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Friday, August 29, 2008

The Banner Behind

Last week Reverend Nickle and Josh Beebe, who works with Greek Life on campus, took the Trinity banner to the funeral for Emma Hutchinson in Houston. Emma, a junior, passed away on August 23 after succumbing to an infection related to lifelong health issues. The Hutchinsons asked that the banner be displayed along with ones from the Rice Colleges where Emma grew up as a daughter of the College Master - a live-in position in the Rice Colleges. She loved her teachers, her education, and her friends heree, and the family wanted to honor that.

The banner was returned to Trinity in time for the lecture the next day by Greg Mortenson. In his talk, Mr. Mortenson (pictured with Ben Newhouse at left, in front of the Trinity banner) stressed the importance of education. His enthusiasm is remarkable. He doesn't care about politics or terrorism per se. His mission is to build the world up one school at a time, particularly where there is resistance to education.

It has been gratifying to learn more about Emma. As with Greg Mortenson, she was driven by education. Having lived in the Rice Colleges and then moving on to Trinity, she was described by one professor as the most enthusiastic student he had ever had. Her passion for math was unparalleled. At the Trinity service her friends described a time when, during an intermission at the symphony downtown, she pulled out a napkin at the nearby coffee shop, scribbling frantically, because a math solution had suddenly come to her.

Greg Mortenson has been imprisoned for his passion. He has been caught in weapons crossfire, and he has sacrificed family time for his cause. Emma's father and sister both articulated that they knew one day they would face Emma's death. Her illness gave her life in many ways. She lived a full, brave life in a brief 20 years.

Emma's friends and family loved her intensely. She was a character. She was focused, funny, loyal, and quirky. Greg Mortenson shares many of these traits. He is clearly a person who sees the good in others and feels called to serve with loyalty and compassion. He is a big teddy bear who talks to the Taliban, builds bridges, signs books for hours, and befriends strangers.

So we were blessed last week -- in many ways -- by hearing more about the passions of two people who never met, but had much in common: appreciation for education, a love for learning, courage, humility, disregard for arbitrary boundaries, and even a maroon banner.
Click here to read the very moving eulogy (one of several) for Emma deliverd by her friend and professor, Dr. Betsy Tontiplaphol, at the Trinity service.

Greg Mortenson Review

It was a pleasure to serve as Greg Mortenson's driver for his quicktrip from his hotel up to the campus. That little bit of drive-time got me a promotion to Doctor and a mention in his opening thank yous as he began his speech on August 28 to a packed Laurie Auditorium. Too bad, since the most work I had done on this program was read the book.

A great big thank you goes to Felicia Lee, VP for Student Affairs, who with the support of Michael Fischer in Academic Affairs, brought Mr. Mortenson to campus. Ben NewStudentOrientationhouse originated the theme of Reading TUgether and did all of the leg work to pull off this outstanding program. He deserved the recognition I got, which is a bit embarrassing. The picture is of Ben Newhouse on the left, Felicia Lee, and Greg Mortenson at the President's reception prior to the talk.

Greg Mortenson is not a classically polished speaker. He is the best kind of speaker to listen to. His message last night flowed from the heart. He is humble, sincere, gentle, funny, honest, and sweet. He gets a kick out of people, and even himself just a little. I have never seen a speaker peak out from behind the curtain before a talk to give the AV people a thumbs up to start. He is devoted to his cause - education for the impoverished and oppressed - as well as his family. He is apolitical though his social message is clear.

Mr. Mortenson made the new students feel welcome by asking them to stand for an ovation. He also warmed up the crowd of about 2,000 with his power point title of "Miracles on the football field and across the world."

This program is really a tribute to the vision of global citizenship that Dr. Lee has stamped on her one year tenure as Vice President. It marks an excellent re-tooling of the summer reading program, which extended to the entire campus community rather than just the first year students.

Mr. Mortenson signed books long into the night. Mine? He simply wrote "to the best driver I ever had!", which is all I ever was.

See the video of Mr. Mortenson's lecture!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bitter, Sweet

Trinity parents and other family members brought students from the Class of 2012 on Friday, August 22. We are so excited to have the new students here. The families were greeted by the Team Trinity move-in crew, went to the Celebrating Trinity program, attended a parent orientation, relaxed at a reception with the staff, and said goodbye at the Saturday farewell breakfast. At right, a proud mom from Florida sports her Trinity t-shirt and puts a license plate frame on his out-of-state vehicle.

Elsewhere on this blog is a slide show from the Friday reception and the Saturday breakfast. (Click on the slide show to expand it.) My role at the breakfast was supposed to be an unobtrusive one, yet I somehow ended up snapping 59 photos. It was so touching to see the families as they spent time together before departing campus.

What a pleasure to welcome the new families and students to the Trinity family. On behalf of the entire staff and faculty I can say we take our awesome responsibility extremely seriously (though often in a light-hearted way).

Parents can learn more by going to the Parents and Families web page to sign up for the daily LeeRoy event calendar, The TrinitE Parent and Family electronic newsletter, and ParentTalk, an interactive list serve. Fall Parent and Family Weekend is just around the corner.

College Presidents Seek Drinking Age Change Dialogue

A national stir was created recently when a proposal by college presidents to discuss a possible drinking age shift from 21 to 18 was announced. The project was not a secret, but many media outlets jumped on the story, often seeking local angles. The presidents were somewhat misrepresented, because they merely are seeking a discussion, though their goal to move the drinking age back is clearly part of their agenda. (Note that college presidents have taken more stands lately on social issues.) Conversely, Dr. Gary Neal in Counseling and Health Services has passed on an interesting research study that may indicate that the higher age requirement has some strong science behind it.

Some suspicious sorts think this initiative is in place so universities can duck liability for drinking-related incidents. I suspect that is not a consideration. With 1,700 drinking-related college deaths annually, administrators would shudder at the notion of pushing that number higher to merely avoid liability. Indeed, one issue colleges face is that students often drink off campus to avoid university policy enforcement. Students perceive that administrators force them to drive-drink-and-drive. No one wants students to drink and drive. In fact many schools have taxi ride programs and assigning designated drivers is a simple, free, and expedient solution.

It would be nice to shift discussions on campus from enforcement to education and responsible drinking. Students can't be sheltered from alcohol, they need to learn how to drink like adults. It would be nice to teach students that college does not equal binge drinking and movies like the Animal House update, College, are promoting false perceptions of successful college life. (Disclosure: I haven't seen the movie.) It would be nice for students to feel comfortable having a drink in their room so they can stay on campus. It would also be nice for students to not have fake IDs, worry about MIP tickets, and not have to turn to older students to provide their booze.
Trinity is not anti-alcohol. What is concern is the behavior that often comes with heavy drinking: assault, sexual assault, injuries, vandalism, noise, trash, and poor academic performance. De-mystifying alcohol would be a plus, to diminish these adverse effects, but can it happen? Maybe over time. I would hate to see a return to the crazy days of the 18-year-old drinking age. Are we any better prepared now than we were 20 years ago to be able to manage that?

Students who can vote and fight in wars should be afforded other rights of adulthood. Nevertheless, one of the reasons for the change of the drinking age in the first place was high school drinking problems. Mothers Against Drunk Driving makes a strong case that lives have been saved since the drinking age went up.

Trinity University has not formally discussed this issue. I must admit, I am intrigued by the idea of a lower drinking age. I could like the idea of a 19-year age limit or bestowing drinking rights three months following high school graduation or at 19 for non-graduates. It protects the high school students (and those who share the road with them) and gives most college students a chance to exercise their adult rights. At Trinity, the approach is to educate students about alcohol to try to keep students safe.

The research makes me nervous though. So do the negative outcomes of drinking. It will be interesting to see how this discussion unfolds. It is an important topic.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trinity Night at the Spurs Dates Set

The Residential Life Office's Trinity Night at the Spurs programs have been tentatively set for the 2008-2009 season. Because of increased season ticket sales, the number of available tickets for group sales continues to dwindle. Trinity will try to offer four nights rather than the traditional two, so as many Trinitonians as possible can see the Spurs play. The games selected are for the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets so the obnoxious student fans from those cities can come see the Spurs humble their hometown teams. The Rockets games are Friday, November 14 and Sunday, March 22. The Mavericks games are Tuesday, November 4 (isn't that election night?) and Tuesday, February 24. Tickets are $10 each. A Rampage hockey game will be offered as well. More details to follow on all of these games.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The Student Affairs Office has undergone several changes over the past few months. We have bid farewell to Katie Jundt, Virginia Fraser, Katie Kanady, and Kris Weese, while welcoming Lily Gonzalez, Cally Chenault, Melissa Pinchback, Lynette Kenyon, Maranda Larsen, and Edwin Blanton. This week we learned that after seven years of terrific service Maureen Chea (pictured below, right) will be leaving the Vice President's suite to move to the Chapel to work with the Good Reverend Nickle. We will miss her! Maureen was the winner of the Trinity McKinley award in fall, 2007.
Katie Storey, Assistant Director of Residential Life, has recently announced that she is expecting a baby! This is much better news. We are all thrilled for Katie and her husband Chris. They join Staff Psychologist Kristin Eisenhauer and her husband Adam in the expectant parent category. Last, but not least, Residential Life Coordinator Josh Brack proposed to his lovely new fiancee, Amanda, last week. She accepted of course! Their nuptials are scheduled for later this fall. The Student Affairs staff is proud of all these colleagues, and congratulate them on their personal and professional changes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Upperclass Task Force Recommendations Come to Life

In the Fall of 2006 the Upperclass Task Force was convened to complete some of the unfinished business of the 2001 Quality of Student Life Task Force. Among the questions pursued were "how do we improve the upperclass student experience?" and "what does it means when Trinity touts itself as a residential campus?" Certainly we should offer more than a place for students to hang their hats. The charge to the Task Force was to think boldly, broadly, and courageously. Task force members included eight students, four faculty members, two alumni (one of whom served a double role as a Trinity parent), and ten staff members.

The recommendations outlined in the Upperclass Task Force Report were distributed and reported on widely in the spring and fall of 2007. The 2007-2008 academic year was used to set plans in place and try out various programs, including a pilot program of the Sophomore College.

The 2008-2009 academic year will be the first full year to roll out the recommendations. This post is an update of the progress made to date. These changes represent a huge investment of time by many people committed to making improvements in areas that students have cited as deficient for many years.

The Task Force recommendations were focused in three areas: social/community, academic, and developmental:
- Creating a dynamic social environment for sophomores and more freedom for upperclass students was important.
- Taking advantageous of our academic/residential campus climate (out of class debates during election times, discussions about global and environmental issues, etc.).
- Tending to the developmental needs of students (dealing with independence, exploring identity, living in a diverse world, making plans for life after college, etc.)
Many of the recommendations are inter-connected and build on one-anther and are directed toward these thee areas.

The Task Force discovered that the desired goal of class identity gets off to a good start in the first year and abruptly stops. While the Task Force believes that stronger class identity can create deeper, richer connections to other students and the institution, the goal is not to isolate students from different years from one another. Great care should be taken to nurture the blending of all students in the classrooms, in organizations, at campus-wide events, and in junior/senior housing.
Here is a summary of specific plans already in place or taking root this fall:
- ASR senators represent students by class
Task Force member and ASR VP Katie Hampton led the way in reorganizing the senate to represent the needs of their particular classes. Students voted in favor of the change and this year senators will live with and represent the sophomore, junior, and senior classes.
With the aid of the Faculty Senate and Alumni Office Angela Breidenstein was selected to serve as the first Class Marshal and Dave Mansen will be the Alumni Sponsor for the Class of 2012. They will be with this class from beginning to end, to help, to listen, and to mark the important rites of passage of the Trinity student.
One of the big issues students presented in 2001 and again in 2006 was the marked drop in enthusiasm from the first year to the second and subsequent years. This was very evident in the way students were welcomed back to campus. Little attention has been paid to letting students know they are still important, that they deserve to have events designed for them, and that they different needs at different stages in their student experience.
- Major Meals
The Sophomore Slump has been characterized as a real issue at campuses across the country. Students often experience a general malaise, develop questions about their identity, and often struggle to make decisions about their academic future. The Major Meals program has been designed to offer meals (mostly dinners) in the Mabee Conference room. About 20 academic departments are participating and will offer programs that include faculty, majors (mostly seniors), and even some alumni who graduated with the targeted major. The list is being finalized now. Energizing students about their majors is intended to help battle the slump our sophomores sometimes experience.
One of the most exciting, if not controversial, recommendations of the Task Force was to house sophomores together in order to continue the kind of community feel from their first year, but in a different way that also acknowledges the differences. The hallmark of this program is housing sophomores in some of the larger halls which makes it easier to develop dynamic community. Creating that community and offering programs for sophomores about identity, majors, study abroad opportunities, and ways to engage in service are cornerstones of this program.
- Upperclass student housing
Juniors and seniors have asked for greater autonomy as they mature and become comfortable living on campus. The Task Force looked to acknowledge that by allowing them more freedom to live in smaller, more private halls, and back off the level of day-to-day supervision they received as new and second-year students. Hall managers will oversee the administrative and facility-related concerns of their buildings and will have much more area to cover. They will offer developmentally targeted programs to their areas in topics relevant to the residents: internships, graduate exploration, career development, and preparation for off campus life.
An ad hoc committee, which will include the senior ASR senators, has already begun impressive work to make the senior year more dynamic and with more clearly presented calendars and information that promote an array of senior events. Career Services has already set-up an impressive schedule of events for 2008-2009.
- Witt classroom
The Witt Center basement (pictured above) has been renovated as a state of the art electronic classroom. This will allow faculty members to taste life in the residential area of campus and for students to see that learning on campus doesn't just occur on upper campus.
- Study Abroad
One important component of the Trinity experience is studying abroad. Indeed, 55% of our students will have some kind of study abroad experience (generally, a 40% figure is considered high). Presenting programs about these opportunities in the sophomore area will help improve their accessibility. Plans are being developed for students who return from abroad to discuss their opportunities with those thinking of making similar treks.
- Service
As sophomores return having attained some level of campus mastery, they will be given opportunities to reach out into the community to do service. Some opportunities are also being investigated for some international spring break excursions just for sophomores.
- Health
An ad hoc committee has forwarded several recommendations to the campus health committee. The Student Affairs division is also adopting the value of health and wellness as important to the success of our students. The Half Marathon Challenge for Health has already attracted over 100 participants. The Student Health 101 newsletter is being distributed campus-wide and to parents who sign up for the TrinitE Parent and Family electronic newsletter.

While other plans will continue to be developed, the bulk of the Task Force recommendations are now in place. In all, these initiatives are meant to improve satisfaction, increase retention, and aid students in their quests to succeed as Trinity students. New initiatives will be evaluated this year and reported on once more. Assessment will continue thereafter to evaluate if the programs are meeting desired outcomes. After a follow-up report in the summer of 2009, the Task Force work will rarely be cited, as the new initiatives simply take hold, grow, and are re-worked.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Green is in at Trinity

Note: This is the first of several reports on sustainability at Trinity University.
Mike Schweitzer of the Physical Plant recently organized faculty and staff tours for the area recycling center, Vista Fibers, aka Greenstar. The response was phenomenal, which reflects the growing green movement in the nation, in San Antonio, and at Trinity University.

All of the recycling material from Trinity goes to this recycling center, including pre-sorted alumnium, plastics, and papers. What is truly amazing to see is the single sort system. This is the system that collects curbside recycling (where cans, paper, plastics are all combined). Trucks dump these items in a big trashy heap and they are sucked into a mechanized sorting system, sorted, and then sent through again. Real people serve as quality control experts on the line.

Some things to keep in mind when recycling on campus. Remove lids, even though most can be recycled. These become projectiles when the containers are smashed and air forces the lids off. Rinse food containers so the recycling staff doesn't smell the stink. Take apart things like Pringles cans. The metal bottom, the cardboard tube, and the plastic lid can all be recycled. Last, this center can recycle all plastics that contain the recycling logo. Check out the slide show at right. Special thanks to Mike Schweitzer and Zach Walter at Greenstar for giving great tours.

On the Trinity front, the appropriately named Director of Physical Plant, John Greene, has done a phenomenal job in making the campus green. He has removed the plastics recycling burden from students, dedicated staff time and also a truck to recycling (even inventing a new logo and painting the truck to be a symbol -- to the campus and community -- of our commitment to the environment). In addition, Mr. Greene and ARAMARK have developed an herb garden behind Mabee and ramped up recycling areas in the dining hall. Physical Plant and custodial services will be delivering green recycling bins (that are actually blue) to all offices and dorm rooms to make taking items to recycling areas in corridors easier.

Molly Ellis is leading a student effort to publicize recycling to students. ARAMARK is considering going tray-less. New furniture and even vacuums in the dorms have to meet environmental standards. ASR and TUVAC will be providing all students new Nalgene bottles and ARAMARK will again donate Earth Sense mugs to first year students. There are discounts for beverages that are purchased with these containers. It would be nice to see plastic bottles disappear altogether on campus. (Faculty and staff can purchase Nalgene bottles at the bookstore.)

This is literally only a small fraction of what is happening on campus. There are many, many heroes and environmental advocates to commend. This week though, special mention goes to Mr. Greene, Mr. Schweitzer, and the Physical Plant.

The Sustainability Task Force, appointed by President Brazil, is preparing to submit its final report this month. Trinity has signed the AASHE agreement. Members of the task force include Professor and Chair Richard Reed, Dr. Heather Sullivan, Dr. Kelly Lyons, Dr. John Huston, Dr. Peter Kelly-Zion, students Alex Wallender and Molly Ellis, and John Greene, Physical Plant, Miguel Ardid, ARAMARK, the Director of Residential Life (me), and Ana Windham, Fiscal Affairs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Welcome Week is for EVERYONE!

For the first time in the modern era, Trinity students will return to campus in August to find events scheduled specifically for them. In the past, the focus has been on New Student Orientation, with opportunities for the upperclass students to jump in on one or two events. One of the major issues identified by students in the 2001 Quality of Student Life Task Force and again in the 2006 Upperclass Task Force was that there was no sense of welcome during the second year and beyond. Indeed, the attention has always been on getting first year students acclimated and adjusted. The Trinity experience is four years long though, and all students should feel welcomed back each fall.

So what is on schedule for our returning students? First, the upperclass students have move-in day set-up by class. Sophomore College students come in on Saturday, August 23. The following day there will be a conference-style session for students to attend to get tips on managing in their second year here - and avoiding the sophomore slump. This will be followed by a barbecue on the Prassel Lawn.

Juniors will return on Sunday, August 24 and on Monday will have a session specifically directed toward their needs. Internships is one area that will be a focus. The conference sessions are really panels with students who will comment on their personal experiences from the year or two before. This will be followed with a dessert in the Heidi Lounge.

Finally, seniors will return on Monday, August 25. ALL seniors (on or off campus) are invited though, to attend the conference session on transitions OUT of Trinity, job and graduate program preparation and more. Staff and alumni will serve as panelists to discuss these important issues. A senior happy hour will follow.

The other major events planned for new and returning students include comedian Nicholas Anthony, hypnotist Daniel James, the welcome back concert with Reel Big Fish, the midnight movie Iron Man, and of course the Reading TUgether lecture. There will be an all-school picnic on the Wednesday evening before classes begin. This is in place of the picnic previously sponsored by ARAMARK prior to a football game. Returning students will be asked to be on hand at 5:30 p.m. to welcome the new students as they process from the convocation.

Welcome Week is for everyone. The staff and student leaders are anxious to make returning to Trinity feel like a homecoming.