Writing the first blog of the new year is a bit of a challenge. Obviously one wants to make it interesting. On the other hand, we emerge from a week where — professionally — not a lot has been happening (for which we are profoundly grateful).
So let me talk a bit about aspects of our student body. First, as I routinely say to new faculty, I think one has to be impressed, overall, with the quality of our students. Of course they vary, and of course there are some that turn out not to be terribly interested in every aspect of what we’re teaching. (I had one of those in my course last term: not a happy relationship.) In general, however, I think we find that most of our students are fun and rewarding to work with, and some number are in fact really good. And — familiar point — the diversity of backgrounds and interests adds to the richness of our educational climate, and helps, perhaps more than usual, our students educate each other.
We had an active sense of the excitement and achievement of our students at our first-ever, full Winter Convocation at the end of last term. Lots of people who’d finished up in Fall term and were legitimately proud of what they’d accomplished.
Another last-term lesson was interesting. We met with a group of student government leaders and were truly impressed with their dedication to, and enthusiasm for, Mason (including several who’d initially chosen us faute de mieux). Also impressive was their intense educational conservatism, their valuing of the personal contact conventional classrooms offer with faculty and the wider social contacts conventional campus activities permit. Not for them some new mad dash into distance learning. The lesson was good: as we do innovate, and we will, we need to make sure we keep doing much of the more familiar stuff at a high level. It’s working, for an important group of our clientele.
Finally, there are the unexpected contacts with impressive student initiative. Right at the end of the last term I met, at their request, with a group of students who’ve formed a “future foreign service” group of about 50 students who hope for jobs in the diplomatic area. They arranged a number of impressing meetings with former ambassadors and others, and have an exciting roster of activities for the coming semester around themes such as assessing Obama’s second term foreign policy challenges. The group has had some help from faculty and from the CHSS Dean, but this is really their idea and their success. Happily, there are lots of stories like this, in lots of fields.
Which, as we begin to contemplate the next semester, is ultimately why it’s so much fun to work at Mason.