By Rob Mawyer
I had a really good time at Fall Conference last week. I’m not lying. These are my takeaways.
Number 1: We all matter. Or, maybe it’s just the economy.
My single greatest moments of cognitive dissonance occur at the opening session of development days. I love what we do in terms of employee recognition. I love how we recognize those service milestones of 15 years, 20 years, and on; I sit in awe at those people who have put in geologic time at RVC.
I also love the Employee of the Year award in the fall and the Faculty of the Year award in the spring. These are great. I like the build-up to the awardee being announced, I like the heartfelt applause that that person receives, and I like the sincere and sort-of embarrassed speeches that the recipients give. I’m always impressed when the award recipient manages to be funny in the face of what must be truly bewildering circumstances. During these moments of recognition, I usually find myself shifting around in my seat or getting up to grab another coffee because I don’t want anyone to see me tearing up. I am pathetic.
Number 2: Some impressive people work here at RVC
I couldn’t attend a break-out session in the 9:30 slot because I participated in a panel discussion on assessment. Presenting at these development days is often fun and low-pressure, and it usually breaks up the day in a good way.
I want more people to present at these things. I want this for selfish reasons. I enjoy watching people demonstrate their expertise, no matter what that expertise is. When people are really, really good at something, I find that super impressive.
To wit: I attended a session in the afternoon hosted by Heather Snider in Institutional Research. Heather gave her audience a taste of the results of the most recent CCSSE survey. What I remember most about Heather’s presentation has nothing to do with the survey itself. My biggest takeaway was that Heather has a scary ability to parse out what a piece of data or a percentage or a number actually means and also what it does not mean. This may seem simple or small to you, but it is not to me. Heather’s ability to strip away from a question or a result everything that doesn’t matter and apprehend what does is a product of rigorous training. She has been trained to think about things a certain way, and I have not been trained to think about those things in that way. And when I meet people who have been trained to think about things that I take for granted or simply know nothing about, I immediately respect them and, honestly, just want to hear them talk.
The thing is, when you talk to Heather about how impressive you find her way of thinking to be, she sort of shrugs like it’s no big deal. That is probably because, for her, there is nothing special about it. It’s just the air she breathes.
It occurs to me that there are a lot people like that at RVC—people who have this very specialized skill set or habit of mind or training who probably don’t perceive anything special about it. Maybe that’s one reason why more of us choose not to share—because we don’t believe there is anything necessarily cool or interesting about stuff we think about all day long. It also occurs to me that there are probably a lot of people like me at RVC—people who find all sorts of things fascinating and would love nothing more than to sit and bask like an old dog in the warm glow of your genius.
Number 3: Some impressive people work here at RVC, part II
Before the day began, I had resolved to go to sessions that I normally wouldn’t. In the 1 p.m. slot, I attended the session “Stop the Bleeding,” co-presented by Officers Fuller and Watson.
I don’t know why I chose this session. I just did.
In this session, I learned how to pack a wound. I learned how to apply a tourniquet. I learned that when packing a wound you need to pack about 500% more gauze in the wound than you think you need to. I learned that when applying a tourniquet you need to give a max effort because anything less simply will not get the job done. I learned that campus police officers carry with them something called a military-grade tourniquet which is different from the ones we practiced with because a military-grade tourniquet makes it easier for the user to apply the tourniquet to his- or herself in the event of a massively bleeding wound. I learned that Officers Fuller and Watson have to wake up in the morning and contemplate that perhaps today is the day that they might have to use a military-grade tourniquet to tie off one of their own bleeding appendages, which is sobering.
I also learned that I take a lot of things for granted and that maybe I should stop doing that.
Number 4: Okay, maybe we do matter
I had a very long talk with John Skupien from the Automotive Program. He told me all about how he got into teaching. It’s an awesome story and you should ask him about it if you run into him sometime.
Walking between buildings, I fell in with Jessy Quisenberry and Patti Linden, and they told me about a session they’d been to earlier in the day. They told me about how a good diet—like, a legitimately good diet—can defend against so many health risks and that sounded like a good idea to me. I didn’t tell them that I had eaten 5 pounds of House of India buffet earlier in the day.
I ran into Patrick Sugrue from the Math Department. I asked Patrick how his summer had been and he told me he had learned to write on a whiteboard with his left hand. I thought that was weird until he explained that he had to learn to write left-handed because earlier in the summer he had crashed on his bike and broken his shoulder blade and six ribs. Then I was horrified. Then he told me that he taught Calculus for 5 hours a day with six broken ribs and I thought was cool.
I had lots of little conversations like this throughout the day with people I know well and with people I don’t know so well. Most days I show up to work to do my thing, and I feel good. I feel like I’m part of a project that is meaningful to me and maybe to some of my students, too.
But it’s actually only on these development days, if I allow myself to, that I feel part of a community.
Rob Mawyer, MA has taught writing and literature at RVC since 2007.