Monthly Archives: May 2014

What’s On Our Summer Reading List? Samuel Hook, Social and Life Sciences

Serena by Ron Rash. The original story for this novel appeared in Rash’s collection of short stories titled Chemistry and Other Stories. The novel was a finalist for the 2009 Pen/Faulkner Award and is currently being made into a feature film. This is one of those stories that you’ll want to read before you see the movie.

Advice for the Short Summer Term

One of the things that you often hear when taking a class during the summer term is that you’ll spend as much time in the classroom as in a regular semester. This is true. You will be in the class the same number of hours, you will have the same number of assignments, and you will have to do the same amount of work to get the grade. But you will have to do all of this in a shortened amount of real time. Five weeks or ten weeks are simply not the same as fifteen. Therefore, there are some things you have to do if you are going to be successful in a summer term:

  • Go to the first class and every class after that. (This is true even if it’s a web course. Treat it as an on-campus class. Schedule class time.)
  • Get out your calendar (either old-school planner or online) and write down all your due dates. Due to the compressed nature of the classes, you’ll probably see that more deadlines pop up on the same weeks. Plan for those crunch periods.
  • Hit the ground running. There’s no time to lollygag in the summer. Start your readings and assignments on day one and keep up with them.
  • Get help. The pace of summer term means that when you don’t understand something, it doesn’t take long to get completely overwhelmed. Don’t think that you’ll catch on later. Go to your instructor, the tutors, or your classmates. But ask for help immediately.
  • Start any research papers and projects early. Be working on them during the entire term.
  • Don’t overload yourself. Sometimes students mistake shorter term with easier term and hope to get some courses out of the way or build up their grade point averages. Summer is not easier. For many students, one course is plenty.
  • Do reward yourself. Since you’ll be doubling (at least) your study time, make sure you give yourself some breaks as well: 
    • Go to the pool.
    • See a movie.
    • Eat an ice cream.
    • Take a walk.
    • Drive or bike to clear your head.
    • Play Words with Friends
  • But keep the breaks short and get back to work. Set a timer and be tough with yourself. When the timer goes off, return to studying.

Procrastination is always the student’s enemy, and in the summer, it can become a mortal one. So start strong and keep up for a successful summer term.


When I was in college, the period between spring and summer semesters was known as the interim term. There were a few classes, mostly special interest, but most of us left for summer break or at least for a few weeks before summer semester began. We never really thought about what the people who had twelve-month jobs at the university did during that period. I guess we thought if we weren’t there, they didn’t exist.

Well, now I know that people do continue to work after the students leave. Right now, on our campus, the following things are happening:

  • In the library, we are processing overdues, shelving and withdrawing books, and working on materials for summer and fall.
  • Outside my office, bulldozers are breaking concrete so some pipes can be laid, and on the other side of campus, the new building is a little taller each day.
  • Admissions and records are registering new students and sending out transcripts for those who are going to four-year colleges.
  • New folks are being hired.
  • And we’re all working on reports, grants, and accreditations.

But those are the official things. During slower times, other things happen as well, such as:

  • Finding something that has apparently been in the staff refrigerator since the Nixon administration.
  • Bringing cookies to work to help us feel better about working when other people are on vacation.
  • Feeling fat and swearing to go on a diet after eating those cookies.
  • Bringing more cookies the next day.
  • Walking to Target during lunch and deciding that a beautiful pink tank top is just what a librarian needs for the office.
  • Walking to Target the next day to return the pink tank top.
  • Cleaning out a file cabinet and wondering what that 1995 certificate of appreciation was for.
  • Hoping students return before you have to start cleaning out the office closet because there are some suspicious sounds coming from in there.

I suppose, in general, life is just better when students are around.

What Are You Reading This Summer?

As a kid, in the summers I became a reading maniac. I lived on the opposite side of town from my friends, and we only had one car that my dad took to work, so I was a little isolated during those three months. And also, I have always just loved to read.

Each year, I had a subscription to the summer version of My Weekly Reader and eagerly checked the mail each day, waiting for its arrival. Each week, my mom bought two Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew mysteries to last the week. Every few weeks came a parcel of comics and magazines from my English grandmother (with some contraband chocolate bars) with stories about Beryl the Peril and Billy Bunter. And then there was the Bookmobile, that most wonderful invention, bringing books out to us county kids. ImageImage


So summer has always been a special reading period for me. Each May, I come up with a list of books to read on these hot, sunny days. Here is my list for this summer:

  • James K. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America–Walter Borneman. I still have my goal of reading a biography of every president. Unfortunately, I’m getting a little bogged down in the period after Jackson. So if I just get this one read in the next two months, I’ll be happy with myself.
  • Life after Life–Kate Atkinson. I can’t believe that this one is still on my to-read list. She’s one of my favorite authors, but somehow she managed to slip out of sight over the past few months. So a definite must-read for summer.
  • Bad Haircut–Tom Perotta. These short stories are set in the 70’s, but even if you weren’t born yet, you’ll recognize these characters.
  • Bark– Lorrie Moore. I saw her speak this year and was forcefully reminded of how she effortlessly can move from humor to tragedy, never sounding a false note. One of the best short story writers out there.
  • Handling Sin–Michael Malone. This was recommended by the dean of Math and Natural Sciences. She promises it’s darkly funny, and she’s darkly funny. So I trust her.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft– Stephen King. Another recommendation from a friend. Chris says it’s the best writing book out there.

So here’s my list. Let me know what books you’ll be taking to the beach or under a shade tree this summer.

Monday Motivator: Think and Then Act

Many years ago, I was at a train station in England. I saw that a train was leaving for York in the next five minutes. I immediately started running to get to that platform. But I didn’t make it, which turned out to be a good thing. Because in my haste to make the train, I completely forgot that my backpack was still in a locker.

Luckily, there were three tracks between that train and me, so there was a buffer between the impulse and the consequence.I often wish there were such mental tracks between us and other rash decisions. Like sending that angry email to ‘reply all.’ Like repeated texts to the person who has already made it clear that it’s over. Like buying the more expensive car that is going to add $200 to the monthly payment.  

But since there’s not, we have to teach ourselves to stop and think before acting on an impulse. I am still not terribly good at this (after decades of both practice and suffering the consequences). But it can be done, often with just some simple questions before pushing the ‘send’ button or signing the dotted line:

  • How will I feel about this in two days? (If you’re not sure, why not wait the two days and see how you feel.)
  • Will this action hurt other people’s feelings? Is it worth it?
  • Who else will be affected? (If my kid can’t go to summer camp because I chose the fancier car, is that a good trade-off? I’m not saying it’s not. I’m just urging some reflection.)
  • Am I going to be able to still work well with others if I do this?
  • What am I giving up by doing this? (Peace of mind, collegiality, financial security)

I’m not saying that we should never act on impulse. But for some of us, impulse is our standard operating procedure, and it hasn’t been working that well. For people like us, a little thought between impulse and action would be a very good thing.

Monday Motivator: It’s the Season for Advice

It is the time of the year when students in their caps and gowns listen to speakers tell them how to be successful in the world. So I decided to take a look at what I consider some good advice for graduates from the famous throughout history:

  • First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.– Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher
  • New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.–Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher
  • The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.–Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and poet
  • The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.–Henry David Thoreau, American author.
  • Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.–Leo Tolstoy, Russian author.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

When Failure Rears Its Ugly Head

I’ve been on lots of search committees during my career, and there’s always a question that goes something like this: Name a time a project of yours failed. What did you learn from the situation and what would you do differently?

People read articles and books about how to prepare for interviews, and sometimes, candidates’ answers start to sound like that advice: Somehow turn the failure into a success. Show how you were able to turn things around. In fact, sometimes, it’s hard to tell the answer to the failure question from the biggest success question.

I don’t blame folks for answering the question in this way, but I always wonder about what failure they’re not mentioning. You see, in my life, I have failed many times. And when I say failed, I mean failed miserably. Sometimes, the problem simply couldn’t be fixed, and I had to walk away saddened and dispirited. Other times, there could be a fix, but only by starting the process over and spending a great deal of time and money. 

And while I certainly learned something from each of those failures, there is no way that I can craft their stories into something that makes me sound heroic. 

But that’s okay. Because the road to success is a messy one. And not every failure can be turned into a success, but it’s true you can learn something from every failure. It’s not a bad thing to fail; it may be bad to fail the same way over and over again.

As we prepare for graduation day here at the college, our students have taken various roads to their cap and gown. One tells of getting bad advice and starting her degree at the wrong type of school. She ended up with a degree but no chance of the type of job she wanted. So she started over here at NSCC. Now she certainly would have preferred not to have spent a year on the wrong path, but she didn’t let that wrong turn prevent her from persevering. Now she’s graduating. Others tell of failing a class and having to take it again; the disappointment and embarrassment didn’t stop them (although more than one reported they certainly felt like quitting.) 

Here’s the thing: If you’re living and trying, you’re going to fail at something. That’s just a given. Don’t sugar coat. When you fail, look it straight on and admit it. But don’t dwell on it. Learn what you can and try again. Or start an entirely new project.

But whatever you do, always remember this: Failing at something does not make you a failure. Ever. 



Monday Motivator: Give the Brain Cells Some Exercise

Today NPR reported on a study showing that senior citizens who learn new skills have stronger memories. This means that learning a new software program for your computer may be more beneficial than playing “mind-strengthening” games on it.

Of course, those of us who work at colleges are proponents of lifelong learning. Still, it’s easy to slack off in this department. I know that, without realizing it, I can let weeks go by without doing anything that actually works out those little ‘grey cells.’ 

Fortunately, the internet can be used for more than finding cute kitten pictures (although who doesn’t love a cute kitten!). There are free resources for those who want to learn something new. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Duolingo is a great way to learn a new language. (I’m still working on French.)
  • Nashville State subscribes to, where there are thousands of video courses in topics such as photography, web design, and software programs. 
  • YouTube is a treasure trove for video instruction as well. (And you thought it was just for kittens finding scary things.) You can find videos on everything from baking cakes to playing the banjo.

There are lots of ways to learn. We just have to carve out time to work on the skills. But summer is coming. So this year, in addition to planning a vacation, add learning a new skill to your summer bucket list as well.