Yesterday was one of those days at work where I was struck again and again by how many tasks are not exactly what I thought I would be doing when I took this job as Director of Education. For example, yesterday I cleaned water from the freezer of the fridge and tried to determine what had made the ice melt. The fridge light was on, so we had power. But we didn't have cool air in the fridge. I turned the temperature gauge all the way to coldest and waited to see what would happen.
Happily it seems to be fixed. One of our colleagues reported that she had dropped by the building on Sunday to get a USB drive, and it was very hot in our offices, so I'm guessing that we had a power outage; actually, I think a breaker was tripped, since the fridge in the student lounge was fine.
I went to Wal-Mart and made a lot of purchases for the coming month: food and decorations for our Meet and Greet Open House, gingerbread house kits and mini marshmallows for our Winter Wonderland Festival week, and granola bars to greet students for week 1 morning classes in January. I also bought general supplies, like paper plates and creamer for our coffee.
If we had a larger staff, maybe there would be someone else to make the Wal-Mart run. But we don't. Some days it's easiest for me to get away, and so I do. Some days, others do the shopping. We're all doing activities here and there that are outside of our job descriptions.
In many ways, it gives each of us on staff room to do more, if we choose. It can be liberating and give us unexpected opportunities. For example, much of our week-long Winter Wonderland Festival was planned by a woman whose primary duty is to staff the front desk. Since we don't have a Student Activities coordinator or team, she was able to launch the festival she envisioned without worrying about stepping on the toes of someone with that job description. Similarly, when I created the pumpkin decorating day, I just went ahead and did it--no need to worry that I would insult the Dean of Student Affairs, a position which doesn't exist on our campus.
I'm trying to improve retention, and I know some (most?) of the factors that cause students to withdraw are outside of my power to change, like illness or job loss. But I'm hoping that if we make the campus a place that always has some interesting activity just around the corner, students won't drift away. So far, our retention numbers have improved, so I'll keep doing what we're doing.
Truth be told, I like planning ways to make the weeks more meaningful. Some approaches, like the pumpkin decorating, appeal to my inner camp counselor. Some appeal to my inner chaplain, like the display that we created for Veterans Day, when we invited the entire campus to post pictures and stories of their favorite veterans.
Most days, it's the academic part of my brain that I use most, as I think about classes we're offering and how to staff them and how to make sure that students are making satisfactory progress. When that work is going well, it's intensely satisfying. When the problem solving isn't coming as easily, it's nice to take a break to go buy supplies for the campus, even if that's not exactly my job description.
And it probably won't be a surprise when I say that I often solve the thorniest problems as I'm driving to the store.