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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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

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

We Really Want Your Opinions…Really

As another way of trying to reach out to faculty members, we decided to break the university down into departments and email each professor individually. So, I whipped out a spreadsheet and began assigning names. Naive me thought that there couldn’t be that many faculty members in certain departments…I was wrong.

I looked at the departments I had assigned myself: nursing and allied health, economics, counseling, health and physical education and professional studies. I had 140+ professors to email. Individually.

About two days later when I had finally accomplished this, I was optimistic. I’d already received a few responses and it was looking like it was going to be a good turnout. Not so much.

Of the 140+ faculty members I reached out to, only about 10 got back to me. That’s not a very good rate of return. If I was looking at this from a numbers standpoint, I’d probably fire myself.

So what do we do to get people interested? We can’t pay people, we can’t threaten them and we can’t force them to share their opinions.

We tell people over and over how important this project is and how their opinions matter, but not everyone listens. So we’ll keep persevering and keep hounding people to share their opinions with us. When you open your email and have 47 messages from me, at least I know I tried.

So if you have even a sliver of interest in IUP, your opinions count and we want to hear them. Sign up to be interviewed, follow us on Twitter and let us know what you think makes IUP distinctive!

–Kelly

Who said Stephen King doesn’t have some wisdom?

Playing off one of the previous blog posts about the sidewalk, I thought I would add my own perspective.

An old footpath

An old footpath

We were talking about the history of IUP and the muddy path that used to be under the new sidewalk when Michele mentioned there was a quote by someone famous about not pouring a sidewalk until you find out where people were walking, and then create the sidewalk.

So, on to Google I went, in search of the person who said this so long ago. It was thought that Andrew Carnegie was the one who said it but the only reference I found was something by Eisenhower, so that didn’t give me concrete evidence on which one said it. However, in the process of looking at quotes, I found something from my favorite author, Stephen King:

“You could start at a path leading nowhere more fantastic than from your own front steps to the sidewalk, and from there you could go… well, anywhere at all.” ― Stephen KingIt

Apparently, this came from his novel, It, which still freaks people out to this day. I guess he does his job well. But that isn’t the reason behind this blog post, even though I can sit and talk about his books for hours, if not days.

Stephen King's "It"

Stephen King’s “It”

So, let’s break King’s quote down and apply it to our Strategic Visioning Project because I think it really fits. In all reality, though, this quote can be used by anyone.

We are working toward something huge on this strategic visioning project, and I can say that this quote fits. In other words, we’re running focus groups, holding private interviews, collecting and analyzing the data that we are gathering, and it is very much a journey. That journey really does start at a front door: IUP’s front door.

I, for one, really love this campus and I love the education I have received here. I loved my bachelor’s program so much that I’m continuing on to get my masters… and that has been my journey which started on my sidewalk and led me here.

For me, the history of IUP is intriguing. Starting out as a teaching college for women and growing into the multi-college university that it is today, speaks of how the sidewalk here has evolved and grown. I bet the people who started this place when the only building was Sutton Hall never envisioned something like this, and I truly hope that if they are up there somewhere looking down on us, they are grinning from ear to ear.

Sutton Hall

Sutton Hall

Breezedale

Breezedale

The sidewalks of this campus have really changed from those old mud paths the students used to trek upon, and in full-length dresses to boot. This project will hopefully expand on the sidewalks of today and move them into a place that, in another 150 years, we who live in this era, will look down with face-splitting grins ourselves.

We hope with this project, the sidewalk to progress will make a huge difference in charting the school’s future and make it something future generations can be proud of.

I personally want to see the “party school” stigma to change. I was at a wedding reception recently and someone actually said the words I can’t stand in reference to this university, and those words were: IUP = I Usually Party. I wish that people who think that will come to realize that IUP is a great place to get an education. It’s a place where faculty and staff create a nurturing environment which enables students to learn and grow, practice their craft and truly be proud of their accomplishments.

The university acts as a front door for recent graduates to follow a new sidewalk out into a fantastic world where you can do anything. I can also mention the many sidewalks, both literally and figuratively, in which students have had to walk while receiving their education here.

Those of us working on this project want to take this amazing opportunity to help IUP create that new vision for this university. We want to create a written foundation in which to build upon and truly make IUP a place that makes a statement but also stands behind the statement it makes.

So Stephen King’s quote really is true as to the path from here leads… anywhere at all.

~ Shawna McCutcheon