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

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

“The radio doesn’t have viewers, Hailey.”

ImageWe have tackled two weeks as a radio team. Somehow we have gone an entire hour both times with only a few stumbles (and thanks to me a few country songs.)

Contrary to my past beliefs, radio isn’t easy. Even with three other interns down in the room, it’s not simple to pull off rapport. I thought going into the whole situation that since we are pretty outgoing people it would be fun and easy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great time. We are really good as a group, and we share a lot of laughs during downtimes in the show.

So what’s the problem? Interest. We have stories, we have explanations and we have plenty of questions we can answer. The problem we keep facing is the fact that we can’t sit on radio for an hour every Monday and say the same things if we want to keep an audience. Maybe it has been poor planning on our part, but I think we are just thinking inside the box too much.

We decided after a few technical glitches this week that we need to set up a better outline for next time. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, and I am really excited for the next show.

Regardless of how smooth it goes every time, we are getting the chance to experience a whole new venue for this project. I wouldn’t have guessed at the beginning of this project I would be on the radio mid-summer. No matter the number of listeners, I’m gaining valuable knowledge for my future. I don’t think I could rave anymore about this internship, but I’m sure I will a few more times before it’s over.

-Hailey Crowley

Radio and Paparazzi

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So.

In the beginning of this internship, I blogged about being THAT person that has to leave the room to order pizza on the phone, due to embarrassment and laughing. This past Monday, I found out that I get that same feeling from talking on the radio. Yes, the radio.

Four of us had the opportunity to host IUP SVP’s radio hour. Every time I was able to give my input, I couldn’t quite get all of the words out that I wanted to. My mind went blank quite a few times. This is just one of those things that’s going to take some repetition, like the phone calls. At this point, I don’t have much of a problem anymore with contacting IUP faculty, staff, etc. to speak about IUP SVP. I have no doubts that in time, I’ll have a lot more fun with this radio hour and be able to break out of my shell…a little.

(I’ll also have to get used to having the paparazzi (Juliette) capture everything during the show.)

-Melissa