ourselves as periodic storms in the education system come and go. These storms are represented by changes in enrollment, in budgets, regulation, and some might even say in pedagogy. These present opportunities that strengthen our will for the love of learning.

Over the last week, I attended three events where adaptation and change were focal points in the discussions. One was a gathering of North Country Thrive leaders along with Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY and Mary Ellen Elia, Commissioner of Education in New York State. The discussions targeted how our community can come together in better ways to support cradle to college/career development of students.


Another event was a regional gathering of teachers, principals, superintendents, college faculty, and administrators who were lead by the Chancellor and Commissioner in discussions to address local challenges and opportunities, as well as improvement in our education system at the State level.

Finally, I attended a How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion that was hosted by Black Onyx where deep and meaningful discussions were held about improving relationships between racially diverse students and students and faculty who are white.  Creating the best environments for education for everyone at all levels of the system will require new neuronal pathways to be developed, something that happens best with collaborative models, deep relationships, and persistent effort.

Each of the aforementioned events was powerful and transformative with ongoing work that will lead to positive changes; each event was attended in its entirety by President Ettling.

 Evidence of Success: SUNY Plattsburgh Alumns

There was evidence of great success over alumni weekend when I spoke with recent SUNY Plattsburgh graduates. Annette Romano (’86) National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), teacher at Niskayuna CSD and Co-Director, National Board Council of New York, was at the regional event with the Chancellor and Comissioner.


Annette Romano (’86) on the left.  Also pictured is Amanda Zullo, NBCT chemistry teacher at Saranac Senior High School and recent recipient of an atward at the Whitehouse from President Obama for Excellence in Science and Mathematics.

Lateef Wearrien (’16), who is working on his Master’s degree at University at Buffalo in Student Affairs and Higher Education, led the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion.


Edmund Adjapong (‘12) graduated with a degree in biochemistry and is currently working on his Doctorate at Teacher College, Columbia University; his words of leadership in the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion were powerful.  He also uses Hip Hop in the classroom to engage learning.


Josh Modeste (’16), graduated with his BA (Biology)/MST in Teacher Education is currently teaching in New York City, was at the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion too. Seeing the success of these former students was rewarding beyond measure and represented a harvest that feeds the masses.  Each is a powerful agent of positive change in our society.


Speaking with Josh Modeste is Randi Randi Weingarten, President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers.  She visited Sarah Hackett’s class last year.

As we work collaboratively to meet the challenges and opportunities before us and to create optimal learning environments for students to become positive agents of change, we do so with sweat on our brows and faith in our hearts for the bountiful harvest that is students’ success. Be the sunshine and the gentle rain.

Bonus: Here is an abstract from an article recently published by Edmund Adjapong:


chancellor-an-maria                          Maria Veloz, Teacher Education major, with Chancellor Zimpher


EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
–  Lifelong Learnning/Growth
–  Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
–  Helping Students Achieve Goals
–  Collaboration

A Dean’s Road Less Traveled



SUNY Plattsburgh: Delta Sigma Phi fall 2015

Early in the fall of 2015, amid the tsunami of daily emails, I read a subject line from a student that said, “Delta Sigma Phi Advisor Search.” The email was not a widely-cast net, it was to me. The fraternity’s President, Jacob Pasa, wrote about a “new fraternity” and was asking that I consider being their advisor. As Dean of Education, Health, and Human Services, this initially felt like it might be incongruent with my daily role at the college; it also was foreign to me because I had never been in a fraternity and knew little about them. Regardless, I always keep an open mind when venturing into new territory, so I decided to investigate. Complementing this investigation was a statement I made to other administrators within the last year about the need for a stronger connection between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. I responded to the email with questions and received answers that piqued my curiosity. As a leader, I wondered what I might contribute and responded by saying I would meet with the Executive Board.

The Executive Board meeting revealed a collection of bright, diverse members and someone from the national organization who professed a values-based organization. The unchartered fraternity was in its first semester of formation and felt like a yet-to-be-driven new car with a manual that had been cracked open a few times. I took the “manual,” The Gordian Knot, home and read it from start to finish. I also read all of the information on the National organization’s web site. Based on my experience at the Executive Board meeting, on my reading, and on discovering that the fraternity was founded in 1899 on the principles of diversity and inclusion, I started envisioning the possibility of being an advisor. Maybe this was yet another opportunity to get back on ground level with students, a must for administrators who are making decisions that affect students’ daily lives.

As a Dean, however, I still had many questions that centered on time commitment, expected roles, strategic planning, organizational structure and goals related to becoming chartered. These questions were answered in face-to-face meetings with the fraternity’s president and a representative from the national organization, whereupon, I committed to be an advisor.

I began attending Chapter and Executive Board Meetings once each month. Upon request, members sent me an introductory bio so I could know each of the 31 members. I established advisor goals focused on academics, leadership, and members. I met with the chapter’s president each week to discuss leadership.  I also met with other advisors of sororities and fraternities once each month and gained a deeper understanding of Greek life. Interaction with a new group of students and with more employees on campus provided additional times where collaboration and community felt important.

While I made my decision to be an advisor with 100% commitment, I still had concerns as an administrator due to others’ stereotypical perceptions of Greek organizations. What I learned about Delta Sigma Phi didn’t fit the stereotypes; however, I had lingering “what ifs.” There were several bumps in the road over the academic year that required additional attention, problem solving, support and nurturing, all of which are expected in the daily life of an administrator.


Following the 15th Annual Fraternal Awards Ceremony on April 17th, 2016

By the end of the academic year, there were many collaborative efforts by this group of dedicated students that led to great successes.  Delta Sigma Phi established their shared values and defined what these looked like inside and outside of the fraternity (provided at the end of this article). They had the highest GPA of all fraternities for both semesters. Members installed hundreds of smoke detectors in local homes as part of their community service for the Red Cross. There was a true sense of brotherhood in this diverse/inclusive organization that was apparent in meetings and in study areas; they serve as a role model for our current, seemingly-fractured society. They received awards at a ceremony for all 22 fraternities and sororities that included: Emerging Leaders, Excellence in Diversity, Excellence in Brotherhood, as well as a Service Initiative Award. I humbly received the Advisor of Excellence Award. imageThat same week, the national organization for Delta Sigma Phi sent a representative to let the members know they met all requirements to receive their charter. This coming Saturday, there will be a formal ceremony and banquet for members and their families at the Valcour Inn and Boathouse celebrating the chartering of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi.

Being an advisor for Delta Sigma Phi at SUNY Plattsburgh has been rewarding. I was given the privilege to make a positive difference in the lives of students, one of the top priorities in my daily work. The bridge between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs was strengthened. Most importantly, I now see my advisement for Delta Sigma Phi as congruent with what I do on a daily basis to provide a positive model and a positive learning environment for developing current and future leaders. I am grateful for my fraternal journey on a road less traveled by deans and encourage others, regardless of their position at the college, to consider additional ways to strengthen the bridge between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs; I know a number of you are already doing this work.  Dedicating yourself to the service that strengthens this bridge will support our whole-student approach to education and our commitment to students’ success.


Delta Sigma Phi’s Executive Board from left to right: N’Faly Kaba, Treasurer;  Jeffrey Perez, VP for Recruitment; Mikiyas Molla, VP for Membership Development; Mike Kayigize, Vice President; Pat Mancino, Sergeant at Arms; Eric Paige, Interfraternity Council; Will Hodge, Secretary; and Jacob Pasa, President 

Bonus: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”   Mahatma Gandhi

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
*  Helping Students Achieve Goals
*  Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
*  Service


Delta Sigma Phi
SUNY Plattsburgh Chapter
Shared Values

• Communication
–  Lending an ear to a brother in need
–  Able to speak openly/freely with each other
• “Staying hungry” and never becoming complacent as individuals or as a fraternity
• Consistently challenging one another (course attendance, study habits, grades)
• Treating all members with the same respect
• Genuine friendship
• Helping each other
• Having each other’s back and looking out for each other
• Maintaining confidentiality
• Deepening unity through shared values
• Attending social/academic events
• Meeting outside of formal events
• Being Reliable

• Inside Delta Sig
–  Understanding each other and treating all members with the same respect
–  Demonstrating openness for different perspectives
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Helping and taking advice from members of other organization’s
–  Socializing with members of other organization’s and making friends

• Inside Delta Sig
–  Adhering to bylaws and respecting standards board
–  Holding each other to a higher standard using a brotherly approach rather than an
authoritative approach
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Responding quickly to situations involving our brothers
–  Seeing the betterment of our brothers as their time progresses as members of
Delta Sig

• Inside Delta Sig
–  Valuing diversity and inclusion
–  Life-long learning about diversity
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Having events that focus on diversity
–  Being an example to the community

• As seen inside Delta Sig
–  Being committed to community service
–  Showing that we do care
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Showing we care and investing our free time
–  Raising awareness and supporting the Red Cross

• As seen inside Delta Sig
–  Always being open to new ideas and growth
–  Learning from each other
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Modeling diversity and inclusion as a student-leadership organization
–  Attending events and demonstrating we are not an isolated organization

• As seen inside Delta Sig
–  Pushing each other and ourselves to be Better Men
–  Deepening our collective sense of purpose
• As seen by others outside of Delta Sig
–  Setting high standards and striving for success
–  Striving for growth in all of our shared values


Beyond the Syllabus


Think back to times in your life when you learned the most about yourself, others, or an area of study.  Most likely, there was someone, or many people if you were lucky, who supported you and encouraged you on the path of learning and helped you learn how to struggle.  There may have been times when you wanted to give up, but someone was there to help you build resilience and help you realize that there were unimaginable possibilities in your life if you would ______. I’ll let you fill in the blank.

I’ve had the honor of speaking with SUNY Plattsburgh students recently about the alchemy of personal characteristics and life-approaches that could turn into gold in the future.  The discussion often starts with saying each student’s future is unknown, but doing the right things now will place her/him at the doorstep of opportunities that cannot yet be imagined.  I often challenge students’ thinking in the conversation by saying that there is no way of knowing the true self without moving beyond comfort zones and struggling beyond perceived limits of discipline, determination, and inner-drive.  The right friends and mentors are crucial to this process too.

Another powerful statement I use with students is, “It would be fascinating to see who you could become if (add something about discipline, determination and/or inner drive here).”  This statement about an “unknown self,” is followed by emphasizing the importance of accepting and appreciating the “current self.”  This allows for growth without creating anxiety about the current self; greater anxiety is felt by students who tightly embrace an idealized self that is far from the real self.

The mixing of concepts such as an “unknown future self” and “appreciating the current self” is the alchemy; a combination of characteristics/approaches that lead to unimaginable possibilities.  There are other powerful, life-changing combinations of characteristics and approaches you can consider introducing to your students that will help build resilience and opportunities such as:

  • Passionate curiosity as related to deep learning without dependence on a professor to feel passionate about a subject
  • Strength/Ego/Confidence balanced by humility
  • Being “comfortable” vs. learning how to struggle well
  • Maintaining dignity when faced with hurtful comments from others
  • Creating a safe psychological space in which to have difficult conversations – critical to do at any institution of higher learning
  • Caring and the importance of letting/helping others struggle (detailed in a story below)
  • Any “ism” and truly appreciating others’ lived experiences
  • Self-discipline to focus without electronic distraction
  • “The way it has always been done” and creativity
  • Time management and creating your own deadlines that are before actual deadlines

These select characteristic and approaches (you can add many more to this list) are rarely found in a syllabus; yet, they may be the most important things your students will learn in order to be successful.  While knowledge and skills for a profession are paramount, the most important, powerful, and engaging approach you can have as a professor is caring beyond what is on the syllabus and helping students acquire personal characteristics for success.  If our students are to develop resilience so they can end up on the doorstep of opportunity, then we must care deeply enough to support how they learn to struggle.

Bonus:  Here is a powerful story I often share with students about the importance of struggling.  For students in a helping profession, it is particularly powerful because they must learn how and when to let others struggle rather than rescuing them.  The story is a variation of an old story with an unknown author. My rewrite of the story uses gender-neutral language.


A child and a grandparent would often explore the woods behind the child’s house when the grandparent came to visit.  One day, they found a chrysalis (cocoon) hanging on a branch in a tree and the grandparent told the grandchild, Casey, about caterpillars and butterflies.    

Early the next morning, following a very windy night, Casey went out into the woods and the branch that held the cocoon was on the ground.  Casey was concerned and decided to help.   Casey ran back to the house quickly to get scissors and walked back to the fallen branch.  The cocoon was cut open carefully and a sort-of-butterfly emerged.

As the butterfly came out, Casey was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. Casey continued to watch the butterfly expecting, at any moment, that the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. Casey knew in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.  Neither happened and the sort-of-butterfly stopped moving.

Casey quickly went back to the house where the grandparent had just sat down for a cup of coffee.  Seeing how upset Casey was, the grandparent placed Casey in the safe space a grandparent’s lap could provide.  The upset child told about finding the cocoon on the ground and about being worried that something would step on it.  Amid tears, the explanation included the scissors and helping the butterfly so it would not get hurt, only to end with the sort-of-butterfly’s stillness.

At that point, the grandparent hugged Casey and said not everything was told during the previous day’s walk about how butterflies come to be.  Casey was told that given what was known from the previous day, the right thing was done, but there was something else that was important to know.  The grandparent explained that butterflies were SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, a butterfly’s struggle to push its way out of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly.

Casey thought for a moment and told the grandparent if another cocoon were ever found on the ground, instead of cutting it open, it would be hung back in the tree because it couldn’t do that by itself.  The proud grandparent talked about caring for others, helping them do things they could not do themselves and the importance of struggling to gain strength.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals


Tree Image (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:

Butterfly Image (June 17, 2014). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:


In our culture, learning to listen was not something that necessarily felt good because the process often came with some tone in phrases like, “Listen to me”  “Are you listening to me?” “If you would listen, you would know the answer” and many other phrases commonly used by caregivers and authority figures.  At school, most of us we were forced to listen while seated in rows of desks for hours on end.  Thankfully, pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning have improved and engage children in ways that motivate them to listen.

As we got older, we gained a deeper understanding of the power of listening, especially as we entered helping professions.  In our current higher education roles, listening is one of the most important skills we can practice on a daily basis.  Even though the title of “advisor” focuses on giving advice rather than listening, those who are known as good academic advisors at SUNY Plattsburgh are great active listeners.

We know good academic advising is critical to retention and academic success, a process that begins with good listening.  Steven Covey explained good listening as involving the ears, the eyes, and the heart.  With this wise perspective in mind, as we enter two weeks of academic advising, here are my Top Ten statements about listening:

  1. It shows respect for the other person
  2. Active listening provides a deeper understanding of someone and will improve your ability to advise.
  3. Listening holds the key to caring and opens the door to empathy; we know a higher percentage of our advisees are struggling emotionally compared to a few years ago. Don’t neglect the opportunity to ask advisees about their current emotional challenges.
  4. You can speak from deeper levels of the heart if you are willing to listen, levels where healing occurs.
  5. Your careful listening and encouragement for the other person to keep talking may allow for moments of self-discovery, some of which may be life changing. Simply saying, “tell me more” can be powerful.
  6. The other person’s life story will broaden your understanding of others.
  7. Your willingness to listen will build trust, something that may be needed more in the next meeting than the current meeting. Make sure you have some trust in the bank.
  8. Help your advisee know when to listen to her inner voice and when to ignore it. There are different inner voices to which our students can chose to listen, make sure they are listening to the right ones that speak of confidence, determination, resilience, and dreams.
  9. Asking thoughtful questions sets the stage for good listening.
  10. If you listen with your ears, eyes and heart, you will have the honor of your advisees remembering you as a good listener, and hopefully, someone who made a positive difference in their lives.

Bonus:  “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”  Alfred Brendel


EHHS Shared Values highlighted in this blog
Respect and Empathy
    Seek to understand before being understood
Listening to each other
Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues

Helping Students Achieve Goals
    Reaching out to struggling students
Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
Empower students to realize goals


Image (Sept. 28, 2010). Retrieved October 18, 2015 from

The Power of Potential

potential unlock

Some of you have heard me tell the story about a disheveled student named Miguel, who I first had in class 16 years ago.  I was going to counsel him out of the CDS major until I had a fateful meeting with him.  During the meeting, I sensed potential in him and as we talked, I challenged him to discover his potential.  It turned out he was exceptionally bright.  What followed was remarkable.  Over time, we performed several research studies together, presented at national and state conferences, and published together.  After graduating with a Master’s degree, he worked at a hospital in New York City and also had a private practice on the side.  Eventually, he went back to school and earned a MBA and became the Director of Business Development at Aetna Insurance.  Now, he is Director of Market Development for AmeriHealth Caritas.  He is highly successful and has a beautiful family.  I always think of Miguel when I am working with students and considering their potential.


With Miguel at the 2005 ASHA Convention in San Diego , CA

I met with another student named Miguel last week in my role as faculty advisor for a new values-based fraternity on campus named Delta Sigma Phi; check out the link because it might surprise you. As I was talking with him, I considered his untapped potential and tried to find words that would challenge him to discover it.  At the end of our conversation, I thought there is little else more important in the day-to-day operation of an institution of higher learning than to be able to tap the potential and support the maximum development of our students.  These mentoring moments where you deepen curiosity for what is possible are crucial to our students’ future.   How do we inspire, engage, deepen curiosity, challenge, and motivate our students to discover their potential?

Last spring, I talked about unlocking students’ potential at our community gathering.  One of the things I said was, “If students can’t feel your passion and your courage, the path to their potential will be impeded.”   They also must feel your belief in them, even when they are making mistakes and learning challenging lessons.  How do you show passion for your material and show your belief in students during day-to-day interactions?  Are you helping them discover their potential in a way that will create a future that might be hard to imagine?  How do you rationalize what is and is not your responsibility when it comes to helping students develop their skills and discover their potential?

You may ask where the wellspring of energy is to do this important, selfless work.  We all find it in different places, but one of the purest sources is found in the way our students inspire us once we help them dig deeper into their potential.  There is a positive energy at the source of inspiration that can move mountains.

One of the resources we have on campus at SUNY Plattsbrugh to help students develop their skills and discover their potential is The Claude J. Clark Learning Center.  Karin Killough, Director of the Learning Center, recently gave a great presentation to the College Council.  During the presentation, she introduced several students who are tapping into their potential and are helping others do this too.


Francine Frances

Francine Frances talked about being a biology major with minors in chemistry and music; she said she has a music minor because she likes to be well-rounded.  Her goals include going to medical school and eventually running an organization that builds schools and hospitals in third-world countries.  If you heard her speak, you would be inspired and would believe it is possible.



Mike Kayigize

I also was inspired last week by Mike Kayigize, the academic chairperson for Delta Sigma Phi.   He has lived in many places around the world and has an amazing perspective on life and the world.  He wants to accomplish goals that will have a positive, global impact.  I also enjoyed our discussion about academics.  My conversation with him was inspiring to say the least because there is great potential in this young leader.


Jake Pasa

Another student who inspired me last week is Jake Pasa, President of Delta Sigma Phi. I am inspired by his insights and his innate leadership skills.  We have great talks about leadership and examine approaches to achieve meaningful goals in a values-based organization.  He demonstrates the adage, “Good leaders are also good followers.”  His leadership will make a significant, positive contribution to developing the foundation of Delta Sigma Phi in the coming year.

Those are a few of the examples where I found inspiration with students recently.  The wellspring of energy is sitting before you in your classes and in student organizations.  You access the source of this energy by helping each student discover his or her potential.  If you do this, as many of you know, you will be inspired and will have even more energy to make a positive difference in the lives of students.

I posed the following enduring question to you at a community gathering, “What responsibilities do we have for ourselves, for each other, and for our students, that will allow all of us to maximize potential?”  The inspiration I received last week will have me working harder to respond to this question with my actions.  I know more positive, fulfilling energy lies in the answers for all of us.

What You Can Do Today: Help students discover a curiosity for what might be possible and help give them the courage to pursue it.

Shared Values focused on in this blog:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Model passion and professionalism
  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to students’ needs

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals

“Are You A Senior?”

Move In Dan 2015


Nine days ago, I helped families move their children into the dorms.  The hopes and dreams of parents were expressed, sometimes in side conversations that went unheard by their children.  I purposefully have written “children” because as the parents of freshmen were speaking with me, it was as if the years and cherished moments with their children were flashing through their minds.  The parents, seemingly felt more deeply by some of the mothers, were leaving their babies in the hands of an academic institution with the trust that they would receive good care and a great education.  Having just dropped a son off at college the week before, these feelings were fresh in my mind too.

As I carried everything imaginable from refrigerators to bowling balls, I was inspired as I spoke with upper-class students about their studies and their goals.  The parents of these students were pros when it came to moving in with one mother saying, “This gets a lot easier over the years.  We have this down to a fine science.”  She joked about the unnecessary items they brought the first year.  This may best have been exemplified by another mother I saw trying to drag a huge bin toward a dorm that I soon found out belonged to a freshman.  I asked if I could help and she said, “No, I can get it.”  I convinced her to let me help and was shocked by the unbelievable weight of the bin; it was the heaviest of the day.  She spoke with an accent and told me she was from Poland.  The bin was too heavy to lift and she said, “Here, wait” as she opened the bin and removed several 20 pound dumbbells.  Her son, who had reappeared, and I then carried the bin up the stairs to the third floor of the dorm as mom followed with the weights. The whole scene seemed a little unusual to me, so I asked one of our faculty members from Poland about this and she said, “That is what good Polish mothers do, they carry the heavy load.  It’s part of our culture.”   That is one of many stories, in addition to the mother from NYC who sings at the Metropolitan Opera and gave me a demonstration of a vocal warm up before singing a few notes.  Her son did not see this, so embarrassment was averted.

At lunch, I sat with some parents who were tired from all of the moving and appreciative of the food provided by the college.  They told me about their daughter and their hopes for her.  On the other side of me were some students who told many stories about why they love SUNY Plattsburgh.

I had a goal of helping students move into every dorm.  One of the benefits of doing this was speaking with the RAs and RDs as they checked students into their rooms.  Many of the RDs are students in our Student Affairs and Higher Education graduate program.  I was proud of the job they were doing and impressed with their professionalism.

Helping with move-in day reinforced my belief that when we educate students, we have to imagine their current families and the generations before them that sacrificed for them to be in our classes.  We also need to think about the positive outcome receiving an education will have on the student and his/her future family.  It isn’t just one student sitting in our class, our generational responsibility is much bigger than that moment; yet, every one of those moments counts in our common purpose of providing the best learning environment and education possible for our students.

By 3:00pm, I met my goal of moving students into every dorm and had almost 18,000 steps on my Fitbit to prove it.  Meeting families, talking with students, and seeing many from the SUNY Plattsburgh community helping students, made for a rewarding day.

I did not tell people who I was as I helped them move unless they asked.  I typically introduced myself, after multiple trips, when everything was moved into the dorm.  People were surprised and grateful.  My favorite question from a family member before I introduced myself was, “Are you a Senior?”  The answer in my head that I didn’t give was, “I will be in 11 years.”


The Final Weeks

Graduation Success

The academic year is coming to a close as we do all we can to ensure the academic, professional, and personal success of our students. Projects, assignments, internships, field work, and finals are the typical territory where we support and inspire this learning. In the focused moments of the final two weeks, there is a range of emotions from lessons learned to great accomplishment.  Professors can take great pride in the growth they have inspired in their students; the students will probably need a few weeks after it is all over to reflect so they appreciate the depth of their growth.

There is an overriding sentiment I always consider amid the various struggles necessary to accomplish end-of-the-semester goals that comes from Maya Angelo who said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  This is only partially true in an academic environment, at least I hope, if lectures and learning experiences are engaging.  In academe, we strive for students to remember what they learn.  Have you ever wondered what was most memorable from your course?  David Head (2011) wrote an article for Inside Higher Education entitled, What Do Students Remember?, where he discussed what students remember.  He used an interesting one-point, extra-credit question on his final exams to explore this, “What one thing from the course did you find most memorable? Explain why.”  It may be interesting to try this question on final exams with your students.  Regardless of their answer, however, they will always remember how you made them feel.

As we move toward finals, and toward graduation for some, there will be many ceremonies and celebrations.  It is an honor for us to attend these events.  There are several supervisor appreciation events I am honored to attend where students and supervisors speak publicly about their appreciation for the lessons learned during internships.  At another event, there is formal participation by family members as students are honored for their success.  There are many additional events that highlight students’ success where families are present to value the moment.  These accomplishments by our students, sometimes amid great struggle and sacrifice by themselves and their families, are valued and celebrated.  It is during these celebrated instances of students’ academic, professional, and personal success when I am thinking, “This is why we do what we do.”

Bonus: There are successes and challenges with colleagues over the semester too.  What answers would you get if you asked your colleagues, “What one thing from our interactions this semester did you find most memorable?  How would the answers inform what we do next semester?

Shared Values Highlighted:

Helping Students Achieve Goals – Empowering students to realize goals
Appreciation – Celebrating success


Head, D. (2011).  What do students remember? Retrieved May 3, 2015 from

Image (2011). Retrieved May 3, 2015 from

The Anatomy of Advisement


Sign-up sheets on seemingly-revolving office doors of faculty typify this time of year in academe when students are meeting with academic advisors.  Some faculty members may see this as a fairly routine event and hopefully few see it as an annoyance that interferes with other responsibilities.  I have always viewed advisement as an opportunity to make a positive difference in advisees’ lives.  Before an advisee comes to see me, I often contemplate on who I need to be to help or inspire the student to reach maximum success.  I consider if this were my child in college, with what type of adviser would I want her to meet?  What comes to mind is someone who is kind, who listens well, who pays attention to details, who is not afraid to have difficult conversations if necessary, and who can inspire ways to realize potential.  I even reflect on the characteristics of my best advisors who were so much more than advisors, they were mentors who modeled traits I wanted to develop.

It all starts with the feeling you get when advisees walk into your office.  I think back to an interview Oprah did with Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize Novelist.  The conversation was about parenting.  One thing Oprah said was, “The common denominator in the human experience is that everybody wants just to be appreciated or validated.”  In the conversation, Toni Morrison said, “It’s interesting to see when a kid walks into the room… does your face light up? That’s what they’re looking for…when my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or their socks were up…so you think your affection and your deep love is on display cause you’re caring for them, it’s not. When they see you they see the critical face…what’s wrong now? …Let your face speak what’s in your heart…it’s just as small as that.”

I met with an advisee last week and there was a midterm grade that needed some attention.  I validated him the second he walked into my office; I hope my face lit up.  He came prepared with a list of courses he needs next semester.  I went over the fine details of his academic plan that included counting general education requirements, appropriate number of upper division credits, major requirements, courses that would help him grow as a person and make him better in his job, and a number of other requirements that ensured he will graduate on time.  We were able to sketch out a plan for the next four semesters.  Then, it was time to take it to the next level where the heart meets the mind.

Mentor Parachute

We took the time to talk about dreams and aspirations.  We then talked about new study habits he could try that would allow him to reach those dreams and aspirations.  The conversation then went to daily living habits with friends and roommates and how these habits may be helping or impeding success.  We ended by me stating my belief in him to be successful and stating my door is always open if he needs anything.

There is so much more to the anatomy of good advising than making sure students meet major requirements and have 120 credits when they finish. Good advisement begins with the heart, moves to the mind, finds ways to connect the heart and the mind, and ends with the heart.  It is this holistic approach that presents an opportunity for advisees to feel their inner strength in ways they may have never imagined.  Create new doors of possibility in their minds and invite them to go through with heart.


EHHS Share Value Highlighted:  Helping Students Achieve Goals


Oprah and Toni Morrison (n.d.).

Cartoon (2015). Retrieved April 4, 2015 from

Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2015 from:


There are a limited number of minutes in a semester, 158,400 as of today, and they seem to go faster this time of year.  It may feel like we have come “full circle” from the beginning of the semester where our aspirations were high and learning objectives were set, to the close of another semester where we race harder to fulfill the aspirations and objectives.  But, “full circle” does not really capture the reality of higher education, at least I hope not.

Each semester provides us with the opportunity for continuous improvement, a deepening spiral rather than a circle, that allows for exercising a growing expertise in developing our students into the citizens who will be responsible for our world.  Some may chose to go in circles, but the future depends on deepening spirals of continuous learning.  How can you set a trajectory that deepens this spiral for yourself and for your students?

If students know we truly care about them and are passionate about their learning, then they will remember more of what we model and say.  They also will be more engaged in their own learning process.  There are, of course, times when some tough love is needed and the ear of procrastination and laziness need a good twist, actions appreciated later by students who look back and attribute part of their success to you.

The spiral deepens on many pathways to the mind and a better future.  The heart’s path seems to be the widest and most direct.  It is on this path, best when traveled together, that critical elements of dignity are found.  I shared part of a TED Talk with you at the beginning of the semester by Donna Hicks that highlighted the essential elements of dignity.  I share these again, particularly in the context of the world for which we prepare our students.

  • Acceptance of Identity – when we honor someone’s dignity, we accept his/her identity.
  • Recognition – We give someone recognition of his or her unique qualities and way of life.
  • Acknowledgement – we make sure people feel seen, heard, listened to, and responded to.
  • Inclusion – The person feels a sense of belonging and a sense of community.
  • Independence – There is a feeling of freedom and a life filled with hope and possibility.
  • Safety – To honor someone’s dignity is to make sure s/he feels safe and secure. This includes psychological safety that prevents humiliation and feeling shamed or marginalized.
  • Fairness – Dignity requires fair and even-handed treatment [e.g., understanding dominance and privilege].
  • Understanding – We give someone the benefit of the doubt and seek understanding, especially from people we don’t naturally gravitate toward. We give someone space [i.e., suspend judgment] and time to explain his/her experiences.
  • Accountability – We are accountable for our behavior and must apologize when hurting someone’s dignity. Also, we all deserve an apology when someone does us harm.

Donna Hicks spoke to the power of dignity by saying, “Imagine for a moment if we honored these elements of dignity in our daily lives with the people with whom we come in contact.  Imagine what that would be like.  Imagine what our relationships would be like when everyone felt this way…seen, heard, identity was accepted, etc.  When we honor other people’s dignity, we strengthen our own.”

Collectively, the words of Martin Luther King Jr., the path to the mind through the heart, the need for occasional tough love, and the essential elements of dignity provide us with many tools to prepare ourselves and our students to make a positive difference in the world.  Recent headlines have highlighted racial tension across the country, loss of young lives due to hazing, and sexual assaults on college campuses; the list seemingly is inexhaustible.  It is more important than ever that we deepen our knowledge and strengthen the character of youth in ways that will result in a better world in which to live.  Characteristics that combat indignities, mindful dispositions if you will, are essential in addition to technical knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a profession.

The next two weeks will be filled with trying to fulfill aspirations envisioned at the beginning of the semester.  As you use your minutes wisely to engage students in deeper learning, make sure to touch the heart, maybe the ear, and the essential characteristics of dignity. Even in the remaining minutes of this semester, you can make a positive difference and touch the future through our students.


Mandela passion








Shared Values Highlighted:

  • Respect and Empathy
  • Excellence in Teaching
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth
  • Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
  • Helping Students to Achieve Goals
  • Professionalism
  • Broad-minded

Hicks, D. (April 4, 2014). Declare Dignity. Retrieved from

Image (May 28, 2014). Retrieved November 29, 2014 from:

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