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A conversation with long-time members of the Office of the President
Is it worth operating in an ecosystem where the only speeds are fast and faster and where the intensity of projects almost never desist?
For my colleagues and our special guests, Joyce Smitheran, Kyle Whitman and Annemarie Belter, the answer is a resounding yes. Yes, because we are passionate about uplifting our global society by advancing the talents of our students and empowering them to make valuable contributions in a high-speed, ever-changing knowledge-driven economy. We hope that the setting we provide for our students will maximize their potential to thrive and produce a society of master learners unlike any that preceding generations have seen before. We believe that the efforts that we employ to achieve these goals will ultimately—dare I say—help make the world a better place.
Some of us had attended President Crow’s annual community conversation a few weeks ago, during which he addressed a the merit of a question that continues to elicit debate in news headlines: Is college worth it? For me, one of the highlights of his talk was the way he articulated how different people view college. There are those who view college as a singular thing, sometimes in the form of a place such as a campus. President Crow explained that college, for many of us who work in the education arena, is a phase within a larger learning process that begins sometime after high school and goes on for the rest of one’s life. We don’t have a word yet for this overarching learning process, but we never feel that deeply engrained learning ends at graduation. What we try to offer is a door that will open the way to many more doors and opportunities for students as they embark on their careers and continue on a never-ending path of learning.
One might be able to understand our commitment to this cause and its ability to both inspire and keep us focused on the work at hand. Our goals are not insignificant, and steadfastness is valuable because our aspirations did not come with a comprehensive “How To” manual. During our conversation with senior members of the Office of the President, we explored these topics and shared our thoughts about the significance of working in higher education, especially at ASU. We also shared that, because we often work in vague environments, it is quite helpful to have the support of and valuable input from a strong leader such as President Crow.
President Crow’s reputation preceded him when I explored the possibility of working at ASU. It took a few months, however, to learn first-hand that President Crow tends to lead by example. It is difficult for me to entertain the idea that he is not the most hard-working person in the office, and Joyce shared stories about his incredible ability to synthesize and retain information. My fellow Fellows and I shared sentiments of feeling taken aback by his ability to generate thoughtful and intriguing ideas much more quickly than we could (yet). As a result, it is sometimes a time-intensive process when we are assigned projects that task us to present ideas for him. You wouldn’t serve a talented chef macaroni and cheese from a box, would you?
Kyle explained that President Crow’s presence is also shaped by the fact that he is highly knowledgeable of many different topics and he can easily hold in-depth conversations with engineers, political scientists and artists alike. We continued to examine case studies of the speed at which President Crow gained the respect of a diverse many partly as a result of the depth and breadth of his knowledge base.
Annemarie also shared with us that his communication is growing exponentially. Every time President Crow speaks at an event, he receives many more invitations to many more events, and sometimes managing his communication is very difficult. My fellow Fellows and I found it very interesting to learn the breakdown of the kind of communication that the Office of the President receives. Some emails and notes for him are less than positive, some are relatively positive and a significant amount allude to a “life-changing experience” that resulted from one of his speeches. Also, we enjoyed hearing stories about ASU’s evolution over the last several years, especially from Joyce, who had been part of ASU the longest of our three guests. “One of the first things people in the community noticed when he began his presidency,” she said, “was the sudden prevalence of tower cranes everywhere, much still like today.”
Her comment about new construction invoked, for me, the memory of graduating from my alma mater and seeing cranes and scaffolding go up as a result of helping usher an expansion project during my term on the Board of Trustees. During our discussion with Joyce, Kyle and Annemarie, I saw the ASU family in a slightly revised light: I am in the company of fellow problem solvers and builders-at-heart. All of us, actually, have very different backgrounds, and yet we all have a meaningful role to play in advancing our institution and its vision. I hope that my career will always occupy a space co-habited by people who intend to adamantly advance a cause until its goals have been fully achieved. I think Joyce’s last story can provide an answer for anyone who might be wondering when ASU will stop innovating for the future. Someone had once asked President Crow, “When will this New American University experiment be over? Have we not engaged in this long enough?” President Crow replied, “We have just started!”
The Office of the President is a very lean and busy team, and I feel sincerely grateful to Joyce, Kyle and Annemarie for spending some of their precious time with us Fellows to engage in an extended reflection about what we do, the leader we support and whether or not it is all worth it. Now that we are much more familiar with the creative, dynamic and energetic working style of President Crow, we Fellows feel much more calibrated to the more veteran members of the wider ASU team. Feeling reinvigorated at this pivotal halfway point in our fellowship, we turn our eyes back to the future, we look forward to better supporting our extended team members whenever we can and we are excited to report on the progress that we intend to effect from now through the end of our fellowship. Stay tuned — We work faster than we had ever worked before, and you won’t want to miss it!