Over the weekend I had my first experience with Airbnb, an “online service that provides a platform for individuals referred to as ‘hosts,’ generally private parties, to rent unoccupied living space and other short-term lodging to guests” [wikipedia]. My mother-in-law wanted to rent a house in Philadelphia for seven people to share while in town for a wedding, and she asked her daughter (my wife) to make the arrangements. On the positive side, Valerie reported that it was very easy to search for housing and to make a reservation, and my mother-in-law had no trouble getting the keys and gaining entry at the start of the reservation. The house was clean when she arrived, and the owner left documentation about operating essentials (such as the Wi-Fi password!). On the negative side, it felt very weird to be in a stranger’s house for a couple of days, and I slept horribly each night. Of course, in many cultures it is perfectly normal to spend time in a stranger’s house — and it is also an everyday occasion to take in strangers — but I have to say that I prefer to stay in hotels or with friends. I’m glad that I tried the concept, but I don’t think it’s for me.

As I discussed in blog posts on June 10, 2013 and September 10, 2013, I am a big proponent of living-learning communities (LLCs), and was looking forward to working with one here at UW-Parkside. Alas, the Exploration LLC did not receive enough applicants, so it is not running this year. In the meantime, I’ve started work on a new LLC for African American male students, modeled on the Huntley House LLC. The co-proposer and I are designing “Fearn House” to build community and connectedness for African American males and provide opportunities for personal and academic growth in a supportive atmosphere to ensure their success in college and beyond. Students will have the opportunity to explore issues of ethnicity, identity, and leadership, while receiving vital academic support and actively participating in and contributing to campus student life. Participants may be from any college within the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Fearn house is named in honor of Isom Fearn, Jr., the first African American graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. For 32 years Mr. Fearn served as the Director of the Access Opportunity Program at the State University of New York at Geneseo, which provided academically and economically disadvantaged students an opportunity to attend college.

 

In a past life I was an engineer. While getting my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in the late 1980s at Georgia Tech I enjoyed my liberal arts classes much more thoroughly than my engineering classes. I know, that should have told me something back then…I analyzed those years as a component of my memoir. Today, though, I’m thinking about the importance of receiving a well-rounded education given all sorts of calls for a narrower focus on STEM education. Here on the UW-Parkside campus, for example, the building floors are labeled D1 and D2, and L1 – L3. I recently learned that the “D” in the D1 and D2 designation stands for “down.” It seems that while L1 is considered to be the main level with a busy pedestrian walkway, D1 is “down one floor,” and D2 is “down two floors.” That made perfect sense to designers and engineers in the 1960s, but maybe if they had consulted others they would have realized that this system is cumbersome. (“If D2 is down two floors, is L2 up two floors? Up 2 floors from L1? Wait, that would make it L3??”) Or maybe they should have been required to take more liberal arts classes…

When I became a department chair in 2007 an adjustment was getting used to having some letters from me actually be written by others. A related adjustment as a new dean will be to have speeches prepared by others. First up is tonight’s scholar and donor recognition event. At 7:00 I’ll be prompted to say “Hello, my name is Walt Jacobs, and I am the founding dean for the newly established College of Social Sciences & Professional Studies. What makes a UW-Parkside education so special is our deep connection with the community and the employers that seek high quality talent to sustain and advance the economy and quality of life within our region. It’s my great pleasure to join you this evening to help highlight some of this year’s outstanding scholarship recipients. The following presentation provides a look into just how meaningful and important our efforts to provide engaged learning opportunities are to our students and community.” OK, I can do that!

A big component of a dean’s life is attending meetings. For the most part I enjoy them, especially ones that have an agenda and are efficiently conducted. (I’m writing this post in an extra 30-minute block I have today when a meeting ended early!) Last week, however, for the first time I attended a type of meeting I don’t like so much: a reception for visiting guests where you mingle in a small space with a plate of finger food, having short conversations with folks (mostly people you already know as usually there is a throng around the guests). I was actually supposed to go to two receptions last week, but was excused from the other one due to personnel problems that required an immediate response. Hhhmmm, maybe I should stockpile other personnel issues to be dealt with when other receptions are scheduled?

Recently I’ve been thinking about two poorly designed items here on campus. The first concerns sets of trash bins next to the residence halls and apartments; in each pair one bin is for recycling, and the other is for garbage. The problem: they are both the same size and color (green), but the recycling bin has small stickers that are easy to miss. So what happens? You guessed it: the recycling bins usually have trash in them. I’m used to blue recycling bins with large signage. I wonder why that is not the norm here?

The second bad design: the bike racks look nice, but they are too narrow for the U-locks that are ubiquitous on all other college campuses I’ve been on that have “regular” bike racks. Here students have to use the much less secure chain lock, and frequently they just lock the front wheel, as that’s the only think that (partially) fits into the bike racks. Maybe bike thefts are rare here, but I miss normal bike racks!

When asked questions about my vision for the college, I always answer, “it’s not so much about my vision for the college, the more important question is about OUR vision for the college.” I have several structures in place for collaboration and collective decision-making, such as a lots of meetings with department heads. I’m in the process of starting a student advisory board (more on that in a post after the first meeting later this month), and recently started the UnBox committee. As you may have guessed from the title (or if you remember a post about “The Unpossible”), the charge of the UnBox committee is to brainstorm new and unusual practices. I selected folks who are new to the college or who have reputations for coloring outside of the lines. I have reps from the faculty, non-intructional professional staff, administrative staff, and students (a first year student as well as an upper-division student). The first meeting was mostly about brainstorming ways to get one of my ideas off the ground (the Social Sciences Kaleidoscope; I’ll elaborate on this in another future post), but in future meetings I’m sure that they’ll generate some new possibilities for the college to consider. I’m looking forward to those gatherings!

Six years ago today I joined Facebook. As I noted in the post “Using Facebook as an Academic Administrator,”  I joined Facebook after asking freshman students if I should join that or MySpace. The student who specifically said that Facebook is more “professional” is now a Facebook friend and a former Fulbright scholar who studied in Germany. He was right!

AMC TV’s Breaking Bad wrapped up its five-season run on Sunday, and many people are buzzing about the concluding episode. I thought that it was great, and I am enjoying reading about what others think, such as commentary by the two lead actors. I’ve also been thinking about other series finales, good (Roswell), bad (The X-Files), and ugly (Lost). What were some of the finales that you loved or hated, readers?

Last week I wrote about task management tools. In one of the comments a reader suggested that I try trello. While I liked it, it doesn’t quite knock Remember the Milk (RTM) from the top spot, as RTM handles my specific functions more efficiently. I received a note that $25 is due on October 2 to renew my RTM Pro account, so if anyone has any other favorite task management systems let me know before then, please!