Saturday, October 22, 2011

SGA -- thinking ahead

Members of the Student Government Association visited Unity House on October 17th. Stephen and I had both met many of the SGA members, but we wanted a chance to get together with the whole group. Most of the SGA representatives were able to attend -- many thanks to Amy Kennedy for organizing the troops!
Our conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, from discussion of a Green Fund pilot program, to development of a strategy that would allow year-round access to the bridge to downtown Unity, to my not-so-secret recipe for the maple nut scones we gobbled down.

The issue of winter access to the path and bridge concerns me personally, as I use both frequently. When we moved here in July, I was surprised to learn that the bridge would be closed in the wintertime due to safety and budgeting concerns.  SGA members hope to seek community support to install solar lighting on the bridge and call boxes on the path in the event of emergencies.
But keeping the path and bridge plowed could be the biggest ticket item, especially during winters with heavy snowfall.  SGA vice president Matt Dyer (who has already launched his campaign for the 2028 USA presidency) reported that he'd had some discussions with the Maintenance Department, and that he, personally, would be happy to run a snowblower down the path and over the bridge.

That seemed like a big job for one person -- even Matt. Stephen suggested that we raise the issue with our new director of facilities and public safety, Dan LaForge, and possibly divide the work of snowblowing the path and bridge among work study students. In spite of encouragement from Sarah McCoy, Heather declined an invitation to help out, preferring to continue to do what she does best -- lay down and relax.
Once Rob Eckelbecker was on the scene, we plowed into a discussion of concerns about course access and academic rigor. These included

  • Expanding Unity's reciprocity with other institutions to provide wider access to courses students need to meet their degree requirements;
  • Hiring more full-time faculty to reduce the faculty-to-adjunct ratio and to insure that their courses are taught by discipline-specific experts;
  • Raising salaries for faculty and/or decreasing their current 4/3 course load;
  • Continued flexibility in programming to meet the needs of future students.
All of these points address the sustainability of our campus, whether we're talking about safety issues connected to use of the bridge or academic issues connected to meeting the needs of future students. I'm impressed by the SGA's focus on the future; Stephen and I encourage students to bring their concerns to the president's office and to the Board of Trustees during their quarterly meetings. Students have a direct link to the board through SGA president, Amy Kennedy.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Unity Experience: Round Two!

Today, John Zavodny's Unity Experience class visited Unity House.  First, we had cherry chocolate chip cookies (unburned) and lemonade and chatted about the house.  Students asked questions about whether the house was warm and about the movable walls. When I mentioned that the television we brought from Idaho had magically fit into the existing wall recess, they insisted, almost as a single voice, that we needed a Wii set up here -- and they promised to coach me so that I could kick Stephen's butt in Wii tennis.

Then they moved on to more personal questions like "What's the best thing about living here?" and "What's the worst thing about living here?" and "What would you change about the house?" They were skilled questioners! After the questions, I sent them on a self-guided tour of the house. They separated into two groups -- men and women, or as one student said, "Con Law and not Con Law" -- and swarmed around.

The object that got the most attention, as in previous student visits to the house, was The Chair of Stephen.  Second up was the double monitors.

Also of interest was my yoga sling.  I heard students asking each other "What IS that thing?" No one voiced that question to me, so I brought it up myself and promised to demonstrate how the yoga sling worked if the students obeyed me when we got to the writing exercise. That's one of my teaching slogans: Obey me in all things and all will be well.

The exercise I'd prepared would (hopefully) help students with their Electronic Portfolio Assignment. My goal was to keep things lively enough so that no one fell asleep. I wasn't entirely successful, as you can see from this photo of Heather.  The exercise began with a visualization: Close your eyes. Imagine you haven’t gotten out of bed yet. You just woke up. It’s your first day at your first job out of college.                       
Some people think that closing your eyes and imagining something in class is pretty cheesy, but I like doing it because it changes students' perspectives. Still, I was glad John had prepared me by sharing one of his teaching slogans: "Embrace the cheese!"

The questions following the visualization were mostly about imagining the sensory details of that first day: food, music, clothing, people's voices. My intent was to help students develop some fodder to "Articulate and plan for academic, social and professional goals," one of the subheadings in the first of the three major course outcomes.

After we completed the writing exercise, I asked everyone to contribute to my collection of answers to the question "How do you create or define sustainability in human relationships?" Here are some of my favorite answers:
  • "Families staying in touch during hard times."
  • "Give and take relationships work the best. You give and take and that keeps it stable."
  • "Compassion helps create sustainability in relationships -- understanding other people's needs and also having others be compassionate to you.

Then, as promised, I went to hang upside down like a bat in the yoga sling, much to everyone's horror.  I think Samantha took photos, but I can't be sure because I was upside down. Uncertainty -- just one of the benefits of changing your perspective.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Unity Experience Class Visits Unity House

In mid-September, we had a visit from Assistant Professor Beth Arnold's Unity Experience class.  This class is part of the Core Curriculum, and it is designed to orient incoming students to campus and community resources, and to build collaborative and critical thinking skills.

Beth first asked her students to snoop around Unity House, looking for elements of sustainability design and technology that might differ from a traditional home.  They spotted many such elements, like the hinged wall separating the living space from the guest room, which allows the two spaces to be merged to meet the needs of large groups.  Sustainability, in this case, means flexibility. 

Then we went outdoors for a little play time, and the first game was literally about orientation.  First, we all formed a square
around Beth; then we had to reorient ourselves in the same pattern when Beth scooted over to another location.  Soon we were all laughing as we chased Beth around the front yard.  Her instructions were clear, but her movements were unpredictable!
Beth's next exercise asked students to pair up and take turns being the camera and the photographer.  The person playing photographer walked the person playing camera around, looking first for an image of how the photographer felt about him or herself at that moment, and second for an image reflecting the photographer's connection to nature.

I didn't have a partner, so I just observed and took pictures (with an acutal camera).  The people playing the camera were supposed to keep their eyes shut as the photographers guided them to the images.  This involved a certain amount of trust on the part of the people in the camera role. of course, once the cameras opened their eyes, they would be looking at the world from the photographers' perspectives.

After this outing at Unity House, students would be writing up a reflection about their experiences today. I had a short writing exercise in mind for them, too -- a brief description or definition of sustainability in human relationships. Here are some of the responses:

"Sustainability in human relationships has to be done with hope and trust in complete strangers. You must have hope in the things you do not understand."

"People in relationships should work together and communicate often to have a successful, sustainable relationship."

"Being able to change and adapt as people and relationships change."

"People moving past differences to accomplish things."

"We're all sharing, whether we like it or not."

Cookies? Why not.  And why not take a turn seeing the world from someone else's perspective? IMHO, that's the most important skill to practice to advance our critical thinking abilities.