For the past few days I have worked with other higher education professionals in a special collaborative event in St. Charles, Illinois. Other specially trained mentors and I joined with two talented scholars and some key employees of the Higher Learning Conference (the north central regional accrediting agency) to work with representatives from several colleges. They are focused on developing and refining projects they hope will help college students stay with it long enough to continue and complete their formal post-secondary education goals.
While landscape workers labor on a chilly autumn day, laying sod and finishing up a fountain and bench attraction in the cul-de-sac outside the Q-Center, these faculty, student support staff, and administrative teams continue often intense discussions.
It’s mentally challenging and tiring, even in this lovely setting in the hardwood groves lining the banks of the Fox River. Sorting through proposals, sifting out the best ideas, anticipating challenges and developing strategies for a very complex process isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of mind. Lots of high carb nutrition is definitely in order with this degree of cognitive exertion. My role as facilitator is much less demanding but I stock up on the carbs anyway, just in case. I answer some of the easier questions, ask a few blunt questions of my own with little or no effort to be diplomatic, make one or two audacious suggestions. Mostly, though, I try to stay out of their way and let them work.
These are some of the most intelligent, dedicated and caring people that I have ever worked with. They remind me of other professionals with whom I have worked in the past. Those in previous work here with HLC. Other colleagues with whom I worked at Cowley, Highland, Missouri Western, Ohio State and Murray State. Other teachers and administrators in Kentucky at Scott County, Calloway County and Fulton City schools.
People who’ve never done it might not understand and appreciate the level of energy, effort and emotional stamina required in education. I’ve worked in public schools, universities and community colleges and I can tell you, none of it is easy. It is demanding, exhausting, extremely complex and—when it works well—very rewarding.
Some of these projects being planned here will touch thousands of students and some will touch a few hundred. Some students will succeed and some will not. Some of them would succeed regardless of what was or wasn’t done for them. Some, though, will succeed only because of the special effort of many people working together. It is very easy to underestimate the good that will be done.
You see, for every student changed by one of these projects, for every learner who is encouraged, enabled and equipped for successful training and education, the rest of their life will be made better. They will be better able to find and keep jobs that are worthwhile and rewarding. They will be better prepared to deal with challenges, make good choices and sustain positive relationships. They will be better able to provide for themselves and their families because of the work that the people meeting here—and their colleagues back at home—will plan, do, and check together.
There is also a ripple effect, slight waves of positive benefit spreading out in all directions around each successful student. You see, I believe the lives of everyone closely related to and/or significantly involved with these present and future learners will also be made better. In some cases, slightly better and in other cases dramatically better. Key parts of the foundation for those good changes are being laid in these meeting rooms, hallways and lobbies. There are all sorts of different ways to explain and approach what is going on here: dedication to education, determination to make a difference, professionalism, etc.
I like to think of it as people who believe in something greater than themselves, people who believe in the power of comprehensive or holistic education to improve lives. People who believe in planting and tending to seed that others may harvest. I like to think of it as people who actually are trying to do for others the things that they would like to have done for them, treating them as they would like to be treated. I like to think of it as caring and character.
Above all the other ways, I like to think of it as love. Real, tangible, meaningful, love.
And I am privileged well beyond what I deserve to be a part of it.