On making a place feel like home

It’s December 2013, it’s finals week at UCLA, and it’s cold outside.  If anything, the changes in season can be a not-so-gentle reminder that time is passing.

I’ve been a resident of Southern California for just under a year and a half now, and my, the time has passed.  I shouldn’t be surprised, every person who is older than me (and who will always continue to be older than me) always has told me about time flying.  And finally, even as quick as it all has gone by, it feels a little more like home than it ever has before.

I never hesitate to tell my students that transition is hard.  Really hard.  I would gander than most person’s families have never really moved much in the last two or three generations.  Maybe their parents were the first to leave the Midwest in search of warmer weather.  But it doesn’t matter, because even if you didn’t move across the country for college or a job, it’s all still very difficult.

It’s also not atypical to fall out of love with a new environment immediately after loving it more than anything you’ve ever loved before.  Really.  It’s called a honeymoon phase for a reason: it’s short, it’s great, and it’s over before you know it.  And when you leave the honeymoon phase, it’s always going to be a long climb back to making a place feel as comfortable as the place you felt before.  (Assuming, of course, that you were comfortable in where you were before).

from lostinamerica.tumblr.com
from lostinamerica.tumblr.com

So after a year and a half of being in California, what’s the secret to making a place feel comfortable?  What’s it take to make new digs feel like “home” ?

Unpack and settle.  This may seem like common sense, and for many college students who do not have a lot of “stuff,” maybe a little less tangible.  But even if you don’t have a lot of things to unpack, it’s always worth taking the time to decorate one’s living space, whether if be a residence hall room, apartment, or bunk space.  It’s about setting an area where you feel comfortable, however that looks like to you.

Go out and explore.  The first time I moved out of Southeastern Michigan and moved into Mid-Michigan, I spent a lot of time on my bicycle, riding around Lansing.  I went to the Zoo, the state Capitol, all over Michigan State University’s campus, the malls, the local restaurants and markets, and everything folks suggested I do.  When I got to Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time making a “bucket list” of all of the things that UCLA students did before graduation and a list of the major cultural establishments in the region.  I’ve been to a LOT of them in the past 18 months, checking them off as I go.  And you know what, when people come to visit, they say that I’m a good tour guide.

from stayrustic.tumblr.com
from stayrustic.tumblr.com

Connect with those that have lived here before you.  It’s just as good as anything else on this list: talk to those who have grown up in the region, who have worked at the college, etc.  What do regulars do?  Do you want to be like them?  Even if you don’t, you’ll know and that will make routine a little more easy.

And last, spend the time.  I mentioned that the climb back to comfort would take a while.  It will.  The little comforts of life are not going to return with ease or a snap of your fingers, no matter how hard you try.  It’s going to take time to find your groove, and while that might not be easy, it’s “okay.”  Accepting that this is going to happen is part of the process, and it’ll make it easier to move forward when the time comes.

from lostinamerica.tumblr.com
from lostinamerica.tumblr.com

On Rank

Another brief, off-the-cuff musing:

I recently had a colleague from a different department, who is unfamiliar with our office, ask me “who was higher” between some of my direct coworkers and myself.  It got me thinking – are some of my office-mates “higher” than me?  Could they pull seniority or rank on group projects?  And importantly, does this matter at all?

I’m going to start with the latter portion of my musing: does this matter?  In terms of getting work done, I’m sure that there are many arguments that a reporting structure is important.  However, since all of my direct coworkers and I are constantly working together  for the same goal, the reporting structure is irrelevant.  We need each other to be in communication and to be willing to partner with another in order to do our job.  Therefore, I will argue that the “rank” of my coworkers and I is unimportant insofar as to whether or not it impacts our goals.

That argued, the University is a place of culture, it’s a place of tradition, and it certainly is a place of slow-paced change.  Those who have put the work in for 10, 20, or 30 years generally are rewarded with more senior positions or human resource classification (better pay and benefits).  Accordingly, they are, alongside the students, probably the best source for campus “ways of doing things.” In that matter, someone who is new to the University probably owes a consider respect for those individuals (until I eventually become one of them).

In terms of the “organizational chart” frame, however, no person is “higher” than me except for my supervisor and most of my colleagues report to the same individual.  Further, while my human resources classification is more junior than most of my colleagues’ classification, I still am only reporting to that one individual.  And similarly, this is likely a product of the function and goals of our office – it’s a “flat” organizational structure that enables us to to work together in order to work within our mission.

I would pose the same question to anyone in a work environment with team-based goals: what does your office look like?  And how does it help you accomplish your goals?  And, just as I was asked, could “ranking” help or hinder some of the employees’ capacity to get work done?


On Earthquakes

Not something that I really have thought about too much since moving to Los Angeles from Detroit, but I do keep a hard-hat under my desk.

I find it curious that for the most part, I have never really had to pay attention to extreme forms of weather living in Michigan – it’s probably the most moderate state in the union.  Specifically Metro Detroit, there are very few tornadoes, very few violent thunderstorms, no volcanoes, no hurricanes, no earthquakes… and we typically don’t get blizzards that lay more than a few inches of snow at a time.

In Southern California, I have become vaguely aware of the fact that an earthquake, and specifically a destructive earthquake, could hit at any time.  Droughts are commonplace. Wildfires burn every year and displace hundreds from their homes.

The real lesson here is to think about what different aspects of life do we need to be at least vaguely aware of?  Are we in ‘safe’ spaces, literally or figuratively?  And if we are not aware, what are the potential consequences when that 9.0 earthquake finally hits?  For professionals like me in student affairs, do we have on-campus climates or environments that potentially have similar forces?

You better believe that I’m glad to have a hard-hat.

Top Posts of 2012

1.  Food Deserts in Detroit
2.  Environmental Vegetarianism: Is it Sustainable?
3.  Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change
4.  My MOOC: Seal ‘er up, send ‘er to rest
5.  Walkable Neighborhoods in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan
6.  Density in New York City–People and Power
7.  I promised my dad we’d hike…
8.  Venturing into a ‘MOOC’
9.  What American Higher Ed Looks Like Now
10.  Venturing into a MOOC: Intro, Lesson 1 and 2


Didn’t really predict this at all – but that’s what I get traffic for.  A pretty decent amount too – several thousand (unique) people viewed this blog in 2012.  Well, in that case, cheers (and Happy New Year)!

Michigan Politics and Economy

In an attempt to put some of my thoughts into a space where it may have some value (instead of just my Facebook page), I thought it might be prudent to write a post on some of the realities of Michigan’s political atmosphere right now and some of my thoughts on it.

Credit: Huff Post
Credit: Huff Post

I wrote a post over a year ago on the emergency financial manager law that Republican governor Rick Snyder signed into law when coming into office.  More recently, the law found itself under review at the mercy of the citizens of the fine state of Michigan directly at the polls.  Indeed, Michigan repealed this law with a clear majority of voters against it.

Today, the Michigan House passed the bill again.

I cannot comprehend the logic behind the lame-duck legislature that believes that this bill somehow is in the interest of their constituents.  Indeed, I believe it’s very likely that they see it in their own interest and the interests of those lining their pockets.

Now, in a different direction, Michigan voters also denied the legislature a proposal which would have codified collective bargaining rights for private and public employees into the state constitution (prop 2).  And in record time, the Michigan legislature has turned this into a movement to create and pass a law which removes the ability for effective collective bargaining to occur.

Of course, one might think that just because doesn’t think collective bargaining should be in the state constitution DOESN’T mean that the individual also thinks collective bargaining should be undermined completely.  However, given the illogical, non-representative manner of the conservative lame-duck legislature, I’m completely unsurprised by their decision-making process.

The same legislature has also gone to the right on other bills as well, with policies that restrict abortion, deny rights to LGBT individuals, eliminate the power of local governments, and overhaul education (K-20) in manners which have made many well-informed individuals extremely concerned.

In what might be the largest move to the right in decades, Michigan has gone from a labor-focused, moderate state to what might be tantamount to Mississippi or West Virginia.  No bones about it – that’s what has happened.

I think it’s time to slow the train down.

First, there is no conservative place in this country, including Houston, that low regulation and low taxes have lead to the area becoming an economic powerhouse.  Indeed, the places that have the most capital are high-tax and high human services: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.  They are not Dallas, Houston, or Indianapolis.  There is no need to argue this; it’s already been done.

Second, why in the world would anyone move to Michigan now?  This constant race-to-the-bottom philosophy does little to create jobs; rather it poaches jobs from nearby states and encourages companies to be concerned with only their bottom line rather than a fair pay and their community.  Additionally, if you’re a person of color, a woman, LGBT, or non-Christian, chances are the state of Michigan legislature is going to have a law that directly affects you in a negative manner.  (And if you’re any kind of conscious CEO, you’re not going to locate your company in a state like that, either…)

Third, conservatives themselves know that the path to success does not lie with the current agenda.  Indeed, Michigan’s own conservative Grand Rapids (“a bastion of American conservativism”) is doing well due to their own moderate and progressive agenda.  So what gives?




My MOOC: Seal ‘er up, send ‘er to rest

It’s time to fess up: the MOOC interest I have is gone.  I’ve been hesitating on this for some time, but I think it’s time to put it to rest.  The class officially ends December 10, but I’m not going to move forward any further.

I continued in the class for the first month and a half-or-so… and the format is pretty simple.  As mentioned, it’s a basic task of watching video lectures, reading the assigned text, and writing a short essay every other week.  Not a lot of work to be done that took much time away from my schedule.

Here’s where I falter.  

First, I have no idea why I’m devoting the energy to learn.  For me, there was never a goal to take part in the class other than to write a few blog entries about the experience.  By that measure, I’ve done what I wanted to do, but I’m finding it difficult to maintain interest in the process itself and the coursework.

Second, I had no out-of-classroom experiences to reflect on either process or the material.  The latter point, of being able to talk (out loud!) about course material, is crucial for my learning style.  I like class discussion.  I like hearing what others have to say, and certainly, I like sharing my thoughts as well.  The Meetup.com group I joined never took off, so the learning process was all on me.

Third, and similarly to the second point, I had no peers nor mentors to guide me.  Keeping this process to myself, I had no ability to seek direction – and being one of 70,000 students doesn’t make me feel like I’m going to get a lot of attention if I e-mailed the course staff directly.

Fourth, I feel a definite lack of buy-in.  Though I paid for the book (12 bucks, including shipping), I can’t claim to have any sense of responsibility.  This course was not an expenditure (aside from the text and my time) to any degree that made me feel obligated to continue, nor was it part of a curriculum that I was excited for the next step.

Busting out a textbook from the graduate school days, Learning in Adulthood by Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007), one theory of adult learning labeled andragogy struck me as a useful analytical lens.  Andragogy was proposed by Malcolm Knowles in the late 1960s as a set of assumptions critical to providing a foundation for adult learning.  The six assumptions are (paraphrased from Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner, 2007):

1.  As a person matures, his/her self-concept shifts from being dependent to self-directing.
2. Adults use their experiences as a resource for learning.
3. The readiness of an adult to learn is closely related to the developmental tasks of his/her social role.
4. Adults are more problem-centered than subject-centered in learning.
5. Motivation is most potent when it’s internal, rather than external.
6. Adults need to know why they need to learn something.

Not to claim that I’m a fully matured, experience driven, internally motivated adult, (in fact, I know that not all of these things are true), but perhaps this gives some thought as to my own faltering in completing the course.  In the end, the value of the course is low, my motivation is low, and the format of the course is not help.

So, is Coursera viable?

“Viable for what?” is the question.  Undoubtedly, Coursera is a very accessible tool which could be used for a wide variety of applications, including MOOCs, for-credit courses, exams, remedial education, and probably much more.  Frankly, it was easy to get the ball rolling – which to me, indicates that the challenge is not the platform.  It’s how educators will use the platform to deliver the content, learning, and connections that they normally would try to convey through other methods.  My thought is that it would incredibly useful in smaller groups that were required to meet at least once or twice per semester/quarter, and at least once with an instructor or instructor’s designee.  I also think that it will be useful to all age groups around the world – meaning that it has a lot of potential to support global learning initiatives.

So with that, I’m going to hang my head in the shame of not finishing this course (it’s only the second one, after failing a math class in 8th grade), and then quickly move on to other things.  More maps, anyone?