The school year is drawing to an end and countless kids and teachers are tracking the waning days of what has been a busy academic year. For so many kids and families who have been involved with youth sports, it also means a near end to the daily running to get to practices and games after school and in between homework assignments.  My son is one of those kids who has loved his time with soccer, basketball and baseball this year and we have been so lucky to have had some great experiences.

I remember the first time we signed him up for some sort of organized sports. It was a YMCA baseball clinic and we tracked it down because he was too young to play T-ball and was driving us crazy with wanting to play anyway. As new parents, we had no clue what was ahead for us when it came to youth sports but I clearly remember my first revelation.

WAIT. I bring him to this and SOME OTHER ADULT works with him and teaches him about this game?

It quickly became the most peaceful 45 minutes of my week. The kid was absolutely captivated by a new sport, but SOME OTHER ADULT that was not his teacher or a family member was making sure he was ok? I just cheer him on from the sidelines for the big moments and take pictures?  Amazing.

Little did I know what was ahead for us over the next few years. That SOME OTHER ADULT is no longer wrangler of my 5-year-old and is now most vividly role model, challenger, disciplinarian, motivator, teacher, supporter and so much more for this 11-year-old tween. Things are so different. It’s gone from “isn’t that cute” to “yikes I hope he doesn’t strike out.” The kid that used to be part of the “amoeba” chasing baseballs in left field with six other 5-year-olds is now solo on the pitcher’s mound with just a couple of voices there to help him through a tough game situation.

Those voices are his coaches’ voices. I know his dad’s voice and my voice are still there, but they are muted. They are coming from his conscience, his heart, from the left field fence (I still like to cheer) or his many years of important post-game conversations with us at home.  The coaches’ voices are the ones that are there when he gets off the field and hangs his head because he walked too many batters or is angry with himself for striking out. They are there right when there are some important, defining moments. Those moments have so much potential to shape who he is as a person, not just an athlete.

Good coaches know how to make these moments count. They don’t “fix” them, but they make them count. Making them count sometimes means they can move on after one or two encouraging words, but sometimes the moments are bigger than that. 

Today my kid is learning to cope with too many walks, but later it’s going to be learning to cope with so many other things. I can’t shake the feeling that we’ll be looking back on these years someday and wanting to track down these men and women to appreciate what they have done to help our kids grow up to be good human beings.

So, before it’s too late…

Take some time to thank your coaches this year, both for their time and especially for the impact they have on kids. Coaching is more than just teaching your kids a sport and we may not truly understand their impact until later. Thank them for the role they have played in building these emerging adults and teaching  skills for life.

How cool would it be if we could build some collective momentum online with a #thankscoach hashtag?

Jim, Ed, Kristine, Mike, Steve, Jim, Mike, Dave, Jake, Jamie, Laurie, Shawn, Derek, Shaun, Kendra, Dave, Brett, Darryl….yikes there have been so many….


Do you have a great coach in your life? Share a thank you and be sure to use the #thankscoach hashtag!


Just make it better.

Ever since my son was a baby, the task to “just make it better” has been one of my most important responsibilities. When there is distress, I needed to find the cause and fix it. When he couldn’t talk, it was just crying and a lot of guessing until a solution worked.  Neither my husband or I were any kind of expert on taking care of infants, but we just figured it out.

At work, our tasks are not all that different when we are working toward improvement. When you see signs of distress, you look for the cause and fix it and if it’s not that clear we have to keep trying until something works. When looking at organizations overall, conditions have frequently evolved over time and never directly link back to one person, one process or one situation. In multilayered organizations, sifting through causes of problems and linking direct causes for those problems needs a unique approach.

The NACA Volunteer Summit was a challenge along these lines in considering our task to “just make it better.” When considering where to start or how to design our approach it was a bit like a tangled ball of yarn. Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 8.18.07 AMOur challenge was to untangle the yarn AND start knitting the beautiful blanket at the same time – yikes! If it were a typical consulting role, we would have focused on helping participants advance their own skill or knowledge development. In this case, it was about how to help the participants to make good decisions on what would be recommended to the association for action.

Getting the planning moving forward was not simple. Frustrating, in fact. My co-facilitator and I were part of a core committee that was planning this experience and it was far easier to talk about logistics for the Volunteer Summit than it was to figure out how we were going to plan the content. After many stops and starts, we realized that we needed guidance. What does an OUTSTANDING volunteer experience look like in an organization? We were waiting for our group to come to an “aha” moment to describe this utopia, but we realized we had to get beyond ourselves. What did we need to make it better? Getting beyond ourselves meant looking to what others have to say about how they experience organizations. We needed to consult some kind of scholarship.

Leadership theory? No, this wasn’t really just about leaders.

Change theory? Maybe, we needed to advance change in the organization.

Organization redesign? Possibly, but this was just about how the volunteer experiences association life and not really about the full organization.

“How the volunteer experiences association life” was where we landed. With such a complex organization,  we hadn’t moved forward on just making it better was because we hadn’t looked through the lens of many volunteers to tell the story of how they experienced life in our organization.

We were moving beyond just the singular individual’s experience and trying to take it broader. Hmmm…just like at work. On campus, we try to take one student’s experience, compare it to the experiences of other individual students and try to use that comparison to understand the story of many students to then plan how to teach or how to support progress. What would we do in our “day jobs” to try to understand the student experience and how could we apply that to this daunting task?

We developed our own framework. We took what we knew about engagement and combined it with what we knew about the critical milestones in a typical year of NACA.My next post will introduce our “Volunteer Development Cycle” and offer some insight into the approach we ended up taking.

My biggest learning at this point was that it’s easy to dismiss theory and other forms of scholarship when urgency of daily practice is our priority and solving the problems of one person at a time becomes our focus. However, theory was just what activated this process moving forward. We needed something to help us make sense of confusing phenomena.

Yes, there are outliers. Yes, there are differences and it may not work for EVERY volunteer. However, it will work for MANY volunteers and help guide the association to improve its processes. 



Leaned In – and almost fell over.

So I’ve been hoarding some posts for a while…let me catch you up on what I’ve been doing!

Back in February 2014 I was attending the NACA National Convention and thinking about how my term on the Board of Directors was coming to a close. The Chair of the Board asked me and a few others to get together and talk about his idea for a summer “Volunteer Summit” where we could get a small group together for a few days to not just talk about what we wanted, but to set goals and begin concrete product that could be put to use right away. Of course, I love everything about this topic of volunteer development so I said yes.  It was to be held in Boston so my proximity made me a good potential participant.

I was stunned with the thought of how much this facilitator would have to handle – three full days of facilitating strategic conversation with a group of association volunteers who weren’t already an intact group? These people were charged with fixing situations that have been unfixable for years? Responsible for progress in an area that seemed to have no clear solution?  Eeesh. Huge job. Hope that person is up for it.

The Chair then said “we were thinking you could facilitate it?”

Step into my brain with me…

First reaction: “He’s crazy, right?”

Second reaction: “I really want to do this. I think I’d be good at this.”

Third reaction: “Get out of it. You don’t have time and this is too huge.”

Actual reaction: “You know who would be great for this…. Michael Miller. I’ll help him, but we need him to do this.”

So I quickly attempted to cut myself out of this huge opportunity by volunteering my friend and offering myself up in a supporting role. Stupid.

Realizing how dumb that was and noting that I did want to contribute, I did my duty and said yes if we could co-lead the process.

Fast forward from February 2014 to July 2014.

What would then come next was an amazingly creative process that would also become described as frustrating, inspiring, ulcer-inducing, incredible and “the toughest project we’ve ever worked on.”  I mean, really… NACA has moved ahead in remarkable ways but when it comes to Michael and I, let’s think about this. This experience was nearly two years ago and I’m just now starting to share info about our involvement with it. Those of you who know us both know that we’re rarely short on words.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I am hoping to share parts of this project,  the process involved, as well as some materials we developed during the course of the workshop. At very least, I hope it will shed some light on how to approach some tough projects. If I get what I hope for, I’ll share material that we think might be useful to associations, non-profit groups, student organizations, staff groups and volunteer settings of all kinds.

If I don’t get what I hope for, I’ll still appreciate the chance to process about this frustrating, inspiring, ulcer-inducing, inspiring and “toughest project I’ve ever worked on” experience. In that case I will still win…and you hopefully won’t be harmed along the way if you come along for the ride.

June 1 = Time to get it.

It’s June?!! How did this happen?

After finally finishing school in December, I made a promise to myself. The promise was to be a little kind to myself and give myself permission to “Lean back” for a change. There was a lot to catch up on – getting back in the swing of things at work, a family dream vacation in February, some TV shows that I’d been wanting to watch for the past 6 years and this new thing called going to sleep before midnight.

June 1 was my mental deadline and now it’s here. Today. WOW did that go fast.

Today means a focus day and some reflections on where things are going next. At work we have been talking a lot about Gallup’s “Wellbeing” concepts, so there’s nothing like a good framework to get me thinking about areas to focus on and how easy or challenging the road ahead may be.

Social Wellbeing: I want to be the kind of people who have people over. We’ve just never had time to be all that social….there was always papers to write in between kid commitments and work related evening/weekend stuff. This month we’ve got two fun weekend events in the works already planned and we’re going to try to let the kiddo have people over more often too.

Financial Wellbeing: I want to start figuring out how to enjoy life more. The alleviated financial burden of large tuition payments each semester is making that easier. Now it’s time to turn those savings toward benefits for my family, given they have made sacrifices for me over the past few years. Looking forward to continuing a positive trend in this area with strong savings and all the good planning for the future we’ve been doing… with a sprinkle of needed updates to the house and some fun stuff along the way.

Physical Wellbeing: I’d love to say I have a commitment to losing the weight I know I need to lose, but I think I have to start with wellness. I’m a walking stereotype of a working mom who focuses on everyone else’s wellness but her own. I’m going to start with some small changes like the yoga class I’m signed up for in July and an earlier bedtime. There are doctor visits to catch up on and a really long list from there. It’s time. It’s been time.

Community Wellbeing: I want to be the kind of family that contributes to the community. I’m starting to look into nonprofit boards and whether I can take my Board of Directors experiences and apply them more locally.

Career Wellbeing: I want to make weekly investments in building my career wellbeing. The most major investment so far has been the pursuit of the degree, but now that it’s over I have to be sure that the investment continues. I’ve read a lot about the benefits of the “side hustle” to career wellbeing and the past six months have taught me that this is most definitely the case.  The “side hustle” gives you the chance to explore new content areas and stretch in ways that your job doesn’t offer. So, the hunt starts now… shopping around for professional association involvement, consulting roles and writing projects. SO many on the list it would make your head spin!

Well, that’s where I’m at. This blog going to need to be a place to explore these areas, so thanks in advance for reading!

Student Affairs – Pathways to the Presidency

Wishing I had more time to comment on this article from the Chronicle, but I had to share a thought-


One of my research participants talked about this in a way that still sticks with me.  He basically said, “If we were a real estate firm, the people around the table at the highest levels of leadership would be a group of people with extensive backgrounds of success in real estate.  As the VP for Student Affairs, I’m the one with an extensive background of success, and a terminal degree, in higher education administration.  However, in a higher education organization, I’m the bottom of the pecking order as the only one with leadership experience in our very business.”

Glad to hear we’re on board for his background being a potential pathway to the presidency, but why did it take so long?

Kid sports? Save me a seat at Fenway.

“Mom, should I have another career…you know just in case the whole major league baseball player thing doesn’t work out?” –@littleredsaid, 2015

Back in the days after I was married and before I became a mom, I can vividly remember having some thoughts about the world of “kid sports.” I could not fathom how adults could spend entire weekends carting kids around to games, dance recitals and cheerleading practices.  How is that feasible when there is homework to do for these kids and their parents have jobs where they have to work nights and weekends? Don’t these people have lives? More importantly…what is the deal with the parents who wear their kiddo’s sports number on clothing or that giant sticker on their mini-van? WHY in the name of all that is holy would you do that?

Now I get it.

I have a pit in my stomach every time my son pitches a game. He’s not remotely worried about a thing and is totally in his glory…but I completely want to puke. I tell myself it’s because I hate when he gets disappointed about a bad game or when he gets himself into a tough spot out there, However, that’s completely ridiculous. Even in the toughest, worst games he’s over it a couple of hours later. So what’s the big stress for mom?

After four years of watching baseball and many seasons of soccer, I finally get it.

I’m ready to put that crazy sticker on my car (still won’t be a mini-van. I only have one kid) and I love when he gets noticed for how hard he works at baseball. This past summer he hit his first home run and I couldn’t have been prouder of his guy. I mean…look at that smile?


Here’s the deal. No matter whether we’re talking about school, music lessons, or in everyday life, I want him to succeed. I’m not ashamed about the fact that I want him to do well and yes, seeing him in a situation when he has potential to succeed doing something he loves is just the perfect combination of awesome.

He’s 10 years old now and I think I finally get it.

I used to worry the most about the other parents. Would they be freaking out in the bleachers and shooting us dirty looks if he wasn’t doing well? Not so far. There are always a couple of folks in every crowd that can’t seem to keep their expectations in check or forget they are working with kids.  Luckily, you can usually spot those folks a mile away as the ones sitting alone in the bleachers with a scowl on their faces. With rare exception, we have had the BEST experiences with great parents to enjoy these games with and my son has learned so much about sports as well as life from phenomenal volunteer coaches.

I know now. Spot those scowl faces and sit on the other side of the bleachers. Got it.

So, save me a seat at Fenway Park. (even if I am a Yankee fan). I won’t be there to watch my kiddo pitch, but I will be there watch a game with my son and my husband as we all experience something we love doing together.

I’ve decided I’m allowed to enjoy watching these games and cheering for my favorite athletes. Just like some locals cheer on the Red Sox with nearly religious fervor or plan their lives based on the schedule of the New England Patriots, I’m allowed to enjoy the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat for my favorite team too.

After all, this is an athlete I’m going to dance with at his wedding someday.

My favorite 2 pages of my dissertation

Can’t imagine that many readers of this blog will be running out to read that 200 page dissertation of mine. It’s pretty awesome, of course…but we’ve got lives to live! So, you need to read my favorite two pages – the Author’s Acknowledgements page! I’m so incredibly grateful to so many people who supported this journey and I had to make sure this page would be shared in a way these wonderful people can read it.  Lots of love to all of you!


After spending the past six years as a part-time doctoral student, full-time employee, wife and mother, my acknowledgement list is extensive and I am so grateful for support from so many people during this research.

My journey to this point was inspired and sustained through my support system on campus at Bridgewater State University. Thank you to my supervisor Dr. Cathy Holbrook for her encouragement to pursue this degree and her ongoing support in balancing demands of work and academic study. The patience of my department colleagues made all the difference, with special thanks to Maribeth Flakes, Matt Miller and Christina McCauley who shouldered so much in the office when I needed to be reading or writing. Thanks to the president of Bridgewater State University, Dr. Dana Mohler-Faria as well as Vice Presidents for Student Affairs Dr. David Ostroth and Dr. Jason Pina for allowing me the ability to rearrange my schedule and take professional development leave to complete my research.

I gratefully acknowledge the support of my dissertation chair Dr. Brent Cejda. Dr. Cejda’s role in my research came when it was most needed with his ability to offer key wisdom and inspire both focus and confidence during this crucial part of the process. In addition, many thanks are due to my committee members, Dr. Elizabeth Niehaus, Dr. James Griesen and Dr. Al Steckelberg as well as my former advisor
Dr. Richard Hoover.

The professional community in student affairs has extended significant support and inspiration to me to finish this process as well. Countless thanks are due to the participants in my study, especially the campus activities directors of each department, who were willing to share their experiences and their sincere belief in the limitless potential of campus activities professionals to contribute to student success. The social media community on #sadoc and student affairs professionals on #sachat have also been a phenomenal support. Thanks for always (quite literally) being there. Specific thanks are due to Dr. Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, Dr. Niki Rudolph, Michael Severy and Jennifer Lando who all played key roles in the completion of this study as peer de-briefers and external auditors. In addition, I am grateful to the leadership of the NASPA Assessment, Evaluation and Research Knowledge Community for awarding me their research grant and to the NACA for selecting me to receive the Comprehensive Research Grant Award. The financial assistance helped to reduce barriers to completing the study in the way I envisioned.

Finally, none of this would have been accomplished without the encouragement of my family and friends. Friends like Michael, Shelby, Beth, Jill and so many more offered both professional expertise and personal support on so many occasions. Thanks are also due to my parents, sister and my whole family for their ongoing support and patience with sacrifices that had to be made to achieve this dream.

Last on this list but always first in my heart, my husband Dave and my son Ryan have been there by my side from the first day. For so many years they brought boundless understanding, patience and the world’s greatest sticker chart to cheer me on. Nothing has fueled the many late nights of work quite like the thought of making the two people I love most in the world proud. Thank you for the endless support and for believing in me.


This work is dedicated to my grandparents, Alice and Mario, who have always exemplified the value of education, hard work and ambition all in the context of love and family. I wish you were here to see me reach the finish line, but I know you are proud of me for meeting this challenge.

The Digital Declutter of 2015

I remember being younger and thinking New Year’s Day was a wonderful new way to start fresh.  I remember going through paper files and getting rid of clutter by the bags. Today, there is still a lot of clutter in the home and office life for sure, but I find myself most concerned about my “digital clutter.”

I like to think of myself as an organized person, but I wake up in a cold sweat fearing the day that someone notices the state of my digital files and email folders. I was thinking about a plan of attack for that when I return to work, but got thinking about the rest of my digital life too.  The pages that need to be updated on social sites, my interest in waking up this blog, the need to purge some Twitter feeds I follow, unfriending some Facebook folks that send one too many game invites…the list is long.

First up – unsubscribing like whoa from email lists I never subscribed to! Working in campus activities means that some of this comes with the territory, but given I’m rarely the talent buyer for my campus these unsolicited ads are even less important than the minimal importance they used to have (they are still ahead of those junk faxes we still seem to get in the office. HOW is that still happening?!).

Join me in giving something like Unroll.me a shot or at least hitting the “unsubscribe” button on each unsolicited email you get in the coming week. I know some campus entertainment agencies that may not appreciate this move, but reducing email clutter is at the top of my list!

Over the next few posts I’m going to share some info about the latest steps in the Digital Declutter of 2015 (naming it as an event makes it seem much more epic, right?) I’ve got a lot of huge plans ahead for this year and here’s hoping this Digital Declutter helps the focus.

Have you ever tried a Digital Declutter? Any tips you can offer me? I’ll let you know how it goes!

Breathe and blend.

“What have you been up to?”

Dissertation defense travel. Dissertation defense. Commencement travel. Commencement. Christmas travel. Holiday celebrations with family. Home for a few days. Traveling for New Year’s to visit friends.

One of the things my December days have in common with each other is a lot of questions.  From research questions to questions about the perfect gift to questions about whether to color Hello Kitty or other coloring books from my niece, there have been a lot of questions. My least favorite one is “so, what is next for you now that you’ve finished your degree?”

Breathe and blend. That’s what I have been wanting to tell people.  My next plan is to breathe and blend.

I want to breathe and take in the time to savor this achievement.  I want to enjoy the nerdy thrill that came from adding Ph.D. to my email signature. I love that every day or so I’ve been hearing from some amazing role models in my life with congratulatory messages. I’ll also confess that I love telling people that this star chart IMG_4165was from my son rewarding me for each time I finished a milestone toward the degree might be one of my most prized artifacts of this journey (the fancy diploma in the UNL red pleather folder is pretty awesome too).

My talents identified in StrengthsQuest have me as “Futuristic” and “Activator,” which means that I’m inclined toward looking ahead and getting things started…but I want to force myself to breathe and enjoy this for a little bit. Yes, I have the “Ideation” notebook filling up with some great things…but I need some time. Some time to breathe.

I also want to blend. I want to live the truly blended life that I have espoused for so long and no longer focus on “survival” and compartmentalizing my time just to get by. Compartments of my life as mom, wife, student and professional have been sectioned off so sharply in the last few years just to be sure they were getting airtime. I’m looking forward to the blending of roles into just “me” and making room for some important changes to come in how I live my life.

The other part of the “blend” is to figure out how to put this degree to work.  While it’s definitely time to get working on career directions, I also know that I need to live more in the moment and to figure out how to blend what I’ve learned into my role on campus for the betterment of my staff and our students.  Instead of having my face in the books all the time, I’m really excited to make some original contributions to my profession AND continue to grow what I have already been building.  This degree doesn’t “start a new life,” as my advisor so aptly reminded me, because some great things have been happening already.  It does, however, provide some new fuel for whatever the next chapter will become.

Breathe and blend. My commitment for the next few weeks at least. Breathe and enjoy what’s around me and blend a new combination of these wonderful parts of my life. I’m excited for what’s ahead.

Any advice for me as I try to blend this new way of life? 

Done! Doctored!

For the past year and a half I’ve left this blog parked and taking up space on the interwebs so I could focus on writing to finish my dissertation.  Happy to stay that is DONE and that I successfully defended it on December 1, 2014! That makes me SO happy and so relieved!

I’m going to bring this blog back up in January so I can keep up with writing habits!  For now…wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a smooth ending to the academic semester.  I’ll be spending it attending my Commencement and then with my family for some R & R!