Conference Hacks: Tricks for Saving Time & Money

March 16, 2015

Conference Hacks

Attending conferences is quite the expense and is easily seen as a luxury by many decision-makers at our prospective colleges and universities. After attending the most recent ACPA Convention, I kept a track of various tricks that I myself employed to save time and money during my stay.

1. HOTEL FLOOR PLACEMENT – Every time I stay at a hotel, I ask the front desk staff to do their best to place me on the lowest floor. If possible, I have them place me on a floor that doesn’t require the use of the elevator to get to where I need to go. This saves a lot of time waiting for the elevator, which can be tiresome especially when you are on a schedule to get to and from place to place. Getting a room near stairs in which you only have to go up or down one or two floors can save you a lot of time (and help you burn some calories in the process!)

2. GROCERY SHOPPING –  Having access to inexpensive and convenient food can be nearly impossible depending on the location of your conference. Many of the hotels and convention centers have a monopoly on the food market with expensive kiosks, franchises, or in-house restaurants. A small part of my soul died when I paid $3.00 for a can of Diet Coke at the Tampa Convention Center! I do my best to get around some of this by packing non-perishable snacks and other food items that will fit in my luggage (i.e., dried fruit, granola bars, candy, etc.)

Additionally, I do my best to make my way to a local grocery store and stock up on items that I can store in the hotel minifridge and / or buy a small Styrofoam cooler I can pack with ice from the hotel machine. Buying simple breakfast (i.e., yogurt, oatmeal, bagels) and lunch foods (i.e., lunch meat, fruits, salad components) can literally save you hundreds of dollars from eating every meal at the hotel or convention center. Granted, you may have to get dinner on your own, but over the course of a multi-day stay, this strategy will help you save money. I got away with eating Chobani yogurt, granola, and a banana for breakfast for three days at the ACPA convention, which probably saved me at least $45.00 or so.

3. TWITTER CROWDSOURCING – Twitter is a great resource to use to connect with colleagues to enhance your conference experience. Use the designated conference hashtag to connect with other conference attendees to share taxi rides, meet up for dinner, and even attend social events together (e.g., “Anyone interested in going to the hockey game tonight with me? #ACPA15.”) This is especially helpful if you are the only person from your institution and don’t want to be alone. Additionally, you can use Twitter to hook up with others at the conference to share work-related resources and collaborate on projects together.

4. PARKING & TRANSPORTATION – Scope out transportation and parking options prior to your leaving home. Using public transportation to and from the hotel can save you a lot of money because taxi service will be expensive if you are on a budget. Check out the bus or rail lines online for the city you are traveling to figure out the cost and timing of getting around. If driving your own, find the public parking decks close to the hotel ahead of time so you can be strategic in parking with a much cheaper option than using hotel valet or their in-house parking.

5. BAGGAGE – On a few occasions, I have packed flat, prepaid postage boxes in the bottom of my suitcase to pack with items to be sent home. Typically the airline will charge the basic bag fee for up to 50 lbs., but will whack you $100 or more for weight over that. If you know you are going to be receiving awards, books, tchotchkes from the trade show, handouts, and other weight-inducing items, it will definitely be cheaper to pack them in a box and send it. Normally you can leave the box at the hotel’s front desk, and they’ll make sure it gets picked up.

What are some other “conference hacks” that you have used to save time and money when attending regional and national conferences? Please share your thoughts below in the comments section and / or via Twitter by mentioning @studentlifeguru in your tweet. 

 

 


ACPA 2015 PechaKucha – There’s Always Another Move: Lessons for Student Affairs Pros from Shackleton

March 6, 2015

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On Saturday, March 7, 2015 I presented “There’s Always Another Move: Lessons for Student Affairs Professionals from Shackleton” for the PechaKucha event at the ACPA National Convention in Tampa, FL.

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Sir Ernest Shackleton was an Irish-born explorer who, during the first decade of the 1900’s, attempted to reach the South Pole, but did not succeed. After Roald Amundsen finally did so, Shackleton sets his sights on crossing the Antarctic. The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition eventually became a legendary lesson of great leadership.

To hear more about Shackleton and how lessons from his expedition applies to student affairs professionals, please click HERE to see the video of my presentation. Enjoy!

 


Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (Book Review)

January 20, 2015

Overcoming Mobbing

It is my contention that the workplace should be a place of collegiality, integrity, and respect. Unfortunately, as long as there are differences in agendas, opinions, personalities, and power there will always be conflicts at work. Some of these conflicts can become downright nasty and end up costing individuals their jobs, and more insidious, their health, well-being, and subsequently, the welfare of their families.

I came across a great resource when doing some research on workplace bullying that I thought would be helpful for Student Affairs professionals. Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014: Oxford University Press) by Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry is a must read for those professionals dealing with or attempting to prevent organizational bullying. Duffy and Sperry define “mobbing” as “a destructive social process in which individuals, groups, or organizations target a person for ridicule, humiliation, and removal from the workplace.” Mobbing is different than bullying in that it occurs en mass involving multiple workers, administrators, and managers willing to participate in unethical communication that is both written and verbal. Bullying, on the other hand, occurs when one individual, such as a supervisor alone, targets an employee.

The process of ganging up includes such behaviors as the following: workplace conflict, people taking sides, unethical communication, other aggressive and abusive acts, involvement of management or administration, elimination of the target from the workplace, and post-elimination unethical communication. Mobbing is caused by a mix of individual, group, and organizational dynamics. An example of mobbing in Student Affairs can include colleagues ganging up on someone who is in line for promotion to a senior position in their department because those individuals do not want that person to assume that role. Tactics they use include spreading false information about their performance, befriending executive decision-makers and giving inaccurate and negative reports of that person, and purposely not inviting them to informal department meetings outside of normal work hours. As a result, they do not receive the promotion, begin to come under undue scrutiny from supervisors, and ultimately leave the institution because of the abuse.

Given the highly bureaucratic and politically-charged nature of higher education institutions, it only stands to reason that mobbing can and does occur within colleges and universities. Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying is a great primer that administrators in Student Affairs departments can use to facilitate discussion on how to create and nurture a “mobbing-free” environment. While it is unreasonable to think that colleges and universities are the bastions of collegiality and civility, we as Student Affairs administrators should ultimately work toward that goal, particularly as we serve as role models to our students.

What are some strategies that you feel should be used in order to create a “mobbing-free” workplace in Student Affairs?


The Things We Dread: Evaluations (Guest post by Sinclair P. Ceasar)

December 29, 2014

Staff Evaluations

You both sit down to the table for a chat. Well, it’s more formal than a chat. Your employee looks at you with wide eyes. At present, they are more attentive than they are at staff meetings, and you feel pressure to say everything with a smile – even if the information is negative at times. Why do we have to go through this? Aren’t they self-aware enough to know how they’re doing at their own job? You refocus your attention on the mid-year evaluation before you and begin.

Evaluations Can Be an Ordeal

Many of us are gearing up for mid-year evaluations with our supervisors, our staff members, and ourselves. We tell ourselves we won’t get lost in the rubrics and number valuations, but at some point we trip up during the evaluation process especially when we appraise our own employees. For me, most the anxiety around assessing my staff stems from me not wanting to hurt feelings or turn staff off from the work they do. At the end of the day, I’ve hired competent individuals who work to improve the lives of students. Alas, those same individuals are imperfect and need coaching, mentoring, and feedback.

Feedback with a Purpose

At some point in my career, I decided to view one-on-one meetings as opportunities for improvement and relationship building, rather than just simple check-ins with my staff. Reframing my meetings changed my line of questioning. I became more interested in the life of my employees outside of work. I wanted to know about how their interpersonal relationships were with their teammates. And I questioned their thought processes when reviewing situations they’d dealt with since our last meeting. I wanted to affirm their decision making skills and let them know where they could improve as well. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said to “make every meeting an appraisal.” Sure, I could have a staff that dreads criticism each time they enter my office. Or, I could have a team that values my perspectives because they know my intentions are to build and strengthen instead of belittle and weaken.

By the time we reach evaluation season, my staff is knowledgeable about their progress and areas of growth. The formal appraisal meeting becomes a space to exclusively converse about what they need to do to take their positions to the next level. We focus on actionable steps and end the meeting with goals and deadlines. The result: we have an account of their progress, written steps to better performance, and an entire evaluation packet to help me keep them accountable throughout the next half of the semester.

Putting it All Together

Here are 3 ways you can kick up your staff evaluations and make them less scary and more meaningful:

1. Show them how what they do matters – One section of my evaluation focused on interpersonal relationships. This section contained phrases like: staff member effectively communicates with others and staff member updates supervisor in a timely fashion. On the surface, these could seem like basic outcomes to measure, but I went beyond simply saying how well my employee did in those areas, and I came prepared with examples for each line of feedback I wrote. I also had an overall explanation of why we evaluated employees on interpersonal relationships in the first place and how it connected with our departmental goals. You want to know why your boss wants you to do something, and your staff wants to know the importantance and impact of their jobs.

2. Nothing should be a surprise- Your mid-year evaluations may be anxiety filled no matter what you do, but none of the feedback you provide should blindside your staff. Do yourself a favor and take 5-10 minutes during each one-on-one meeting to provide an informal appraisal. It will make your mid-year evaluation run smoothly, and you and your staff member will be on the same page.

3. Make the numbers work for you – We used a numbering system at one of my institutions in the way that “1” meant you were weak in an area and “5” meant you excelled. Once, I told my staff that no one would get above a “3” because they were all new, and it wasn’t realistic to have an exceptional staff member at that point. This was a huge mistake. I received backlash from staff members who felt this wasn’t fair and expressed how they excelled in some areas. Word to the wise: make sure the number system make sense, is objective, and is used fairly.

I’m curious to know what your best practices are.

Does your staff find evaluations to be refreshing and helpful? What changes have you made to your process in the past years? What are some challenges you face as a supervisor when it comes to appraising your staff? Please feel free to comment below.

Sinclair P. Ceasar has six years of experience with Residence Life, New Student Orientation, First Year Programming, and Service Learning. He is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and enjoys dancing, running 5K’s, and being a foodie in his leisure time. Follow him on twitter @sceasar1020.

* Graphic courtesy of Sigurd Decroos


10 Difficult Lessons I Learned in Student Affairs

December 22, 2014

Difficult Lessons in Student Affairs

Having been in Student Affairs for a long time now, I have met many fantastic and inspiring professionals from all over the world. I have learned many wonderful things, which have made me a better higher education professional (and person!) Some of those lessons, however, have been difficult ones and actually have made me an even more dedicated and resolved Student Affairs professional.

Here are the 10 Difficult Lessons I Learned in Student Affairs:

1. Not Everyone Values Student Development – Just like employees in any other industry besides higher education, everyone has different goals and motivations for doing what they do. The same is true for employees in higher education. While it may seem bizarre to a Student Affairs professional that a college professional would not be interested in student development, some see the study and practice of student development as frivolous and not worthy of attention or resources.

2. The Grass Isn’t Always Greener at Other Institutions – Student lifers rank up there with professional athletes that are traded from team to team when it comes to transitioning from one institution to another. Various reasons, include seeking a better salary, more responsibility, or to be closer to family. Some staffers have the impression that the path a new school is lined with gold. What they can come to find out is that their new situation may not be any better than from where they just came. While there are some places that may be better than others, all colleges and universities have problems, which is something to keep in mind when looking for a new place to work.

3. Most Staff Are Not Trained in Leadership & Supervision – I find that many colleagues at other institutions share their frustration with their institution’s leadership. Frustrations range from having supervisors with challenging personalities and those who provide unclear direction to others who are “buddy-buddy” with select employees or who are downright abusive. Unfortunately, most supervisors in all fields never had any formal education or training in supervising people. Many supervisors learn from previous poor role models and can apply behaviors of stereotypical archetypes of leaders they see on TV and in movies (i.e., coach, military officer, entrepreneur, politician, etc.)

4. Most Faculty & Staff Could Care Less about Student Development Theory – Years ago, I once had an engineering professor at a social event ask me what exactly I was learning in my higher education doctoral program. He was actually perplexed that an academic program like this actually existed. While student development theory is only a small part of a higher ed doctoral program, it helps to inform our practice and should be the basis for how we operate. However, most faculty and staff have never heard of Astin, Kuh, Tinto, Pascarella, and / or Terenzini nor put any credence into the study of students’ time at college.

5. For Some, It’s Just For a Paycheck – For most of us, it is our career and our passion. For others, working at a college or university is simply a job. While some of us are inspired and enthusiastic about our careers, others find it an end to a means.

6. Student Affairs is Seen as the “Icing on the Cake” – In particularly  difficult times with a fragile enrollment environment and the increasing costs associated with a college education, student affairs can be viewed as a luxury. When it’s time to make budget cuts, extracurricular activities are an easy target.

7. Professional Development Can Be Seen as a Glorified “Vacation” – One year I was not permitted to attend the ACPA Convention and was told, “You have already been to one of those” as if it was like going to some amusement park. Now granted, I have seen many professional staffers blow off sessions at conferences and go site-seeing in the host city, but for the vast majority of us, off-site professional development opportunities are for continuous improvement, collaboration, education, and networking.

8. Politics Can Supersede Student Development –  In the 15 years I have been a student affairs professional, I have seen university politics that have been antithetical to the spirit of student development or learning (or simple ethics to be honest). I recently read an excellent blog post called The Dirty Secret of Student Affairs by Christian Cho, which specifically speaks to this dynamic. While politics definitely has its place in colleges and universities, they can also be disconcerting for new and eager student affairs professionals.

9. “Cronyism” & Nepotism Is Pervasive – While some may call it networking, others consider it nepotism and cronyism.  Cronyism is the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority without proper regard to their qualifications. Likewise, nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. A related practice is the pejorative “inbreeding,” in which an institution only hires those that have graduated from there. This can be challenging and frustrating especially for new professionals looking to advance their careers.

10. The Most Logical Decisions Are Not Always Made – Like any bureaucratic organization, colleges and universities have multiple layers of decision-makers with varying degrees of authority. Additionally, those decision-makers come with different agendas, opinions, and experiences from one another. Given those dynamics, the decision-making process can end up having a mind of its own.

The intent behind this post is not to discourage or frighten graduate students nor to kowtow to experienced professionals. Conversely, I hope to inspire new and veteran student affairs staffers to create a better university environment and experience for both employees and students.

Please share some of the difficult lessons you have learned from your time in Student Affairs.


Positive Kindness & the Road to Happy Well-Being (*prize raffle*)

November 14, 2014

Positive Kindness & the Road to Happy Well-

Many of us get caught up in our day to day lives and end up losing track of who we are and where we are headed.  Our well-being often becomes nothing more than an afterthought and we are forced to put more pressing matters ahead of our own needs.  Many of us fail to realize that our well-being is inherently correlated to various aspects of life, including our satisfaction with the past, happiness in the present, and our hope and optimism for our future.  Therefore, it becomes increasingly more important for us to step back and focus on our own well-being so that we are balancing our needs.  Failure to realize the “life-and-well-being-connection” often leads to increasing amounts of stress, unhappiness in both our personal and professional lives, and potentially causing us to completely burn out.  However, engaging in daily happiness and kindness activities can substantially improve our well-being.

Here are six happiness and seven kindness activities you can employ daily to improve your well-being:

Happiness

  1. Re-Evaluate Happiness
  • Ask yourself, what does happiness mean to me?  Develop a solid definition and devise ways to help yourself be a happier person.
  1. Tidy-Up Your Life
  • Organize your chaos.  Whether it is your desk, inbox, computer files, vehicle, etc.  Put things in order, establish new routines, and let things go.  You will feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders.
  1. Focus on Your Strengths
  • Too often we focus on our weaknesses or those things we are not so good at. Yet we should focus on the areas in life where we are strong.  By focusing on what we do well, we bring the best “US” to the table.
  1. Have a ME First Attitude
  • Do Not confuse this with being selfish, it is solely about appropriate self-care.  Self-care is about taking care of our needs first so that we can, in turn, do good things for those around us.
  1. Let Go of the Little Things
  • Many of us become obsessed with details and forget the big picture.  Let go of the things that you do not have direct control over.  In the long run, you will be better off.
  1. Capitalize on Opportunities
  • Point out the positive and good things that are going on in life.  Make a bigger deal of the positive things rather than focusing on the negative.  React enthusiastically and show great care for the things that display the best of what is going on.

Kindness

  1. Give a Compliment or Say Thank You
  • The simplest compliment or a thank you can go a long way to helping someone, who might be having a bad day, feel better.
  1. Help Others (for free)
  • Take time out of your day to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return.  It will definitely make you feel like you have just completed a marathon.
  1. Pick Up Trash
  • Take 10 minutes out of your day or off your lunch break to walk outside and pick up some trash.  Not only will it make you feel good, it will make your environment healthier.
  1. Hold the Door Open for Someone
  •  This is an easy way to not only be helpful but to show respect for someone else.
  1. Smile or Say Hello
  • Like giving a compliment or saying thank you, smiling or saying hello can truly brighten someone’s day.
  1. Make a New Friend
  • Seek out opportunities to meet new people.  Learn about their interests and make a new friend.
  1. Help Someone Learn
  • Not everyone has an easy time learning, so taking time to help someone learn a new skill, process, or activity will go a long way to improving your well-being.

As leaders and professionals, it is important that we foster the importance of well-being, happiness, kindness, and positivity in those we lead and to encourage those who lead us to embrace the same philosophy. It is important to remember that what we do as leaders and how we act has a direct effect on not only our well-being but that of others. By being positive and incorporating both happiness and kindness into our daily lives we can encourage others to do the same and thus create thriving communities.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  I encourage you to set your mind on doing what makes you happy, being kind to others, fostering positivity, and focusing on the importance of well-being.

I challenge you to go out each day and while focusing on the positive. Do something kind for someone else.  We want to know about the great things you are doing for others.  Those who reply or share this post or those who tweet #DailyKind14 with a picture of their example of you doing something kind will be entered into a drawing for one of two “100 Ways to Happiness” books by Dr. Timothy J. Sharp.


Surviving Political Game-Playing in Student Affairs

November 5, 2014

Political Game-Playing in Student Affairs

The culture of working in higher education is fraught with conflict, varied personalities, and institution-wide politics. Navigating the political waters of a college or university can be a daunting and, oftentimes, frustrating process. While working in Student Affairs can be a very rewarding experience, it can also be very challenging. Although we’re all in the business of educating students, there are always competing priorities, limited resources, and personal agendas, which creates a chessboard of politics throughout each of our institutions.

When I use the term “game-playing,” I mean it in the negative sense in which individuals use the political landscape of the institution (most times unethically) to further their own agenda to the detriment of others. This is much different than being politically savvy and knowing how to develop relationships and collaborate with others in order to accomplish the goals of your department.

Here are a few examples to better illustrate political game-playing:

  • Unnecessarily carbon copying someone’s supervisor on an email to stir the waters to potentially get them in hot water
  • Planting student “spies” to dig up dirt and  tattletale back
  • Purposely befriending someone’s supervisor on a personal level in order to “conveniently” drop criticisms about that person
  • Sending anonymous communications to the president’s office with untrue allegations about a staffer’s conduct

Despite these type of dynamics, there are many strategies you can use to stay above negative political game-playing, particularly within Student Affairs.

Surround Yourself with Positive Allies – Misery loves company. Negativity and naysayers will certainly bring you down so spend your time with as many positive colleagues as possible. Befriend and partner with those who further the mission and vision of the institution rather than those who attempt to control, demotivate, and sabotage.

Concentrate on Your Students & the Work – Political game-playing takes a lot of time and energy so keep your efforts focused on the primary reason for your being there: the students. Concentrate on developing and educating the students you serve rather than getting involved with needless drama. While doing well can definitely attract undue criticism from jealous colleagues, you can always be confident that you are doing your job and contributing to solutions and not problems.

Don’t Fight Battles That Aren’t Yours to Fight – One of the easiest ways to avoid political game-playing is by only concerning yourself with those projects and tasks that are directly under your purview. Getting involved in issues that simply do not pertain to you opens up the door for undue criticism and potentially making yourself into a political target. The majority of us in Student Affairs do not have tenure so we cannot do and say as we please without potential political consequences. Please understand that I am not dismissing your need to become involved in those issues related to social justice, particularly in regards to the health, safety, and well-being of our students.

Stay Away from Troublemakers – Similar to surrounding yourself with positive allies, keep clear of those individuals who are known to cause trouble and do not seem to have many positive allies of their own. These folks are easy to spot: arguing simply for argument’s sake, lying, pawning work onto others, spreading rumors, and sabotaging projects. As they say, you are the company you keep so spending time with troublemakers can mark you as one yourself.

Don’t Squabble for Kudos – Over the years I have seen many colleagues become nasty people and attempt to stab each other in the back in order to get a pat on the back from the higher up’s. Clambering for kudos always seems to lead to trouble. There’s nothing wrong with being humble and enjoying your accomplishments privately; nobody likes the “teacher’s pet.” Granted, we all want to be recognized for our hard work, but don’t let personal pride become a source of unneeded conflict.

Don’t Compromise Your Values – Most importantly, don’t EVER compromise your values. A majority of the time, political game-playing is going to be unethical, offensive, disgraceful, and in some cases, simply illegal. If you find yourself in a position in which you are often finding yourself having to question directives because of  unethical or illegal practices, seek advice from your human resource department or even an attorney. In a worse case scenario, find another place to work. Yes, I know this is easier said than done, but you want to position yourself at a place that upholds its own mission, vision, values, and fosters your professional integrity.


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