Cooking dinner after work used to be my favorite way to decompress from the day, and express some love in my husband’s direction. I’m a good cook, and I love food, and I love the process of cooking. The knife work, stove work, assessing flavor profiles, all of it. I just love it. Today, as I sped through the grocery store after work because we’re out of milk AGAIN and the baby who is actually a toddler can’t go to sleep without her bottle, I stopped and snapped this photo, because damn.
That’s a whole lotta prepared food, right there. Gwyneth and I had fish sticks, peas, and sweet potato tots for dinner tonight, and my “cooking” involved putting frozen things on a cookie sheet in a hot oven, and other frozen things in water in a microwave. Nothing about that feels like a reflection of the things that excite me about cooking, or the way that I feel like food is an expression of things that I value about homes and family and caring and attention and craft… but at the same time, everything about it is reflective of my values. I conceded the point to the realities of my life and reprioritized around those realities, and I bought a whole bunch of convenience food — but I did it my way. Highest quality available. Frozen not canned. Organic when possible. Veggies and fruit above all else. And some comfort food joy mixed in (woohoo single serve Stouffer’s mac and cheese! TOTS!).
What’s this got to do with my professional life and this blog?
Nothing, and everything, just like above. At the request of the college president, I’ve recently formally taken on an additional set of responsibilities; I am now the Director of Applied Learning* for the college, in a newly created Center for Applied Learning, jumpstarted via a generous endowed gift from an alumna and her husband. There’s a whole lot wrapped up in that new appointment, and it’s an amazingly cool opportunity to make a real impact on the educational experience of our students, and to help support our faculty as they build our academic program. In writing the pitch to the donors, I had a whole timeframe outlined, a list of projects, an approach, a plan…
And then there’s contact with the enemy, as they say. Turns out there’s a big SUNY project happening simultaneously. So we received the gift, we got the campus initiatives formally started, and we hit the ground not just running but sprinting towards a May 1 deadline for a SUNY all-campuses project in which we need to define Applied Learning for our campus, assess the parameters by which we will decide if an activity meets our definitions, and propose a campus commitment for our Applied Learning work.
Plan? Staged rollout? Thoughtful strategic planning? HA. Concede the point to the realities of the situation, reprioritize, and convene a committee, write a report, submit it to stakeholders, and get it done NOW NOW NOW — and do it our way.
Plan or no plan, our values are intact. The Director of Experiential Education, Toby White, had shepherded the project up to this point, and his leadership has kept us moving steadily in the right direction. With his help, we identified and convened the committee in record time. The stakeholders we’ve invited into our first advisory committee have impressed the hell out of me. This is a new way of thinking about what we do — we do internships, and service learning, and study abroad and away, and student research, and field experience, but we don’t think about them as a unified set of things. Instead of arguing about the validity of this new principle and approach and mandate from SUNY (which would have been an expectable if non-optimal response), they are grabbing onto the heart of the questions and, despite our short time frame and abrupt beginning, really attacking the complexities of defining, in a unified way, something that we just do, in fifty different ways, in distributed modes, across all of our departments and schools.
We’re doing it fast, and we’re doing it a little uglier than I would prefer, but we’re doing it well. We might be eating packaged food, but it’s tasty and nutritionally balanced. We’re not doing it “right”, but we’re honoring who we are. And sometimes that has to be good enough. Right is not always right, even when you know you’re right. Good enough is sometimes good enough, so long as it’s true and honest and real.
And, as always, I’m impressed with my colleagues and my campus. So very, deeply, impressed. I may have four jobs, and I may have eaten fancified tater tots for dinner, but they were tasty tater tots and my four jobs are more satisfying than I have any right to ask for.
*That means my official titles currently are: Director of Libraries, Director of College Archives, Director of Bicentennial Celebrations, and Director of Applied Learning. I maybe have too many jobs, and those titles don’t encompass all the things I’m actually doing for the College, but they’re all really cool and who am I to back down from a challenge?