Friday, July 16, 2010

It's Finally Here!

This is my initial posting, and anticipating I need to provide some context, I have a feeling it may be a bit long. So I apologize up front and promise to be less verbose in subsequent posts.

The big day is finally here. All of the cohort members, plus many family members, are gathered in the terminal at JFK, waiting to board our flight for South Africa. We’ve talked about this trip since the program began last August, and today the journey begins.

Nearly a year ago, 24 of us started in Penn’s executive doctorate program in higher education management. Penn uses a “cohort” model for the program, which in the simplest of terms means you do everything together… from the 10+ hour days in class in Philadelphia… to the group meals where we share good food, drink, and stories… to group therapy sessions in which you have 23 sympathetic friends willing to listen to your struggles with balancing the seemingly endless reading and writing assignments with your professional work responsibilities and in many cases, with family responsibilities. The point of the cohort is that you become close and serve as a support system for each other during the 22 months of the program and somehow pull each other through. Half way through the program, I’d say it seems to be working.

So why are we headed to South Africa? The program includes an international module—module is the term for the program’s “courses”—and for a number of years, they’ve gone to South Africa. The country’s higher education system has a history similar to that of the United States in that it once was very segregated and continues to face challenges with access and equity. Based on what we’ve heard from alumni of the program, the experience in South Africa is life-changing.

During the trip we’ll be visiting with a number of South African universities. In addition, we also will get to experience the culture, rich history, and the natural beauty of the country, which so many people around the world saw during the just completed World Cup.

What will add to the experience is that many family members are traveling with class members. As for me, I’m fortunate to have traveling with me my wife, Teri, and our two children, Katie (13) and Ryan (11). Teri and I were concerned about how costly it would be for the four of us to go, but in the end, we decided it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a trip like this as a family. And Katie and Ryan are at least as excited about the trip as are Teri and I.

So as I’m sitting here at JFK, wondering about the experiences I’ll share over the next 10 days, I can’t help but think of the work week I just completed. Back in Baltimore, the ABC show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is in town. To make a long story short, the new home is being built for the organization Boys Hope Girls Hope, a national non-profit organization that provides children who are at risk with a stable home, positive parenting, high-quality education, and other supports needed to reach their full potential, including guidance and mentoring to prepare for college. The program has a house for the eight boys who are part of the Baltimore program, but it did not have one for the seven girls in the program. Loyola got involved when we made a gift to the program, offering full ride scholarships to the eight boys—our neighboring institution, College of Notre Dame, offered the same awards to the girls. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to go down and tour the construction site. I had the chance to meet a couple of the Boys Hope boys, who found out about their scholarship offers earlier in the week, and the gratitude they extended in appreciation of Loyola’s gesture was moving. For these boys, their counterpart girls, and all of the Boys Hope Girls Hope students around the country, their chances of going to college are dramatically increased by participating in the program. Loyola’s decision to reach out to these students was easy, as it hits at the heart of our Jesuit mission and identity.

In the United States, we still have many children and adults who face extreme obstacles to get a college degree. But there are examples, such as Boy Hope Girl Hope, where progress is being made towards a more educated citizenry. As I get ready to board the flight to South Africa, I can’t help but wonder about the people I am going to meet, both young and old, and what obstacles they are facing in their lives. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

It’s time to board. I’ll be in touch soon.


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