May/June Bulletin cover
Volume 83 | Issue 3
May 2015

A New Adventure

John Taylor
When I have a new transition in my life, often I pull out one of my favorite comic strips, Bill Watterson’s last issue of Calvin and Hobbes. It depicts 6-year-old Calvin, along with his faithful and imaginary tiger, Hobbes, preparing for a day of sledding. After snowfall from the prior night, Hobbes notes, “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!” The two comment on the possibilities before them, with Calvin closing the strip by saying, “It’s a magical world Hobbes, ol’ buddy. … Let’s go exploring!”

John TayorLike anyone starting a new job, I am excited by the possibilities that lie ahead, the challenges and opportunities that come with leading in a different organization. At the same time, I find it appropriate to look back to the past, to reflect on what prepared me for this next step. While I have a strong value in the role of a formal education, I think it is important to also recognize the preceding journey and the lessons learned outside of the classroom. The experiences each of us gain, both wonderful successes and painful failures, help to prepare us for our future. However, as I pause to look back over my career, it is not one achievement or mistake that stands out, but the people who shared their knowledge with me, who served as my personal instructors, and who helped to shape my leadership path. Like many professionals, I learned the most from supervisors and mentors who nurtured and guided my personal and professional development.

My college union initiation began at the University of Vermont, during graduate school. Like many student activities departments, our office had a young, talented, and energetic staff led by Patrick Brown—a progressive, nonconforming department head. If you have ever met Pat, you know right away that he thinks and acts differently. A first clue might be that you notice he is wearing short sleeves in the winter in Vermont. This trait, to think differently, encourages creative ideas and new approaches, necessary for anyone working on a college campus. Another mentor for me at Vermont was Dean of Students Keith Miser. Always approachable, this dean modeled being focused on students. His advice was to view students as colleagues, to recognize that we both teach and learn from our students, and to appreciate that the joy of our work comes from helping students succeed.

Past ACUI President Manny Cunard took a risk when he hired this fresh, untested grad at Colorado State University. Of course risk taking is part of Manny’s DNA, along with giving 110% to see a project through to the end. Mims Harris, my direct supervisor in campus activities, taught me Programming 101, but her most important lesson was work-life balance. While Mims was known to be the first to arrive at the Lory Student Center and the last to leave, a mid-life health challenge changed that frame of reference. Balance in our lives helps us to be healthier, better role models, and more successful in our jobs.

At Rutgers University, I switched to the business and operations side of the college union house. Paul Brietman, who was director of the campus centers, was not only a natural at navigating a large, state university, but he could have taught Donald Trump a thing or two about the art of deal making. This skill is important as many of our college unions function as auxiliary business entities, providing the campus with needed services, and generating revenue to support our work with students.

My first supervisor at Missouri State University was Dean of Students Bob Glenn. A preacher’s son, Bob was charismatic when telling a story—a talent any of us would love to master. His successor, Earle Doman, had the typical calming effect of a dean, and he was able to see the big picture and know when to compromise. While much of what we do in the college union involves details, in the long run, we are lost if we lose sight of the big picture.

The bureaucracy at a large research university like the University of Michigan can be daunting. Frank Cianciola’s advice was persistence; look for alternate paths, remain determined, and create the right opportunities. Loren Rullman, my most recent supervisor, is known for his strategic thinking, which is certainly a necessary practice for college union leaders. Loren also models self-reflection, constantly asking how he can be a better leader. This final practice, which we should all emulate, is recognition that we can all continue to grow, develop, and improve.

I am thankful for the lessons learned from these and other important people in my life, and now, like Calvin, it is time to embark on a new adventure!