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

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Looking for the Beaten Paths

An old footpath

The old footpath

If you’ve ever walked from the suites to Eleventh Street (the street that Foster Hall and Davis Hall sit on, barely visible in this photo), maybe you’ve seen this new piece of sidewalk. I love cutting through the suites when I’m walking to Davis because it’s much faster than walking alllll the way up Grant Street, turning left at Foster, and then walking all the way down to Davis. I’m either too efficient or too lazy.

Apparently I wasn’t the only student who enjoyed this shortcut because there used to be a well-worn footpath going from the old part of the sidewalk (which you can see in the bottom right corner of this photo) toward Grant Street. That wide, new sidewalk was nothing more than a dirt path that students wore out after years of trampling the grass.

Funny thing is, there’s an almost-identical sidewalk about 15 feet from the old sidewalk that will take you to Grant Street, but so many people were headed downhill that they elected not to walk up that extra 20 feet just to go down. Is that silly? Probably. Did it stop us from wearing that path? Not a chance. (Here’s a Google Maps street view showing this.)

I wish I had a picture of how this area used to look. Believe me, it was what groundskeepers would call “unsightly,” especially when it rained for a week and turned into mud so thick you could lose a boot. But then someone made the fantastic decision to turn the path into a sidewalk, and as you can see, there’s no more dirt, mud, or trampling of the grass.

I tell you all this because it occurred to me last week that this is what we’re trying to do with IUP through the Strategic Visioning Project. Bear with me. I’m also an English major–I like metaphors.

Some universities use committees to formulate their strategic visions and plans. In our research, we’ve read a few case studies touting the success of visioning/planning groups in which professors and administrators from various departments get together a few times a year to draft the plans that will move their universities forward.

While we’re not exactly drafting the plans for IUP’s future, I’d argue that our process of hitting the streets and reaching out to get input from many people connected to the university is much better for the vision/mission and the university family as a whole, and it’s because of the sidewalk thing. In the group interview process, we’re spotting the unacknowledged paths that people have already worn and seeing how we can turn that into something “official” for everyone to be a part of. Like the smart ways we’re adapting to budget cuts. The ways professors are getting their students out of the classroom and into research and projects. The ways Indiana residents connect with IUP students that don’t make page 2 of the Indiana Gazette.

Whatever unnoticed trails you’re blazing out there, that’s what we’re looking for. It’s just as much a part of the university as the stuff that we already know about. Tell us about your well-worn path. 

-Emily

More Alike Than Not

Emily Weber

Emily Weber

I know it’s a cliche to start a blog post with an inspiration quote from a famous person, but I’d like to turn to Maya Angelou now that I’ve wrapped up my tenth (give or take) facilitation for the IUP Strategic Visioning Project:

“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

It was during a group interview with the directors and vice president for the division of Enrollment Management and Communications that this hit me: it’s fantastic to hear the same strengths, opportunities and distinctive qualities of IUP listed again and again because it means we’re all playing on the same team. We all get it. Sure, we may feel separated from each other by departments or colleges or divisions, but we’re actually not that different. We see share goals and hopes for educating tomorrow’s leaders, thinkers and innovators.  None of us would be here if we didn’t.

And the best part is: it’s actually true. The common patterns and themes that everyone keeps bringing up in these interviews are not just keywords developed by higher-ups and slapped on a web page. They’re things that everyone experiences at this university at some capacity, whether they’re as student or a parent or a faculty member or an administrator.  It’s so easy to nitpick and get caught up in what we’re doing wrong that we forget to tell the stories of what we’re doing right. This is what public relations work is supposed to do–tell the truth about our good work.

I don’t think I can comment on the common phrases and patterns that we’re hearing just yet, but I hope anybody reading this will understand that this is genuine excitement about a common vision. Hearing the same things from so many people tells me that when a final mission and vision for IUP is approved, it’s going to fit us just right.

— Emily Weber

Stepping Out of the Spotlight

Emily Weber

Emily Weber

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good public speaker, so I signed up for Dr. Papakie’s Presentation Making class thinking I was in for an easy A. I think I’ve still got that A, but let me tell you—it has not been easy.

On the very first day of class, we brainstormed a list of all the things that speakers can do to ruin their credibility. You know what I mean. Speaking too quickly, mumbling, shaking, saying “um” and “like” too much. I don’t know about the rest of my classmates, but I was thereafter convinced that I’m actually a horrible public speaker. And soon, everyone would know it.

Dr. Papakie told us something really helpful, though, and I think the Strategic Visioning Project has convinced me that she’s right. “You’re going to be a much better public speaker,” she said, “if you stop worrying about whether the audience likes you and start thinking about whether they’re understanding you.”

Great advice. I can worry about how many times I’ve said “um” and wonder why nobody is smiling at me, or I can gauge the audience’s reaction, engage them, ask them questions, to make sure that they’re understanding the material I’m presenting. I’ve tried to put this into practice when I’ve led Strategic Visioning focus groups by watching the reactions of the group and making sure the listeners understand what I need to tell them. Sometimes I  stop, take a deep breath, and ask something like, “Am I going too fast? Am I being clear about this?” Because even though it looks like it’s all about me, it’s not.

Public speaking can be a shared, collaborative process instead of a one-woman-show. I don’t have to be dazzling and engaging and hilarious. I just have to make sure I’m being clear and the audience is being heard.  What a load off my shoulders.

-Emily Weber