It’s no secret that I’m a big baseball fan. By far the most impressive franchise in baseball is the Tampa Bay Rays. If you watched them last night win the American League Championship, you had to be thinking, “Who are these guys?” With their small market budget, they have to repeatedly reinvent themselves every few years and yet they consistentlyplay with the big boys. To do this, they do crazy things like start their closer, platoon almost their entire team and seemingly never make a bad trade. Dodgers or Braves beware. They are coming for you.
Last night I also received a note from Carlos Valdez letting me know a group of IB and Engineering students won the Best Business Solution prize at the HSI Battle of the Brains Competition. This competition showcases the top Latino/a/x talent at Hispanic Serving Institutions across the U.S. I believe it was the first time UCF was eligible to enter. I suspect the competition was thinking, “Who are these UCF students and what is IB?”
Well, Integrated Business students are winning competitions all over the place, and it’s great to see them partner with engineers to bring home another prize. They are proving the value of people who can think and work across functions to connect dots and get things done. They are also proving the value of the flipped classroom approach and the unique qualities of their professors who bring the real world into the classroom. For the record, these IB students are: Karen Ortiz, Armando Barrial, Maria Pacheco Naranjo and Tomas Daza. They were coached by Carlos and LeeAnn Roberts from Engineering.
I met virtually with a few of the college’s student senators this week. They are required to have a meeting with the dean once a semester. Over my time at UCF, the senators have come to take on more of an advocacy role for their constituents— a good thing. The meeting also gives me the opportunity to give some of our student leaders more context about why we do what we do and enlist their support in spreading awareness.
This semester the conversation was mostly around familiar challenges some students have in adapting to our culture in the college and helping the senators understand the resources we have available to help. One made me chuckle— the need to put a quarter in a locker if you need to store something before taking a test in our testing center. Understand that our testing center has strict policies on what you can take into the facility in order to reduce the likelihood of cheating. If you are coming from a class, you are going to need to store stuff, so you need a quarter. This came up a few years ago, and I chuckled because I honestly don’t remember why it still requires a quarter. I suspect the nominal charge is so we get the locker key back. It’s not a revenue generating thing.
What made it more salient to me is that over the past couple of years, my use of actual cash, let alone coins, has plummeted. Add in the Pandemic and the coin shortage and it is reasonable to ask— how many people are carrying quarters? My guess is very few and virtually no one under the age of 30. I can only imagine how annoying this is to a student hurrying to take an exam. It’s a needless friction point that we need eliminate. Surely there is an app or something for this? I’m not sure we even own the lockers, but getting into the 21st Century on this seems like a reasonable thing to do.
One of our very first podcast was on ghosting in the workplace. In 2008 the economy was booming. Students had so many opportunities they were ghosting employers who had offered them jobs! They either didn’t call the employer back or failed to show up on the first day. Much of that podcast was designed to help both employers and job candidates understand what they could do to reduce their chances of being ghosted. You can listen by clicking here.
I was reminded of that podcast this week when one of the college’s student senators reached out to me over concerns that students weren’t getting prompt replies to their applications for jobs on KNIGHTLINE, the college’s job platform. In a tough job market where the number of applicants far exceeds the number of jobs and uncertainty over the economy has made firms reluctant to hire quickly, the tables have turned and now employers are ghosting students.
So how do you reduce the chances this will happen to you? The best advice in that podcast comes from a student who ghosted a company. He notes that it is easier to ghost somebody when you don’t have much of a relationship with them. If you want to reduce ghosting from students, he goes on to say, the employer needs to make an effort get to get to know the student on a personal level.
That was great advice and it works in reverse, too. If you want to reduce the chances of being ghosted in this job market, you have to start early and build a relationship with the hiring official. Amanda, one of our PSP students a few years ago, offers some great advice on how to do this in our podcast on The Invitational. You can listen to her by clicking here.
Now getting to know a potential employer during a pandemic with everything being virtual adds an additional level of challenge to your task. Luckily, you have a secret weapon as a student in the College of Business— the career coaches. The Employer Relations team has built personal relationships with many of the employers on KNIGHTLINE. You should meet with a career coach and build a relationship with them so they can recommend you for a position that interests you. You still have to have the right experiences, do your homework, get to know the company, interview well and win the job. Building a relationship with a career coach isn’t the lazy way to land a job, but the hiring official is much less likely to ghost you if you have the backing of the career coach. This is because in ghosting you, they are essentially ghosting a career coach with whom they have developed an important professional relationship. If they ghost students, the career coach will pass on this negative information to students, and the company will lose good candidates. This dynamic doesn’t ensure you will get the job, but it does ensure you will get feedback to help you better position yourself for the next opportunity if they don’t choose you.
Don’t know about our Employer Relations team and how to reach out to them? Click here to learn more.
Engagement in 2020 is virtual. The Invitational is no different. If you want to make the Invitational your thing Thursday, Oct. 1, you might want to give a listen to the advice of some people who have experienced this event and got to the one. It will be the best 7 1/2 minutes you will spend this week. Just click here. (Don’t freak, the podcast was released last Spring).
We have all been the author or victim of that email that shouldn’t have been sent. You know the one, where somebody got verbally torched. Some of those emails went to a stranger, but most get sent by, and to, people who know each other through many face-to-face interactions. After everybody calms down, the parties have a meeting of the minds where misunderstandings are cleared up, hurt feelings acknowledged and relationships restored. Well, at least most of the time. It gets more complicated if the sender accidentally, or on purpose, hits reply to all.
I don’t know about you, but right now, that scenario seems like the good old days. The quick five minute conversation has been replaced by a scheduled virtual meeting that never ends in less than thirty minutes. It is immediately followed by another scheduled meeting that too often includes more people than you can see on one screen. Communication in this environment is highly structured and rarely engaging. Snarky side conversations via the chat function or text messages almost always ensue. And this is from people who generally know each other reasonably well.
Then there’s the classroom. In the Spring, faculty and students had some face-to- face interaction before everything moved on line. Everybody had access to all the ways in which we communicate: words, tone, body language, and so forth. A rapport was in place and good will reigned as everyone tried to make the best of a difficult situation. By this fall, individual students and faculty have had little to no history with each other in face-to-face settings. The opportunities to understand each other are less frequent, more structured, and accompanied by fewer nonverbal cues. And with every word documented in print or video, the prospect for misunderstandings to be magnified through broadcasts over social media has increased exponentially. Just check out Reddit, Youtube or Facebook. The examples are many. Outrage always ensues.
In short, virtual communication seems much more difficult and dangerous than its face-to-face variety. We can assume that everyone will just figure this out, but if our experience with new blended learning formats taught us anything, it’s that people’s preparation and adaptability to virtual environments is grossly overstated. You need to prepare them for the experience. If we are going to have a whole year where virtual communication is going to dominate discourse, perhaps we need to make a similar investment in virtual communication training to improve understanding and civility while reducing regret….
I have written before about my working class background, the importance of not forgetting where you come from, and the elitist attitude among too many in higher education that the road to “a better life” always passes through a college.
If ever there was a year to celebrate Labor Day as a thank you to the American worker in recognition for what they do, rather than as an excuse to have a picnic, this would be that year. While many privileged folks like us sheltered at home in endless Zoom meetings followed by Netflix marathons, food processing employees, truck drivers and grocery store workers went to their jobs, braved the virus and made sure everyone could buy food. Housekeeping personnel made sure workplaces were disinfected. Police and firefighters kept doing their jobs. And hospital employees stood on the front lines to take care of their patients. To name just a few. Our worlds remained shockingly normal because of their courage in the face of the unknown. This work wasn’t just honorable, it was vital.
Many of those Publix, Adventist Health, and UCF housekeeping personnel send their kids to UCF for exactly the same reason my parents sent me off to College. It is my great hope that we can open new doors for them without instilling a sense of entitlement, removing that working class courage out of them, or putting one type of work ahead of another. It is my sincere hope on this Labor Day that we could get that job done.
Doom and gloom has dominated the public narrative around higher education for virtually all of 2020. Stories about the virus, positive test results, students suing universities to recover tuition and fees, budget cuts, gap years and the end of education as we know it have flooded the airwaves and social media.
Universities have been around for a long time. The oldest continuous university in the world is generally considered to be the University of Bologna founded in 1088. That means this institution survived through the Black Plague, the Mini Ice Age, two world wars, several regional conflicts, an untold number of changes in the government of Italy, the Great Depression…. you get the idea. The University of Bologna is not alone. An impressive list can be found by clicking here.
Fast Forward to today.
UCF’s enrollment is up, not down. In fact it is up almost 4 percent. Classes are happening both online and in person. People are wearing masks. State financial support remains uncertain and challenges certainly lay ahead, but the sky is not falling. We are all adapting. Survival is guaranteed. In the words of Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) from Jurassic Park, “Life (or in this case, education) finds a way.”
Because education is about hope. My working class parents sacrificed to send me to college in the hope it would provide me with a better future. I became a faculty member in the hope that my work would make a difference to people like my parents. State governments and private donors fund research, provide student scholarships and underwrite university outreach activities in the hope of creating a better world. Nobody wants to take a gap year, or give up on their future, or throw up their hands and believe the world is doomed. Purpose has driven higher education’s resiliency for almost a millennium. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
If you want in person classes to continue, the student union food court to remain open and UCF football to happen, the best thing you can do to achieve your goals is wear your mask. You don’t control much about this Pandemic, but you do control this. It’s how business is getting done in 2020. Think of it as a small act of defiance against the virus designed to get your life back.
In response to my call for some inspiration a few weeks ago, one of my Advisory Board members, Don Unser, reached out with a number of suggestions including management imperatives during this crisis.
This has been on my mind for some time. Whatever you think of the science or politics of the virus, people perceive this crisis very differently. At one end we have people who honestly believe this is a life or death situation for themselves and the people they love. They want to continue to shelter in place. At the other end are people who think it’s like the flu and not worth shutting down the economy or changing their way of life.
UCF has settled in the middle. The prevailing view of our public health experts is that we have to learn to live with the virus for a while (until a vaccine) and that proper protocols, especially masks and physical distancing, effectively mitigate the spread of the disease and allow us to return to some face-to-face classes at reduced capacity. My sense is that UCF’s emails and zoom proclamations have done little to allay the fears of those students, faculty and staff who are concerned about their health.
There are likely several reasons for this vast difference in views, one for example is that some people are more likely to suffer more severely from the virus than others. But from a managerial imperative standpoint, I think it comes down to something I wrote about a few weeks ago.. acta non verba: actions not words. People are going to judge the veracity of claims that it is time to return to work, by what leadership does, not what it says.
When it comes to the question of reopening, I either have to believe in the directive and help implement it, or step down and let someone who is willing to carry it out do so. I can write all I want about how the policy makes sense, but what I do swamps anything I write. If I really want to manage fear in this instance and support the plan, I need to be out front with a mask, engaging students, faculty and staff while remaining six feet apart. I also need to be transparent about what our data on the virus is telling us and how we may need to pivot to reach our goals. Only sound practices AND courage will defeat fear. It’s up to management to make sure we have both. I plan to trust the science and UCF and lead from out-front. I’ll see some of you in a week.