Archive for February, 2010

Years ago when I was an editor at my undergraduate newspaper, we were covering in earnest (naturally) the college’s search for a new president.  To make a long story short, the gentleman selected for the job had been at the school for a few years, was fond of interacting with students, and was good at giving great quotes.  Really, is there anything better for college journalists? Besides, of course, garnering the respect of their community who, instead, might use each week’s copy as placemats in the dining hall rather than caring much about the work of the sleepless zombies stuck in some (usually) basement office at all hours?  That always seemed like it would be great to me.  Perhaps for my successors.

In any case, among my friends and I, several of whom were fellow newspaper people, one particular quote of our new president became a part of our crew’s lexicon because it was just so apt for describing any number of life situations, and is ever more useful as the years fly by.  I give you: “Life, she is a crazy monkey face”.

This week, another one spent trying to enter perpetually overcrowded elevators in a sterile modernist orange-staired building on 16th street, feels like a tipping point from which we’ll be speeding through to the end of the semester.  Quite suddenly, I had this sense of how fast things are flying by, a different sensation for me than fall semester’s meandering pace.  Right now I’m looking at the calendar feeling urgency, wanting to redouble my efforts to be back in the working world, and that’s where I’ll be heading for the rest of this term.  We have a couple of weeks until spring break, but what with the projects due immediately prior and the rapid pace into which you emerge after, it’s no wonder I’m starting to feel things are MOVING.

No doubt this is also exacerbated by the fact that we are in the midst of fairly extensive institutional change (more about that when we know more), generating an air of activity and uncertainty in some quarters, and for me, a thought that “this is NOT what I was expecting!!!”  (Granted, there are also part-time students who have said to me a version of: as long as I can still graduate in [their goal date] I DON’T CARE.  That is a logical view for some to have. These things do depend.  It’s also always better to appear nonchalant than worked up, so there could also be that interpretation.)

However, it being graduate school, I should have remembered my own advice, which is that you’re always going to encounter the unexpected in grad school: courses are canceled, faculty go on sabbatical just before your master’s project, how things “work” change, you discover an honestly new interest in something you hadn’t known before.  Grad school is a place rife with reason for lines like “life, she is a crazy monkey face”.  Funny, silly, unsettling, perhaps even scary, but certainly nothing like what you thought you would be in for, no matter how much you tried to answer every single question you had before beginning.

Although one question I had before I started here, concerning how well more humanities/”creatively oriented” people like myself actually performed in courses like quantitative methods, was well answered: just fine, and even well.  I concur.  Quant is not an unbeatable monster; it is something you need to respect and tackle one step at a time, certainly, but it feels doable.  I’ve been afraid to say so as I’m superstitious, but so far, so good.  Now THAT is an unexpected feeling for me.

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This week we began to work on our client project in one of my classes. I knew coming into this course that we would have such a project for a client, and given my still-complicated feelings about how Policy Lab “worked” last spring (see, oh, many posts from Jan-July 09), I was a little anxious about embarking on this for reasons I could not quite identify.  Even reassured that this “wasn’t going to be Lab”, I did not know what to think.  All along, one personal challenge for me at Milano is being confident in my abilities and work while (particularly in this blog, or else what is the point?) being honest about what challenges me or gets in the way of really experiencing that confidence positively.  (Understand, confident does not have to mean “being an arrogant ass”.  There ARE distinctions, people!)

My anxiety about another group project was gone, or perhaps I should say, properly reconfigured, after we met our client as a class.  The thing about which I was most concerned: the amount of time and pace of the project requiring so much of it, will be working differently this time.  Given that, I delighted in realizing that since I’ve been using similar processes to those we’ll be using in the social marketing realm, I can best use this time to fine-tune how I engage with this kind of work, to determine how I can refine what happens as we’re working for a client.  It feels good.  So I am looking forward to the actual work involved with this, and hoping that it does help broaden my skills–which is a better feeling to have as we’re getting underway than vague dread.

Client work is challenging the first few times you do it because even though you’re sitting in a classroom or operating as a student, you have to suspend that reality and play the role of a professional consultant.  You won’t be given a syllabus listing your assignments and work requirements; you have much more agency and flexibility you must use in problem solving.  I’m sure this is precisely why such project work is a good thing to have in policy or management programs–it definitely shakes up your own self-defined role, scope of behavior, and notions of oneself as a “student”.  Those elements are what push you to grow personally as you learn how to perform as a consultant.  Even if, for now, it is mainly able to show only in program-based client projects, I have become so much more confident at handling projects with many moving parts thanks to Milano.  I know which elements I enjoy most; I know what kinds of strengths I can bring to the work, and what kinds of growth I still want to experience.

Or, at least, I know how to act like it.

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It’s been three weeks since classes started, but it feels closer to three months. The hardest thing so far has been finding a schedule that works for both the personal and the school stuff as well as realizing many of the great talks on campus happen while I’m in class during the evenings. As a Year One my schedule consists of schoolwide and program core courses and so far it’s been a mixed blessing. The biggest benefit has been the heavy concentration of other Year Ones in the classes, this has served to take off some of the hesitation about being vocal during class for fear of sounding  ‘stupid’.  On the other hand having core courses have given me mixed feelings about the collection of courses I am taking this semester. By far the most difficult course for me this semester is my economics class. Initially I was considering taking Quantitative Methods, but after the student panel during orientation I decided to go with the economics core course – Economics for Management and Public Policy.  Part of the difficulty lies in having the dominant part of my grade determined by the midterm and the final (80 percent), with homework and classroom participation making up the remainder of the grade. Essentially, it’s a microeconomics course and while supply and demand may work for widgets and widget consultancies, it is hard to map that on to the nonprofit sector which is essentially answering the need for services that the for profit sector was unable to find a profit driven response too….

By far my favorite course has been Making a Difference: Global, Organizational and Individual Perspectives of Social Change.  This class demands my engagement and then once engaged it smacks me around a bit … just to send me out into the school week a little pissed (which is a good thing). The readings test my base knowledge and understanding of critical thought while giving me enough gristle to wrestle with the stuff I don’t know yet. This is one of the rare classes over my college career (both undergrad and grad) that I’ve found myself looking for other readings to supplement the assignments for the week because I want to be better prepared for the class.

As it stands my Theory and Practice of NonProfit Management class is my least favorite course this semester. Essentially, it’s a survey course and I believe for me after 5 solid years of nonprofit experience I was looking for more ‘theory’ and less ‘practice’. We read …. we talk…[we are] getting bored and it’s only week four. Hopefully, the professor will recognize the lack of participation as a cry for help and will shift to meet our needs.

The tally thus far for reading (in pages): 114 (week 1), 201 (week 2), and 234 (week 3)….


PS  – I’ve added a couple of pics from this week’s ‘snow day’….school was canceled which was good for me (as my new notebook was delivered) but was a dud for the snow enthusiasts. NYC only received 8-9 inches while my hometown of Philly (a 2-hour drive away) is sitting in 88 inches worth of snow (over the course of back to back weekend snow sessions).

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I’m surprised at my experience with Quantitative Methods (statistics) so far.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because I haven’t taken any math-based courses in a long time.  I remember being good at math, but not terribly interested, particularly once I honed in on a passion for theoretical reading and studying literature and history.   So while I didn’t feel a lot of anticipatory anxiety, I was curious to see how I would react to this kind of work after such a “break”.  Thusfar, it is going well, and I feel like I am mastering the necessary concepts.  I would still rather be doing other kinds of work–I didn’t honestly expect that to change–but I do not dread tackling my homework.  I also appreciate that my instructor decided, based on his past teaching experience, to spend time making sure that we are individually working problems rather than counting on someone else in a group to figure things out.  For me, group work is not a helpful way to really learn some types of material, and this is certainly one.

Meanwhile, in my other course I was thrilled to begin class reading and encounter some of my old theoretical favorites waiting (hence this post’s title, a geeky Foucauldian joke).  I know that reading theory about media, activism, or policy are often not the most popular of assignments at Milano (that could be a broadly incorrect generalization, so forgive me if I’m wrong) but for me it is always fascinating and a pleasure to delve into.  I also enjoy doing hands-on work, and I don’t see a dichotomy between theory/practice as irrevocable, but that’s also many years in Women’s Studies speaking, where “theory/praxis” considerations were embedded in nearly everything we were learning.   So my classwork is operating as I had hoped, with the media advocacy work a reward for completing Quant graphs.

And what of blogging?  Well, creative work is the reward for all of it!

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Okay good people….I have two weeks in the can. Alright it’s more like one week of orientation and one week of actual classes. I wasn’t sure what to expect from orientatiation as a January admit and had contemplated skipping it all together but I am glad that I anted-up the subway fare. If nothing else orientation gave me an opportunity to meet my fellow admits in the flesh and to chop it up with them in a non learning environment way. For any of those who are thinking about pulling a no-show with regards to an oriebtation event, I would by far recommend attendence to the student panel. The panel for the most part represented a nice cross section of experiences and programs and everyone was so forthcoming no matter how odd our questions (is there a new school gym … really? you paid about 15K in tuition and your first question is about the gym) or how germane the questions. For me, the questions focused around ‘what to expect’….what is a LAB? How much reading should I expect each week? Does the 3:1 rule (for every hour of class time you should allocate 3 hours of study time) work for grad school? While I did not recieve concrete answers to all of my questions I did learn that it doesn’t behoove me to take on an additional class during my first semester (I wanted to take a 4th class … but with the LAB I would in essence have a five class course load). The Big Homie (yes I know I need to get better with names) on the panel also hipped me to utilizing the add/drop period to see if I can handle the additional course load (later in the week I would realize through my economics class this is probably a prime example of marginal cost). So to recap the orientation: I dug the student-led panel….and I didn’t like the peer dutch lunch (but that’s because I have my favorite downtown eateries and well New York is full of choices).

So onward to classes….

The first week of class was a sobering reminder that we are not in Kansas anymore. I am taking 3 core courses for the NonProfit Management program: Making A Difference, Theory & Practice of NonProfit Mgmt, and Economics for Management. Because my courses are requirements, most of my classmates are year one peers. With alot to cover over 15ish weeks all of my professors hit the ground running….besides the usual intro stuff, day one of classes included covered material from syllabus reading. Now let’s see what next week brings….

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