What do you do for yourself?

Now, I should probably back up and explain how my doctor got to this question. It was preceded by this series of queries:

  • “What do you do for a living?” Well, I work in advertising.
  • “What time do you get to work?” I’ve been trying to get to the office between 7:30 and 8:00.
  • “What time do you leave?” Lately I’ve been leaving around 6:00ish.
  • “That’s a 10-hour day.” Yes, it is.
  • “What are you doing when you leave here?” I’ve got some work to get done, since I left early.

And then she paused before asking the big one…”What do you do for yourself? Painting? Spending time with friends? Bowling? Do you do anything?”

Well, I try.

The true fact is, she hit on a question I’ve been asking myself for months. While it’s not like I work every single hour of the day, when I’m not doing work, I’m probably thinking about work. I don’t do a lot for fun or inspiration. When I get home at 6:30 or later, the last thing I want to do is go out again. The boy and I usually just make dinner and then we settle in for some time in front of the tube before heading to bed. Not exactly the most thrilling of lives.

Now, I know why she asked the question – I fully understand that doing something for yourself, outside of work, is good for your personal life and your career. If I had something else to focus on, even if it’s just for a few hours a week, I think it would help. After all, I do fear the dreaded b-word – burnout – just as much as the next person.

The last few weekends, we’ve been trying to get out of the apartment and do something fun one day and then chill out the other day. A few weeks ago, we went to the Minneapolis Science Museum. Last week, we went to see a movie. I’ve been trying to go to yoga or cardio kickboxing at least once a week. It’s a start, but there’s still a ways to go.

We’re in the process of moving a little ways out of the city and I’m thinking it might be a prime opportunity to get back to some of the things that used to get me excited – volunteering with FFA and 4-H. Since we’ll be in a smaller town, I’m also looking forward to potentially finding some community causes that I can get involved with. While being in a more rural area can mean less access to activity options, I think there will be more options for things that I’m interested in.

What are other ideas for activities to get involved with in a smaller  community? How do you keep life from becoming all about work? I know it’s something young professionals struggle with just as much as anyone, since we’re still trying to “prove ourselves”, but for long-term happiness (and sanity) it’s something I want to start setting time aside for now.

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My life, as shaped by agricultural education

In honor of National Teach Ag Day, I wanted to share my vision of the power of agricultural educators. As the daughter of an ag teacher, I was practically born in a blue, corduroy FFA jacket and had Ag Sales CDE practicums memorized better than the high school kids when I was 10. To this day, it catches me off guard when someone has never heard of high school agricultural education, since I was raised with it from day 1 – my dad’s first year teaching was the year I was born.

Growing up in the classroom, it was really easy to see the impact a single teacher can make on so  many students. When I was 5, I was at the meeting where my dad announced to his chapter officers that he would be leaving the school to take a new position. There were lots of tears and sadness — he had made such a difference in a few short years that these students obviously had formed a connection and did not want him to leave. In the years after we moved, I got to watch as he mentored students who went on to become USDA meat inspectors, agronomy researchers, 4-H leaders, and – like him – ag teachers. I also got to see his former students go on to become more important things, like husbands and wives, moms and dads, and friends. I like to think that, even though not solely responsible, ag teachers do play a role in developing youth so they can be the most successful in the latter roles.

I’m now a senior at Michigan State University and, like my dad, I am majoring in Agriscience Education. Next year, I will student teach with another great ag teacher and work to learn as much as I can about youth, education and agriculture. I’ll admit, I have my moments when I don’t know if being an agriculture teacher is the right career choice for me. Who knows, life may throw a curve ball my way and take me down another path. For the meantime, however, whenever I have one those ‘moments’ I think about my life with agricultural education and the difference ag teachers – including my dad – have made for me. It would be my greatest hope to make that difference for others.

Suggestions for ag education at Michigan State

To say I’m a little bit opinionated when it comes to my major is probably a little bit of an understatement. Being the daughter of an equally opinionated ag teacher, I’ve been privy to knowing what’s going on with agricultural education at Michigan State for a good long while. I’ve heard about it when things go good and when things go….well, not so good. In my 4 1/2 years as a Spartan, I’ve watched the major change and shift – for better or for worse – and have made my opinions known on more than one occasion.

Hey, no one ever made a change by keeping their trap shut.

Teacher preparation programs around the country are changing and Michigan State is no different. As I begin the end of my undergraduate career, I want to bring to the forefront not complaints, not whining, but rather suggestions of how I think agricultural education can improve – instead of weaken – to make sure that our high school students have access to valuable lessons, skills and knowledge about the industry that every single one of us relies on day in and day out.

1. Develop ‘how to teach’ courses

My fellow students and I have talked about these types of courses for years, but we’re still waiting for something to come to fruition. As a part of the coursework in ag ed, we take lots of content-based classes – Introduction to Animal Science, Crop and Soil Science 101, Genetics, Biology….you get the picture. However, just because you know about the subjects doesn’t mean you can teach them to someone else (if you’ve ever been in a college classroom with a really smart prof who is a really bad teacher, you totally understand). We think it would be great if there was a series of courses or seminars that were basically ‘How to teach _________’ (fill in the blank: animal science, agronomy, agriscience, natural resources, plant science, bioenergy, etc.). We could learn different types of labs, best practices for experiments and projects, ideas for how to branch out of typical curriculum, etc. This could also be a great place for ‘How to coach the __________ contest’ or ‘How to fill out proficiency and degree applications’ for FFA and SAE related things. Right now we have the content and then we’re shoved into the classroom. There is not enough time in the senior level courses to make all the connections that would make great teachers. Even if they were only a series of 1 credit, 10-week courses….there needs to be that bridge.

2. Hire faculty

The College of Ag and Natural Resources took a good first step by hiring a new faculty member and a new academic specialist in ag education in the past three years. However, if the University is going to continue to be the premier school for getting certified in agricultural education (and out-of-state schools and new in-state programs threaten that), faculty who are there to teach classes (read: TEACH, not research) and work with students one-on-one are going to be absolutely necessary.

3. Value the opinions of students and alumni

Over the past 10 years, agricultural education (and ag communications) have been moved to a different department and renamed – all against the better recommendations of current students and alumni. While many factors have played into the decline in student numbers in these programs, these changes have not helped. As the college looks at yet another restructuring, it’s imperative that administration actually LISTENS to the opinions of stakeholders in ag ed and ag comm. I have been looked at by a faculty member when the major changed names and was told ‘This doesn’t affect you, so don’t worry about it.’ That cannot be the attitude of the major, the department or the college. If it is, current ag teachers will continue to recommend that their students attend other schools to get degrees in agricultural education.

4. Be creative

I had no idea that someone could get a degree in something other than Agriscience (now Environmental Studies and Agriscience) – like Animal Science or Crop and Soil Sciences – and still become an ag teacher. There is a huge number of potentially great teachers out there if we make it a mission to show that the opportunity exists. We also need to publicize ag education to those individuals who may not have had a traditional ag ed/FFA experience. In the College of Ag and Natural Resources, there are tons of people who have been great leaders and members of 4-H or grew up on farms or have an interest in local agriculture, bioenergy and beyond. These people would make great additions to the agricultural education family and we need to make a conscious effort to seek them out.

5. Show you value agricultural education

In a system where budgets are being chopped and streamlining seems the only option, Michigan State and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources needs to make a conscious effort to put their money where their mouth is. I know money is tight, but you put what you have towards the programs you value. As ag ed gets shoved to a concentration within a major, into the corner of a new department (or an existing department – we’ll see), it’s hard for students to feel like they’re cared about, like they can be successful because the college isn’t doing a very good job of supporting them. Things like faculty and academic specialist positions, expanded recruiting efforts, rebuilding alumni support, networking with ag ed people at other universities, developing valuable courses – all of these things would go a long way in growing students’ faith in the program.

I know I don’t live in the world of administration, budgets and decision-making right now. However, I know that I’ve experienced agricultural education as a student and that experience is valuable as well. I’d love to hear from students at other schools, faculty and anyone else who has an opinion on the topic. We’ve got a long road ahead of us if we’re going to rebuild agricultural education at Michigan State back into a program that everyone is proud of, but – for now – I think there’s still people willing to try.

December Already?!?!?

Wow, can it really be December 1st already?! It seems like we just started the semester and now there is only a week and a half before final exams…phew! How time flies!

There has been lots going on in my little world. I just got back from a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation. We had my stepmom’s mom, sister and neice and her family over, in addition to our clan. The food was great and the Lions lost just to keep the holiday tradition alive! Saturday the girls in my family headed to Lakeside Mall to do some Christmas shopping and hang out. Thankfully I got started on my boyfriend’s gift and picked up something for Alex that she should love while on her National FFA Officer journey–I’m pretty excited about it!

Yesterday marked the start of the longest three week stretch ever–the one that leads up to Christmas break! My classes are keeping me busy, in addition to work–we have started a new research project–and NAMA, where we are trying to wrap up the first draft of this year’s marketing plan. I can’t wait until next semester when I only have 13 credits and hopefully everything will relax a bit!

Before that, though, I am superbexcited to be heading to Florida for the first week of January! My sister, myself, our boyfriends and my mom will be heading to Orlando to visit my grandma, aunt, uncle, and cousin and will hopefully get to go to Disney World! Granted I have been to the park 11 or so times already, but I haven’t been in two years and my withdrawals are setting in! It should definitely be a good time 🙂

In between all that, Im just trying to find an internship for the summer (let me know if you have any ideas!) and moving on day by day! Make sure to stay updated with all my random thoughts and happenings at Twitter (@sollmana) and on Facebook!

Over and out for now!

The Impact of the Individual

There are a lot of exciting things that happened this past week at the 82nd National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. I dropped my first billioniare off at his private plane, I met some of the nicest people in the world, and had my life change in a small way (at least for the next year).

Alexandria Henry was named the 2009-2010 National FFA Eastern Region Vice President.

If you are an FFA member anywhere in the country that has not gotten to meet Alex before, I sincerely hope her travels bring her close to you in the upcoming months. There are very few people that have made the impact on my life that Alex has. I still remember the first time I met her: I was a senior in high school and she was a junior. We were at regional FFA leadership contests and I had come to the extemporaneous public speaking holding room to see my dad, who was chairing the contest. He pointed to the only student left in the room and said, “Have you met Alex? Her dad is an ag teacher, too.”. We muttered our greetings, I talked to my dad for a little bit and left. Little did I know, I had just met the president of my state officer team, my college roomate, my double date buddy, the girl who would let me crash at her house for an entire summer and, most importantly, one of my best friends.

As you may or may not know, Alex is special. She has a heart for not only FFA, but for all people in general. She is the type to leave sticky notes on your desk before you wake up to remind you to have a good day. She may not answer your phone call or text right away, but when she does you will talk for hours and the whole wait seems worth it. She is the one that, when her team is falling apart, becomes the glue to hold us together. The members of the National FFA Organization don’t quite realize how lucky they are about to be. Let me tell you, the members of Michigan FFA will tell you without even blinking an eye.

Over the next year, Alex will have the opportunity to travel from one coast to the other, go to Japan and back, and meet tons of amazing people along the way. She will get to experience this all alongside five other incredible people. Bethany, Chelsea, Levy, Randa, and Chase: you better take care of her for us. We are so happy to share Alex with the 507,000+ members of the National FFA Organization, but know that we will miss her dearly.

Congratulations, Alex, on accomplising your biggest dream yet. We love you!