Fearless, fear less, less fear.

Happy New Year! I know I’m late to the party, but it’s better to arrive late than not at all. Especially when it comes to resolutions and setting a new #oneword for 2012.

Last year, I chose the word “spirit” and the resolution was described as: “I need to find ways to nurture my spirit and keep it alive. If it is buried, tarnished and bruised then I am not my best self for those around me. Spirit is the place from where I draw my courage, passion and agency to impact the world.” The last year I spent time internally focused and finding new ways to nurture the fire inside.

I actually started to think about what my #oneword in 2012 should be in December. It was first inspired by this post @kellystier made:

Then, in conversation with a dear friend, we identified that in Chinese astrology 2012 is also the year of the Dragon. Since the Dragon is our animal, it is our year! The Year of the Dragon has been described as, “Dragon years are favorable for the enterprising and ambitious. If you want to succeed at something major, start early in the Dragon year. Don’t give up. Express yourself openly. Show no fear. In China, it is said that the Dragon year brings luck to those who dare to speak out, to take charge and even to take over.” (link to Astrology.com)

The word “fearless” resonated even more. It was time. I had renewed my spirit. I was ready…to be fearless. To fear less. To have less fear.

In 2012, I commit to:

1) Owning my truth, speaking my truth and advocating for myself. Sometimes I am guilty of not speaking up, putting an idea out on the table, or standing up for myself. I am a smart woman, with gifts to share where respected. I will remove myself from environments that do not nurture my spirit. I control this moment.

2) Embrace my beauty. Believe in myself. Swallow my fears. Push myself to the limit. Be open to the possibilities and the power I hold within. I’m going to make a splash!

3) With fearless abandonment, I will attack and complete my dissertation in 2012.

What’s something fearless you have done in your life? What tips can you share on living life boldly?


Wearing Heels in a Lumber Yard

Tomorrow, I have the privilege of seeing one of the most important people in my life. This woman is present in my earliest memories and has been at most every milestone event. She gives the best hugs; the kind you just melt into. She makes the most delicious sugar cookies. She is determined and don’t you dare think about crossing her anger threshold. We always have laughs and she sure knows how to have fun. She taught me an awesome queso recipe and that I should always come home at the time I am told. She’s shared some of the most heart wrenching information with me because she knew I needed to know the truth. She writes me poems in cards so cute I cut them out and frame them. Please meet my grandmother, Frances Swayze.

About 7 years ago, I sat down with Frances Swayze to have a talk. I never call her by her given name. As the oldest grandchild, I called her what I heard everyone else calling her- Mom. I wanted to know…well, everything I didn’t know. I knew Mom from my frame of reference but I didn’t know who Mom was prior to my existence. So, we sat down with my digital voice recorder and began talking.

Mom and I at my wedding in February 2010

She shared the names, birthdays, and stories of her 12 siblings. What it was like to be somewhere in the middle of the line up and watch the doctor come to the house to deliver you newest sister or brother. I was interested to learn that one of her brothers names was John Wesley as my husbands name is John Wesley. We shared a smile.

I had questions about the divorce she went through at a time when it was not encouraged or common at all. She actually waited until her mother passed away to get one. She didn’t get child support for her three daughters. She had to make it on her own and get a job at a time when jobs for women outside the home were few. Since many of her brothers were carpenters, she knew a lot about lumber and managing lumber for projects. So she set off to the lumber yard to see if she could get a job. She convinced them to hire her to manage lumber orders for contractors. She was required to wear a dress and heels…even in the lumber yard. At the time, she believes that she was one of only two women in such a role. The other woman was in Oregon. She had to watch every order carefully to make sure it wasn’t sabotaged by her coworkers who didn’t care for a woman in “their” workplace. She still remembers those 8-9 hour days in heels walking the floor of the yard. She went on to work for decades in the lumber industry.

When I was younger, around 8-10 years old, I remember going to the only place I recall her working. Her office was up a flight of stairs and had an open wall overlooking the lumber yard. I remember thinking it all was hers, that she was the Queen of the lumber yard. And in a way it was. She made her way in a career that tried to squeeze her out at every turn. Determined, she made her way. She beat them at their own game.

This is my heritage. I am proud of this heritage of women going against the grain. Taking chances, taking stands. Reminds me of the quote, “You have to be brave with your life so others can be brave with theirs.”

Mom, you are brave with your life. And now I try to be as brave with mine, still rocking those heels.

Creating Space for Silence

I’ve been silent for the last several of months. I haven’t written a blog post. I haven’t posted much on twitter. I haven’t been as present in our virtual community. I started to apologize and feel guilty (I really did miss everyone!), but then I received a gentle reminder from a friend that it was ok to be silent.

The work/life negotiation concept is one that I feel my friend @MonicaMFochtman has empowered me to think about and name for myself. When June hit, it came with such a whirlwind of work commitments that I found myself negotiating with with life. Life, can I call you back next week? Can we work over dinner? I won’t be home for 5 days as I have another conference. There almost was no life to squeeze in. Then I had so much to recover in personal life that I found myself negotiating with work. Work, can this wait until next week when I am back from vacation? I’m only working 7 hours today because my brain is dead. When I set the out of office greeting, this time I really will only respond when I get back and not while I am out.

I think about these last several months as a pendulum. Work was so busy that my attention swung over to the work side only. Then in order to compensate, it had to swing back the other way to my life side only. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Before I knew it, the summer was over and we were launching into fall. Where did the time go? It was ticking away as I was managing the swings.

Now, how do I get it back into a rhythm where there is a fair amount of trade off and negotiation rather than a constant back and forth?

I looked to silence. From mid-August to mid-September I tried to maintain space for silence.

“The purpose of silence is to expand individual consciousness so that the human being can be nourished from a deeper source.” “Taking time to be silent comforts the heart, enlivens the mind, gives liberty and joie de vivre to whatever actions will be taken at other times, and brings an individual out of a more shallow existence, into a deeper knowing of themselves.” Julie Redstone

While I am comfortable with change, work commitments and love my job, it was silence that made me feel whole again. Instead of feeling like I was swinging from limb to limb, silence gave me a place to feel like I was in charge rather than swinging along.

This summer tested my concept of work/life negotiation and as part of the process of becoming, I learned some valuable lessons about the role that silence plays in my self-care so I can be of service to others.

Space for silence worked for me. What do you do to restore and renew?

Cross posted at http://sawomenlead.com

I Let a Student Take Me for a Walk

Yesterday was one of those magical days. As my husband and I drove home from campus, he asked me how my day was and typically I can name specific things that were good or bad. Yesterday, I sat in the car simply smiling and trying to figure out how I could relay to him the feelings I had after all that had transpired.

My day started out talking with @KMcCarthy8185 and connecting about the unique and fulfilling educational experiences we had by attending a woman’s college. Both of us were able to reflect on the life changing and empowering experiences that shaped us into the women we are today. Then, I talked about WISA Panel of Listeners program at our NASPA regional conference. I love taking action to make our profession one that embraces the advancement of women in leadership. These were both conversations that I had on my calendar and I looked forward to as I woke up on Thursday morning. They were everything I anticipated they would be.

Then, in the afternoon, something totally unplanned and unexpected happened. I let a student take me for a walk.

I had my afternoon free for once and one of my senior students stopped by to give me a gift of gratitude for serving as an advisor to the student group she leads. She gave me a token of appreciation that will be a wonderful addition to my office and remind me of our event themed “adding a colorful twist.”

However, the greatest gift she gave me came from this-  She asked me, “do you have time to take a walk?” I looked at my to do list and my open calendar contemplating for a minute. Then I looked up and said, “yes, absolutely. Let’s go.”

What proceeded was a 2 hour walk around campus visiting her favorite spots all while listening to her talk about the meaning of her journey the last four years. She told me about what her education means to her, the challenges of her father committing suicide and her grandmother passing away in her first year of college and raising her brother, and the impact of capitalism on class and feminism. She told me what being on the debate team had contributed to her ability to critically analyze and problem solve. She talked about her work in Zimbabwe, in the local DA’s office to address violence against women, and in the local high school around sustainability. What an amazing journey.

I listened, I followed, I sat, I took it all in. Our last stop was at a particular bench on campus over looking a statue of “the pioneer mother” on campus located by the residence halls the first women students on campus occupied. On a beautiful, sunny afternoon overlooking a significant campus location we sat and she shared a speech she had submitted to be selected as a speaker at graduation.

As she delivered her speech, I sat in awe. The passion she conveyed about how her education will empower her to create a new future moved me. Here is a woman who majored in political science talking about creativity in music, dance, and art. She talked about the ability to change the future through multiple means of expression. The power of a liberal education to interrupt the reproduction of our greatest societal ills and transform a new path for humanity. For 15 minutes I sat and listened to the power behind her narrative.

I was glad I had sunglasses on because I had a tear or two. Here, sitting right next to me on this bench, is a clear demonstration of a student who harnessed  everything that higher education hopes to offer to students. I think deep down, I was so moved because it reinvigorated my hope for the future. This woman sitting next to me transformed before my eyes into someone I would gladly stand side by side in the struggle for what our world will look like in the years to come.

In the end, I didn’t talk much at all. I let a student take me for a walk. And, it was one of the most beautiful walks I will ever take in my life.

Resources for the Parents of First Gen Students

Part of this post is personal, part of this post is sharing of resources. Sunday we met with our dear niece who is a senior in high school and will be the first in her family to go to college. The only other person in her extended family to go to college is her uncle, who happens to be my husband. We talk about his experiences quite often and they reinforce the research we read about the experiences of first generation college students. A high school teacher in his small, rural town had attended an ivy league school. She knew the importance of a college education for my husband as it would change the trajectory of his life from 5th generation logger to where he is today. As we are talking with his niece, she is facing alot of the same barriers, hurdles and naysayers. Luckily she has her eye on the prize- she is going no matter what barriers, hurdles and naysayers stand in her path. I am so proud of her strength, maturity and awareness.

However, we had to have a very difficult conversation about finances. She worked very hard to gain admission to a small, private liberal arts college. It was a great decision on her part since we talked alot about institutional fit and finding the ideal campus for learning. Her rationale for institutional fit is perfect and the campus she has selected does seem to meet all her needs. But, it also comes with the hefty bill of a small, private liberal arts college. It will be impossible for her to attend because she has limited access to loans, her family has no financial means to support her, and it would be impossible for her to have the money to attend. The decision was a heart breaker. Her greatest college dream was smashed into pieces. Now we are picking them back up and will forge on to a new dream. I distinctly remember her comment, “but I worked so hard to get my IB degree and do everything right.”

She will go to college. She will be successful. She will achieve her dreams.

This was certainly a slap of reality for all of us. Things that we knew in the back of our minds and were privileged to escape for a moment came racing to the forefront. The impact that class, gender, race, ethnicity and capital have on us every day. I put a call out on Twitter on Sunday “anyone know of a book or good readings for parents of first gen college students? #sachat”

The use of #sachat proved invaluable again. Here are the resources that were graciously shared with me.


Limbo shared by @triciabrand, Making the Most of College shared by @debhammacher, The Happiest Kid on Campus shared by @debsanborn, Confessions of a College Freshman shared by @nestrada89

Web Resource

First in the Family shared by @tbump

Please comment below on the following questions:

– How can you use this information to inform your work?

– What can you do to remove barriers, forge new paths and support first generation college students and their families on your campus?

– What resources can you share with others?

#sadoc writing workshop

As many of you know I am a doctoral candidate (and have been for the last year) in Educational Leadership at the University of Oregon. Today I attended a workshop on dissertation writing as I am preparing to better engage with the dissertation process, hoping to complete it year from now. The workshop was really great! As a reminder to myself and to share with others, I was “tweeting” during the workshop. The twitter summary can be found below. Since tweets are recorded in real time, start from the bottom and read up. Each bullet point is a “tweet.”

If you are interested, there is a great community in Twitter that uses the #sadoc hashtag to share information such as this as well as provide support.

What other advice do you have for the #sadoc community on writing a dissertation? Share in the comment section!

  • what r ur “rhetorical moves?” how do you take specific moves in your intro? tell a story, create a niche, then occupy the niche #sadoc
  • Need 2 Know: background context, problem ur addressing, YOUR focus/claim, support 4 ur claim. Intro of paper #sadoc
  • Writing 4 an Audience: what does a reader of academic texts need 2 know? How do I position myself as a member of this academic field #sadoc
  • wow! that 5 min was uber productive. Wrote down an entire page of ideas! #sadoc #fiveminadayfan
  • What r key words related 2 my paper/research? What would a visual schema of my ideas look like? Some ideas related to my paper are.. #sadoc
  • We are doing it right now! Taking 5 min writing break!!! Get ready for starter phrases…. #sadoc
  • outline early, then fill in content. provides a balance of the big picture against the trees. #sadoc
  • write down notes/ideas as you read. write a little every day- notes, diagramming, freewriting. Just something. #sadoc
  • Getting started: write to yourself first. Don’t let your eventual audience intimidate you. #sadoc
  • for a visual of the painting a canvas approach to see how the stages of writing http://bit.ly/id3NKU Inspire you to see as process #sadoc
  • the #sadoc writing tips are coming from Dr. Keli Yerian, Linguistics and Am Eng Inst http://bit.ly/eH92li Super helpful!
  • writing is more like adding layers to a canvas than adding links in a chain #sadoc
  • often an iterative process. draft, reorganize, add new material, cut material, revise after someone reads it. improve as you go #sadoc
  • often like herding cats, because there are loose ends and doesn’t always feel like it’s headed in the same direction #sadoc
  • is writing more like herding cats or like driving a car from point a to b? #sadoc
  • we are talking about managing advisor and committee dynamics- expectations, personalities, ownership of process #sadoc
  • excited 4 presentation from “Rehearsals 4 Life” theater troupe presenting on topics 4 grad stus. Love this group! #sadoc
  • create an elevator speech 4 your diss. practice presenting your project and answering questions #sadoc
  • Dealing w/ stress- ask for help (emotional/practical), interact w/ others as writing can be lonely, easy to become isolated #sadoc
  • create a papertrail- clear communication btwn u & advisor. mini-contracts of what ur doing and what they r doing #sadoc
  • when u have work time and writing is not flowing, focus on the tasky things- title page, references, formatting. Check off the list #sadoc
  • the red markings and edits fr: ur advisor are helping you. means they r taking u serious as a scholar and advancing ur work. #sadoc
  • remember it is a privilege 2 b at this point- to have the opportunity to advanced edu & to write on something ur passionate about #sadoc
  • frame writing as enjoyable & stomething that brings you satisfaction #sadoc
  • mini-deadlines are impt. stick to your schedule. find balance- make sure to exercise and take breaks #sadoc
  • where might you work best, and get yourself there. Reward yourself for meeting deadlines #sadoc
  • writing tips 4 #sadoc: block out times to write and work. don’t wait until you feel like it.

Authentic Leadership: Empowering Others to Shine

(This is cross posted on SA Women Lead – sawomenlead.com)

Wow! It is only 12:30pm and my day has been full of enlightening moments.

Right off the bat, I had coffee with a colleague this morning and we were talking about removing egos and working from a place of common purpose. This led us to a conversation about how quickly we engage in tasks that need to be done and quickly move from one thing to the next. We do these things without acknowledging the person. I’m talking about recognizing the person behind the task, behind the professional persona. Who is the person sitting in front of me? What moves them? What have they gone through to get to today? What is unique that they bring to the table? Is today a good day or a bad day for them?

We talk about being authentic leaders in our lives and in our work with each other and with students. But how can we be our authentic selves and live truly authentic lives if we are not acknowledging the actual person?

I came back from that conversation and hoped on Twitter to see this post by @Kathy_Petras, which reminded me about my One Word Resolution. Kathy is reflecting on her resolution and how it is playing out so far for her. Her reflection really hit home for me and tied me right back to my One Word- Spirit.

You may be wondering, “Amber where are you going with this? What does spirit have to do with authentic leadership?”

To me, spirit has everything to do with authentic leadership. Here are a couple of explanations of spirit:

  • the vital principle or animating force within living things
  • a fundamental emotional and activating principle determining one’s character
  • liveliness: animation and energy in action or expression

By acknowledging the person, we are acknowledging their spirit. Their vital principle, their fundamental emotion, their activating principles. To me, these represent the authentic person and if we are aware of the spirit, as leaders we can provide opportunities for the person to shine. Doesn’t it feel good when someone truly sees you and gives you the opportunity to allow your spirit to shine?

A quick equation:

Acknowledging the person=recognizing the spirit within= empowering a person to shine.

You can be excellent today, anywhere you want to be. – John Duncan

Go forth and

P.S. Yes, I quoted my husband, John Duncan. He empowers me to shine.

#WLSalt Hashtag Explained

A group of women student affairs professionals spent time together at the Women’s Leadership Institute (#wli10) in December 2010. These women stayed connected and in January 2011, the #WLSalt hashtag was sparked by this email from Teri (@tbump) to the other founding #WLSalt sisters:

“I’m finding myself wanting to tweet at the 6 of you so often so I think we need our own hashtag. Any suggestions #wli? I want to use the hashtag to send tweets that support, lift, encourage, promote women leaders. And, to invite others who do the same to use it as well building a network of women focused on consciously choosing to push women forward. I watch the twitter stream and women Student Affairs professionals are quick to devalue their work/skills/smarts. I send at least 1 DM a day to someone who has publicly diminished herself.  I’m looking to help build their self esteem, self respect, and encourage them to take their place at the table with confidence and the support of women like us. We can create a network of women who value what matters and will enthusiastically help each other achieve, score the best opportunities and see this world as their oyster. Are you in?”

All six #wli10 women were invested and committed.  They offered much, much more than hashtag ideas- they all brought their very best selves and their phenomenal strengths to the conversation & the plan.  After a conference call brainstorming session, we settled on Carolyn’s suggestion of #WLSalt. This hashtag includes SALT as a tribute to #WLI10 where twitter friends became IRL (in real life) relationships and WL to signify Women as Leaders.

Please join us and use #WLSalt for tweets that:
* Support: Provide support, connections, and resources for leadership, academic, and career opportunities
* Affirm: Highlight the success of women as leaders at all levels
* Lift: Lift up the voices that may be quieted in other venues
* Transform: Facilitate the continued success of woman in higher education

We are moving quickly beyond the hashtag and have activated a twitter account where we will co-tweet as @SAwomenLead.  Follow us as we follow you and grow, learn and encourage the amazing women who surround us all in higher education.  Please join us as we advance and support all women in the academe.

Julie @JPKirchmeier

Niki @NikiRudolph

Deb @DSchmidtRogers

Mary Jo @maryjogonzales

Amber @amberagd

Carolyn @carolyngolz

Teri @tbump


I wrote this post in December and didn’t have my blog in place to post it. Now I have a place to share this with you.

I’m currently on my way back from one of the best professional development opportunities I have participated in. The Women’s Leadership Institute is the result of a collaborative effort of 19 professional associations that support administrators in higher education. As a result, I just spent 4 days with 200 women from across the country who work in business affairs, libraries, student affairs, and academic affairs.

Words cannot begin to explain the immeasurable boost of empowerment, personal development and challenge of thought that I have been given. So often we ask, what were your take aways? What are the top things you will carry with you as you go on about your work?

Here are several of my take aways:

–   Personal Development. This conference was unique in the sense that it provided professional content knowledge and personal development. So often we attend conferences that are focused on sharing content knowledge and best practices; all while running from session to session and attempting to learn as much as possible. It is truly a rare occasion that we participate in a professional development opportunity that affords us the space to develop our personal leadership skills needed to implement our best ideas and practices. This rare opportunity is what was offered through the Institute.

Competition vs. Consultation– I’ve been to conferences and institutes with other women and often find myself in an environment that feels wrought with competition. Each person is trying to expand their network in hopes that it will provide that next big step and outdoing the person sitting next to them. Not at this institute. I never felt as though I was in competition with the other women in attendance. Every woman was encouraging, engaging, sharing, and empowering. 200 women. It was such a wonderful space to explore my personal leadership beliefs and discuss freely.

SELF CARE– I can honestly say that after coming back from this institute, I have taken better care of myself. Balance. My goodness I was out of balance and carried so much stress with me every day. I share this with you because I had the power to change how I engaged with work and the million other items on my plate. I was feeling like my to do list had more control over my life than I did! We must take care of ourselves by being in tune with what we need to achieve balance as we define it. The work will always be there and I have found that the people around me know this to be true as well. I was the one putting so much pressure on myself to do more, make more. While it was rewarded, my professional balance this past month has been rewarded just the same. I have confidence that I am a good professional and the people I work with know I am- they would not have hired me if I wasn’t! I ensure that I am meeting their expectations and if I can do more within my balanced frame then that’s bonus.

–  Reach higher. Why not? I attended a session about the university presidency and women aspirations to the presidency. I spoke with institute faculty who asked, “why not aspire to the presidency?” Higher education is about to experience a major transition since 49% of sitting presidents are over the age of 60. Who will replace them? How can the presidency be reshaped to be inclusive of women’s leadership? Especially women of color and other identities. The time is coming and we have a grand opportunity to impact the future of higher education leadership. If you reach for the stars, at least you will land among the clouds.

I also made some wonderful professional friends in the process. Thank you to the ladies on Twitter in the #sachat for being such amazing people. I include those that were present IRL and those that were following and commenting on Twitter. This online professional community has afforded me the opportunity to connect with folks I may have never known. It has been something that I have cherished this year and has enriched my professional development ten fold in the short time I have been online.

Now, for the reason this post is called “SALT.” There was a fabulous restaurant on site at the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island called Salt. The name reflects the cuisine and it’s unique use of salt from around the world to create a dining experience that is like none other. At first, I have to admit I was curious. I mean, it’s just salt right? Um, no. It wasn’t just salt. It was salt mined from around the world- carrying different minerals and flavors. And each bite was unique and scrumptious by using a different salt. Then I had the privilege of getting a massage. In that time, they used a hymilian salt to exfoliate. There were also lamps made of that same salt that purified the air. How amazing there were so many uses for salt! On the way home I had a layover in Cinncinati where the snow had fallen and ice was an issue. What did they have strewn about the ground? You guessed it- salt.

All these encounters with salt made me think. How fascinating is it that one item can have so much to offer. But it also represented the beauty of what I had experienced at the Women’s Leadership Institute. I met women who came from across the country and from various positions, each bringing their unique perspectives and skills to the table. The institute “table” was a place where 200 women came together and shared in a personal and professional development experience that was like none other. As women we have the ability to lead in a variety of ways that can impact the future of higher education. Our personal leadership abilities are like the salt mentioned above. What does your unique leadership style look like? How do you compliment and alter the environment to make it even better than it was before? How do you put your leadership to use?

One Word New Years Resolution

My colleagues and friends of the #sachat group on Twitter prompted me to think about the one word New Year resolution activity. I am fortunate to be surrounded by such amazing, thoughtful and reflective colleagues.

You can read more about it here, but to summarize you choose one word that becomes your theme for resolutions for the year.

I chose Spirit.

Just on the heels of an empowering Women’s Leadership Institute in December and two and a half week trip to India where I was immersed in a culture full of spirit, I couldn’t think of another word that would carry me through 2011 towards personal development. I honestly admit that my “spirit” had been tarnished, buried, and bruised over the last several years by a combination of things that I won’t expound upon here. But the fact remains, that while in India I finally felt my spirit revive inside of me. The dust and rubble that covered it was cleared away. You know that burning in your chest when you know you are alive and you want to shout out from the rooftops, “I’m alive!”? (ok, maybe you don’t but just go with it!) In just a few short days, I have more energy (even despite jet lag), resiliency, and desire to do all that is on my never ending “to-do” list. I got it back- the fire from inside is lit again.

How this one word will translate into specific resolutions and actions for my inner and outer work are clearly illuminated now. I need to find ways to nurture my spirit and keep it alive. If it is buried, tarnished and bruised then I am not my best self for those around me. Spirit is the place from where I draw my courage, passion and agency to impact the world.


The Lotus flower is a common spiritual symbol in India and the unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul.