Google Analytics Tracking Code

Friday, August 15, 2014

When 74 is Greater Than 76

Res Life staff dining in Skyline Room - Now accepting Bonus Bucks!
Four years ago Trinity University set out to re-haul its somewhat stale dining program. This week, the University finally made a list of top dining programs in the country. Trinity was named among the top 75 programs by The Daily Meal. Over 2,000 dining programs were reviewed. That puts us in the top 4%. I have eaten at a lot of dining halls around the country and I sincerely believe we deserve to be in the top tier.

In reviewing our program, students, faculty, and staff were interviewed and surveyed. Studies of campus foot traffic and usage patterns were conducted. The administration, faculty, and students were routinely updated. The following values were identified to under-gird all dining -related initiatives: quality, variety, value, health, and sustainability. Secondary values include convenience and presentation. Student government embraced the changes and voted in favor. Among the initiatives:

- Changing from an ala carte to all-you-care-to-eat format in the main dining area, Mabee Hall. This included a renovation and significant menu changes.
- Relocation of the POD convenience store and grill from the Coates Center to Mabee Hall.
- Installation of an Einstein's Brothers Bagel Shop in the Coates Center.
- Addition of local favorite, Taco Taco to the Coates Commons.
- Renovation of the swanky Skyline Room and a change to a bistro-style menu. Students will be able to use their Bonus Bucks now.

More changes are planned:
- The upper-campus POD in the Center for Sciences and Innovation will open this August.
- The Commons is tentatively scheduled for a minor renovation during winter break, to include a new, healthier option sandwich and salad station.
- The Skyline menu will be reviewed and updated.

This all matters a great deal to me because I believe that students and employees deserve healthy and tasty options on campus. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for - institutionally and on a meal-by-meal basis.

So beating out Muhlenburg and 1,925 other schools is a great start. But students still have issues, primarily related to our main dining program in Mabee. I met with the Residential Life student staff this week and we discussed what they like and dislike. Perhaps the best comment was that despite the variety, it doesn't taste like there is a big difference between the offerings. That is something we can address.

Indeed, some of our students often complain in broad terms about dining, yet are unwilling to engage the dining staff when they have specific issues. They say it is awkward to criticize people to their face (which is how I wish some felt around me). They don't want to offend. But they should. ARAMARK is dying for specific and immediate feedback.

Our Student Government Association has been missing-in-action in developing channels for offering systematic and consistent feedback. They need a seat at the table, so to speak, but they aren't even asking for a reservation.

A quick review of the top 75 schools shows that the best programs are the ones that are responsive to student feedback, innovate their menus and programs, and support health and sustainability.

So I challenge our dining staff and our students, and especially SGA. Let's roll up our sleeves and put our napkins on our laps. Let's cull through the top national programs and identify what we like and what is attainable. Then we can look at moving up higher on the list - not to rank better - but to be better.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Twelve Ways for Students to Affect Campus Life

These students show determination to affect campus life. Or maybe they just play football.
In advising student governments for decades I have worked to help them understand some elements of campus decision-making and administration. As non-profits, notions that schools are merely trying to make money are erroneous. Money gets plowed back into student programs and operations. Administrators generally want to give students what they want. Why wouldn't they/we? Most decisions are made based on the greater good; moral and legal liability; and resource availability and allocation. And believe it or not, most administrators crave specific ideas and constructive feedback from students.

However, students control their collective destiny and the campus culture in ways they may never realize. Here are twelve ways Trinity students can make their experience better, for themselves and others. There is a theme here: Your experience is what you make it.

12. Tread lightly into Gossip sites
Every year the staff receives requests from students to do something about specific posts on any number of gossip sites. We can't. Working with the sites is logistically impossible. Last year our complaints about one site resulted in it being taken down by Facebook, because it was a personal rather than group page. It sprang up immediately thereafter as a group page. Free speech rules the day, even if it is mean.

What students can do: Be nice to each other for starters. Understand that these sites rely on audiences. Don't like the content? Don't participate and don't "like" absurd comments. (That works better than challenging comments, as trolls then take control.)

11. Peeing and puking in the dorm stairwell
This is against the rules, no doubt. The sad thing is that everyone around the area has to live with it until the cleaning crew gets in after the weekend. Never mind that we wait for minimum wage workers to come in Monday morning to clean up the elements left behind by a privileged few... It is disgusting.

What students can do: Use the bathroom. And clean up after yourselves. And tell your peers who do this that they are gross.

10. Caring about the Planet on Campus
While the University has put resources into recycling, after student efforts failed, and made concessions in the dining areas, only a few passionate students really care enough about the environment to do anything.

What students can do: The best thing is to put trash and recycling in the correct receptacles. It is so simple, yet contamination undermines the efforts of those who care about Mother Earth. And use the water refill stations if possible.

9. Managing the three-year residency requirement
By year two, living with a roommate becomes stale, especially after having a single room all the way up UNTIL college. For now, the administration is committed to this, but some new configurations for junior and senior single rooms may be on the horizon.

What students can do: Push the issue with student government and the administration. And find a good roommate.

8. Get into the Act on the Welcome Week Concert
Students generally want a big name band. But, they are really expensive - upwards of $50,000. So we often settle on a recognizable name on the way down rather than on the way up.

What students can do: Identify and push for favorite local or lesser known bands that students really want to hear. The Program Board wants ideas, but suggesting Kanye or The Beatles will not help...

7. Get used to being asked to give back
The majority of our students receive some aid. Trinity is also seen as a tremendous bargain relative to other like-institutions. When students are asked to adopt a mindset of giving it isn't to pad the wallets of faculty and staff. Campuses are expensive because of the specialized labor, technology, and facilities. The best way to make a school is affordable is to raise money to make it less expensive.

What students can do: Statements such as "This place already got enough of my money" are overly cynical. Did you receive aid? Do you want others to take advantage of the same experience? Giving is an affirmation of one's own experience and an investment in those to follow.

6. Park far away
Most employees aren't very sympathetic about student parking concerns. Most paid more for parking (and it was further away) when they were in school. A few years ago we offered free parking for students who agreed to park in a north campus lot (think long-term parking at the airport). There were no takers. Students generally want parking nearby. (So do the faculty and staff.)

What students can do: Ask the Parking Committee to look more broadly at parking strategy rather than just at ticket prices. No one wants to deal with parking, so students have to insist they do through student committee reps. And maybe accept that parking further away is just a thang.

5. Show school spirit
Last year during the TU-hosted conference basketball championships our women lost a close battle to nearby Texas Lutheran College. Their fans out-numbered ours two to one, easily. That's a shame. The administration can't give students school spirit, it needs to come from within.

What can students do: Want school spirit? Show school spirit. Especially keep an eye out for conference rivalries, tournaments, and playoffs.

4. Accept the food or suggest changes
I have eaten at many other campuses and have only experienced one that was better (Richmond). And the students and parents pay a lot more for it there. The thing is, the dining staff wants feedback. They do surveys, go out into the dining room to question customers, and solicit on-line comments. (Often, students won't talk to them.) The student government has been asked repeatedly to assist, but tends not to.

What students can do: "The food sucks..." is not feedback. Students should talk to ARAMARK staff and give them specific feedback. Don't like how something is prepared or served? Tell someone. Have some different ideas? Tell someone. Tell them immediately. Be blunt.

3. Understand the alcohol policy
Trinity probably has the most reasonable policy in the country. Over the last decade the philosophy and policy have evolved to be realistic because of student involvement and feedback. The philosophy: we acknowledge students will drink; care deeply about student health and safety; and will enforce policy because the law says we have to.

What students can do: We get it. Students will drink. It is not ethical or moral. it is like speeding. Take your chances, and sometimes you get caught and most times you don't. Trinity is not against alcohol. Go to an employee party and see for yourself. Just try not to hurt yourselves and others. Call for help if someone is in danger and no one gets in trouble.

2. Alcohol? Again? Designated Driving
Designated drivers should not be the least drunk drivers. At times students have wanted a safe ride program to drive students to off campus parties and back. We couldn't get insurance and it is uber expensive.

What students can do: What is free, already in place, and readily available? Yep. Take a night off from drinking and keep each other safe.

1. Prevent Sexual Assault
There has been so much focus on what institutions are doing wrong when they learn of assaults. The key is to prevent as many as possible.

What students can do: Demand safe parties or blacklist specific houses or groups. Students can protect one another, declare safe zones and times. Students can ensure that those who accompany them to parties return with them. Students are the culture they create.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

End Game

Nardin House - 1980
I have never really left college, though I did graduate some 30 years ago. This summer I joined one of my old peer groups for their annual weekend camping trips. Indeed, a great deal of conversation over the  weekend was around the topic of whether or not I had invited myself. I did, sort of, but I had a standing invitation to the upper mid-west from my friend Nep, who lives in Madison, where we all attended college together. This year the event was held at the new old farm house just over the Minnesota border to Wisconsin and owned by our friend  Rucksie. So that seemed manageable to me as someone who didn't want to fly in for a mere camping trip. Also there, was regular attendee, Wolfie, who lives in the Twin Cities near Rucksie.

It is amazing and comforting to be among people who knew you when you were maturing into an adult. (Maturing being a relative concept here.) I was surprised to learn of some of the quotes and stories these guys had been sharing about me over campfires for the past 30 years. I had forgotten much, and in some cases still didn't remember. But I had my own stories to tell as well, to bring a fresh perspective. The four of us had a terrific time

What I found were - at their core - the same friends who were great at listening, were warmhearted, successful, and compassionate. It was such a pleasure to catch up and to relive the college days and hear of new lives. Some of the memories were painful as we discussed friends we lost not long after graduating. And some were sentimental as we discussed other friends and where they were now.

This all was against the back-drop of some of the most biting, sarcastic, brutal, and hilarious ribbing and commentary I have experienced in years. Part of the comfort of being with old college friends is the speed at which you can resume acting like, well, college students. In addition, it seems that
wiener jokes and potty-humor never get old (one declared himself the "fart-king" of the weekend - a new champion apparently). We all noted at various times that we were professionals and family men. But still, when someone inexplicably falls off his chair in slow-motion (yelling "incoming"), or another describes a recent bathroom trip in detail, the tenor of the conversation and subsequent re-telling of new memories take on their own lives. So yes, we were connected by having deep -- and not so deep -- conversation as we slid back into familiar roles and  as we established new ones. One challenge for my friends to deal with was that I was committed to naps and chocolate. They buried me mercilessly for following the NBA draft at the campfire. To my horror, though, I learned that none of these friends understood any references to current music, Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones. They seemed to prefer chores.

I love working with college students. Not just because they keep me current with pop-culture. For me, the strong friendships I made, then, have never faded. (And I am glad to have the peripheral ones have been revived thanks to Facebook, by the way.)

Nep, Wolfie, Rucksie. A-mid-wives!

This particular group of friends formed on my dorm floors my first two years at UW. Another group grew from my time as an RA in Ogg Hall. What blessings. And so it is gratifying as I see some of our own students find the same. Whether through their residence hall friends and roommates, athletic teams, theater, fraternities and sororities, course work and research, many find some of the same connections I did. I hope so anyway.

Today, most of our students find themselves at the beginning... of college, or the rest of their lives. Many wonder what comes next. Maybe just as important, they should think about what comes last. Along with selecting majors, going to graduate school, and finding jobs, something else will hopefully endure: The friendships. Before they know it, they will look up one day and remember when it all started. And where it led. To the end game.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Package Deal

I am asking students to think outside the box. The mailbox, if you will. For some time I have been discussing changes to the Coates University Center, and those changes are finally coming to fruition. Part of what sparked this was consolidation of Central Receiving operations on Kings Court with the Mail Center operations at the Coates Center. From an efficiency and business standpoint this made sense.

Additionally, I have wanted to move the mailboxes out of the Coates Center. On most campuses, mailboxes are in the residence halls. Our halls don't have main desks or spaces for boxes so they have been centralized up in Coates since 1987. They were actually placed in Coates to drive student traffic into the building.

The problem is that we have been using our best real estate in a prime location for static mailboxes. It is kind of like putting your air conditioner in your living room. But it is all we know so we haven't really questioned it. If you have toured other campuses, however, you quickly note that most have more current, modern, dynamic and interactive spaces in their university centers than we have in ours. We have fallen behind. At the same time, our building has a certain amount of charm to it and we don't need a new one. Most comparable institutions have their dining hall as part of their University Center - but we don't. What we need our space to be is not merely a pass-through facility, but a destination place.

Departmental mailboxes have been moved to CSI. We have moved the student mailboxes to the Tigers' Den, which will also serve as a game room. The only downside for students in all of this is that packages will now be distributed from the Central Receiving area on Kings Court.

So far, that hasn't been popular with students. Mostly there are concerns with distance and parking and waiting. This summer, additional measures have been implemented to try to minimize some of the issues. As with most decisions, there are choices to be made and trade-offs to consider. I ask our students to be patient in this transition and to consider what they are getting (a better University  Center, year-round) versus what they are losing (package pick-up in the center of campus). If each student considers the handful of times he or she receives packages against the potential increased use of the University Center as a gathering space, the trade-off will be worth it. 

When students return in August, they will find a much more comfortable and student-friendly place to relax, study, hang-out, and hold events. Among the changes:

- There will be a variety of seating options in the main lobby for those who want to sit at tables, sit in small groups, or work on a large table.
- The former mailbox area will feature technology options and a television as well as several different seating options.
- There will be tables with umbrellas outside of the mailbox area window.
- Upstairs Coates will feature small study areas for individuals and groups and a lounge area with recliners and sofas that can be extended for naps by collapsing the end caps.
- The Commons will hopefully feature a less obtrusive drink station and a new sandwich line.
- We hope to have the Commons open from morning to night without interruption.

Down the road, there will be many bigger changes to the facility as centers developed in the strategic plan will result in office re-locations throughout the building.

Most any change on a college campus is met with skepticism, initially. I assume that our students will love what they see, but will bemoan the issues with package pick-up. Give it a chance. Our students deserve a true University Center. These changes bring us much closer to that.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My life as a blogger

This was my dinner and its mushroom at the annual President's dinner. The mushroom is CLEARLY in the shape of the Trinity tower. Mine was the only one like this. I think there is a story there. Don't you?
Editors note: Recently I wrote my 250th Dean's List blog post. I wanted to celebrate this milestone, because frankly, who else would? Now it might seem arrogant to interview one's self, and I will own that. On the other hand, I think I have demonstrated a willingness to embarrass myself (can you say "piano"?) and self-disclose very private things, like my love of 1960's bubble gum pop (can you say Petula Clark? And yes, clearly lip-synching...). So I think I have earned a right to be self-indulgent.
Q: So, I guess this is the obvious question - why do you blog?

A: I think it is important to communicate with students and parents in a way that humanizes the administration. I used to write columns in the Trinitonian and do a call-in show on Tiger TV. When blogging became a thing I thought 'hey, I can do that!' It lets me write at my own pace and when the spirit moves me. I also want a forum to add nuance to topics and to even correct misinformation.

Q: So how does the spirit move you?

A: I have a lot of weird thoughts. I keep most of them to myself. But sometimes I may see something, hear something, wonder something, and an idea just takes on its own life. Grieving Yolanda is a good example. I seriously thought the things I wrote, so just typing it out isn't necessarily work. It is just reporting what you think. Once I get an idea though, I have to write it, even if I am busy with other things. I can go weeks without posting and then do three in a row. Weird.

Q: So when do you write?

A: I compose most of my posts when I am running. The trick is remembering between the end of the run and when I can write.

Q: What do you love and hate about blogging?

A: I love Trinity! And I love the little stories that happen here that often others aren't privy to. We (not just Trinity) do so much in terms of manufactured copy with a positive spin. Sometimes for me the joy around here is in the little things and the people. I like to chronicle these things from a non-sanitized perspective.

Q: And hate...

A: I wouldn't say I hate anything about it. I guess you do kind of make a deal that you need to be personal when you blog. Otherwise you are part of the noise. So when you try to develop a voice or take a stand you put yourself out there to criticism.

Q: Really?

A: Well, yeah. I always felt like the worst way to be a Dean would be to not be known. I don't think there is anything special about me. But, I want students to know who I am. When the chips are down, I want them to turn to me for help or at least for a referral. So you have to find ways to be out there. Blogging is one way. The downside is when people have an issue with the administration they have a real person to attack.

Q: So please tell me why do it?

A: Some days, I don't know. I think the important thing is to be transparent. Our students really, really want to hear the truth and don't want to be condescended to. On the other hand, when you speak your truth, you open yourself up to criticism. It would be a lot simpler for me to keep my trap shut. But I don't want to be vanilla in that way. Sometimes it seems to me I am my own worst enemy...

Q: How has your blogging evolved?

A: Some of my early posts were simple news shorts. The more I did it, the more I developed a voice. I have also gotten bolder since I realized I am just a guy at a small school in Texas with a small audience.

Q: Any favorite posts?

A: Actually, yes. They are the ones about people. I just love the the unusual saga of the McCormick-Masse family. I continue to be inspired by a young woman named Chelsea Castillo and another named Catherine Found. How people cope with tragedy sometimes amazes me. The post about Alex Reinis was very personal to me. I never knew Alex, and his death makes me sad. I got to know his parents and friends after he passed and they are wonderful people. Again: courage. I was also inspired by Karyna and her pure guts. I am glad she let me write about her.

And it may seem strange, but this woman Louise, the census taker, just cracked me up. I also like this post because Butch Newman is one of the best guys ever. The story about these twins, who we let graduate even though one didn't attend here, was really cool. It was not like us to make an exception like this. I credit President Brazil for saying "yes."

Q: Well aren't you special?

A: NO! See, I was afraid of that. I love to blog but it is because I love the material. I have a unique vantage point based on my job. Trinity is special and so are its people. That's the point.

That's really the point...

Note: Thank you to my consultants Susie Gonzalez and Mike Fischer, who try to save me from myself.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Parting Ways


President Dennis Ahlburg, with his wife, Penelope Harley (above), share a private moment between the graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies on May 17, 2014. The President announced on May 14 that he would be stepping down from his role effective January 1, 2015.

Trustee Richard Calvert (left) reflects on his award for 39 years of outstanding service as a University Trustee. His father, James Calvert, was instrumental in bringing Trinity to its spot in San Antonio, and there is a residence hall named in his honor. Richard Calvert, like the late Jack Stots (trustee), Paul Smith (current trustee), the late Ed Roy (former professor and administrator), and Dr. Richard Burr (professor), is among those rare men that combine class, dignity, warmth, compassion, and leadership in their work. They are -- and were -- terrific gentlemen and role models for many others.

Joe Shotland delivered an amazing commencement address on behalf of the Class of 2014. But he had competition. On May 14 some of the runners up delivered their speeches in front of a warm and weepy crowd in the Tigers' Den. Nupur Agrawal brought down the house as she discussed how her admissions materials, meant for Trinity College in Connecticut, somehow were incorrectly sent to San Antonio. One college's loss is another university's gain. The rest, as they say, is history. This appears to be the start of a great new tradition.
A couple selfies from the big day. Above, getting ready to descend to the platform. Below, a quick candid with graduate Leah Wesselman. 
 

This is Carlos Martinez (above) at the annual Twilight at Trinity farewell party hosted by the Residential Life Office. Carlos is headed to medical school at Texas Tech this fall. Commencement isn't just about our graduates, but also about their dedicated families and friends. Megan Kruse, Class of 2014 (below - in white), is shown with her parents, who traveled from the Philadelphia area for this special day.
And finally, five members of the baseball team had their own private ceremony on May 19, 2014, because they were traveling during the regular commencement over the weekend. This is part of an excellent Trinity tradition that underscores how much the institution values the scholar-athlete.