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Last Tuesday Mississippi State University held its first Freshman Student Convocation. In addition to the students being formally accepted by the faculty, the highlight of the event was the keynote address given by Sarah Thebarge.

Thebarge is the author of The Invisible Girls: A Memoir which is the book selected as this year's Maroon Edition. Her talk was interesting with the first portion being a synopsis of the book. I got the feeling someone forgot to tell her that the students were supposed to have already read the book, but perhaps she realized that likely many of them had not read the book yet. The later part of her talk was on how one person could change the world and she encouraged our students to do their best to do just that.

The book itself is very good and is a very easy read. It took only a few hours to read it, mainly on parts of airplane trips. In addition to describing how she came to meet the girls from Somalia and the things she did to help them, it also chronicles her diagnosis and treatment for cancer. It is a great story of survival, a strong spirit that kept her coming back despite her many setbacks, and also her ongoing faith struggle.

I'm not sure how many students was actually able to reach, several of them did appear more interested in their phones and leaving as soon as they could, but that doesn't really matter. Even though she likely didn't reach everyone, if she only reached one or two students who will change the world, then it was a worth the investment of the time and money. I also noticed the faculty seemed interested in her words as well. My only regret about the event is that we did not have community involvement, especially high school students.

My favorite quote from her talk was when she said that we often wonder what do you get the girl who has everything but the real question is what do you get the girl who has absolutely nothing? Her answer: An education. For that reason, the proceeds from the sale of this book are going into an account to cover the costs of education for the five Somali girls she meet.

Dateline: Mississippi State University, 10 December 2010.

I was honored to have been asked to be the guest speaker at the 10 December 2010 Joint Army-Air Force Commissioning ceremony at Mississippi State. There were four cadets commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants in the US Air Force and one commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. It was a pleasure to have been asked to speak and a joy to share some of the lessons I have learned with these new lieutenants who are beginning their careers.

After the ceremony I received some very nice complements on the talk and I was appreciative of them. I told several that what I told these new airmen and soldier were what I wished someone had told me when I was an Ensign. The text of my remarks is below.

Greg Mortenson Lecture

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Sara and I attended an excellent lecture tonight by Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame. We arrived at the Humphrey Coliseum shortly after 1800 for a 1900 lecture. Following the requisite introductions, the lecture began around 1910.

I had seen Mortenson video when he gave a talk at the Naval War College. I really enjoyed that lecture but he was even better in person. He seemed to really enjoy being here and we certainly enjoyed having him here. He mentioned that in a early meeting with some of our students, he asked how many had been involved with community service. Typically he said he gets about 60% to 80% response but at Mississippi State he got 100%. Similarly, later he asked how many students had spent 10 hours or more talking to their elders about historical events (depression, World War II, etc.). Again, we had about 20% greater response than others.

Mortenson said he did want to come back and visit some of the public schools and nursing homes. I know he would get a wonderful reception.

Following the lecture we waited in line with some friends for the book signing. I got both my hard back Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time signed and by hardback copy of Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan signed. Of course I have both as Kindle editions and I have bought and given away probably 10 to 15 copies of the paperback Three Cups of Tea. We had a short conversation while he was signing and I found him to be very pleasant.

His Central Asia Institute has been added to my list of charitable organizations. As I get older I find I prefer more and more to donate money to my church and to some specific organizations rather than run them through clearinghouses such as United Way. This way I can get money directly to the places that need it without the overhead charge of these clearinghouses. Call me cantankerous.

I enjoyed Bill Bennett on C-SPAN. Wish his Morning in America Show was not so early in the morning.

I look at blogs on a fairly regularly basis and I have my favorites but my all-time favorite is Thomas PM Barnett. It is posts like this one entitled "Smart guy, dumb book: US grand strategy completely misrepresented" that keep me coming back. No doubt Barnett and I differ on some of our politics but I cannot fault a guy who is so even handed in his analysis. He calls them as he sees them: right or wrong, left or right.

Globalization is perhaps one of the greatest things to have happened to mankind in recent history and how it can be ignoed in a book on strategy is beyond me. I am nearing the begining on my dissertation on change in professions, specifically engineering, and globalization will figure prominently in my arguments. To ignore it in a US grand strategy will surely produce a "dumb book".

Eye-Opening Theology

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I have to admit that the PC(USA) Church and I disagree on many issues but those issues are mainly political, dare I say conservative vs. liberal issues. What I really like about the denomination is that it encourages intellectual curiosity and questioning. Being reared a Baptist and converting to Presbyterianism, formally, about 30 years ago but having known I was not a Baptist for much longer; I have certainly enjoyed the adventure. It is difficult to determine when you actually realized what your were, or what you weren't, but for me I think it came as an early teen when my grandmother told me that there were some things about God and the Bible that should not be questioned. My grandmother has been a great factor in my faith and spiritual development, but I simply could not accept that statement. I now realize that I don't have to.

Our guest speaker for Vacation Bible School at First Presbyterian Church in Starkville is the Reverend Dr. Andrew Purves from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He taught a very moving and inspirational Sunday School lesson on cancer which is one of the best lessons I have heard.

Sunday night he began a series of lectures on the Five Solas. That in itself is one thing that is very different from my childhood VBS--we had a lecture, not a sermon. I can't begin to describe everything that was covered but there are couple of key points that show how my Reformed Theology differs from what I learned a child. First, the Bible is under God, it is not God. God cannot be reduced to words in a book and our goal is to get to know God, not the Bible. Knowing the Bible is a way to get to God but it is not God. That means that the confessions of the church are also useful in getting to know God. Second, Dr. Purves in no uncertain terms explained the Trinity to me. Jesus is not second in command; He and God are One in the same along with the Holy Spirit. Wow! They have always been here, Jesus did not "come in the middle", He was here in the beginning, He is he Word.

After the lecture tonight I have never felt better about my faith. Whereas my Baptist rearing was focused on fear and having to do something to be saved, my reformed faith says that is not necessary, we are imperfect yet loved by God even before we are born. I have no problem with that for I know how much I loved daughter before she was ever born, even when we didn't know if she was a she or a he. I loved her even before I married my wife and she was conceived. Of course I still have questions but that is okay too. Faith allows us to have some unanswered questions.

Purves has helped cement some thoughts I've had for a while and I'm glad he is the speaker this year. I look forward to the next lectures and the challenges he will present to us.


After winning the ChallengeX completion a couple of years ago, the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University entered the EcoCAR challenge last year. The second year of the competition has just completed and Mississippi State won. But rather than saying MSU won, you really need to look at the numbers to see by how much they won. The point spread between first and second places is 153 point; the spread between second and third is 71; and between third and fourth is 59.

Listed below, in ascending order, are the universities and their total point scores. The maximum possible total points were 1000.

Michigan Technological University 97.58
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology 161.31
Missouri Science & Technology 175.74
Texas Tech 198.59
Georgia Tech 212.69
West Virginia University 230.85
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 251.65
University of Wisconsin-Madison 253.79
University of Waterloo 291.42
North Carolina State University 448.75
University of Ontario Institute of Technology 471.48
The Ohio State University 527.41
University of Victoria 564.8
Pennsylvania State University 620.22
Virginia Tech 691.35
Mississippi State University 844.04

Some of the other awards won by MSU were:

* Best acceleration
* Best autocross
* Best fuel consumption
* Best tailpipe emissions
* Best well-to-wheels greenhouse gas
* Best well-to-wheels petroleum energy use
* Best Mechanical Systems Presentation
* Best Controls Presentation
* Best Vehicle Design Review Presentation
* Best outreach
> Best media relations program
> Best education program
> Best creative promotion of EcoCAR
> Best website

Congratulations EcoCAR Team!

Advanced Placement Credit

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ARTICLE: "AP classes' draw extends beyond extra grade points." By Jay Mathews Washington Post, 31 May 2010.

Disclaimer reminder: This is a personal web site and the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. The opinion in this post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer.

Kristin Klopfenstein is an associate professor of economics at Texas Christian University who is currently doing some work for the Texas Schools Project. The bottom line of her work is that although she thought giving students extra credit for Advanced Placement courses would entice students to take the classes, the data show this is not the case.

As pointed out in the article, today it is fairly common for some schools to give extra credit for AP courses. Not all schools do this and not all schools that do give extra credit, give the same extra credit. A common type of extra credit is adding one point to the class grade for grades of C or better. In other words while a C in a regular course would earn 2 points, it would be given 3 points if it were AP. Similarly an A would earn 5 points instead of the typical 4. This is why some students report GPAs of 4.5 out of 4. That bothers me on principle alone and I rank right up there with athletes who "give 110%". The math just doesn't support it.

In addition to the math not supporting extra credit, the fact that there is no common way of weighting AP courses makes it even more difficult to justify the practice. Are students at a school that does not weight AP courses dumber than those at schools that do weight the grades? Are those who do not receive weighted AP grades challenged more than those who do? It is difficult to tell and so I do not support grade weighting for these and other reasons.

I took an Advanced Placement course way back when and enjoyed it immensely. I actually wanted to take two AP classes and was selected to take both chemistry and history but they both ended up being taught at the same time. I chose chemistry. I say selected because in my high school you did not simply register for an AP classes, you had to be invited to take it. My high school was a little different. First, it was back in the day when students were tracked--some were on the college prep track, others were on the vo-tech track. Most, if not all, of my teachers actually had bachelor's degrees in the area they were teaching and a master's degree in education. In other words, my chemistry teacher had a BS in chemistry, not a BS in science education.

When we were selected for an AP course we were informed that the courses would be taught at the college level and we would be expected to work at the college level. We were offered NO incentive to the classes nor were we ever promised good grades. I, like my classmates, took the AP courses because we wanted to get a head start on college and we wanted an intellectual challenge.

I think that a student who is taking an AP course should be taught at a college level, should perform at a college level, and should be evaluated at a college level. Artificially adding points to a grade does not reflect that the student is performing at the college level. In fact, I would argue, having to add points says that the course is not being evaluated at the college level.

My chemistry class was told that we would be taught at a college level and that we would be expected to perform at a college level. When we got our first nine weeks report cards we are all surprised to find that we had earned a grade of F in the class. Our teacher told us that we were being taught at a college level but that we were not performing at a college level. He also reminded us that we were hand-picked to take the course and were some of the smartest students at the school and earning an F would help us build character. We complained, we argued, but we eventually sucked it up, kicked up our performance in class a notch or five, and he made it up to us in the end. I, and I think most of my classmates, realized when we entered college that we had, in fact, not been performing at the college level.

I do understand the reasons schools give for artificially adding points to AP courses. They don't want their best and brightest to be penalized with lower grades in tougher courses. They fear it will result in lost scholarships or denied admissions. And, to be honest, it some cases that may be true. However, what is done for those who are given extra credit for AP classes? Many high schools have also changed their grading scale from a 7-point scale to a 10-point scale in order to raise GPAs for scholarship purposes. This is a cat and mouse game so colleges then modify their scholarship requirements in recognition that an A this year may not be what it was last year.

When I look at a student I look at a student. I seldom take a GPA for granted. I do look at the courses taken and make some mental adjustments (in the positive direction) for those who took AP courses, honors courses, or just chose to take a more rigorous route through high school. I know that there were other students in my high school who had better grades than I had but they had nowhere near the challenging courses I took. Looking back on it from thirty-something years out I think I, and my AP classmates, were indeed the more successful.

The study by Klopfenstein shows that weighting AP courses is not necessary. I agree and wish schools would stop the practice. Let's get back to evaluating courses as they should be evaluated. If a student earns a B in an AP course in high school then they should earn a B in the same college course. Students who take AP and honors courses should be the best students at their school, they should be capable of performing at the college level, and they should be evaluated and rewarded accordingly. Doing so would result in fewer disappointed students when they realize that in college, they are not given extra credit for the most difficult courses. The grades I earned in thermodynamics and physical chemistry carried the same amount of weight as the grades I earned in general psychology and introduction to sociology but the workload and expectations were vastly different.

In reviewing Dr. Klopfenstein's CV I note that there are several publications on this topic slated to be published this year. I will certainly be interested in looking at those publications.

Diplomas and Dropouts

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I'm not sure how I missed this but it showed in a Google Alert recently and I found it interesting. The American Enterprise Institute published a report last June on dropout rates from colleges. The blog post said they wished 4 year graduation rates had been used rather than 6 years rates but, six rates are the norm.

Six year graduation rates are indeed the norm for several reasons. First, the university is not a Wal-Mart where you buy products and then check out. You take courses, have experiences, and get an education. And I do mean education, not training. Getting an education takes time depending on the student, how easily they learn, how hard they work, and to a degree, how long it takes them to decide on a specific major. Second, college is not always inexpensive. Many students will have to take time off to work, either full-time or part-time, and that will add to their graduation time. Others will participate in study abroad programs which are outstanding but may not provide the usual course load. Some students will also participate in internships which may or may not earn credit towards a degree. Third, students are, in some senses, adults and have adult problems. Sometimes these take a while to work through. For these and other reasons, six year graduation rates are used. As long as all schools are being compared by the same standard then the length of time should not be a problem

Mississippi State University is listed with a 58% graduation rate which compares to a state average of 46.1%. The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss as they like to call themselves) clocks in at 53% and the University of Southern Mississippi comes in at 48%. Given that all three of these schools are not able to be very selective; these rates do not really surprise me. To a certain extent they have to take a large portion of students who rank low on national tests, have either low high school GPAs or come from subpar schools with inflated GPAs. We know many of them are not going to be successful but they are given a chance to prove themselves.

Before you assume that the better schools are tougher and have the higher dropout rates, think again. It appears that the tougher schools have higher graduation rates. Harvard comes in at 97%, MIT at 93%, Stanford at 95%. Yale is at 96% and Princeton is at 95%. You might also note that these schools are also some of the most expensive in the nation. It really is no surprise that by only accepting the very best and brightest, as Harvard, MIT, and the like are able to do, that they will have high graduation rates.

Unfortunately, this report only included university level data and not college level data. I would be very interested to see how we stack up among engineering schools. I do know that the Bagley College is working on improving its retention rate but the graduation rate of those who enter our college and graduate from college is higher than the university average. They do not necessarily graduate in engineering but they do graduate from college. I should also point out that the Bagley College has higher admissions guidelines than the rest of the university so we are in fact more selective.

One conclusion which can be gleaned from the report is that an education at a state institution is a good deal. For those students who are capable of academic work, a state university offers a quality education at an affordable rate.

"Revenge of the Nerds: How Barbie Got Her Geek On". Wall Street Journal, 09 April 2010.
Last month the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Barbie's new profession being computer engineering. This profession was determined by a vote, one in which I voted, and the hope amongst us engineers was that giving Barbie the computer engineer profession perhaps some girls would look at the computer engineering as a profession for themselves. But this did not go over well with all. One letter to the editor submitted by Steve Schupbacj was published and I took issue with some of his statements. I then wrote a letter to the WSJ but, as I suspected, it was not published.

Thanks to having my own blog, here are the portions of the original letter I took issue with and the response I sent to the WSJ.


Steve Schupbacj
Sonoma, CA
p. A12 24-25 April 2010 V. CCLV N 95

"So now, like so many times in the past 30 years of feminist antics, little girls, who will be the primary purchasers of Barbie, don't get what they want/ Rather they get a feminist vision of what they should want: a world where little must find inspiration in bits and bytes but not in being what they want, like an anchorwoman in high heels and smart business attire, not that there's anything wrong with that."

"I'd like to propose my own unscientific theory about why there aren't more women in engineering, and it has nothing to do with opportunity. Girls and women easily have equal access to primary and secondary education in mathematics and sciences. Most women simply don't like engineering. It's icky. It's dirty. It's sweaty. Why do you think they call it 'engine-eering'? Most women prefer "tidier professions. Even women who earn an engineering degree mostly end up in nicer allied fields or in management, were they can distance themselves from the messy business of 'doing' engineering."

My response:

Having a computer engineer Barbie is not a feminist movement but is rather an engineering movement which recognizes that women make excellent engineers, more women are needed in the profession, and that the lack of engineers is becoming a matter of national security. Many of us hope that this Barbie will break the stereotypes ill-informed people hold of engineers. Engineering is not icky, dirty, or sweaty as Mr. Schupbachs letter of the 24th indicates. Many of us wear coats and ties (or skirts and blouses as the case may be), work in offices, and are solving the problems of the 21st century, improving the quality of life, preserving the environment, finding new sources of energy and helping people live better lives. Further, many engineers do indeed end up in management at some point in their careers and are they highly valued for their ability to solve problems and tackle difficult issues. Gone are the days Doctor Ken and Nurse Barbie and here are the days of engineer Barbie. Welcome to the 21st century.

A few weeks ago the student newspaper ran a list of 50 things every teacher should and should not do. Some of them things simply cannot pass without comment.

2. Just because you were a student doesn't mean your students are in the same situation. True, I drove a 1972 Dodge Duster with an AM radio and an add-on air conditioner that didn't work. The car had over 100,000 miles on it when I got it! It got 9 miles per gallon because, as I found out when I sold it, it had a small leak in the fuel line. Just as well, I didn't have the money to fix it anyway. I was not given an SUV or a new car. The age of 16 meant I got a drivers license. A new car could wait until I got a job and paid for it. I was also moved to school and then saw my parents at Thanksgiving. We talked at most once per week because long distance rates were expensive. My parents never EVER once called a professor or administrator of mine to complain or ask a question--that was my job. So, don't worry, it is not likely we will ever think today's students are in our situations.

4. Don't keep students later than the assigned class time. Good point, we would certainly hate to give more knowledge than was paid for. The excuse of "my next class is too far away" is old, and in many cases not true. Pull up your pants, wear some real shoes, put down the cell phone and you would be amazed at how fast you can really walk to class.

5. If a student shows up late, don't count them absent. They still made the effort to show up. This is one of my favorites. Try that one on your boss when you have an important meeting. How about the next time you are late for a flight you call the airline and tell them about the effort you are making so they should wait for you. The point is, showing up late for a class is rude to the professor and to your classmates. It says to them "hey. Look at me; I'm just too good to be here on time like you are." Sure, there are times you will be late, we all understand that. If you are on time most of the time, most professors will cut you some slack, we do understand that things happen. The problem is that what I see is that it is always the same people who are always late. By the way, effort counting is a myth perpetuated by high school teachers. In the real world no one really cares about your effort, they only care about your results.

9. Be fair in grading. Never use 'fairness' as an excuse to deny information to a student. This is my second favorite. Reading between the lines this is saying, be fair, except in situations where I want something that no other student is asking for so give it to me.

10. Tell student how you would like to be addressed on the first day. How about showing courtesy that should be shown to anyone? Try Dr., Mr., Mrs., Professor. If they want to be called Bubba or Princess, they'll let you know. This is really good practice for the real world. If you think when you go on an interview or meet new clients, that they are going to go to great lengths to tell you what to call them, think again.

24. Effort is important and shouldn't be forgotten in grading. See #5.

27. When grading a paper, explain what the student did right, not just what they did wrong. This one baffles me. I think is more of that high school teacher stuff about making students feel good even if they are failing. What are professors supposed to do? Grade papers and congratulate students for spelling words correctly? This makes no sense. If there are no comments then you did it right, if you don't know why it is right then you need to see the professor and tell him that you just lucked up.

39. Use out-of-class assignments sparingly. I really want to know the major of the student who came up with this one. Newsflash, if you are doing assignments in class, save for the occasional short paper or similar active-learning techniques, you are not in a college class regardless of what you might think. The vast majority of a student's time at college should be spent studying and doing assignments outside of class. Again, college is not high school. If that is problem go see your high school teacher and blame them.

43. If you are not going to use the book you assign, tell your students on the first day. A required book does not mean that the professor will use it in class every day. Some professors actually expect students to read the textbook before coming to class so that lecture material will complement what you read in the book.

44. Don't read handouts and the syllabus word-for-word to students; they're in college and obviously can read. This is actually a good point except, from my position, I deal with a lot of students who DON'T read the all. Then they are surprised when they make a poor grade, miss an assignment, or sleep through a test.

46. Be careful about assigning group papers. They're almost impossible for students to write fairly. I hated group papers as a student too but, once you get in the world of working stiffs most of the "papers" you write will be group papers. You will still not like it but that is what you have to do. Better to learn it in college than after you lose your first job because you cannot function as an effective team member.

So, now that I have been fairly critical of the list of things some students think professors should do, I have to stress that not all students think like those on the newspaper staff. In fact, most of the students I deal with do not think like this. But, now I have a list, a fairly short list, of things students should do to be successful in college.

1. Come to class prepared for class. That means read the material BEFORE class. Digest it, think about it, review it. You will find that lectures then tend to be more reinforcing and your questions are more meaningful.

2. Leave the excuses at home. If you can't come to class try to let the professor know beforehand and if there is a real excuse (illness, death in immediate family, etc.) let them know that too and they will likely be understanding. If you have to miss a class for a university function, let the professor know and offer to make up the work before you miss the class. You will be amazed at the amount of goodwill that earns.

3. If an assignment is due at the beginning of class, have it ready to turn in at the beginning of class. Don't run around trying to find a stapler or root through your book bag for it.

4. Be professional and respectful in class to the professor and your classmates. Speak clearly and like an educated person. Leave the street talk on the street. Do not insult a professor by turning in an unprofessional paper or assignment. And like, whatever, you like, do, like avoid using "like" like as much as you like possibly

5. Dress for class. I don't where the idea that it was acceptable to attend class wearing pajamas or the most worn out clothes in your closet began, but it really need to stop. And gentlemen, take off your hats inside. I've seen about all the advertising for John Deere and Skoal I care to see.

6. Students, remember your professors were students once too. Those excuses you have for not doing work, for being late to class, for needing to move an exam, are not new. I've heard them all and I tried most of them myself. They will work for you about as well as they worked for me. Don't waste your time. By the way, I know this should be common sense, but missing class or an assignment because you were in court or jail is not an excuse. If you have to go to court for jury duty or are subpoenaed as a witness then let the professor. Being in court as a defendant is not an excuse and does not win points.

Someday I'll have to expand this to a list of 10 but for now, this will do. And again, just to be clear, many of the students I deal with are outstanding, conscientious, well-intentioned, and hard-working. They do not complain or make excuses, they simply do their best. But there are a few, a precious few, who would do well to follow these suggestions.

There is much talk about text books these days and how expensive they are. The Board of the Institutions of Higher Learning is working on a policy that will address the issue somewhat, but it will remain an issue. Textbooks are expensive. That's the way it is. Faculty, students, nor college bookstores have much control over the prices of books.

Some things can and will be done. It has always troubled me that some sections of the same course would use a different book. This certainly cuts down on sharing books, passing them down from student to student, or even being able to reuse the same book should a student need to take the same course again. Books can be adopted for a longer period of time which will increase their resale value. And some books can be more clearly labeled as "required", "recommended", or "suggested".

But what is bothering me more than the cost of textbooks is the attitude of some students towards books. Some, by no means all, students have been educated in schools systems with such low expectations that they are unable to make the switch from high school to college. I dare say some of them do not even belong in college. For example, on the television news tonight one student was quoted as saying something along the lines of "my professor uses PowerPoints [sic] and doesn't even use the book." Let's see now, could it possibly be that in a college class a professor does not stand in front of the class and read from the textbook? Could it be that in some college classes the professors actually expect the students to read the textbook before they come to class (gasp!)? Could it be that the textbook is expected to be used outside of class by students who are actually working at the college level?

The important factor is not the cost of a textbook but rather its value. I recall spending in the neighborhood of $120 for my calculus book a few decades ago and it was expensive then. However, I used that book for four required courses, used it as a reference in several others, and while working as a research engineer I would even pull it off the shelf for reference. My English Composition text sits on my shelf to this day and I will occasionally pull it down to research some grammar question. Yes, these texts cost a lot of money but they also had great value.

I fear too many people have started to look at higher education from the point of view of what it costs and not what it gives. Regardless of what some may think, a college education is truly a privilege and those in college are in the minority. Given the reaction some are having towards textbooks, I think they may have come a bridge too far.

Educate a Girl for $350!

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ARTICLE: GUEST OPINION: War, terrorism, politics and 'Three Cups of Tea',, 02 January 2010.

This is a nice op-ed on Greg Mortenson's efforts to educate girls in the Middle East. An entire lifetimes education for a girl can be had for only $350. Contrast that to the cost of education we are used to when a few text books can cost that much.

The thiking is that by educating girls, when they have children they will discourage them from become radicalized and will encourage them to get an education as well. Education is the key to improving te human ituation around the world. What I find interesting is that, as Mortenson says, the military gets this, it is the State Department that doesn't seem to get it.

Read more about this in Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time and his just released book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

ARTICLE: "School consolidation not needed, leader says". Starkville Daily News, 31 Dec 2009 p. A-5

Public officials are elected or appointed to carry out the wishes of those who elected or appointed them, within the bounds of reason and ethics. We all expect our elected officials to look out for our best interest but what should they do when they are appointed to serve on a board or committee of a higher authority and in effect, serve the interest of a large body. This not only happens with public officials but it also happens with military personnel. Military leaders often make decisions or give recommendations that may not be in the immediate best interest of those under their command or their specific branch of service.

The specific case which got me thinking about this today is Governor Barbour's committee to consider consolidation of school districts. Michael Kent serves as the Superintendent of Education for Madison County schools and is expected to look out for the best interests of that school district, the employees who work in the school district, and most importantly, the citizens of the school district. He was recently named to a committee to investigate the consolidation of school districts across the state. Mississippi has 82 counties but 152 school districts. The governor has suggested that state funds could be conserved if there were perhaps only 100 or so districts and has formed the Commission on Mississippi Education Structure to review the existing structure and make recommendations on consolidation.

Kent admits that he was surprised to be appointed to the commission because he has made it no secret that he is not interested in his district being consolidated with another. In fact, according to this article, he has said "protecting his district from any proposed school consolidation will be first priority while serving" on the commission. This conflict of interest, if you can even call it that, has been fully disclosed so it is not really a conflict at this point. The governor should be well aware of Kent's position and has the option of removing him from the commission or leaving him in place.

The real question, however, in the sense of duty, is how should Kent and other public servants in similar situations serve in such positions? Should their bias towards their local situation color their decisions for the larger public? Should they argue their position as strongly as they can and hope that others are arguing the opposite position? Can they really be of any service given they have already made their positions known and vowed to support them?

Public service is different from most other forms of service in that servants are serving the public good even though it may not be in their personal best interest. In this particular situation we have the governor who is looking out for the state as a whole who has indicated he favors consolidation and a commission member who has said he is opposed to consolidation, at least for his district. So what has happened here is that Kent has been placed in a difficult position. On the one hand he is obligated to "protect" his district; on the other hand he is supposed to help the governor improve education in the state and save money which may require consolidation.

The situation here is not uncommon; in fact it is better here than in other situations I have seen. In many committees, commissions, and task forces, biases exist but are never disclosed. Here Kent has made clear what his position is, as has the governor. Knowing this everything should be fine.

Dumb-dumb bullets, by T. X. Hammes, Armed forces Journal, July 2009, p, 12.

Col. Hammes has neatly summed up the problems with PowerPoint. It is clearly a great tool for sharing information but is lousy for decision-making. Hammes correctly says that if someone is making too many decisions to have time to read a paper on them, then they are making bad decisions.

What bothers me is that everyone has come to expect a copy of a PowerPoint brief so that they can share it with others. It troubles me when wants a copy of my "slides" but does not hear the presentation. I use PowerPoint as a tool to share information but it is not standalone. The PowerPoint and my talk go together and one without the other is worth less and sometime worthless.

In teaching classes students have come to expect that PowerPoint is posted on the web and often posted even before the class. I have mixed feelings about that and I tend to post my slides after the lecture. First, posting them before class can deter class attendance. Second, it can reduce note-taking. I've heard the argument that by having my slides in class makes it easy to take notes but I don't buy it. Part of taking notes is listening and determining what is important to you. The very act of thinking about what is said and writing it down makes the information yours and easier to recall. Placing a star by a bulleted line is simply not good enough.

The worst thing about using PowerPoint to make decisions is that the author of the presentation seldom seems to present both sides. Bullets are selected such that the decision-maker is led down a certain path--the path of making the decision the presenters wants made.

One of the interesting things about my job is that I get to deal with many students, prospective students, and their parents. Over the years I have been asked and answered many questions, some really good, some really bad, and some questions repeatedly crop up. When I dig down I often find that the students and the parents really have no reason for asking the question other than they think they should ask it. They often ask fairly complicated questions and expect a simple one- or two-word answer. I have also detected shift in attitude and now some students, and their parents, think deciding on a college education is the equivalent of comparison shopping at Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

Over the next little while I think I will address some of these common questions here. Perhaps they will help others looking for a college to really think about what they are asking and to have a better understanding of the answers they are given.

"Why College Towns Are Looking Smart" by Kelly Evans. Wall Street Journal, CCLIII, No. 68, Tuesday, 24 March 2009, p. D1.

College towns are the places to go for jobs. Out of six metropolitan towns with unemployment below 4%, three boast colleges in their environs. Not only do the universities in these towns often have jobs available, the towns themselves, "long-considered recession resistant", also have openings.

According to Harvard economist Edward Glaeser when the "adult population with college degrees in a city increases by 10%, wages correspondingly rise by about 7.8%." This seems to indicate that one of the best incentives to stimulate the economy is to get more people in, and out of, college. Of course it will take time to educate the population, and they have be capable of completing college in the first place, but in the long run it does seems to indicate economic prosperity.

Unfortunately most state legislatures are too short-sighted and education is often one of the first items to be cut in the budget when the economy gets tough. Why? Because it directly impacts the fewest number of constituents in the near-term. It does hurt everyone in the long-term, however.

Lorenz on Leadership

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General Stephen R. Lorenz, USAF was on the campus of Mississippi State University and gave one of the best lectures on ledership I have ver seen. The talk was directed towards the ROTC (Army and Air Force) cadets but he had nuggets for eveyone.

He gave his ten tenets f leadership which are:

1. Learn the art of balancing shortfalls. There is never enough money, time, or manpower.
2. Those who do their
3. The toughest word in the English language to say is..."Yes"
4. Don't lose your temper...unless you plan to.
5. Work on your boss's boss's problem...and you won't have any problems.
6. Self-confidence and motivation 95% of any great endeavor.
7. Study the profession and read--especially biographies.
8. Life is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash.
9. Being in our profession [the military] is all about service to others.
10. You never know you're going to make a difference.

General Lorenz also said that good grades will get you better opportunities but the fact that you do not have great grades will not necessarily keep you from achieving great things. He used self-deprecatng humor to drive his point home in saying the he made the top 75% of his class at the USAF Academy...possible.

I started to think about it and I came to the conclusion that the best leaders I have worked with were not always the top academicaly. They were surely intelligent, competent, and capable, but not always the straight-A students. In fact, the straight-A students have tened to be farly poor leaders.

I have to admit I truly loved his repeated appeals to students to read. Read anything but especially biographies.

Overal a great lecture. I hope we can get him back and have him talk to a larger audience.

I attended the installation banquet of the latest six students inducted into the Bagley College of Engineering Student Hall of Fame. All six of these students are truly exceptional students. They have good grades, have been active in the college, and have served others. The nuce hing about this award is that it recognizes studens for what they have contributed to the college. One of the things we look for in our selection process is whether the service was done to enhance their resuem or the college and university.

The sad part of the process is that there were some very good students who are deserving of recognition but were not inducted simply becaause we limit the numbers to six each year.

Strategic Thinker, I Am

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Yep, it was confrmed this weekend that I my leadership strength falls into the domain of Strategic Thinking. I read Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie this weekend and used he code inthe back of the book to get my personal profile. I read StrengthsFinder 2.0 not too long ago (and Now, Discover Your Strengths before that) so I was able to log into the site nad use my strengths aready on file to get my leadership domain.

Based on their research, the authors found there were four leadership domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. Based on my top five strengths (out of the 34 they measure) of Learner, Strategic, Input, Achiever, and Intellection I fell into the Strategic Thinking domain. In fact, four ofmy five strengths (learner, strategic, input, and intellection) fell into the strategic thinking domain with my remaining strength of achiever falling into the Executing domain.

If you are familiar with the strengths movement then this would be a good book to get. You will not only get five strengths but you will also get your leadership domain. Strengths-Based Leadership does discuss the 34 strengths so there is a review. But, if you have not read any of the other books then you might start with one of them.

General David Petraeus is the top "public intellectual" according to Prospect (HT: Free Republic). In their January 2009 article Intellectual Surge they state "we know an original thinker when we see one, especially one who uses brainpower to achieve change in the most difficult of circumstances." I've had several discussions with colleagues and many argue that General Petraeus is an anomaly within the military. I don't see him so much as an anomaly as I do a leader of the type of military officers we can expect in the future. I would love the opportunity to work for this man.

Not Teaching Our Children by Example

02 October 2001

In the wake of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Americans and many others have been extremely generous with their money, time, and efforts. They have shown what it is like to care for others and to share with those who are in need--a trait common in most every religion in the world--and certainly one most parents would want their children to learn and practice. What better opportunity can you have than the terrible events of the recent past to show the children of today that they should give to others who are less fortunate and to reinforce the lessons they have been taught? And what better place is there to reinforce this lesson than in our schools?

From Engineer to Weatherman

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This was actually written for the Mississippi Engineering Society Newletter when I was President under the President's column entitled "M.E.S.sage"

01 January 2001

It started with the intent of showing how engineers are involved in things most people would never think of and maybe showing a little bit of the fun side of engineering. A professional engineer, working in New York City, had the responsibility of determining if the winds were within acceptable limits for the balloon floats used in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The article was developed by the firm NSPE has contracted with to improve the image of the engineer.

The article was printed in the New York Times, included a photograph of the engineer, and was picked up by several media outlets across the nation. One radio station read the article and talked about it on the air. This radio station wanted more information so they called a local university for some comments. They ended up talking to someone in the geography department of the university. The article mentioned meteorology and this is what the radio station picked up on. There inquiry was directed to the geography department because that is the department that houses meteorology.

Was the article a failure? Some could argue that it was because it did not result in more favorable coverage of the engineer. I would argue that results of the article illustrates how profoundly misunderstood the image of the engineer and engineering really is. Why did the radio station call a university about meteorology rather than engineering? Is it perhaps because the radio station thought a meteorologist would interview better on radio? Perhaps it is just because the radio station didn't know enough about the situation to call and ask for an engineer.

Improving the image of ourselves and our profession is not an attempt to make a bad image into a good image. Polls show that most people think well of engineers, at least that we are ethical. No, the problem is not having a bad image, the problem is having a misunderstood image. What concerns me most about our misunderstood image is that our leaders in society may turn to those who have less knowledge about a problem rather than ask a qualified engineer. I also worry that with an image that is misunderstood, we may not attract some fine young people into the profession.

Gaining the image we want to have is going to be a long road. The recent attempts to get some positive attention may not have had the desired affect, it did serve to illustrate the degree of the problem we are facing. There are no quick fixes and, although we can use outside help, the bulk of the work remains with us. As engineers we must always project an image of the calm, understanding professionals we are. We must make efforts to explain ourselves in terms that can be easily understood by those lacking the depth of education we have attained. Only then will the public's perception of our profession change.

"Colleges, Offices Scrap Landlines," by Greg Latshaw. USA Today, Tuesday, 30 December 2008.

Colleges elsewhere may be going to cell phones, but not in Mississippi. Our legislature is afraid that there might be some "personal benefit" from having cell phones. The article does point out that there is a tax law that makes accounting for personal and business use of the phone cumbersome but that can be easily solved by the Congress.

Currently I have a landline in my office and a personal cell phone. I oftentimes use my personal cell phone rather than the landline because it is less expensive and easier. If I need to call students, even they may be just down the hall, I have to dial the number, enter my PIN for long-distance calls, and then verify each month that the calls were business related. Not only are landlines cumbersome, we do not even have decent calling plans with them.

"State Face New Imperative: Turn to Global, Entrepreneurial and Innovation-based 'New Economy' to Boost Competitiveness," PA Times, Vol 31, No. 12, p. 1, December 2008 (American Society for Public Administration)

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that Mississippi was ranked at the bottom of this list along with West Virginia. The 2008 State New Economy index is compiled and released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation as a measure not of how a state's economy is performing but rather how they are embracing the new economy. It focuses on a single, narrow question: "To what degree does the structure of state economies match the ideal structure of the New Economy?"

One of the key factors driving the New Economy is the information technology revolution which is measured by the index. The states at the top of the list tend to be states with "a high concentration of managers, professionals and college-educated residents working in 'knowledge jobs'--those that require at least a two-year degree." Obviously the vast majority of this state fails to meet these criteria. Other states such as North Carolina are ranked lower than expected (25th), according to the article, due their concentrations of high-tech. In a sense that is also true of Mississippi. Our high-tech areas are concentrated and, while they are as high tech as any, they represent a small percentage of the population.

The concern is not so much where Mississippi is ranked now but the fact that Mississippi led the way in states that declined in their performance from the last survey in 2007. While 36 improved, 11 declined. Mississippi fell "in twice as many indicators as it increased, while Wyoming and Indiana also fell." Given this is the "New Economy" it is not going to go away so every state should be getting better, not worse. Mississippi has, in my opinion, focused far too long on the old economy (attracting automobile fabricators and their associated support industries, rather than focusing on the high-tech, new economy. This is not true in all of the state; the area around Mississippi State for example, has seen some high-tech industries develop. But it represents a small portion of the state.

To turn things around the elected officials in Jackson are going to have to change the way they think and focus on long-term goals. That is difficult for a state in which I have repeatedly heard elected officials say they did not want to tie the hands of those to be elected in the future. That kind of backwards thinking limits how progressive a state can be when long-term strategic planning needs to be done.

Reading Habits of President Bush

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"Bush Is a Book Lover," by Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, Friday, 26 December 2008, Vol. CCLII, No. 150, p. A11.

This is an insightful article into the reading habits of our president. What began as a New Year's resolution in 2006, to read a book a week, became a competition between Karl Rove and President Bush. Rove, like many of us, had gotten out of the habit of reading as much as he used to and decided to turn things around. President Bush joined in and it was soon a competition. Rove has won each year but that is not important, what is important is that if someone as busy as the President of the United States still finds time to read, it makes it difficult for most of us to say we do not have the time to read.

The scores: 2006 Rove 110, Bush 95; 2007 Rove 76, Bush 51; 2008 (as of today) Rove 64, Bush 40. The President has also read the Holy Bible cover to cover each year through his daily devotional. The books have ranged from history to biography and even included some fiction.

Some points I found interesting in the article are on Bush's theory of competition. Rove states:

"The reading competition reveal Mr. Bush's focus on goals. It's not about the winning. A good-natured competition helps keep him centered and makes possible a clear mind and a high level of energy."

"There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them."

According to Rove, the President is never without a book. He reads instead of watching television and reads on Air Force One. To read as much as he does, he obviously reads most anywhere he can. It reminds me of a story I read about William F. Buckley a few years ago that pointed out he always had a book with him. I also always have a book with me. You never know when the car might break down or you might have some time to yourself. When I know I am going somewhere that will require a wait (the doctor, the dentist, to get a haircut) I always take my own book. It is nice to have magazines in a waiting area but I prefer to take my own books.

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions but this year I may have to break my tradition.

Presidential Search

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IHL has elected to not reopen the search for president. It’s a mistake, in my opinion, for several reasons. First the board does not seem to realize that perception is reality and the perception/reality is that anyone selected from this pool is the second choice. There is also rumor that one of the preferred candidates had associates bring forth the charges against Watson resulting in magnoliagate so he will be doubly-troubled. Third, and I think most important, the board’s own consultant said at the beginning of the process that the pool of candidates would be limited by having the interim in the mix. Well, he is not in the mix now so I suspect a much different pool of candidates would result.

What really troubles me is the reports that the previous presidential search had a pool of candidates of 100 but this one has a pool of 13.

What a man! I attended the Colin Powell talk tonight and was more than impressed. I read his autobiography many years ago and was impressed then but seeing him in person was even more impressive. He is clearly a very intelligent person and has a keen sense of humor. His talk was informative and entertaining.

We had some students present who embarrassed me, and their fellow students. Some kid (yes, kid) showed up on the floor wearing a “colorful” t-shirt and black and white checked shorts. Most everyone else was wearing business dress. Perhaps he thought he was cool, but I, and even the students sitting near me, thought he was ridiculous and an embarrassment to the university. Some students even called that he be taken off the floor.

Questions were submitted to General Powell and read by students who apparently had some role in deciding which questions to ask. One question dealt with how you could work with someone and work on topics you disagreed with. The implication was that General Powell continued to work on the Iraq war even though he disagreed with President Bush. The General set the student straight and noted that the question assumed he and the president disagreed. He clearly stated that he did not. He was in agreement with going to war but differed in how things were handled after the fall of Baghdad. Another question was so boggled and senseless I can’t even remember what it was. I only remember that the General did a great job in handling it with dignity. I was impressed with the answers given but disappointed in the questions asked.

His talk covered his time in the military, his time as SecState, retirement, and his outlook on life--he looks ahead, not to the rear.

General Powell is definitely a speaker to hear given a chance.

Pre-Professional Day at Meridian

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I got up early this morning and drove to Meridian Community College for their pre-professional day. I talked for about 20 minutes or so on engineering, its benefits, and told the students a little about what it takes to prepare to enter the profession. I then met with some students in the passageway and gave them more information.

Once again, I chose to go sans PowerPoint. In part because I’ve been doing this so long I don’t need to rely on the slides to tell me what to say; also in part because there is no need to put hard data up on the screen because seldom does anyone take notes in venues such as this. The talk was a little off, in part because I was feeling out of sorts. I slept fitfully and went to bed a throat that was beginning to get sore and was worse when I woke.

In spite of how I felt, I need get to meet with some good students. Some will make it to engineering, some will find other options. I ran into some students who were determined to go out of state to school because they wanted to get away. That bothered me somewhat. It has always bugged me when students say they don’t want to leave home but today I realized that wanting to “blow this joint” bothers me just as much. My advice was to not make a long-term decision based on short-term circumstances. In other words, we have an outstanding engineering college so why leave just to leave and possibly attend a lesser school? Stick it out for another 4 years and then “blow this joint” with a good education, entrance to good grad school (unless they want to stick around for that too—we have a good graduate program as well), or with a good job?

The faculty at MCC continues to impress me with the care and concern they show for their students. They do a good job.

Back in July I made a presentation on engineering ethics to the annual meeting of the Consulting Engineers Councils of Alabama and Mississippi in Panama City Beach, Florida. I had planned to turn it into a little mini-vacation but my wife broke both her ankles and couldn’t travel. It turned into a quick drive down, do the presentation, and get back home—two nights and one day away.

I tend to be very critical on myself and I gave myself a B or B- on the presentation. But I just got the feedback sheets and it looks like the audience gave me an A to A+. Some comments were that the best part of the presentation was the presenter! Can’t beat that. I always sweat these presentations because ethics can be a very boring and very difficult topic to present.

MSU interimm president to hold interactive chats

This was first titled "MSU interim president to hold Web chats" but was changed when a commenter pointed out it was not the web. It is an easy mistake to make though. After all, in this day and age anyone else would have had a web chat with questions submitted either on-line (similar to the web conference I was involved in yesterday!) or email them in. Going to extension centers for this? Give me a break. I think is more about solidifying Ag support rather than getting word out.

The word that comes to my mind is--disappointing. I also fear that our future is going to look a lot like our past. But hey, it's just my personal opinion.

Made a presentation to a very small audience at the Institute of Industrial Engineers Region 3 Student Conference today but enjoyed it. I retooled my engineering ethics talk for this audience and made is significantly shorter. The conference seemed to go well but it looked like many of the sessions were not very well attended with the possible exception of the talks given my potential employers. Can’t fault the students—I would not have been much interested in a talk on ethics on a Saturday morning either.

The highlight of the conference was getting to see a former student who I really liked when she is in school. I am pleased she is doing well. I also missed the keynote address by another student I knew, but did not know she was doing the keynote.

Tomorrow will be a quick trip to Jackson for the Mississippi Engineering Society Board of Directors meeting in the afternoon. A trip back home tomorrow night, followed with a presentation to the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors on Monday. Then, I have another trip back to Jackson for the MES awards banquet where I get to present the MES Outstanding Engineering Student award to a remarkable student. I do dread the travel but I do look forward to the award presentation.

Somewhere in all of this, I have to find some time and figure out this dissertation thing.


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ARTICLE: “School Rankings That Matter" By CAMERON STRACHER
Wall Street Journal, Monday, 31 December 2007.

The US News and World Reports rankings have always bothered me. Yes, we all want to be ranked higher because that is what people are looking for. Well, what some people are looking for. Those who are willing to let someone else do the research and tell them how to think find the rankings easy to use. But they do not tell the whole story. The formula used to determine the rankings is suspect and is based on factors that may or may not be important to a particular student.

This WSJ Commentary focuses specifically on law schools and compares the US News and World Report rankings to another based solely on the passage rate of the bar exam. As the article argues, what good is a law school education from a top-ranked law school if you can’t pass the Bar? Good question.

I liken these rankings to rankings of department stores. Ask someone which department is “best” and you’ll get several answers. Some will like Wal-Mart because the prices are low. Others will rank Wal-Mart low and cite employment practices. Some will sat Wal-Mart has a large selection of products while other will say it has little variety. Some will like Sears while others will prefer a specialty store. Some will say it depends on what you want to buy. Others will say one store has low prices but another has better customer service.

I am often asked questions by parents that are of obvious concern to them but I wonder if they have thought much about what they are asking. For example, I am often asked about class sizes and I can give them the answer they are looking for but I usually add that it is more important to have a good teacher than it is to have a small class. One of my best professors taught to a class of 180+; one of my worst was a class of about 18. The parents assume that smaller classes will give their children more access to the professor outside of class but that is not always the case. Besides, I would much rather have a good professor teaching me that I didn’t need to see than to have a bad professor who I had to visit in his office everyday for help.

So, with all of these factors involved in selecting a department store, college, or law school, how is someone supposed to make a decision? The answer is really quite simple? Decide what it is that you want and then do your own research, ask your own questions, make your own decisions, and trust your own judgment. After all you are reading this with help from US News and World Report.

In response to seeing his team in a bowl game, a UCF student had this to say, according to Channel 13, Central Florida News: "It’s pretty awesome. Like it's right up there with like, just something awesome that I can't put into words right now because I’m super psyched at this happening right now". I mean like, where do I like go to like to sign this guy up for like a job in something awesome like maybe in like communications. I bet like if he could get super psyched he could like do a real good like job, like.

I hate to come down on the guy so hard but this is “like getting of hand, like”. We have a language loaded with words that could be used but this guy, or should I say “dude”, uses “like” and “right now” twice each in one sentence. When I read such utterances I can’t help but think that there little thinking going on in the brain that is controlling the mouth.

Today I made an ethics presentation to the Mississippi Society of Petroleum Engineers. The crowd was around 25 and they had another continuing professional development seminar after mine. I gave the standard one-hour ethics program and got lots of nice compliments afterwards. One member said he had been to several ethics seminars where the slides were read to the audience and he enjoyed the way I engaged the audience and gave them something more than slide after slide. It was nice to hear that and other similar comments.

Now it is time to change things up a bit. I’ve been giving the same show for a while now and I’m about tired of it. I know most of the people who see it are either seeing it for the first time or have forgotten it from when they saw it last. I, on the other hand, know what has changed and what has not. I think I’ll look for some new examples to discuss and maybe some new graphics. Should be fun.

Day One Leadership

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We had the final Day One Leadership Program luncheon for the Action Team Leaders. We all got certificates, an umbrella, door prizes, and an item from the grocery store picked by our teams to describe us. I got a bottle of V8 Splash because I “add a splash to the traditional”. It was a fun event but I’m sad it is the end of Day One for year.

One of my team members won the Day One Leadership Idol award from the pod and it was presented to her at the Air Force ROTC Dining In last week. She could not stay for the presentation following their presentation but it all worked out well.

I had a great team and I look forward to doing it again next year.

I passed. It wasn’t pretty and it was certainly not my best performance, but I passed my oral comprehensive exam. I am not the kind of person who typically gets nervous; In fact there are only two times in my life that I recall truly being nervous and this was one of them. The other was a similar situation—when I was going in for Engineering Duty Officer Qualification exam.

My committee was helpful, they were not intimidating, but I was still nervous. Even the simple things that I know did not come easily. But I was able to satisfy them, apparently.

The problem, I think, is that I was not the expert in the room then. Usually in situations like that I am the most knowledgeable person on the subject matter at hand. Either I’ve written it, designed it, or worked on it so long that I know it better than anyone. When someone asks me a question I know I can answer it and I know they want to know the answer. In my orals I was not the expert, my committee members were. And they did not ask questions so that I could educate them; they were asking to see if I could give them the answer they wanted.

Once the Q & A was over, we discussed my dissertation topic. It still has some issues and I still have my concerns. Their comments were helpful but I was not surprised by what they said. I share their concerns and I feel better knowing that they see anything out there that might trip me up that I didn’t see myself or that I have not spoken with them about previously.

Feels good to be on this side of the exam.

The Clarion Ledger has got a really big bee under its bonnet over the presidents of Mississippi universities. First, they go way off the deep end last year on the selection process being used now. They call it "secret", apparently to make it sound sinister, when in fact it is simply a way to allow people to pursue the position without having the entire world know what they are doing. They seem incapable of understanding that once word is out that you are looking for another job, you impact your current employer even if you do not get the job.

Their latest tantrum is over the salaries given the presidents. As is customary, most university foundations supplement the salaries their presidents. That supplement varies with the size of the university and the amount of money the foundation has: the larger, wealthier, most comprehensive universities have larger supplements to account for the additional responsibilities of the president. Without those supplemental funds universities would not be able to attract quality people to the positions unless the state stepped up and raised their pay. Well if you have been around the Mississippi Legislature any time at all, you would know that if they raised the salaries of the university presidents, they would cut something somewhere else. (I distinctly recall the gaming industry being sold to the state as benefiting education. Well the gaming money given to education was offset by reprogramming roughly the same amount of funds from other sources.)

What really bothered about the article was the statement that the presidents could not serve two masters. That is simply a ludicrous statement and, I think, shows the inability of the Clarion Ledger to exercise critical thinking. People serve two masters everyday. We often call these people Reservists or National Guardsmen. Sometimes when they are part-time ministers, we call them Pastor. Others are called Board Member. The truth is that most over-achieving people, i.e. those people who work the hardest to make the world a better place, often serve two masters.

The difference in the cases I have mentioned and that of university presidents is, that in my examples, the two masters often have competing, perhaps even conflicting, goals. In the case of the university presidents, the state and the foundations share the same goals, namely making the institutions better. Serving two masters is also not limited to the presidents at the universities. Faculty members compete for research funding; funding that comes from the government, private institutions, or industry. They then complete this research while also teaching classes and serving the citizens of the state. Serving two masters makes them better faculty members, brings in much needed funds, and adds to the knowledgebase.

I will not even bother to discuss athletic departments and the multitude of “masters” they serve. However, I think it safe assume that the Clarion Ledger thinks coaches should give up their television and radio broadcasts and their product endorsements.

I don't know how this bee got under their bonnet, but I wish someone would swat it. I'm getting tired of seeing the Clarion Ledger do story after story on their pet peeve. Move on guys, report the news.

I worked up a draft of an op-ed piece for PE Magazine today. I have been discussing this with the powers that be for some time now and finally took a shot at it. It explores why engineers are so reluctant to get involved with public policy issues and why that is bad. I struggled with it some, and will struggle with it some more, because I am trying to make a point without getting the debate focused on another topic. The example, perhaps even the thesis of the article, is why is Al gore the spokesman for global warming? It is not my intent to have the debate devolve into arguments over politicians, nor even to argue about global warming, I simply want to explore why a politician, with little to no education in the area is the spokesman while the engineers, by and large, remain silent.

In a way, I am reminded of the quote from Thucydides, “The strong do what they have to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.” Are we destined to suffer what politicians do because we are too weak to stand up and take part? We will let our health care be dictated by Michael Moore simply because he has a camera?

I’ll let the op-ed sit for a day or so, look at it again, and then get some input from some people I respect.

Fellow, NSPE

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I received the letter, lapel pin, and certificate today all indicating that I am now a Fellow of the National Society of Professional Engineers. It is a pretty good feeling. I was nominated by the Mississippi Engineering Society and they can only nominate one per year. A long-time friend and fellow past-president of the Mississippi Engineering Society was the driving force behind preparing the package and it took a lot of his time. I owe him a meal.


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While getting ready for work this morning I was listening to “Morning Sedition” from National Public Radio and they did a story on a book entitled Embrace the Suck: A pocket Guide to Milspeak Compiled and Introduced by Col. Austin Bay, an Army Colonel. It sounded interesting so I looked it on the web and found a neat little web site.

The New Pamphleteer offers some neat little books for sale. Well, they are not really books, they are pamphlets. They are inexpensive, about $4.00 per copy, and when you order one you can get a link to download a pdf of the pamphlet.

This is getting back to what I think some of our publishing needs to be. Just as Thomas Paine wrote and distributed Common Sense in pamphlet format, these books are in pamphlet format. They are short and focused. I have to wonder, what would our society be like today if more pamphlets were made available to the general public? Sure, I’ll still read a 300 page book on a topic of interest, but will everyone? Do we need a 300 page book on every topic? I think not. A short pamphlet works just fine for many topics.


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I made a quick trip down south to present a paper at the Mississippi and Louisiana Political Science Associations annual meeting. My paper was entitled “Military and Humanitarian Assistance Organizations: Is there Common Ground?” It was an enjoyable trip, even if it was a bit rushed. I had some work to do Friday morning so I left just in time to make it to my panel and then I had to leave afterwards. I would have liked to have stayed for some of the other papers.

I did get to stop in a visit my grandmother and have dinner with my parents on the way home though. Made for a long day but worth the effort.


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I was supposed to begin comprehensive exams today but I decided to put them off until the fall semester. It was a difficult decision to make because I want to get on with things. But, I came down with some sort of crud and have been pretty much out of commission for over a week. There is no sense in doing something if you know you can't do your best when there is an option to do it later. I exercised the option.


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I met with MSU officials and the Solar Car team from Houston Vocational Center this morning as we had discussions on what we could do to continue to help this team excel. The team has been participating in the Dell Winston Solar Car Challenge the last several years and have been winning! I was today, and have been in the past, very impressed with this group of students. They work hard, have a well-organized team, and are always planning to make things better.

It seems a little unusual that a team from Houston, Mississippi would have such capabilities, and such a record of success, but it simply shows that we truly do have some excellent students and teachers in Mississippi. Granted, not all schools are like this, but it is nice to see a bright spot here and there. Previous competitions have also proven that the community is behind this team.


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Yesterday it was trip to the Mississippi Delta to visit Delta State University; today it was a trip back to the delta to visit with faculty and students at Mississippi Delta Community College. The trip was enjoyable, I was well received, and I had some good interaction with everyone present.

The faculty is certainly interested in what they are doing and seem to be well-respected and liked by their students. The students seemed intelligent and many were interested in engineering. I met with a student group that was a little larger than I had expected and I went prepared to talk rather than do PowerPoint. I had some good interaction with the students but they were not as engaging as I had hoped for. Perhaps it was the size of the group or perhaps I was bit tired from two trips in as many days to the Delta. Regardless, I think it was a worthwhile trip.

I submitted the letter below to the Clarion Ledger tonight because I have had all I can handle with their incessant harping on the process used to hire MSU's latest president. I had some friends who engaged certain "celebrities" at the Clarion Ledger during the hiring process (although I elected to remain out of the debate then) and was privy to some of the email exchanges. I have no doubt that this was a personal issue with those "celebrities" who were denied what they think of as their rights.


Come on Clarion Ledger! Grow up! Get over it! Let it go! Quit acting like a bunch little bitty cry babies! I've had all I can take of the "fiasco" of Foglesong. You guys are simply upset because your reporters were in Jackson, outside the room where Foglesong was interviewed, and you missed it. Your crack reporters were not issued a press release and you missed it!

You admit, at every opportunity, that the decision to hire Foglesong was a good one, but you continue to complain about the process. What do you want, good results or good processes? Thankfully, we have people on the IHL Board who are more concerned with making a good selection than with making the Clarion Ledger happy with a process. If you don't like the secrecy then perhaps you could try some investigative reporting for a change! You need to adapt a new world, a world in which certain people can not admit they are looking for a new job without endangering their current position.

Further, the "fiasco" was all the making of the Clarion Ledger. It is common knowledge that had the process not been closed, Foglesong would not have been a candidate. So, let's put it terms even Clarion Ledger editors can understand: closed process equals doing what's best for Mississippi; open process equals making the Clarion Ledger happy but eliminates good candidates thereby giving Mississippi second best. Therefore, in the interest of Mississippi, I can only hope that IHL repeats the "fiasco". The IHL Board members are, after public servants, not Clarion Ledger servants.

Come on editors, let’s be big boys and girls about this--Grow up and move on! You're holding us back.

This was prompted by the 28 August editorial "College Board: Now, two searches at hand". I fail to see what the problem is with the two searches to be conducted anyway. First, there is no guarantee that Thames will not elect to remain at USM until a new president at Alcorn is found. Second, it is possible that a long-term interim will be appointed at Alcorn allowing time to find a replacement for USM's Thames. Finally, Alcorn and Southern are two different schools and will attract applicants from different pools. If consultants are used for these searches, and I'm certain they will be, then there is no reason why the IHL Board can not handle two simultaneous searches.

Dateline: Ambassador Hotel, Chicago

What a day! I attended some good sessions and heard some good ideas that I want incorporate into the Engineering and Public Policy class next year. Some we may even discus for the Introduction to Engineering class. I was especially impressed with the students who were here and co-presenting with their professors. It gives me some ideas for next year.

I had a great dinner with two leaders of the field and in the Engineering and Public Policy Division of ASEE. We only have about 150 members in the division but we had a little over 300 attend the distinguished lecture this morning. That is a good sign.

I am also happy that the number of schools that appear to be integrating public policy into the engineering curricula is growing. A couple of thoughts did cross my mind to day in some of the meetings.

First, there seems to be an us/them argument that is often cited. "Us" are the engineers who develop the technology and "them" are those who regulate the technology. For example, in nanotechnology, "we" have made some advancements, recognize some concerns, but "they" have not proposed any regulations. Should we wait for regulations or should we propose them? I fall firmly in the camp that "us", or at least some of us, should become "them". Why should engineers sit around and wait for the lawyers (no offense meant) to develop the regulations.

Fortunately, this week I have some students who seem to be well on their way to becoming them.

Dateline: Ambassador East, Chicago, IL

I left early this morning for the ASEE conference in Chicago. Delta got it right with all flights pretty much on time and limited frustration. I still get a little ticked at the escalator riders...come on, walk up and down those puppies and get a little exercise!

Arrive at the Hyatt Regency well in advance of my presentation, meet some colleagues, ate a bite of lunch, and then went on at 1415. I thought the presentation was pretty good, certainly a little different. Other presentations in the session were also excellent and I picked up some good information. I’ll attend some more sessions tomorrow and I moderate one session.

The Division chair pointed out that the division has been idle since about 2000 and this was the first meeting since then. Since I was first up I can say I was the first presenter of the newly revised Engineering and Public Policy Division. He also mentioned that he wasn't sure if this was a sign of renewed interest in the area or if there was just a backlog of papers that were ready to be published. I agree, I don't know.

Had a nice dinner at the Grand Lux.

I sent in a response to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Engineering Society today opposing the proposed NCEES Model Law. Actually, we are not opposed to the model law itself, only to the part that would require some 30 hours of additional education beyond the BS degree to become licensed as a professional engineer.

My primary objection to the proposal is that the entire process is being driven by civil engineers. I remember a few years ago when this movement first got started, the talk was to require a Master's degree for licensure. After some objections that was changed to only 30 semester hours--essentially a Master's degree only without the research and thesis. This entire process has been proposed by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the other professional and technical societies have only talked about it as a result of the ASCE proposal, and that talk has been scarce. As far as I can tell, no other organization is pushing for such a requirement.

My objections to the proposed law are the detrimental effects I think it would have on the professional licensing of engineers. Currently (and regrettably) engineering graduates can work in industry without a PE license; therefore not all graduates pursue licensing. I do encourage licensing but it is oftentimes a tough sell. The exams are not easy, they are not cheap, and the FE Exam is given on Saturday! After four years of experience the engineer is rewarded with the opportunity to take another eight hour exam. If an additional 30 hours of coursework were to be required, the number of engineers pursuing licensure would drop even more.

Now, I'm not proposing that we have lower standards just to get people to participate. On the contrary, I believe we should have high standards; I believe all engineers should be licensed. I simply do not see the need for the requirement of additional education hours. If this additional education is essential to the successful practice of engineering then why are the other engineering organizations not jumping on the band wagon with ASCE? If licensed engineers are lacking in requisite skills, then where are the engineering failures? Why is the public not screaming for reform?

The ultimate solution, I believe, is a re-engineering of civil engineering. Currently the expectations are that civil engineers know something about everything. If a civil engineer wants to design bridges, he or she will still have to learn a little bit about wastewater treatment. If they want to practice environmental engineering then they will need to learn a little something about transportation too. It has always been this way, but does that mean it needs to continue to be that way? I think not.

We live in a different world now than we did even a decade or two ago. Engineers work in teams; the lone practitioner is going away or focusing their practice to a narrow area. Perhaps it is time to break civil engineering into different engineering fields. We could start with environmental engineering--move it out of civil engineering proper, allowing civil engineers to focus on roads, bridges, structures and transportation. Wastewater treatment, water treatment, storm water run-off, etc. could fall under environmental engineering and we could even add pollution prevention, air pollution control, maybe even noise pollution.

It may sound like a radical idea, but is that not exactly what has happened over the last century with other engineering disciplines? Was aerospace engineering, now a separate discipline, not at one time part of mechanical engineering? Was chemical engineering even not part of mechanical engineering? Each of those is now a separate discipline because the information needed to know in order successfully practice each branch grew to the point that it was too much for one person to learn and still be good at it all. An option would have been to keep it all together and require several hundred hours of credit to earn a mechanical engineering degree, but would that solve anything? Does someone designing a machine need to be competent in the design of a chemical reactor or aircraft controls?

Civil engineering needs to change, and the change will be difficult, but it needs to happen. The proposed model law will not solve the problem, if indeed there even is a problem. What it will do, if adopted, is reduce the number of engineers who pursue licensing, and that is bad not just for civil engineering, but for all branches of engineering, and the public will suffer the most.


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Dateline: Home Study

Tom Barnett posted a link to a podcast of an interview he did a while back about Blueproint for Action. It can be found here
You can read Tom's blog here:

Dateline: Home Study

I finished the final edit of the syllabus for Engineering and Public Policy today and uploaded it to WebCT. The semester is just around the weekend and I'm still not quite ready for it.


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Dateline: Home Study

We had the first Leadership Book Club meeting today and discussed Who Moved my Cheese? Although I was disappointed with the number of students we had participate, I was not disappointed with the quality. I hope that as we begin this on a regular basis again, participation will increase.

Cheese is a great book, an easy read, but packs a powerful message. Namely, changed is inevitable and all we can do is choose how we deal with the change. The book was first recommended to me by a Navy Admiral some years ago and I read the night he recommended it. It has received its share of bad press because it is so short, but the message makes up for that.

The next book we read will be Powerful Conversations by Phil Harkin.

Dateline: Home Study

Charles Lee, the President of Mississippi State University, announced this afternoon that he would be retiring. Now the search is on for a new President and I can't help but wonder what it will be like. The last search was certainly botched, promises were made and broken, and the outrageously expensive consulting firm that was hired to help in the search could not find it their budget to even acknowledge the receipt of a nomination.

The announcement follows:

The real question will be to find who is truly in charge this time--the University, the Institutions of Higher Learning, the legislature, or the alumni who long for the university they attended but do not realize it has long-since changed. But I must remember, this is Mississippi I'm in, where we have never had a difficult time selling ourselves short. I pray we don't do it this time.

What do I want to see in the next president? Easy. First, there should be strong leadership, the kind that makes you want to go to places you never gone before and do things you've never done before, the kinds of leaders I've been privileged to know in the military. Second, someone with a vision, a vision of the university in 20 or 30 years and someone who is willing to take the steps to implement that visions. Third, I’d like to see a strong decision maker; someone who will make decisions quickly but carefully. Someone who is not afraid to involve others in the decision-making process but realizes he (or she) must make the decision. Fourth, a delegater. Someone who knows that they do not know everything, recognizes their weaknesses, and brings in people to compensate for those weaknesses. Will we find such a person? I don't know but I can hope. I wonder, is Vice Admiral Gaffney ready for a change?


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Dateline: Home Study

My visit to the pre-professional day at Meridian Communty College went well. Actually it went much better than I expected and my only regret is that we did not have more time. I mainly talked to community college students and then some students from Meridian High School came by. I had just a little time to talk to the high school students but some of the MCC students stayed around and we talked for a long while.

It did end a little earlier than I had planned so I had time to make it back in time to meet with the new faculty in the afternoon. That also went well but the meeting lasted a little longer than it probably should have. The reason it lasted so long is that we all had a lot of good things to say.

When I got home from work today I also had package, a big package, sitting on the porch. My Boston Rocker from College Chair with the US Naval War College seal arrived. It looks really noce and is comfortable to sit in as well. It is going to my office-office. I already ahve the standard chair at home, and it too is pretty comfortable and looks really good.


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Dateline: Home Study

Tomorrow it is up early and off to Meridian Community College for a pre-professional day. I'm not sure what to expect but with luck I'll hit upon afew good students who are truly interested in and capable of doing engineering in college. At a fair last week in Memphis I actually had some one "not on the university track" wonder about engineering. It is always difficult handling those students becasue they have their hearts set on something but they will simply not be able to do it.

We generally do not get many engineeing students from the mMeridian Community College but I'll at least show the flag. Maybe the pay-off will be in the out years. It is a relatively short trip so it will not be too bad. I have to hurry back to work though and talk to our new faculty members in the afternoon.

ABET Visit Complete

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Dateline: Home Study

Well the ABET visit is complete. The departments have worked for about the last year or so getting ready for this and today we passed a major milestone. The evaluators arrived Sunday afternoon and worked pretty much non-stop until this afternoon at which time they left to go home. We still ahve some work to do but everyone seems fairly pleased with the results so far. Pleased enough to have a nice get together after work to let off a little steam...okay, a lot of steam.


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Dateline: Home Study

Got this from a friend today and it was too good to not post.



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Dateline: Home Study

Years ago, many years ago, I studied Thomas S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions in a Philosophy of Science class. Imagine my delight when I studied it again, this past week, in a PhD Public Policy class. A lot has changed since I first read Kuhn; I’ve grown older, I have a broader vision, and I can see some connections that I could never have seen twenty-four years ago. For example, I could never have seen a connection between Kuhn, this book, and social sciences.

But now I’m wondering. Does Kuhn help explain some recent changes? Is the DoD transformation a Kuhnian paradigm shift? Do we still need a paradigm shift to handle homeland security, especially Katrina-like events?

Class made it clear, once again, that the profession of Public Policy is searching for a home. We discussed in “Scope” class some two years ago and I’m not sure much has changed. First there is the problem of home: political science or business? Or should the program be housed in some institute? Who knows? Then are those with differences in what the degree should do. The MA program is, for the most part, strictly practitioner oriented, as it probably should be, then there is the more theoretical, research oriented doctoral program. And within that program there are those who are more interested in the “administration” part and those more interested in the “policy” part of Public Policy and Administration (I’m one of the policy people).

I also began thinking of how Kuhn could apply to Thomas P M Barnett’s new rule set. Is his leviathan and sysadmin model a paradigm shift or just another theory? Is the core and non-integrating gap explanation of the world a Kuhnian paradigm shift or simply “normal” science at work? Hard to tell and I’m nit sure we will be able to tell anytime soon. The thing about paradigm shifts is that I don’t think you ever see them coming or see them happening; you can only look back and say “there it was”.


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Dateline: Home Study

Today we had an off-site retreat for the College. It lasted all day but really didn't seem that long. Some parts dragged a little but by and large, things went smoothly and quickly. It was fun being in a room with the heads and directors today and hearing their ideas.

The goal of the retreat was to develop a strategic plan and set goals for where we want to be in 2010. It was refreshing to hear eveyone talking about outcomes rather than input; something that is not a common practice for others at the University. We tend to set things like enrollment goals without ever seemingly giving any thought to graduates or what it will take to service those students. The college however was thinking about he outcome, what it would take to serve the students to reach the outcomes, and then what we need to have for inputs to get the desired outcomes.

As can be expected, there was some disagreement but it was all friendly and merely a reflection of everyone trying to get the best they could out of the goals. There is still some work to do but we are well on the way to having a plan. I hope to get the plan, at one point, down to something we can summarize on a business card and give to everyone so they can easily see the golas when ever they need to.


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Dateline: Home Study

I went to the commissioning ceremony for Army and Air Force ROTC cadets today. It was good to see some friends who have detached and moved away as well as see some new friedns who have just arrived.

The best part of the day was to see the nervous yet excited cadets taking their oaths of office and the smiling parents/grandparents/spouses and firneds with them. Seeing this bunch brings home to the point there is an awfully lot that is right about today's college graduates.

Dateline: Fairfield Inn Greensboro, NC

Arrived tonight in Greensboros for drill after another long trip. I left work later than planned (I always do) but had a meeting with someone interviewing for a faculty position. It was a nice meeting and the position is one of the more visible. Worth the delay.

Of course the delay meant hitting Atlanta traffic at the wrong time. I keep thinking that one day Atlanta will get this traffic thing figured out but they seem to do it. At least I don't live there and have to deal with it everyday. Lots of people on the road tonight for some reason. Lots of people who shouldn't be on the road tonight. I continue to be amazed at how many poor drivers there are and how they can block all lanes of traffic, and I'll not even start on the inconsiderate truck drivers out there. There are some nice ones but nothing like just a few years ago.

During the drive I did have some time to think, listen to the news, and catch some talk radio. Bill O'Reilly was really down on the Brits for being anti-American based on editorials in British papers. I think he's just plain wrong. If editorials were reflective of the people's thinking and feelings, then the New York Times would have Al Gore in his second term as President.

While at the Current Strategy Forum at the Naval ar College, a German militarry person was asked, in effect, why weren't the Germans more supportive of America. After talking for a while, he finally made the point that there is a difference between the German government and the German people. Hmmm, just like in America. Perhaps just like in Great Britain? Yea, I think so.

Put some more thought into the Leadership Academy. More on it later.


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Dateline: Home Study

I spent some time today working out a budget for a new center dealing with engineering and public policy issues. Quite an experience. We have some really good plans if we can only get the money to put them in action.

I also spent a little time thinking about an Op-Ed I've been asked to write. I have some ideas and they are coming together so maybe I can sit down and write some over the weekend.

Today I received an invitation to a change of command ceremony of a friend and truly regret that I'll be out of the country and not able to attend. That really bites big time becasue is one CoC I would really like to go to. The is a former RESCEN CO of mine who I spent a lot of time with on drill weekends. They have a roast planned for him and I know that will be a lot of fun.


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Dateline: On the front porch swing

Absence of blog entries does not indicate a lack of writing. I finished three graduate courses in Public Policy and Administration in the last few weeks, all of which required final papers. So, in a matter of only a few days I wrote somewhere around 60 to 70 pages. And while some find it hard to believe, I enjoyed it!

The semester is over, students have left for summer break, and I’ve graded papers in the Engineering and Public Policy class we offered this spring on an experimental basis. I think the class went well so we may try to continue it next year, resources permitting. I’m still sorting through the evaluations the students did of the class itself. Some comments were very helpful, others were not. There is always the case where one student writes that they love something and another writes that they hate the same thing. What to do? Some comments were expected; others were not but are very helpful in showing us what was beneficial and what was not. There are also those comments that come zinging in from somewhere and make little sense. You wonder if the student and you were in the same class.

Summer is here now, not that we ever really have Spring in Starkville, so I get a little break. I am taking some dissertation research hours and hope I can refine my dissertation topic a little bit and get serious about working on it. I have many, many books to read so I may be able to catch up on those, and I also plan to start a more formal leadership program in the Fall so I need to work on that. As always, there is never enough time.


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Dateline: Residence Inn, Annapolis, MD

I worked this morning in the office for a little while and took care of some things but much more is piled up. Spent most of the morning on the phone talking to people about school and scholarships. I did get teh paperwork signed off on for classes this summer and next fall. Will do some dissertation hours this summer then two classes in the fall which should be fun. I've been told by a classmate that one of the classes will be fun and should be too tough given my background so that'll be nice.

Left Starkville wih dark clouds rolling in. I knew the flight would be cancelled but we took off early, flew fast, and even landed early. The climb to altitude was one of the best rides I've had yet--lots of bumps and jumps. Weather in Atlanta was nicer so we took off on time and arrived at BWI early. I picked up the car that was arrancged by the Navy at Thrifty (I never seem to rent from the same place twice in a row) and drove to the hotel in Annapolis.

Tomorrow we'll have meetings and a VTC, then perhaps some networking tomorrow evening and head home Sunday morning. A quick trip but I think we will get a lot accomplished.

Watching the news about the Pope now. He has certainly made an impact on the world which makes it silly when people email news shows with questions like "I'm not Catholic but do you think the Pope spoke for all Christians or just the Catholics?" Makes you wonder what planet this person grew up on. Does President Bush speak for the entire United States or just the Republicans? People are truly amazing!

Still nothing on fixing my DSL so it is looking like cable early next week. My ISP asked if they could have until Monday and I agreed. The thing is that it is not their problem, the problem is hardware which belongs to BellSouth and since I do not have them as my ISP they are not too inclined to help much. I really hate to change because I've been with this ISP for somthing like 8 or 9 years but, if I can't get what I need then it is time to change. Four weeks is a little long to deal with this problem and I am more frustrated than ever.

I read Just War Against Terror by Jean Elshtain for a report that was due last Thursday and am now going through the book again. I found it to be very interesting that an academic belives in the war (at least did when she wrote the book). She makes some interesting points that I find refreshing and I really liked the part about how academics seem to think they can only be against something. I also to read another book by her for the class and that should be good as well.

Now, its off to bed. I'll leave the computer on playing the new tunes I picked up in the Airport, Ultra Chilled 05 by the ellusive "various artists" and The Cosmic Game by Thievery Corporation. So far it sounds like nice chillin' music.

Still having DSL problems

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The DSL problems continue. I was told that the BellSouth guy would be out today to look at things and instead I got a message this afternoon that my problem had been elevated to tier 2 service and a new guy would get with me and have the BellSouth guy come look it over. I'm sorely tempted to just say screw it, bit the bullet, swallow my pride, and call the cable company. I prefer DSL over cable but iff DSL is not working then cable is preferable. I can't afford a nother week of not being able to do what I need to do. So, when the guy calls tomorrow I think my response will be I'll stay with you if you can get my DSL fixed quicker than the cable company can get me on-line. I hate to do it but when fiber is essentially located in my backyard (really, not more than 500 feet from my house) and I can't keep a connection at night.

I'm also getting tired othe excuse that it is inside wiring. I know it is not inside wiring, I know it is an intermittent problem, and I know it may well be a difficult problem to solve, but solve it! I can have new cable in the house in no time and it will cost nothing to install. Cable is looking better al the time.

Other than that, we had a senior staff meeting today and reviewed some benchmarks with other universities. There is certainly room for improvement, who can't get b etter, but I think we are doing pretty good. What we really need is good, solid support from the University and the State, support which both would like to give but can't within the existing budget. Funny, we are a 127 year old institution and we can't decide what we want to be when we grow up.

Today was supposed to be filled with reading a book for a paper that is due which I ordered from Amazon yesterday and had shipped overnight. But, it didn’t quite turn out that way. I did get some of the book read but not nearly as much as I had planned. However, I did get a few other things done that I have been putting off.

For the longest time the Navy has claimed they are moving to a new security paradigm for email and websites that will require the use of a SmartCard. Well the SmartCard also serves as our ID card and is a pretty cool device. Coincidentally there was an article on the Technology Review web site about it today. I’ve had the USB card reader and software for a while but have heard so many complaints and problems resulting from installing it, I put the installation off as long as I thought safe. I also needed to have a card reader for my laptop. The Navy’s solution is to move the bulky USB reader with me when I take my laptop. Well I have enough stuff to carry when I travel and the idea of another device with cable bothers me. I was able to find a supplier of a PCMCIA card reader which I installed on the laptop, again without a problem.

DSL is still not working all the time but BellSouth should be out to check things on Monday. I hope they get it fixed. We just got rid of TV Cable because of rising rates, too few channels, and not particularly good service. I’d hate to have to have cable now just for broadband. Satellite is a possibility but they limit download speeds on that and if I am paying for high-speed then I want high-speed all the time. I also like to tune into Sirius some at night and I can’t do that when DSL keeps disconnecting on me.

Academic Freedom of Speech...Well Sorta

Larry Summers, President of Harvard, is still in hot water and can;t seem to get out. About a month ago he made some remarks at a meeting about women scoring lower on some test than men and that may be the reason why women are underrepresneted in engineering and science fields. Okay, probably not the best thing to say at a meeting. I'm not even sure it is true. I do know the women I know in engineering are as smart, if not smarter, than any man in the field.

Dr. Summers says he was asked to be conrtoversial at the meeting and that is why he made the comments. Well he certainly stimulated conrtoversy and is now likely to be strung up as a sacrifice to the policitally correct god. As a president of a university he does indeed need to meet a higher standard but is what he said, under the conditions he said it, all that bad? He has apologized many times, created task forces to look into women's issues, yet some Harvard faculty really want to see him gone, all because of something he said.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Colorado, we have a professor who has said really nasty things about 9/11 and Americans. Some want to see him gone from higher education, if not from the entire country, but many run to his aid and claim he is entitled to say what he wants becuase of his freedom of speech. Okay, do the faculty and others have the right to freely criticize this guy and call for his termination?

So what gives here? On one side of the Mississippi we can't get rid of a professor because of what he said but on the other side we can. One university is private, the other public but does that really matter in this case? Must you only be below a certain rank to say anything controversial?

A few years ago at the Naval War College, I attended a conference where one speaker introduced himself and gave his job title as Cheif Devil's Advocate. He claimed that his job in his organization at the Pentagon was to always be a devil's advocate. No matter what position was taken, he would always take the opposite just to make sure everyone had their thinking caps on. Sounds like Larry Summers was asked to be a devil's advocate and is now being sent to meet the devil. Unfairness rules the day once again in academia.

An Interesting Week

Last week was a very interesting week all things considered. I met with some students, we had Engineer's Week (a week early), and we had some consultants come from elsewhere to review our Honors Program. We ended with a very nice dinner Friday night with the folks from Honors and had a very good time. They seemed to think our Honors program was doing some very good things but they also had some suggestions for improvement. Of course improvement means money and money requires someone willing to give it. They claimed the University Administration is behind this program and that some funding may result. I hope so.

Unfortunately right now we are in the mode of wanting to be the biggest University in the state rather than focusing on being the best. What bothers me is the underlying premise that we can not be both. When I think of some of the best universities around I do not think of any that are having trouble recruiting students--most are turning students away. Why can we not be that way? Well, the truth is we can. But we have to be careful. If we go for the short-term gains of more students, for assess in classes, without considering the quality, then focusing on quality later will be damn near impossible. I have this feeling that we are suffering from the lack of a grand vision of what we can be.

I also lost a Sailor this week. One of my Seamen was found dead outside her of house. I understand the investigation is still on-going (but I live so far away it is hard to keep up) but foul-play is not suspected at this time. It is terrible to lose anyone you know but it is particulalrly hard to lose someone in your unit. My Chiefs and I had worked with the Sailor and had great hopes for what she could accomplish. She left behind her children which is perhaps the saddest part. Growing up in this world is tough enough but to do it without a mother is, I'm afraid, asking too much.

Mid-Term exams start next week and I really need to be working on one right now. Guess I better go and get on it.

Leadership and the New Year

The new year begins and I go back to work on Monday (actually that is later today). The two weeks off for Christmas Holidays has been good but it always seems too short. I enter the vacation with a long list of things to do and exit it with a longer list of things to to do. I had planned to write and read and did not do nearly enough of either. I did however rest a little.

We now officially have a new Dean. He started before the holidays unofficially which gave everyone a chance to get their bearings before taking leave. There are many challenges ahead for us and now that this uncertainity has been settled, we can move forward. We were fortunate to have two outstanding interim deans but there is only so much anyone can do when they are given charge for an indefinite amount of time. The decision process took far too long butthat seems commmon in higher education. Change comes at glacial speeds.

One of the new tasks I have been asked to look into is how to best develop leadership skills of our students. I have had some valuable thinking time about that over the holidays and will try to get some ideas on paper this week. Higher education is certainly in need of leadership and I can thik no place better to begin that with our own students.

This afternoon I had even more time to think as I went in to the office. Actually I went on campus when things were quiet to get pictures of "flat Joshua" at campus landmarks for my nephwe but ended up in the office. I noticed that once again the floors were dirty and we have substandard custodial services. I decided that the only way the floors would get clean, to my satisfaction, wouldbe to do them myself. So, I puled out the vacuum cleaner and went to town.

I've met with the person who runs custodial services several times but I always get the same excuses; the budgets have been cut, they are understaffed, there are too many buildings, etc. While the excuses are true, they should not be excuses. Everyone has suffered budget cuts but we are educating more, not fewer, students. Our alumni were able to donate millions of dollars for the renovation of our building but the University can not keep it clean.

One thing I have learned over the years is that money is not always the motivator it is made out to be. Sure, there is a certain level you have to pay so people can survive, and you have to somewhat match the going rate in the market, but beyond that, money does very little to improve productivity. I've seen many people get raises and their productivity remained the same or even declined. What people value is being valued; they want to be a part of the team; they want to feel important. And that, my friends, takes leadership--leadership we seemingly lack in certain places.

Custodians are often underappreciated. They typically work at night or behind the scenes and do not receive much notice. The few exceptions I run across were while at USSOUTHCOM when they were always noticed. As they entered the doors it was announced that an uncleared person was in the room. Folders were closed, computer screens were locked down, desk drawers were closed, and some conversations were halted abruptly. We said hello as the custodian was escorted through the room to empty the trash and then left. Once the "Area Secure" announcement was made, we got back to work.

Our custodians no longer have ownership of a building anymore and I think it shows in the work. Years back a building "belonged" to a custodian and they took pride in their work. If something was wrong you knew was at fault. Now, there is too much room to spread the blame or credit and I think some pride of ownership has been lost.

Now that pride comes from the top. You have to have good people working for you but then the pride and sense of belonging to a team comes from the top. I have that feeling, why was I out vacuuming floors on a Sunday afternoon? And I'm not the only one either. In our office we all take pride in what we do and how our spaces look. It drives people in other departments on campus crazy sometimes byt we are very visible and people do form impressions of you based on appearances. If they see dirty, cluttered offices, their opinions are that we are dirty disorganized people and they question our ability to educate their children or meet their needs. It is really elementary but that seems to be missed by so many on campus these days. Our visitors don't care about budget cuts or staff shortages; they care about appearances.

One day, when I'm king, there will be some changes made. Leaders will be developed and those who lead best will be promoted and given even greater responsibility. The end result will be a more effective, efficient organization focused on meeting the needs of our external customers rather than worrying about budget cuts and staff shortages which, by the way, have been the norm for the 20 something years I've been involved in higher education. I doubt it will change anytime soon.

But no, for the bigger problem. How to make our students into leaders for tomorrow so we can break the leadership problem our country faces in many areas? Ideas? Email me.

There are some days that seem to never go right and then there are days that start with a bang. I received email from a student I've met several times in the science fair. As a Navy judge at the regional, state, and international fairs, I try to engage the students, talk to them, and keep them interested in science and engineering. If it takes judging a science fair project to do that, then I'll judge the science fair project.

Over the years I've met some really great students--students who show me that there is a future and it is bright. They are the students you never hear about because they are not arrested, never get in trouble, and generally do run for student body president. Some may play sports but by and large, they are not the star athletes. These students are the ones who study and work hard. They go home and work on projects. They spend extra in the science lab or programming the computer. And they also happen to be nice people who are fun to talk to.

There has been off an on talk in the Navy about whether or not they should continue to support the Science and Engineering fairs. They do cost a lot of money and take up a lot of time. But I've always thought they were worth the effort. A few years ago an improvising employee in the Office of Naval Research realized that the Navy Reserve could help. She happened to be a Reservist herself so she understood the talent available and that they happened to live throughout the US and not just in the fleet concentration areas. What better place to look judges! Since that time, judges have been free. There is some cost involved with travel for the International Science and Engineering Fair, but no pay for the judges.

So, what brought this on? Well I received this email (names and places changed to protect the innocent)

I was looking at the MSU website today and came across your name. What a shock! I am not sure if you will remember me or not but I thought I would write either way. My name is *****. I was a Science & Engineering Fair participant from ****** High School. I competed on the junior high and high school level from 1998-2003. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend ISEF in May 2002 as an observer and compete in 2003. Every year I remember bumping into you. I think this may be the perfect time to let you know what impact you had on me. Each year I looked so forward to explaining my project to you, just to see your reaction. Thank you for always encouraging me. I truly feel that it is because of you, the Science & Engineering Fairs, and ISEF that I decided to major in chemistry. I am currently a sophomore at ******. Soon I will be transferring to a university to complete my degree and then continue on to medical school or graduate school. This past summer I worked at *****in the ****** Building in a program called REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates). I tell you this just to prove to you that science is my true love. I want to thank you for always being a positive influence for me. You made my Science & Engineering Fair experiences memorable. I wanted you to know that you had something to do with my love for science and to thank you!

Now that makes it all worth the effort. I've often wondered if I, or any of the judges, were having an impact so to hear that I did on at least one student was great.

It turns out I did remember the student (honestly, over the years you meet so many it is hard to keep them straight) and she was a great student. I have no doubt that she will go on to do great things and I am proud that I and the US Navy had some small role in it.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Education category.

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