MSU Denver

“On Q.”

November 21, 2022

Good morning, Student Affairs family –

Twenty six years ago, almost to the week, I went to my first gay bar.  “The Park” in Roanoke Virginia was the only gay dance club in southwestern Virginia, and we had to drive almost an hour from the University to get there.  It was in this rural, conservative small city bar that I saw drag queens working the snack counter, gay men and lesbians staffing the bar, trans folks living their best lives, and slow danced for the first time with a boy.  We built this community together because we had nowhere else to live out loud.  We’d show up on Friday nights early for line dance lessons and stay for the dance club, building friendships and making our own families – especially important for those who had no other families.

So, it was with dread and fury that I woke up Sunday morning to the news of the horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs.  My mind immediately went to our students who could have been there, the staff who may live there and wanted to go out for a Saturday night of dancing with their loved ones.  But what kept coursing through my mind was, “It could have been me.”

In four years, this is the third time I have spent days checking our student rosters for information on victims, and perpetrators of a mass shooting incident.  Highland’s Ranch, Boulder, and now Colorado Springs.  Colorado is a large state, but the Front Range is a small town.  What happens in these communities impacts all of us.    I am grateful for the folks who immediately leapt to action to check names against our databases and ensure we are ready to support the community as needed:  Dr. Cynthia Baron, Connie Sanders, Vaughn Toland, Long Huynh, and our colleagues from Communications Andrea Smith and Tim Carroll.   Over the coming days, I am especially grateful for Tyrell Allen and the team in the LGBT Student Resource Center, the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students Office, and so many more colleagues who will work to ensure our community is supported in processing this tragedy.

I almost said “unimaginable tragedy” there, but that’s not true.  Mass murder events of this scale happen too often in our world, and in Colorado.  And they happen too often in our LGBT spaces.

I’m comforted in knowing that our Roadrunner family will do what it always does in crisis:  we will lean on each other for support and be generous with our time and resources.

In solidarity,

Will

“Being Present”

October 31, 2022

Good Monday Morning, Student Affairs!

Happy Halloween!!!!

I’m sending you lots of good vibes as we kick off this week.  I’m out of the office this entire week spreading the good news about MSU Denver and our incredible students to industry leaders looking to grow the Bioscience and Clean Technology industry verticals in Colorado.  Because of the incredible work of our enrollment, equity, industry, and so many other teams, MSU Denver is really shining in the community.  Thank you for making my job as a Roadrunner evangelist so much easier!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “presence.”  How do we show up?  How do I show up?  I’ve been noticing the last few weeks that while some of our teams are GLOWING up (I see you Financial Aid, Industry Partnerships, and Student Care Center!) thanks to the team-spirited process improvements they are working on, others are feeling the pains of a semester that keeps on coming at us.  I’ll admit, my fuse has been pretty short lately.  Did you ever feel like no matter how much work you do, there’s twice as much still left to do?  That no matter what you do to impact students’ experiences, we’re still not doing enough?  Yeah, I’m there with you.  But it only takes one meeting to turn my frown upside down and remind me why I absolutely love working with you.  Last week, it was a meeting with Miguel Huerta and the team of students, faculty, and staff working to revise the Roadrunner Food Pantry into a food-oriented resource center supporting food insecurity, food health issues, and more.  Their collaboration and energy for the work really made my week.

So, if all it takes is one meeting to create positive energy, what can we do to support each other and make every gathering count?  One area where I feel we can make some improvements is how we manage virtual meetings.  This new “invention” in our daily work has opened up lots of opportunities for collaboration and also made inroads to a more inclusive meeting structure for different types of learners and personality types.  That said, we’ve never taken stock of how well we’re doing.  I’d like to propose some “Rules of Engagement” for Student Affairs virtual and hybrid meetings:

  • If you’re meeting via Teams or Zoom, your camera should be on.  If we can’t see your face, we lose the non-verbal cues of how you’re engaging with the conversation.  These nonverbals go a long way in helping us build relationships and learn about each other.
  • Don’t multitask during virtual meetings.  Yesterday, I walked by a colleague’s office while they were on a virtual meeting and was impressed at the way they maintained focus on the other folks on their screen.  They sat a foot or so back from the desk, hands were off the keyboard, and they were fully honed in on the conversation.  That is super hard for me to do.  But, I think we need to push ourselves to do our best!
  • Use the hand-raise feature in Teams or Zoom to organize your conversation.  Facilitators need to create clear systems for who talks when.  It is super hard to break into a conversation when most folks are in person and you’re online.
  • Use the “reaction” tool in Teams liberally.  Whether it is a thumbs up or a heart or a smile, these buttons let the room and speaker know how you’re connecting to the conversation.  Plus, it is fun!
  • Use the chat feature sparingly in hybrid meetings.  I love the chat feature in fully virtual meetings – it helps me and other external processors make meaning of the conversation without interrupting the flow of conversation.  But, it is nearly impossible to manage in a hybrid meeting because not everyone has their laptops open and we can’t really respond.  So, in hybrid meetings, suspend the chat and focus on engaging in real time.

Try adding these ROE to calendar invites for virtual and hybrid meetings as a reminder of how we’re committing to show up so we can glow up!

Let’s try these Rules of Engagement out for the rest of this year and see how we feel.  What are we gaining? What are we losing?  We’ll chat in early 2023 about how it’s going.

Have a fabulous week!

Will

“We did it, Rowdy!”

August 22, 2022

GOOOOODDDDDD MOOOOOOOOOOOORNING, ROADRUNNERS!

Happy first day of classes for the Fall 2022 term and what a glorious day it is!  Before I tell you what’s on my mind, I want to send a big thank you to Emily Willan and her team for organizing a truly spectacular Welcome Week series of events.  It is already clear to me that our new and returning Roadrunner students are coming back in style.  Follow along with me on Instagram @DrSimpkins if you wanna see how it turns out. 😊

I also want to officially welcome Long Huynh to MSU Denver as our first ever Chief Enrollment Officer!  Long has been watching us for several weeks now, and told me this morning he’s ready to get going. If you haven’t met Long yet – make sure you stop by Welcome Week activities!

Guess what?  We made it.  Summer felt like the eye of the storm – managing student needs, launching pilot programs, onboarding new staff (HI!) – and I’m so proud of everything this team has accomplished.  From growing our new Roadrunner population to maintaining excellent service in the Call Center and Transfer Evaluations, to launching new programs all summer to support students.  I am so proud to be part of this team because what?  We are.  We can.  We will!

So, how many “first days of school” have you had?  If I’m counting correctly, this is my 39th.  I was thinking this morning about what that very first first day felt like:

  • I remember getting on the yellow school bus with my big sister (she was a fifth grader – whoa!) and sitting with her and feeling very special because I got to sit with the older kids.   She made the effort to bring me along with her, giving me just a bit of protection that I needed to feel safe and comfortable on this first day.
    • Lesson:  Many of us have been there, done that.  Let’s take the time to invite the new Roadrunners (students and staff!) into the nest.  Yes, you CAN sit with us!
  • I remember the teacher being very clear about classroom rules – no speaking unless called on and no getting out of your seat unless permission granted.  I’m a rule follower, so I tried very hard to play by these rules.  Even when nature called on me, but the teacher didn’t see my hand.  You can imagine what happened next to poor 5 year old me.
    • Lesson:  Rules are not helpful if they prevent us from taking care of business.  How can we be flexible and nimble to support our students while still creating systems that keep everyone moving in the right direction?
  • I remember feeling huge amounts of anxiety that I wouldn’t remember my “number” at the lunch line – the number was how they debited your lunch money account.  When I got to the line, the kind cashier already knew my name and made it very easy.
    • Lesson:  When in a new experience, even the small things can create anxiety. How can we add just a little personal touch to assuage students’ fears about this new world they have arrived at?
  • I remember that first day being told that kids who kept quiet during nap time got a gold star.  Needless to say, I never got a gold star.  But you know what – life turned out pretty good for me.
    • Lesson:  Sometimes, life won’t give you a gold star but it’s important to ask yourself if that’s what you wanted a gold star in anyway.  I always feel this way when I see college rankings come out, or when I see Universities with huge budgets throwing massive concerts for Welcome Weeks.  But you know what – I think our students value the personal touch and a warm welcome.  We are making a difference in our way and for that, I give us a gold star.

So – as you focus on supporting our students today, let’s enjoy the spirit of renewal, the joy of first days, and the energy of people pursuing their passions.  Let’s be gratuitous with high fives and elbow bumps.  Let’s laugh so hard that our bellies hurt because we are enjoying each other’s company.  Let’s make this someone’s first day that they will never forget.

Oh, and #GetRowdy!

Will

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