Sunday, April 16, 2017

Examining a Decade of Emotions

After 10 years, you think the emotions wouldn't be raw, but they have a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. However, there are moments when it's important to take the time to reflect. That is what I do around this event every year. I already talked about how I reflected in past with the last post. This post is about the past few weeks I've spent reflecting on this anniversary

This year, for a number of reasons, I decided to participate in the run, but not the formal ceremonies. It was a quick trip, but it allowed me to pay my respects without wearing myself out. My wife was there to support me through it all, knowing when I needed the distance and when I needed her close by. 

It was the first time I had run a 5K in a number of years, but it felt great. Estimates are that about 16,000 ran or walked the route. For me, it was about pushing myself, reflecting on where I've been and continuing to process my emotions. However, it was also about being with other Hokies, seeing the campus and remembering what it feels like to be alive.

 In addition to the run, Mary and I went to see an exhibit with some of the items sent to the University after the event from all over the world. I remember in the weeks after, they were on display in Squires Student Center, some for us to take with us. A few items I have from that time are a magnet someone dropped off at my office the week after, a paper crane and a small bear from students at a school in Miami. The Washington Post wrote an article about objects of grief related to the tragedy, which resonated with me.

 It's not the physical objects that are important, but the significance they represent. My VT tattoo is my most important symbol. I have carried it with me through finishing my degrees, starting my first job, getting married, earning tenure and promotion as well as so many other events in between. Symbols help remind us of important values we can forget.

We hear much about those who died that day, but sometimes we need more than just a short biography to get a sense of who a person was while they were alive. One of the most intriguing and inspiring figures for me and many others was Liviu Librescu, who saved many students that day. His story provides a perspective on someone who was the best of us and we can all strive to embody those values each day.

The survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy were always the most inspiring to me, helping me deal with my own emotions. This one about a few of the survivors was written five years ago. The section that reflected an important theme of resilience was key for me, “Every single one of them,” Poole said. “And every single one of them graduated.” They limped back to Blacksburg to continue their studies and to piece their lives back together among friends. They wanted to be in a community that understood."

Another story I've been inspired by is that of Kristina Anderson. One story by NPR focused on her Koshka Foundation. A second article by The Chronicle of Higher Education is more descriptive and stitches together her experience, her journey over the last decade as well as her foundation. Her perspective and response are important to understanding the community created around an event like this one.

One group that doesn't get covered as often is the uninjured survivors. Those without visible wounds can go without assistance for longer than they need to. Two stories from NPR covered this angle well this year. One focused on students and the other on a faculty member. I'm not sure which group I fall into, but I can relate to many of the emotions all of these people described.

Thank you Mary for capturing this moment.
The April 16th Memorial is an important place for me to visit every time I get a chance to go back to Blacksburg. On some occasions, I've gone out of my way to stop and pay my respects, but most of the time, it's just part of the plan. I have a routine, I go by and spend a moment thinking and praying for each person at their stone. Then, I kneel in front the plaques pictured here and say a prayer for all of those who survived as well as Hokies everywhere. This routine is important to my process.

The story behind the memorial stones embodies the Hokie Spirit that many reference when talking about how this community responded to the tragedy. It starts with a group called Hokies United, which was established to serve in times of crisis. Many don't realize it was not started in response to this crisis, but several years earlier. 

Ten years of processing the tragedy has been helpful. I appreciate all the love and support I've received from so people in that time. However, I need to thank the Hokie Nation for allowing me to be a lifetime member. I will leave you with Nikki Giovanni's poem that started our healing so many years ago and echo our thoughts to this day. 

We are the Hokies.
We will Prevail. 
We will Prevail. 
We will Prevail.
We are Virginia Tech.

10 Years

One decade, 10 years, 3,650 days, 87,600 hours, 5,256,000 sounds like an eternity, but in a second it all comes back to me. It was 10 years ago today when I was working in my office at Virginia Tech when my life changed in a flash. Bullets, blood, sirens, tears, media and my heart racing, those are the headlines for what I think of on April 16th.

"All you need is time."

"Next year will be easier."

"We are all Hokies today."

No phrase or comment can take away what we all went through on that day. No one can take the pain away. No one can bring back those people. No one can make me feel completely safe on a college campus again. Nothing will change how my life and the lives of so many others were changed. I reflected on that day on a blog I wrote during grad school. If you're interested, feel free to read my posts for the day of, day after and week following.

There is one shining glimmer of hope I take with me. Four years after that terrible day, a little girl was born (note: not my child, a good friend's). A little girl who is smart, funny and beautiful. So when I get too lost, too wrapped up in a moment, I like to think of her. Because no matter how my life changed that day, the moments after, the people who I call my friends and family are the ones who stood by me.

"Time does heal, but scars almost never fade. It's like a dull ache you feel at certain moments when the weather's changing. I feel the pain at times when I least expect it and even when I'm most prepared."

Every year I pause to remember, each year it's a little different. Here's how I've remembered the day each of the last 10 years:

2008 - I just said simply..."I wish I was with my Hokies today."

2009 - I decided to let my musical selections describe my feelings. My playlist was diverse, but music played a crucial role in helping me cope in the darkest moments.

2010 - This year was a rough one on me. My life was in turmoil at the time and so my remembrance was simple. I did share Coleman Collins' (VT basketball player) story. One quote from his story I can relate to "How could I explain that because I didn't know anyone who was killed that day, that everyone I know was killed that day?"

2011 - Just days after defending my dissertation, my sister Dana went with me to VT and even though it was officially canceled, we ran 3.2 miles and did 32 pushups with the Corps of Cadets...all in the rain but well worth it.

2012 - Five years...I ran the Run for Remembrance for real this time. I also brought my my significant other to visit Virginia Tech. Mary joined me for this trip after we had been dating for a just a few weeks. It was a fun adventure, but also gave me faith that someone could love me even with all of my scars. 

2013 - Here's what I wrote that day..."It is poignant that today is TOMS One Day Without Shoes because it truly reflects the Virginia Tech motto "Ut Prosim" (That I May Serve). I built a strong foundation of service in my time there. So today, I go without shoes, for a cause bigger than myself."

2014 - Tragedy seems to be a common theme during this time of year. This quote from a Boston Bombing victim on the year anniversary resonates with me...
"Let April 15 be a day that we all work together to make this world a better place. The biggest lesson I have learned is that something in your life, in anyone's life, can go horrifically wrong at any second. But it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do." - Adrianne Haslet-Davis

2015 - I participated in Take Back the Night with the Crisis Line & Safe House in Macon.

2016 - Participated in the 32 Million Steps for 32 Challenge. Enlisted some of the family to participate. I believe the total was over 44 million steps.

I'll talk about this year in the next post...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Occupation Discrimination

"John Adams was a farmer, Abraham Lincoln was a small town lawyer, Plato, Socrates were teachers, Jesus was a carpenter…to equate judgment and wisdom with occupation is, at best, insulting."

I heard this quote while watching an episode of Warehouse 13 and it made me think about how we perceive the occupations of our fellow citizens.

A lesson in being humble is important. My father is a auto mechanic with a high school education, but also one of the smartest people I know. My mother is a case worker in a hospital and has been a nurse in some way, shape or form her entire career. My grandfather was a US Steel worker and my grandmother sold insurance. None of these professions are flashy or particularly important, but they are all essential to running this country.
We ignore service workers by talking on our cell phones while at Starbucks or McDonald's or Target. We hardly acknowledge the hard work of people who fix our cars, install our plumbing or bag our groceries. What does this trend say about us as a culture? I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer, just something I've been thinking about.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Public Speaking Tips: Advice on Q&A

One of the most often overlooked aspects of public speaking is answering questions. Should be simple enough right? Not necessarily. There are various common mistakes people make when addressing questions in a speaking situation.

Some of these mistakes are:
- Interrupting the questioner
- Not answering the question clearly & concisely
- Trying to answer a question they don't know the answer to
- Stumbling through an answer

Now we all answer questions during informal and formal occasions, so this post is designed to provide a proven way to answer questions professionally, concisely, and correctly every time. These principles are not only helpful for public speaking, but also in interview and job situations.

First, let's talk about format. Now, we all know how to speak correctly and concisely, but sometimes we try to speak before we have collected our thoughts. When we do, we often insert unnecessary words such as "like," "so," "uh," and "um." These verbal fillers take away from what we're saying as well as take away from our credibility as a speaker. By taking the time to slow down and concentrate on a structure, you are more apt to answer questions with a logical and concise flow.

Here is an easy four-step format I use and teach my students to use:
1) Restate the question (make sure you're answering the right one)
2) Compliment the question (say something like, "that's a great question," giving yourself a moment to collect your thoughts)
3) Answer concisely (keep it tight, don't ramble)
4) Verify with questioner that you've answer the question (give them a chance to follow-up)

Note: Steps 1 and 2 can be interchanged.

By following these four steps, you will not only give yourself time to collect yourself, especially for those tough questions, you will sound more credible and intelligent when you do.

Here are a few more tips for answering questions:
- Never try to answer a question you don't know. Instead admit your lack of knowledge and perhaps offer up what you do know in exchange and/or say something like "I will get back to you on that."
- Always insert silence rather than verbal fillers like "um," "uh," "so," or "like." These words take away from what you're saying.
- Answer only the question being asked. Don't offer more than you have to.

As stated earlier, these tips can be used for not only public speaking situations, but also during job, and especially, interview situations. They can help you keep a cool head and calm demeanor during those rapid fire sessions that test your knowledge.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


It's been far too long since I took this blog seriously and I need to get back into it. I've been reading over the various tips from blogs like ProBlogger, CopyBlogger, etc. I decided to start specific themes and I'm looking for input regarding specific topics.

Here are my areas:
Public Speaking Tips
Teaching Minute (for the TA & beyond)
The Week in Politics (going beyond the obvious)
Higher Education Issues
Tech Philosophy (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn)

What would you like to hear about in these areas? Do you have suggestions for other areas I might explore?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Motivational Music Mix

Need motivational music? I certainly did while studying for comps. I decided to share my list and solicit for any other songs people listened to when they needed to get motivated. The motivation could be for anything...working out, studying, cleaning, etc.

Runaway – Love & Theft (how I really feel about the whole process)
Lose Yourself – Eminem (a old standby)
Tubthumbing – Chumbawamba (@KarenRussell suggestion)
Consider Me Gone – Reba McEntire
Everything’s Right – Matt Wertz
Save Me – Remy Zero (makes me think of Smallville & Superman)
Pretty the World – Matt Nathanson
Enter Sandman – Metallica (Hokie entrance song – get jumping!) - I'm in the stands jumping in front of the scoreboard...I rushed the field at the end of the game!
The Climb – Miley Cyrus (yes, I love this song)
All at Once – The Fray
Brighter Days – Jimmy Wayne (looking forward)
Sounds Like Life to Me – Darryl Worley (reality check)
I Wanna Do it All – Terri Clark (damn right!)
Barefoot & Crazy – Jack Ingram
Hold On – Jack Ingram
Songs About Rain – Gary Allan
Cowgirls Don’t Cry – Brooks & Dunn (not really a cowgirl, so I guess I’m ok)
Long Gone – Lady Antebellum
I Run to You – Lady Antebellum
Need You Now – Lady Antebellum
Red Light – David Nail
Laughed Until We Cried – Jason Aldean
Here Comes Goodbye – Rascal Flatts
It Happens – Sugarland
Joey – Sugarland
Come On Get Higher – Sugarland (live version…awesome)
Don’t Think I Don’t Think About it – Darius Rucker
Alright – Darius Rucker
Come On Get Higher – Matt Nathanson
Boom Boom Pow – Black Eyed Peas
I Gotta Feeling – Black Eyed Peas (after comps...)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Perspective on the life of a graduate student

I had started this blog post before comps but never finished it. However, I saw this post from LAF and decided it was time to complete it.

"Doctors spend a lot of time focused on the future…planning it, working toward it…but at some point you start to realize your life is happening now…not after med school, not after residency, right now. This is it, it’s here, blink and you’ll miss it."

I heard this quote while watching last season's Grey's Anatomy finale and it struck a chord with me. I thought that it described my life pretty well. Though I will never be responsible for actually doing brain surgery one day, I will be responsible for shaping the minds of our youth.

I've spent the past 4 years of my life in "fast-forward," taking classes, reading thousands of pages (no, not an exaggeration), writing papers for conferences, publications, doing revise & resubmits, teaching classes with one foot in the student door, and watching my life pass by. Every week I sit down on Sunday and schedule out my week into nice little segments...teaching 9:30-10:45, office hours 11-12, meeting 2-3, reading 5-8...and the sad part is that I have to remember to schedule in the fun stuff like football games and happy hours so I don't forget to relax. Not that I'm looking for any sympathy because I knew what I was getting into, but where did the past four years go?

I'm 27 years old, on the verge of becoming a PhD candidate (cross fingers & toes) and I often wonder, how did I get here? I live life day-to-day because it's less complicated, but I've lived over 1500 of those days in a blur. Of course there are days that shine through like presenting my first conference paper, seeing cities like Chicago, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh for the first time, graduating with my master's from Virginia Tech, seeing my name in an academic journal, meeting great students, cheering at football games, sailing in the Keys, and watching one of my great friends get married.

However, the past four years are not without its losses. My sacrifices include a relationship, a couple of friendships, my sanity at times, perspective on what's important, and time. I feel like I've lost a lot of time...time with friends, time with family, and time for my spiritual growth.

Don't fret, I've also gained...friends, colleagues, knowledge, a love for college football, and most importantly wisdom. The wisdom to realize I cannot do it all. The wisdom to know that you are only as good as the people in your life. The wisdom to see that I am lucky to be where I am and have my opportunities. The wisdom to know I am still learning (and will always be).

I guess the question now is...what will the next four years look like?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Teaching Tips

I was chatting with a good friend not too long ago about how I approach teaching. She was inquiring about how I straddle the line between being friendly, being seen as an authority, and establishing a beneficial, safe learning environment. In addition, she told me that I should consider writing a post giving some tips on what has worked for me, so here we go. I have had the opportunity to learn from some great teachers in my short educational career and I would have to credit them with teaching me how to teach.

I've been a teacher for just a few years, but I've had the opportunity to teach various courses (Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication, PR Writing, PR Research), have worked on a few course designs, and got a teaching certificate during my master's. Though this does not mean I'm an expert by any stretch I have found several positive themes running through my teaching evaluations.

Here are just a few of the aspects of my teaching that have been successful for me:
1) Use inclusive language - when discussing the course, the work, lectures, etc as a whole, use inclusive language. It is not your class and they are not your students. Each of them is a part of what I describe as "our class" and "we" are learning.
2) Adapt to the class - this aspect can refer to an event going on in the news, on campus, a particular time of year (i.e. midterms), etc. Is there something distracting them? Are they upset? Let them talk about for a generally refocuses them for the rest of the class. This also works for concentrating on topics they are not understanding.
3) Ask them how life is going - I almost always start the class by asking how everyone is doing. I find out about what's going on with them. It can be anything from great news about an internship to someone announcing their engagement to their club sports team winning. I really care about them as individuals and this helps them realize that I want to know about them. I also share about what's going on in my life. For example, this past semester featured a good-natured hockey rivalry discussion. This is also a good time for them to announce events for their clubs & organizations.
4) Get a midterm assessment - this has been by far one of the best teaching techniques. Whether you do it formally or informally, it helps you to assess what's going well and what you might be able to change/adjust as you hit mid-semester. It also establishes that you care about how you are performing as a teacher and how the class is going for them. I've used an online survey with some similar questions to final evaluation as well as my own personal questions.

Do you have any tips to add?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

2 Years Later

The pain has faded, but don't be fooled into thinking that it is gone. I was reminded of that as I walked to school on a cold April morning last week. The shiver that went up my spine was caused by more than the temperature. And even if I could suppress all of my feelings about it, the media instantly brings me back to those terrifying days with their gun control pitches and package pieces on the news magazine shows. It will probably be even more prevalent this year because it is the 10th anniversary of Columbine this week as well.

So where does that leave us...2 years later...another year older, wiser, better equipped? Well, in some ways. However, my heart still skips a beat when I hear a siren, especially when I'm on campus. I also have moments, like one last week, when the topic comes up unexpectedly and I'm not sure exactly how to handle it. But alas, those situations come less often now than they did before.

I still visit the memorial to pay my respects when I'm in Blacksburg and will continue to do so for many years to come. My eyes still fill with tears as I touch the Hokie stones and flash to that day. The maroon and orange still fill me with pride but also with a sense of longing.

Time does heal, but scares almost never fade. It's like a dull ache you feel at certain moments when the weather's changing. I feel the pain at times when I least expect it and even when I'm most prepared. However, this year is more hopeful than painful, so I look to future for guidance.

Like last year, I will highlight a few of my important events/achievements. Though they are far from the level of the first year, it's still important to recognize I'm lucky to be here and I still feel accomplished. Here's just a few:
- On track to finish my last classes ever
- Attended the historic Presidential Inauguration
- Visited a few new places: New Orleans, Pittsburgh, the Florida Keys, Chicago
- Presented a few more papers at conference
- Added 2 more classes to my teaching repertoire
- Watched two good friends get married

One of the greatest events of this year will be watching my twin sisters walk across the stage at their college graduation next month.

Thank you to all of you who've sent messages of support.

Here is information about how Virginia Tech is remembering:
We Remember site

Day of Remembrance

Also, a song I find therapeutic.

Forever Changed VT (Were All Hokies Today) - The Season

And a great representation of Hokie Spirit during those dark hours...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Life Beyond the Hedges Panel Review

Wednesday I had the great pleasure to speak at Grady IABC's "Life Beyond the Hedges" career workshop. I was on the panel titled "Navigating the Job Market in a Struggling Economy." It was a great experience to discuss various strategies and techniques to use in your job search.

Red & Black article

A few tips from the panelists:
-> Match your skills to the employer & position
-> Develop your brand & portray it
-> Work your networks
-> An interview is two-sided, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you
-> Don't forget about the phone. E-mail is great, but it helps to follow up on the telephone.
-> Be persistent

Additional Resources for your job search:

4 Skills New Professionals Should Have
Managing Your Online Reputation
Ways to Use LinkedIn to Find a Job
Great Example of a Digital Portfolio