Ivy Leaf - Spring 2006
Thoughts from the Chancellor
Dear Alumni and Friends,
My "Day - And Night - In the Life" Experience
The end of the academic year always finds me in a reflective mood, as I look back at the many accomplishments of our faculty and staff, the successes of our students and new graduates, and the growth of our college. This being my first year as Chancellor of Penn State Altoona, the opportunity for reflection is even greater.
I have wholeheartedly enjoyed my inaugural year as Chancellor, and have learned so much about our college. Having entered this position with a firm grasp on the academic side, I soon realized that there were other areas in which my knowledge base was insufficient. With that thought in mind, I decided to undertake a hands-on approach to learn more about certain departments and our students.
My first experience was with our Maintenance and Operations department. Our day began at 6 a.m., when we gathered to receive our assignments for the day and went to work. As with each morning, litter collection was the first order of the day. I picked up socks, blankets, soda bottles, food wrappers, and some unmentionable items, but nothing amazed me more than the quantity of cigarette butts left on the ground. I must admit, my compulsive nature got the best of me as I tried to pick up every cigarette butt; as a result, I was ten minutes late reporting back and was politely reminded that "7:30 means 7:30."
Next, we were to pull out the juniper trees on campus and they entrusted me to drive the Bobcat—a high point of the day for me. We then were assigned to set up for an event and I was amazed to see the speed with which everyone worked to get things done on time. When my four-hour shift was over, I honestly hated going back to the office. I was thinking about all of the E-mail awaiting me and wished that I could stay with the crew; they work so hard yet have so much fun.
While I learned a great deal about what M&O does on a daily basis, I also walked away with a realization that there are a lot of similarities between our respective jobs. We each have goals to attain, deadlines to meet, and rely upon teamwork to get the job done. Really, it is not much different from my job; it is just the task that is different.
Next, I spent some time with our food services operation. I regularly eat the food at our Port-Sky Café but I did not really know what went on behind the scenes.
I was assigned to work with food services on the day of the Alumni Society Mid-Winter Dance. I learned how to stuff cream puffs, use a carving knife, and decorate food trays. I then worked out on the grill with the students and learned that the most popular items were cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers. Again I was struck by the fun with which they did their jobs and the pride they had in their work. It is the same kind of fulfillment that I get from my job; it is about attention to detail, caring about the quality of the product, and working together. Again, different venue, same principles.
Feeling rather certain that residence life has changed greatly since my undergraduate years, I decided to spend "a night in the life" of our residence hall students. Working with senior Leocadia Mosquea, I arranged to hang out with the residents of Maple Hall from 9 to 11 p.m. and then stay overnight in Leo's room. While I attend student government meetings and student events, this was a chance for me to connect with them on their own turf Upon arrival at Maple, I was greeted with posters stating "Eat nachos with the Head Honcho." Approximately forty-five students chose to spend their Monday night with me. I told them that I was there simply to find out what was really on their minds. They began by talking about issues ranging from parking on campus to safety concerns to academic issues.
Then someone asked me how college life is different now from when I went to school. Clearly, I told them, the most significant difference is technology. We didn't have computers back then—they just didn't exist. We didn't have cell phones or iPods; instead, I had a portable typewriter and crates of vinyl records.
But as we continued talking, we found a lot of similarities as well. I told them about the things I cared about and worried about when I was in college—my grades, jobs, having money to buy books, rising tuition costs, my love life, poverty, health issues, and the war. When I asked them to express their thoughts and concerns, the very same issues were mentioned. So while technology has changed a great deal, the issues that were present thirty years ago are the issues of today.
As I drifted off to sleep in Leo's dorm room at 1:30 a.m., I thought of things I had not thought about in thirty years. I remembered chatting with my roommate Janie, the sounds of the crickets, and the feeling of having an exam in the morning. And, for just a second, I could have sworn I heard Billy Joel's "The Stranger" playing down the hall.
When I awoke, I found myself more energized to start my day than I had in a while. I couldn't wait to go back to my job; my night with these students reminded me of why we do the work that we do at Penn State Altoona. It is for these kids, so that they can have a better life and a better future. My time with our students gave me renewed hope for the future of our country and our world, and a renewed commitment to work hard for them.