Archive for category Inspiration

Goodbye Steve

Like so many others yesterday, I heard about Steve Jobs death not from TV or the radio but instead through the glowing pixels of my iPhone and the unobtrusive notification sound I’d chosen to keep me up-to-date on breaking news stories. My wife and I were sitting on the sofa and, on hearing the tone from my phone, I reached over and read the single sentence, “Apple states that Steve Jobs has died.” It was a sad, though not unexpected moment. It was hard not to think of his passing as the end of an era – an era of insanely great technology with a laser focus on usability and changing the world.

I had been an Apple user since the first semester of my junior year in high school. I begged and pleaded all summer for my parents to buy me a personal computer. A friend and I even collaborated on a comic book documenting the value to our education we would receive if our parents got us computers. Of course, what we really wanted was to play games. Our parents though somehow overlooked our obvious insincerity and got us each that Apple II+. Little did either of us know that it was the best investment in not only our education but our future. We both wound up pursuing degrees in technology and parlaying that skill into fulfilling careers.

I feel that I have much to be thankful for as a result of Steve Jobs’ work. Without that first computer, I would have never gone on to pursue my undergraduate degree. Had it not been for the first time I saw the amazing ability of a Macintosh to copy and paste graphics and text, I would have never concentrated on becoming not just a writer, but one with a sense of design. Every 18-24 months I would buy a new Macintosh. When iPods came out, I had to get one of those. Same for an iPhone. And an Apple TV. Not to mention an iPad. My life is surrounded by the works of Apple: the assorted hardware, iTunes, the App Store and I know that these things and others have helped me change the world and help others achieve their dreams. Sure, these things are just tools, but they are wonderful tools. Any craftsman or artist knows that while the tools don’t create the art, having the right tools can sure make the job easier. I feel that these Apple tools have done just that; made the creation of art and industry that much easier and that much better.

I am saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs. Regardless of how some may have characterized his management style, he changed the world and, I believe, left it a better place than when he entered it. This afternoon, someone sent me a link to his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. I hadn’t watched the entire address and was moved by it, especially near the end where he speaks about being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and learning to live each day as if it were the last. Well lived Mr. Jobs. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

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Inspired by Students

All of us have stories of that student who inspired us, made us pause with amazement at what they were doing. Maybe it’s the single parent who manages children, work, and classes. Or perhaps it’s an older adult who has returned to college for retraining or to enhance his or her skills. Maybe a student who didn’t speak much English and was not only working at learning a new language, but an entirely new culture as well. Or a student with a disability who was determined not to let anything prevent her or him from learning. I’m convinced that it’s our interactions with such amazing people that keep us engaged and energized about our work.

Friday, I had the opportunity to sit with an entire auditorium full of such students. At the suggestion of our newest team member, I attended a portion of the Adult Basic Education College for a Day event at the Eastview campus. Here were well over a hundred students, close to completing their GEDs, eager to discover what other educational opportunities were available. People I spoke with told me about having to manage a full-time job, families, and studying. Yet here they were, taking time during a work-day to explore college. Many were perhaps years away from achieving a college degree or certificate, yet they were determined to keep at it and to pursue their education. Their desire, their drive, inspires me to do the best I can to ensure that they receive the service necessary to support them in their education. Friday reminded me why I chose to work in education.

Friday also reminded me of some recent data released by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) describing educational, employment, and population trends across Texas’ ten higher education regions. Looking through the data for the Central Region (which includes Austin), I focused on two things:

  1. Population – from 2009 to 2020, the population of 18-35 year olds is predicted to increase by 11%. What’s really interesting though are the projected increases by race/ethnicity which show the white population remaining nearly constant, the African American population increasing by 10%, and the Hispanic population increasing by almost 31%. Since this age-range comprises the majority of college-going students, can we expect similar changes among our student populations?
  2. Job Growth – from 2006 to 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission predicts 290,200 jobs will be added, representing 22% growth in the number of jobs for Central Texas. Of these, the leading occupations preferring an associate’s degree or higher will occur in three sectors: teaching, health, and technology (see chart below). Teaching alone, primarily K-12, is estimated to account for almost 6% of total job growth.

What this told me was that we can expect lots of growth here in Central Texas. Many people will seek training and education to pursue these job opportunities so I would expect that we will see more people looking to ACC to meet their educational needs. Many will be traditional students, coming here after completing their high school education. However, some, and likely an increasing number, will be non-traditional students, people like those I met on Friday who were completing their GEDs and looking to continue their education to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

We’re in the business of helping people improve their lives and to change the course of future generations. It’s a solemn, almost sacred responsibility. One that I know each of you strives to fulfill every day by providing the best service possible to our students. Everything you do makes a difference in people’s lives. Thank you for making that difference.

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Educational Distractions

Twenty-five years ago, I found it tough enough to pay attention in my undergraduate classes that I felt had nothing to do with my desire to become a computer manual writer. At the time, my distractions were television, my Sony Walkman personal cassette player, books, bicycles, the beach, and vector-based computer games. No cell phones, no email, no web surfing, no streaming Internet video. Perhaps the biggest distraction of all was that the campus student center served beer and pizza for lunch.

Advancing technology and the increased stimuli that constantly bombard us now makes me wonder how our students, or anyone, can expect to pay attention to a single person talking away at the front of an uncomfortable room.  Michael Wesch, a Cultural Anthropologist at Kansas State University, takes at look at how 19th century teaching methods can’t compete with the inputs available to our 21st century students. Take a look his vision of this tension…

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Sir Ken RSA

What happens when you mashup my favorite educational contrarian with RSA Animate? You be the judge…

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Innovate or…

Spend 30-seconds perusing the Management & Leadership section of a bookstore or scanning the articles targeting entrepreneurs, small business owners, and managers of large organizations and you’ll not doubt run across some author thinking he or she is making a ground-breaking observation that we must either innovate or die. It’s almost as if the world had been a static, unchanging place up until 10:47am on Tuesday of last week at which time the author looked around and realized we needed to change to compete, survive, thrive, excel, succeed, etc. Of course, the way to compete, thrive, and so on is to change what we’re doing now and try something newer, shinier, better. Or so we’re lead to believe. With a new leadership theory surfacing every 7.3-seconds, at least we’re not at a loss for new ideas on how to do things. Innovate! Change! Improve!

Ok, so perhaps I’m exercising a bit of hyperbole. It does seem though like we’re sometimes stuck in a repeating pattern of the new, better, best methods for how we should do our work. Some of this may actually be useful and even embraced, initially, but more often than not, the shine wears off the new toy and we revert back to the same-old same-old, doing business like we’ve done it before. Is this a failure of the new idea? Not necessarily. Instead, the idea for change, for innovation, may be perfectly wonderful but just not appropriate for the time or the place where it was introduced. One thing is certain – the world around us continues to change and because of this, it’s critical that we change too if for no other reason than just in order to keep up with the changes.

My time at ACC is brief, so I can’t rely on much personal experience to describe this constant change. Luckily, there exists the ACC Archive Project to accurately document college progress over the years (unlike my fanciful statistics above). Some selected entries from the archive timeline:

  • Fall 1973 – 1,726 students
  • 1975 – Military veterans flock to ACC
  • 1983 ACC purchases the Austin Country Club (which becomes the Riverside campus the following year)
  • 1986 – Texas Legislature mandates general education core curriculum for colleges and universities
  • 1989 – ACC’s Northridge campus opens; ACC launches telephone registration
  • 1992 – ACC hires four part-time sign language interpreters
  • 1996 – ACC receives SACS warning to improve long-term planning process
  • 1997One College reorganization plan for centralization of control
  • 1999Senior Academy opens at HBC focusing on educational needs of senior citizens
  • 2002 – Video classroom opens at Manor High School allowing distance learning by video transmission
  • 2004College Connection launches as pilot program with San Marcos ISD
  • 2005 – Dr. Stephen Kinslow appointed interim President of ACC
  • 2007 – Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing Program launches
  • 2008 – Round Rock citizens vote to join ACC District
  • 2010 – ACC opens its eighth campus in Round Rock at capacity (>5,000 students); the Northridge campus student population exceeds 10,000
  • Fall 2010 – 44,243 students

In just 37-years, the amount of change and innovation that has taken place at ACC is nothing short of incredible. So, while it may seem like it’s the same-old same-old, the reality is that what we do today is very, very different from what was being done just 10-years ago, let along almost 40-years ago. Yet, and this is where it gets both fun and interesting, we also experience anew that which has gone before. Take for instance the surge of military veterans entering ACC in 1975. The same is happening now with recent changes in the federal GI Bill and the state Hazlewood Act providing millions of veterans and their dependents access to higher education. Round Rock went from annexation vote to campus opening in just two years and now we have four more annexation votes occurring next month. If they all pass, what will it be like opening four new campuses simultaneously just a couple years from now? Each of these milestones (and many others) represent fundamental changes to how and what we do at ACC. Through all of this, we have innovated and adapted how we work to meet the needs of our students and to respond to changes in both the internal and external environments.

It’s important for us to remember what has gone before in order to realize that innovation is not something that we have to start doing now, but rather that it is something we have been doing from the start of the college. Innovation is nothing more than creative thinking in response to the changes that occur around us. ACC has a great track record for innovating to meet the demands of our stakeholders. Often, the best innovations come from the people doing the daily work of the college. Each of you have a unique and valuable perspective on not just how we do things, but also on how we can change to do things better. I encourage you everyday when you come to work to think about your job from the perspective of a student. How does what you do help students progress toward achieving their educational goal? What could you and your colleagues do differently that would help students become more successful or reduce barriers to their success? You have the knowledge, the skills, and the experience to recognize the potential for new ways of doing things that will help our students succeed. Share these ideas with your peers and your supervisor. Talk about them with others. Make your ideas known so we can innovate into the future and put legs under our students’ dreams.

By the way, that last line is cribbed from something Dr. Kinslow said in an ACC Closing the Gaps video last year (see 4:52 in the video below). That one line, voiced by the college’s president, so eloquently states the reason we are all here working as hard as we do for our students.

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Cultures of Innovation

A week ago, I discussed broken things and briefly commented on Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick. I’m just about done reading the book and am struck by the value of their ideas, specifically the importance of stories over analytical data as a means of making ideas sticky. I must admit that I’ve long been a fan of presenting the logical argument, laced with supporting statistics, graphs, and charts in order to make my case. This book has me rethinking my approach to presenting new ideas. While I don’t think I’ll be able to ditch the data (so to speak) given the academic universe in which I orbit, including more stories and personalizing the ideas certainly appeals to me.

I had another of those Eureka moments this morning when the confluence of different ideas come together and clarity ensues. Fittingly, it was while watching a video on the confluence of different ideas. TED recently posted a new talk by Steven Johnson on Where Good Ideas Come From, which just happens to be the title of his forthcoming book. While the talk starts a bit slow, my interest really engaged when he described the car-part infant incubator designed for easy maintenance in developing countries. However, the real gem of the talk comes at the end (around the 12:15 point in the timeline) where Johnson tells a story of ideas building upon ideas and the development of something new which profoundly affected how people would interact with each other and their environment many years in the future.

Anyone interested in nurturing a culture of innovation would do well with reading the Heaths’ book and spending a quarter-hour watching the above video. For fans of the RSA Animations, check out the short video where Johnson outlines the themes for his new book.

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Broken Things

As a former technologist trained as a Systems Analyst, I find myself often looking at broken things from a systems perspective. It’s all a process and with a few tweaks and modifications, we can make it better. Of course, the rubber hits the road, as it were, in the implementation of any fixes for broken systems. Lines too long? Add a sign informing people about critical information they need to know so they won’t have to wait in the line. Problem is that all those signs become nothing more than visual smog, ignored by everyone standing in line to ask questions already answered by the signs they don’t even notice. Surely, there must be better ways of fixing broken systems.

Sorry, but I don’t have the answers here for you other than creative thinking and leveraging the brain-power of multiple people. Which, by the way, really is the answer though it doesn’t reduce the amount of work or time necessary to truly get at the optimal solution.

What got me thinking about this was the confluence of some ideas I’ve been experiencing. Among these, are thoughts on implementing change and crafting ideas that stick in people’s minds – both from books by Chip and Dan Heath. However, what sparked today’s post was another video posting on TED. This one from Seth Godin. If you’ve never read Seth’s stuff, you should, especially his musings on customer service and marketing. Seth’s writing is smart and funny and makes you think about things from a different perspective. Check out his video on broken things and see if you don’t start thinking about how you can fix all those stupid things that just don’t make sense in your world.

Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow embedding of Vimeo videos (if you know how, let me know) so you’ll need to view this the old-fashioned way by following this link to the Vimeo page.

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Sir Ken on Creativity

Some time ago, I became a big fan of TED. There’s something stimulating about watching and listening to great thinkers that you just don’t get from watching that third rerun of Law and Order. One of the most memorable speakers I stumbled upon is Sir Ken Robinson. He delivers razor-sharp insight on education with such a humorous spin that you almost miss the significance of what he’s saying due to the laughter. The video below was his first TED Talk (that I’m aware of) from back in 2006. A more recent follow-on talk is also available.


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Why I Do What I Do

It’s been five-years since I pulled the plug on the corporate life and returned to university to pursue my master’s in social work. At the time, there were probably some of my friends who thought I was nuts (likely some still do). While I don’t regret my decision, I have recently been pining for the functional environment of the corporate world. For those of you in the corporate world scratching your head over that last comment, I would ask you to hold any judgements until you’ve had a chance to work in the public sector.

I know that I’ve been getting a lot done and doing good work that helps people. However, as an administrator, I am often removed from our students, the recipients of our efforts. I hear the occasional stories but, sadly, these often get lost in the noise of daily activities. Recently, one of my team members sent a link to the embedded video. It took me a couple days to get around to looking at it, but once I did I was moved. Here were my reminders.

The video was produced by San Antonio College, one of the local community colleges in San Antonio and one of the main sources for students transferring to UTSA. I challenge you to watch it and make it dry-eyed to the end.

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