Thursday, September 24, 2009

A President and Partner for Youngstown

A few weeks back I attended an employee forum at YSU. It was regarding the qualities that YSU is looking for as they begin the search for a new president, since President Sweet will be retiring at the end of this year.

I was struck that many of the comments in the forum were primarily about local, institutional issues--administrative communication, technological infrastructure, etc. Now, don't get me wrong, those things are of critical importance in order for the institution to function smoothly--in my previous life I performed mission reviews of postsecondary institutions, and it is obvious if basic systems are not functioning then aspirational goals are for naught--however, I was struck by the relative silence, in that forum at least, regarding the importance of a new leaders vision for YSU's place and role in our community, and beyond.

As an employee new to the institution, my thoughts regarding the qualities desirable in a new YSU president are not based on the current officeholder, but rather on my experience working at the state level in higher education. That, and my hopes for Youngstown and the region in its "becoming."

The most innovative leaders I've seen in higher education are those that:
  • seek to partner with communities and use their leverage to mutually benefit the university and the community;
  • recognize that institutions are not just competing with each other--they have to work together to be leaders on a larger, global stage than historically experienced, but, at the same time,
  • seek to differentiate their institution in such a way as to attract both attention and resources;
  • strongly and directly link excellence in student learning to positive economic development--equip graduates to provide the intellectual and creative capital necessary to fuel our economic futures; and
  • include both the institutional and larger community in this vision.

What are the Youngstown community's hopes for the future vision and role of the university? Is this a dialogue already underway?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When You've Got No Village

So, my family and I moved to Youngstown three weeks ago now. Everyone keeps asking if we've gotten unpacked yet, to which I reply, "Yes, well, you know, we're getting there...", while I think in the back of my head about the towers of boxes that we're living amongst, the fact that every time I try to get dressed for work I can only find half an outfit, the searching through four boxes just to find a tupperware...

The truth is, we moved to a new city where we know almost no one, both start jobs the very next week, and, while I'm grateful for the progressive school my daughter will attend, I can't send her for more than an hour and a half a day at most for the first two weeks! When my daughter is home, my first goal is to give her the attention she needs to feel like there is some normalcy in her life; the second is unpacking her room (and somewhere in a distant third is my other job that I stupidly didn't give up when I moved here--damn being so responsible!)--never mind the rest of the house, or my husband for that matter.

That being said, our colleagues are unfailingly kind and we've already had a family come to the rescue when work scheduling was completely inflexible, so perhaps we've found the first members of our village. The anticipation of finding a community (in which I've looked forward to for so long after being so nomadic) makes the difficulty of knowing few people to turn to when struggling to get settled all the more tiring.

Thank god for the light at the end of the tunnel!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Note to Self

Do not ride your bike downhill the whole way to Mill Creek Park with a child and child trailer on the back, no matter how nice the weather, unless you check your tire pressure first. Unless you like walking said bike. A lot.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Would You Want to Move Here?

Ok, I have now officially been in Youngstown for two weeks, much of that time spent scouring my new abode (why, oh why, did I buy a house from cat owners when I'm allergic?). Despite the sore arms and knees, I have been in good spirits when I have been out and about. However, as I look to befriend each and every Y-towner I meet, from the gas station attendent to work acquantances, I seem to be having the same conversation over and over. It goes like this:

Me: Well, we just moved to town this/last week. We're pretty excited.
Them: Oh, yeah? Where did you move from?
Me: Los Angeles most recently, but we've been pretty nomadic for the last few years. We're happy to be able to settle in one place for a while.
Them: Why would you want to move here?/Why would you want to do that?/Why did you leave Los Angeles? Everyone I know wants to leave Youngstown.
Me: Actually, I'm happy to be out of LA. And my husband got a job here, so you know, you go where the job is; I was able to find a great job too. Plus the cost of living is so affordable...
Them: Who's hiring around here?
Me: Um...

Well, you get the idea. I have to say that my tone seems to go from excited, in the beginning, to reserved, somewhere in the middle, to slightly embarrased that both my husband and I have jobs here in a town where I see an awful lot of displaced workers in service professions, by the end.

I'm still so pleased at the opportunity to live here, and excited by the vibe online, but I have to say that definitely not everyone in this town is feeling it...

How can we help hope take root in people who have obviously felt beat down for so long?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lady in Waiting

Ha ha.

I was surprised to see my blog mentioned on Greater Youngstown 2.0 this morning when I checked my blog feeds, especially since I'd been waiting tell anyone about it--who wants to be the one to tell everyone about your blog and then have only (what is it now?) 3 posts!

Though not prepared for it, this is exactly one of the reasons I am excited about moving to Youngstown tomorrow...

For many years, I have lived largely in cities so big that there is not a great sense of shared community (Houston, Austin, LA), or I have lived on the edge of society as a foreigner (Seoul, Kobe). I have always felt it important to be involved in your community, but only occasionally stepped forward. While in graduate school though, I did live in a smaller town (Columbia, MO), and participated more in the community, but obviously within a limited timeframe.

We have spent the summer while waiting to move into our new house in Youngstown with some kind and generous friends in Portland, OR. Portland has been my husband and my promised land for quite a while now--we have coveted the climate, the beauty, the progressive people, and their sense of community. I actually think what we really loved was carefree times visiting our friends. However, I've found spending the last month here that while there are many things to enjoy about this city, it still is a big city with so much going on that it would again become easy to get lost in the crowd, or do nothing and not be noticed.

Youngstown, on the other hand, seems to have a tight group of dedicated and dynamic people who have a vision of the city's future and are taking action to get there. They are well connected to each other and on the lookout for others who might pitch in. It is both small enough for me to have already had lunch with a local legislator (and end up on a local blog), but large enough to gain critical mass on amenities I would miss otherwise (except Indian food--where is the Indian food?). I love that people seem to be looking toward the future while valuing the city's past. It feels like very exciting time.

This is the kind of community I have been looking for; this is the kind of work I want to be a part of--and it is as much about realizing Youngstown's potential as it is about realizing my own.

Lady, get off your ass and go.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hope and Obstacles

I've been so excited and relieved to be reading on Youngstown blogs about the hope and energy of the "new vanguard" that is striving to re-invent the city; it gives me hope, as an outsider about to fashion a "shiny new life" here. Even more so as Youngstown starts to get outside attention, as with the August Entrepreneur magazine cover and article.

However, at the same time, there is so much about the overwhelming weight of the past and the destruction of industry in the region, and the way that Youngstown is an iconic symbol of the decline, that I wonder if I am deluding myself...

I choose to be hopeful of the future, but don't wish to be naive...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Our New House

This is like something out of a dream...I can't believe that we might--ok we will?--get to have this house! I imagine myself snuggling into this house like a blanket on a cold night and never leaving...