Up close and personal

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been emailing and scheduling private interviews with professors, and consequently doing a lot of house calls.

In addition to the added cardio I’ve been getting from running around campus, I’ve been hearing a lot of new perspectives from some of IUP’s brightest and most distinguished faculty.

Throughout the duration of this process we’ve been trying to interview people as a group, enabling participants to feel more comfortable, bounce ideas off each other, and allowing us to knock out more than one person per facilitation.

Switching gears and doing more private interviews has definitely been an entirely different experience. I feel a more personalized connection, which has been both good and bad. In a one-on-one setting, I have noticed professors speak more candidly and freely, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because they don’t have to worry about defending their ideas or positions to other participants.  This has resulted in some really honest answers, which is exactly what we’re looking for.

Doing all private interviews really isn’t feasible, and I think there are benefits to both methods. It really also depends on the person you’re talking to. Sometimes in group interviews certain people dominate the conversation while others don’t seem as eager to participate. One way that we’ve been able to still get results from those who are less eager to express ideas out loud is having them write down their thoughts on our question outline.

Being able to conduct interviews, whether privately or as a group, has given me a better perspective on the way people communicate. It has sharpened my people skills and thickened my skin, especially when conducting a private interview with anyone who is skeptical of our project.

The best way to silence the doubters is by asking for their opinion.  The only thing we can do is keep talking to people, and if you ask me, I think pretty soon they’ll be talking about us too.

–By Juliette Rapp

Is it a gob or a whoopee pie?

Is this a whoopie pie or a gob?

Photo courtesy of http://www.foodnetwork.com

Some of us were sitting in the Command Center of the Strategic Visioning Project recently and a discussion came up. I said I wanted the gob that I had in my bag and Em asked, with a puzzled look on her face, what a gob was. Long story short, gob or whoopee pie, it’s the same thing depending on where you live and apparently, the term “gob” is pretty exclusive to Western Pennsylvania.

According to the story, the coal miners of the area carried them in their lunch buckets to work and the tasty, cream-filled confection looked like lumps of coal on the piles at the mines, hence the name “gob.” Most people call these things Whoopee Pies, hence Emily’s confusion when I said it.

This little conversation led us to embark on an entire discussion about dialect, what words and pronunciations were used, and where in the country they were used. We found the locations of the pop/soda/coke debate and apparently “pop” is said in the northern half of the country, and here I thought it was a Western Pennsylvania thing only. I thought wrong.

I have to say that this is what will sometimes happen when a small group of journalism graduates, current students, and one food and nutrition major from the northeast, talk about when they’re thrown into a room together. We get on the subject of words and their meanings and origins. Trust me; this really does make for a lively conversation.

So you people out there in cyber-world may be wondering… what does this have to do with the Strategic Visioning Project? Well, we were learning a bit more about each other in terms of dialect and that leads us to this project.

The word “diversity” has come up so much in the focus groups and interviews about IUP and what makes it distinctive. My opinion is that when people were using this word, they were talking about the different ethnicities and demographic areas in which students were from. With a student population of roughly 15,000, this university has students from all over, from across the state, across the country, and even from around the world.

We have a melting pot of students that while it probably isn’t unique to just IUP, it gives us a chance to dive into other areas and/or cultures, and creates an interesting learning experience; even if it is just talking about words and meanings.

So what is it to you? A gob or a whoopee pie?

–Shawna McCutcheon

The town and gown: Coming apart at the seams?

Photo credit - aprilbell, sxc.hu

Photo credit – aprilbell, sxc.hu

When your boss is someone like Michele Papakie, you hear a lot of funny phrases. We have flyers posted in Command Central (410 Davis) that say “Can’t died in a cornfield!” and “Be the duck!” and “No! Try not! Do or do not, there is no try!”  (Technically that last one isn’t a Papakieism, but it still makes me laugh.)

Michele also introduced me to the phrase “town and gown” which is apparently a popular way to describe the relationship between universities and their towns. I didn’t grow up in a college town, so I hadn’t heard the phrase until this year. If you’ve never heard it either, the community around a university is the “town” and the university people are the “gown.”

My first thought about the gowns were graduation gowns, but it actually goes back to the Middle Ages when European university students, who often acted as minor clerics, wore black robes similar to the clergy. This became the long black gown with a hood and cap that we think of when we picture scholars. The gowns were really helpful for students studying in unheated buildings, but they were also symbolic of the fact that academics did not perform physical labor. (Can you imagine trying to harvest crops dressed like Professor Snape?)

But the gowns also symbolically separated students and their teachers from the folks around them. Many university students didn’t speak the local dialects and the townspeople didn’t speak Latin, which made communication very difficult. And as universities gradually gained more and more independence from local control, the town began to resent and lose trust in the gown. Conflict and violence were rampant because each group was governed by separate bodies, each with its own priorities and loyalties.

IUP students volunteering at the Indiana Community Garden - Photo by The Penn

IUP students volunteering at the Indiana Community Garden – Photo from The Penn

Flash forward to the modern-day United States: we don’t see a lot of violence between towns and universities, but it turns out that things aren’t exactly amazing, either. Universities believe their existence is key to the survival of the local economy; the surrounding towns claim institutions are robbing them of local tax revenue as universities expand and remove land property for local tax rolls, and universities aren’t taxable like other entities using town resources. Technically, universities don’t have to contribute anything to the town’s government, although some do.

Which brings me back to the Strategic Visioning Project and what got me thinking about the town/gown relationship. I first learned about this sticky situation when I facilitated a group interview last week at the community meeting of the Public Works committee at the borough. And I’m usually quick (maybe too quick, sometimes) to weigh in on a debate or propose a solution, but this is a tough one.

The borough receives no money from IUP and can’t tax the university, so maintenance and development projects are often underfunded or impossible. The borough manager said if IUP was a corporation, like IBM, the local government would be in great shape because of the tax revenue. But since IUP can’t be taxed and it doesn’t contribute funds to the borough, things aren’t so great financially.

On the other hand, IUP brings in nearly 15,000 students, effectively doubling the town’s population for much of the year. While students are here, we are employed by and patronize local businesses and contribute our time to area non-profits and through initiatives like Into the Streets.

Professors also contribute to the cultural and political landscape of the town — I’m thinking in particular of a handful of professors who are central to Indiana’s Center for Community Growth, which works to improve the livelihood of area residents by addressing social, economic, racial and environmental issues. But professors and students alike are also local business owners, entertainers and board members for a number of organizations.

It’s not like the borough doesn’t recognize this, either. Members of the Public Works committee noted the university’s contributions to the town, too. Without IUP, one said, Indiana would have remained a lower-class mining town.

The students and professors remain a strange mixture of town and gown, especially students like me who live off-campus, work in the town and rarely go home. We contribute a lot, but we’re also supported a lot by things like roads, sidewalks, recycling programs, facilities, parks and rec, law enforcement and fire departments, to name a few. And these things take money.

Which leaves the relationship where, exactly? Should IUP charge students a fee to provide the borough with the funding it needs for the town’s law enforcement and maintenance, much of which is directly tied to IUP in the first place? Should the borough work more closely with the university to begin meeting some of its professional needs while giving students internship opportunities?

The town and its center of learning do not have to be two separate entities, since each depends on the other for survival. Maybe things would have gone better back in the Middle Ages if the townspeople could have picked up some Latin and the scholars had invested more in the town and learned its language and ways. Or the academics could have tried taking off the gowns when they were outside the university. There’s no need for imaginary boundaries where none exist.

So I don’t know what the solution could be, and I’m excited to hear from people who have lived in this town their whole lives or for many generations. But I can tell you what won’t solve anything: cutting off communication between both parties and refusing to repair the relationship.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Please comment below.

- Emily Weber

It’s Almost Over?!

After a week-long hiatus for vacation, I was welcomed back to the command center to a dismal feeling. As August approaches (TWO DAYS!) our team is beginning to be disbanded. Our internship required 200 hours of each of us, and although a few of us have worked fewer hours due to other commitments or jobs, some of our team has logged enough to be finished by the end of the week.

What does this mean? Well, for starters, Michele is freaking out. I am sure it’s only because she has separation anxiety, and she has grown so attached to us that the thought of us leaving scares her. Yup, must be it. However, for the rest of us, it means losing valuable assets to the team. I have no doubt that we will be able to pick up where they leave off, but it’s kind of scary to realize that this summer is coming to an end.

We have worked hard for the last couple months. Although it may seem unsettling right now, our team disbanding just leaves room for the rest of us to step up to the plate. I think we did a great job of showcasing our skills thus far, but this will take the remainder of us further outside our comfort zones.

With three more weeks for me, I plan on making the most of what we have left. It’s terrifying when the date is in front of you, but to have the due date merely a couple weeks away,  sends me into a pit of anxiety. It’s time to show Michele just what we are made of. We got this.

-Hailey Crowley

Wait…this isn’t a kids ride?!

“I wanna ride a rollercoaster!! I wanna ride a rollercoaster!! Let’s go ride Phantom’s Revenge!!!”

You could probably hear me yelling about how much I wanted to ride a big rollercoaster the entire way across Kennywood Park on Sunday.

I hadn’t been to an amusement park since probably 2010…it’s safe to say I was like a little kid on Christmas morning.  I was most excited to ride Phantom’s Revenge…one of the larger coasters at the park.  However, when my friends and I went to ride our first ride, we ended up in a long line for the Skyrocket.  Why were we about to ride some dinky rollercoaster when there were bigger and better options?!

While waiting in line, I was sure that this particular coaster was nothing special. I had never even heard of it before, and becasue it was located right inside the parks entrance I figured it wasn’t going to be too exciting…it’s probably just like a kids rollercoaster, right?!  HA.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

One of the loops on the Skyrocket

One of the loops on the Skyrocket

 When it finally came my turn to ride, I climbed into the car and started wondering how long the line was going to be for Phantom’s Revenge when…BAM! We quickly took off, the car flying up and down the slopes of the coaster and flipping upside down on the large loops.  I was screaming and laughing the entire way through the ride.  By the end, I’m sure that my breath had legitimately been taken away.  I had definitely underestimated this ride…it wasn’t a kids ride at all!! Silly me.

Sunday, July 21, was the sixth annual IUP Kennywood Day at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.  Kennywood Day is sponsored by the IUP Alumni Association.  All of the IUP community (students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni) are invited to this event.  The Alumni Association offers discounted tickets to the park, an ice cream social in the afternoon and a raffle with great prizes and encourages everyone to wear their IUP gear to the park that day.

I attended this event with a group of IUP Ambassadors.  At the ice cream social we helped serve ice cream, hand out raffle tickets and take pictures of IUP pride throughout the park.  The social provided a great atmosphere for networking and a chance to cool off from walking through the park in the hot, summer sun.  After the social, everyone is encouraged to continue their day in the park.

Overall, everyone had a great day at Kennywood!  The IUP SVP team also attended and got a chance to talk to some alumni about our project and what makes IUP distinctive.  I’m already looking forward to attending next years event.

If you’re affiliated with IUP and you’re interested in learning more about
the events the IUP Alumni Association sponsors,
check them out at www.iup.edu/alumni

IUP Ambassadors at IUP Kennywood Day

IUP Ambassadors at IUP Kennywood Day