On being new again

It’s been three weeks since my last post. As you might guess, I’ve been busy with new faculty orientation and the first days of class. The topic of “being new again” seems too timely to pass up today; I’ll save lab design for another post (soon, I promise!) 

Week of August 24: New Faculty Orientation

Whitman’s New Faculty Orientation was August 24-26, Monday through Wednesday. As a new and not-new faculty member, this was an odd time. I found time sticking and slipping as my attention was engaged and disengaged. For the first time, I found myself really noticing differences between Whitman and Grinnell.

Monday was a full day. The morning was taken up with HR: paperwork, policies, benefits, and responsibilities. I had Telara’s blessing to tune out a bit as I had already done most of the paperwork: I’d been back and forth to Whitman since March, engaging with various campus stakeholders, and unlike most of my new faculty peers, I received a paycheck in August. When I was tuned in, I learned about some family and travel insurance benefits I had no idea about. We were invited to sign up for a Title IX session during the second week of classes, mandatory for new employees; I was a bit surprised this wasn’t covered during orientation itself.

The best part of Monday morning was meeting the other new faculty. Telara had us share something we’d discovered in Walla Walla as we introduced ourselves. This let us learn about each others’ interests and gave us some pointers for things to check out. I also found a Grinnell connection (Jeff Brown ’93, who I learned through Facebook is friends with some of my Grinnell friends) and a Claremont Colleges connection (Ian MacMillan, Pomona ’05, who hastily organized a 5C Happy Hour for the evening).

One concerning surprise: Except for my CS colleague Yaping, who arrived late due to a flat tire, all of the new faculty were white. I learned later that I wasn’t the only one to notice this.

After the morning session, we took a photo on the steps of the Baker Center, which I’ve also observed is also a popular location for family photos, as well as wedding and quinceañera photos. We had lunch in the Baker Center with members of the administration. I sat by President Kathy Murray, who pointed out she too is both new and not-new. I connected with Rachel George, a linguistic anthropologist, over a scholarly project I’ve been contemplating.

The afternoon was a blur. I was achy from sitting all morning and sleepy from lunch; I found myself standing behind the chairs. We had two short sessions on course planning and engaging pedagogy, led by Associate Dean for Faculty Development Lisa Perfetti (also the organizer of the orientation as a whole), joined by other senior faculty members. I hardly remember these sessions at all: I was tired, the content was familiar, and we were a bit rushed since the morning session had run over. The final session, in which the Registrar explained registration procedures, add/drop policies, course evaluations, and so on, was particularly informative for me. While Grinnell has all these policies, the details are different. I was a bit surprised to learn that Whitman has online course evaluation forms; at Grinnell, we still do course evaluations on paper during the last few days of class.

My day was not over as we wound up at 4 p.m. I already had a standing Monday meeting with Technical Specialist Dustin Palmer, which I had rescheduled to 4:15. After this meeting, I went home to put my bag down and fetch my husband, arriving to the New Faculty Reception just after the Chair of the Faculty’s remarks. It was nonetheless a good opportunity to chat with the other new faculty who had introduced themselves that morning. For the most part I had already met the division chairs and other key figures in the room.

The day was exhausting. My husband and I went to one of the tasting rooms downtown for a glass of wine and one last bite to eat on our own, and went home to bed.

Tuesday helped me connect some more faces to names in the library and WCTS (Whitman College Technology Services) staff. Most of the information was not particularly new to me, and I found myself wishing I’d skipped that day. The most interesting part was learning about the library’s special collections—but I’m not too likely to use them in my teaching. The most useful part was the afternoon drop-in technology session, during which I got help figuring out how to do reading journal assignments on CLEo (Whitman’s Sakai instance).

I was done with New Faculty Orientation by 2 p.m. But I was not free to go work on my syllabus: I had a CS Steering Committee meeting to prep for and chair, as well as a less formal meeting with Dustin and Albert to sort out plans for staffing the labs in the evenings. Amongst all this, Yaping was trying to talk with me about her classes. I’m afraid I showed how frazzled I was feeling.

Tuesday evening was the BBQ dinner at the President’s house, to which families were invited. It was lovely to meet spouses and children, as well as new faculty who I hadn’t gotten to talk with much yet. The President’s partner Bridget sat at my table for a while; she was a particular delight.

Once again, a very full and exhausting day.

Wednesday was the last day of new faculty orientation. There were three sessions, done before lunch. The first focused on support for students, with Juli Dunn, Associate Dean of Students, and Thacher Carter, Director of the Counseling Center. Learning about the Welty Health and Counseling Center showed me what is possible with full staffing. It is open 24 hours and has no waiting list; about 1 in 4 students receive counseling during their time at Whitman. It was reassuring to learn about Whitman’s structures for tutoring, academic coaching, study skills workshops, support for students with disabilities, and the Intervention Team (Students of Concern or “Triage” at Grinnell)—a level of support I found a bit surprising when I first arrived at Grinnell from UW, but that I had come to expect in arriving at Whitman from Grinnell. The second session was a panel of second-year faculty—probably the most useful session as it addressed our burning questions. I wish it had bled into lunch, but instead the final session focused on resources and timelines for tenure-track faculty. I tried to pay attention, as it would be relevant to mentoring my new colleagues next year, but it was hard because I had negotiated for different resources and a different timeline. The session reminded me to schedule a meeting with Lisa Perfetti to discuss my own timeline and what I need to accomplish to be ready for my tenure review next fall. By now it was afternoon and I think we were all tired. I would have liked to lunch with some new colleagues, but missed the moment and had to have lunch with my husband instead (sorry, Brooks!)

Finally, some time to catch my breath. I spent the afternoon catching up on my email and all the things I had neglected Monday and Tuesday. I had a good conversation with Yaping. I sent off a book chapter abstract due that day (fortunately already written and agreed upon).

I also had a scheduled meeting with Juli Dunn and Chuck Cleveland, Dean of Students. Before the college-wide announcement of Tom Zbyszewski’s tragic death, I had received notice from the Registrar’s office that he had been enrolled in my class this fall. Having been through similar situations at Grinnell, I was concerned this might be an “elephant in the room” I would need to address on the first day of class. I wanted Juli and Chuck’s advice. They were able to consider the situation as a whole and the relationships amongst the students and advised me no such action was necessary.

On Thursday morning, Albert helped me assemble my new standing desk, so I was able to cancel that work order. In the afternoon, the Math department had a two hour meeting. I had planned to just drop in, but ended up staying as I found it gave useful insight into both particular personalities and how departments work in general. I was surprised and a bit disconcerted to learn that the Math Department doesn’t meet regularly. That doesn’t seem to be the norm at Whitman; based on my experiences scheduling the first meeting of the CS Steering Committee, it seems that departments meet at all different times.

I woke in the middle of the night and sketched out the first part of this blog post. But I didn’t make time to write it on Friday; nor did I make time to work on my syllabus, about which I was feeling increasingly anxious. Instead, I found myself still catching up on everything that piled up during the week. I needed to submit a SIGCSE panel proposal, which involved some last-minute revisions. The late afternoon was taken up by Convocation, a new experience for me. Faculty and other members of the academic community were present for new students’ welcome to Whitman College and the official start of the academic year. Faculty marched in their regalia. Where Grinnell faculty line up by rank, Whitman faculty line up in order of years of service. I found myself once again near the back of the line.

I would like to say this exhausting week was over and I had the weekend off. But no: Arena registration for first-year students was on Saturday morning, similar to the arena registration that Grinnell recently abandoned. I met several first-year students interested in CS. I had to tell them we did not save space for them in our in our intro course this fall, but they would be top priority in the spring. I also met colleagues in Philosophy at the table next door. By this time, there was no question that I would take the afternoon off and sleep in the next morning. On Sunday, Brooks helped me hang diplomas, posters, and art in my office; I finally started revising my syllabus. Interim Provost Pat Spencer and his wife Kathy Ketcham hosted a reception for new faculty and spouses at their lovely home on the edge of town. The setting made for a more relaxed gathering than those earlier in the week, and I also finally started to feel that I was among new friends rather than strangers.

First day of classes: Tuesday, September 1

The next Monday, August 31, I went to a morning workshop taught by Kathy Obear on classroom inclusion; I think I had also been a workshop she led at Grinnell. I was pleased to see some familiar faces and also have the opportunity to meet more faculty from across the college. The rest of the day was intensive class prep, focusing on my syllabus/web site and the first day of class. Yaping flew back to Iowa on Wednesday to defend her dissertation, so I would get to teach the first couple days of her two sections of Intro, as well as the first day of my own class on Human-Computer Interaction.  I drew up lesson plans for her classes early, so that she could approve them and so that I could share them with Dustin, who would also have a role in getting Intro students started in the lab.

I took some time to really get comfortable and visualize myself teaching in the classrooms, time I hadn’t needed for years in my familiar classrooms at Grinnell. Since the classrooms were new, I found myself rearranging the furniture to better accommodate a room full of students, as well.  Tuesday morning, before Yaping’s first class, I realized there were no whiteboard markers or erasers in either classroom; I went to the building office to get some so she wouldn’t have to.

Tuesday was the official first day of classes, but I didn’t teach until Wednesday. This was familiar from most of my falls at Grinnell, where classes started on Thursday, a day I rarely taught on. I spent the day writing the first few assignments for my HCI class, finalizing the syllabus, and preparing in detail for my first classes. I returned to campus after dinner to meet with Albert and our newly hired lab consultants to assign shifts, and I followed him to a volleyball game (the first home game of the fall). By contrast, it took me several years to make it to my first game at Grinnell.

Wednesday was my first day of class. At 9 and 11, I led Yaping’s students in the PB&J exercise. The students were responsive; the classroom dynamics were very familiar from all my first days of intro CS at Grinnell. At 2:30, I led my first class in HCI; we had a fun discussion of clicker design and I sent them off with their first assignments for Monday. It was strange to teach an intermediate level class and not really know any of the students. I also went to Faculty Forum, a weekly lunchtime presentation by faculty for faculty. This week, Albert Schueller and Justin Lincoln presented on their Maker Spaces course offered last fall.  I can’t say I got much done in between; I’m always a bit on edge on the first day of class.

At 4 p.m. was the first faculty meeting of the fall; the agenda was the introduction of all the new faculty. This is also a traditional topic for the first faculty meeting at Grinnell, but there, the introductions pretty much consist of name, rank, department, and prior institution. New faculty just stand up and wave hello. At Whitman, the introductions are much more in-depth; they took about 40 minutes all told. I gained some new insights into my new colleagues. Albert introduced both me and Yaping; Albert asked us all to think good thoughts for Yaping as she defended her dissertation; he introduced my scholarship by reading the title of a book chapter published this spring, but which I had written three summers ago and had not thought about in a while.

Thursday I spent some time in the morning to sort out my scholarship plans for the fall. I caught up on email and did lots of little administrative things. I had a good chat with Barry and Albert, who constitute the intersection of the Math Department and the CS Steering Committee, about a timeline for founding the CS Department. I talked on the phone with David Bunde, colleague and old friend at Knox College—it was nice to do something familiar from my nine years at Grinnell. I prepared to teach Yaping’s Intro classes on Friday and left work in time for an evening get-together at a colleague’s house.

It was good to have the opportunity to go through the process of orienting Intro students to the lab on the second day of class with Dustin. It went well enough, but we definitely found things we could do better next time. We debriefed in the afternoon. I finally wrote up my notes from the steering committee meeting nearly two weeks before. I set up the online gradebook for my class. I did a badly needed weekly review.

I took the weekend mostly off—much needed—but did read and grade my HCI students’ first journal entries.

This Monday was the start of a so-called “normal week”—one of only a few I expect to get this semester. I was pleased to find that most of my students did the reading and homework and followed up with the few who did not. My second class in HCI was not as tightly planned as my first, and I saw some moments of boredom. I find myself wanting to change up my pedagogy during these first few class sessions to see what students respond to. I find myself missing my CS colleagues and old friends from Grinnell; I look forward to someday having those kinds of relationships here at Whitman.

Enough for now. Gone are the lazy days of summer. I need to meet my husband for lunch so I can get back to my desk in time to prepare for this afternoon’s class. I’ll most likely tackle lab design next time.

1 thought on “On being new again

  1. Amanda Davis

    It’s funny how being new makes us realize all the things we took for granted in past jobs, homes, etc. I had to use our inter office mail about a month after I started at APA and felt very silly when I needed to ask where it was — I had no idea!

    Good to hear that Whitman has such robust mental health services! As I’m learning, many of the major psychiatric disorders emerge around college age — and that’s leaving aside less severe mental health challenges like depression, ADHD, eating disorders. It sounds like Whitman has a good program in place to get students the support they need.


Leave a Reply to Amanda Davis Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *