June 30, 2006
Farewell, College of Human Ecology
Today is the last day in the 100+ year existence of the College of Human Ecology at the University of Minnesota.
Although we have been told that we have much to look forward to in our new collegiate home (a re-configured and expanded College of Education and Human Development), this day should not pass without noting that the faculty, staff, and students of the College of Human Ecology (formerly College of Home Economics) made many significant contributions to the University, to the State of Minnesota, to the U.S., and to the world.
The history of the College is recorded in Journey Home: College of Human Ecology, 1894 - 1996, written by a committee of former administrators, faculty and staff, chaired by Keith McFarland, Dean Emeritus of the college. I won't repeat the history here, except to note that the first baccalaureate program in Home Economics was launched in 1900. So the College was 106 years old at the time of its elimination. Here are photos of the visionary deans that provided leadership for the college from 1900 - 2006.
Although my undergraduate degree was in psychology and my Ph.D. was in child psychology, all my faculty positions have been within Colleges or Departments of Home Economics, whose names were later changed to Human Ecology. That's a run of almost 30 years. As a newbie Assistant Professor back in 1977, I knew little about Home Economics, but knew that Child Development and Family Relationships was one of its sub-specializations. I came to have great admiration, affection, and respect for the discipline of Human Ecology. Although some of the field's detractors don't think it is a discipline, I strongly believe that it is. In fact, its conceptual foundation provides much richer ground on which to stand than is possessed by many other colleges in the university, which are mainly units of administrative convenience (e.g., Liberal Arts, Institute of Technology, etc.)
Descriptors of the discipline of human ecology include the following: interdisciplinary, holistic, systemic, ecological. Its domains of concern are about the application of the arts and the sciences to everyday life - but I don't mean that in a trivial sense. It's about the emotional dynamics of real families in which real children grow up; it's about ways in which educational programs for new parents help reduce the incidence of child abuse; it's about understanding the connections between children's lives in their families, their day care centers, and their peer groups -- and much much much more.
It will be critically important that the human ecological approach be brought forward and integrated into the new collegiate home to which we have been assigned. Fortunately, I think our "adjacent disciplines" have been moving in this direction as well over the past 30 years, so I hope that the interdisciplinary, holistic, systemic, ecological views that we have nurtured in CHE will easily be assimilated by our new colleagues.
As a relatively small college, CHE was able to be innovative and less bureaucratic than some of our larger sibling colleges. Despite the advantages of being nimble in this way, the trend at the U is clearly toward consolidation, centralization, and standardization. The pendulum has swung in this direction quickly and violently; I suspect it will swing back in due time, but probably not for a number of years.
So farewell to the College of Human Ecology -- to its traditions, its innovations, its humanistic values, and its wonderful people.
At this point, we know what we have lost, but we don't know yet what we will be gaining. So the feelings of sadness have been palpable up and down the hall. Wnen I drove up the hill next to McNeal after being out of town and saw that the college's banner had been taken down, the sense of loss hit me one more time.
A ray of hope is that the university has hired a dynamic and visionary dean to lead the new CEHD; she'll be arriving October 1, although she is already making her presence known. I'm eager to work with her.
Transitions are always bittersweet, and it's only fitting to honor our history, even if the future holds promise. So on the last day of this venerable unit, hats off to the College of Human Ecology, its leaders, its students, and its many loyal alumni. It's been a good ride, and it's been my privilege to have been a part of it.
June 14, 2006
More Blog-Mediated Serendipity
Here's another serendipitous occurrence, mediated by this blog. About a week ago, my wife received an e-mail from a woman in Anchorage, Alaska who was doing genealogy on our family name. She found us (and me) because of my blog post last September, when I wrote a piece in honor of my father's 85th birthday. After finding his name, she shook the family tree a bit and wrote to find out if we might have a common ancestor -- a fellow who purportedly came to the U.S. in 1752, hired by the British as a mercenary to fight those colonial upstarts (Oh, the shame of it!). His home appears to have been Heerte, Braunschweig, Germany (rather than somewhere in the Netherlands). Anyway, after a number of rapid-fire e-mails, Family Tree Maker determined that my Anchorage correspondent and I are 5th cousins. Amazing!
We are leaving tomorrow for a family wedding in Boston, and I'll be talking to as many people as I can about our family history. The new discovery of my 5th cousin probably would not have happened had I not been writing in this blog. So, to follow up on the question I posed earlier about whether I should continue blogging, the answer for now is ... definitely yes. It's been a source of satisfaction and new discoveries and an outlet for reflections I probably wouldn't have uttered outside the space of my own brain. So stay tuned for *Inner Geek - year 2* ...
June 13, 2006
What's Your Number?
I had a conversation with a graduate student last week during which I found myself constructing a scale of expertise in quantitative methods. I've thought about it some more and think it has some interesting ramifications for how we teach methods and statistics, how we train graduate students to be prepared for the job market, and how we select consultants for grants, all of which I do. I'm sharing it here as a work in progress and would be interested in comments and refinements.
In the quantitative spirit, I think of this type of expertise on a quasi-interval scale (more than ordinal but less than interval) from 0 - 5.
A person rated as a 5 on this scale is a methodological and/or statistical innovator. He or she thoroughly understands the math and statistics behind the computer programs and may indeed develop new methods and techniques for solving problems. He or she may also write software to make these techniques available. Here, I'm thinking of a person like Bengt Muthen from UCLA who is a statistician par excellence, develops computer software to make the statistics available and also understands the substantive needs in the field. Or Dave Kenny, who for years has pioneered in developing techniques for analyzing data at the level of the couple and the family.
A person rated as a 4 has strong statistical and methodological skills, but isn't involved in developing new methods or approaches. This person's interests may be more methodological than substantive. (I am not making a value judgment about which is better, since both are essential to progress in the field.) This person may regularly read journals like Psychological Methods or may contribute to special issues of journals that focus on methodology. This is the kind of person who can make strong methodological contributions to a research team as a stats consultant.
A person rated as a 3 has strong understanding of statistics and methods, but is more comfortable with techniques that are tried and true - he/she isn't innovating and isn't choosing to stretch by constantly learning new techniques. However, this person's knowledge is solid and he/she understands key issues and controversies in the field (e.g., data imputation, advantages of latent variable techniques vs. more traditional methods, issues involved in working with couple and/or family-level data, etc.) This person can write syntax for programs such as SPSS, SAS, and STATA and understands what the software does behind the "clicky-boxes." His/her interests are probably more about the substantive issues in the field than about the methodological ones; the methods are a means to an end.
A person rated as a 2 has some understanding of statistics, but generally feels that they are a "black box" - in other words, how they work is mostly a mystery. There is an emerging understanding of how the different statistical methods are related to each other. He/she may be comfortable using drop-down menus to generate analyses in SPSS, for example, but may not be able to generate the syntax that would correspond to the analyses. This person may be quite comfortable with a very limited range of approaches. Once out of his/her comfort zone, this person may feel quite insecure. The substantive issues in his/her field are the primary interest.
A person rated as a 1 on this scale may be able to generate an analysis but probably doesn't understand what the computer software is actually doing and is vulnerable to making mistakes in terms of assumptions, input, and data interpretation. When asked to explain basic statistical concepts, there may be some major points of confusion.
A person rated as a 0 on this scale has a layperson's understanding of statistics and methodology - no specialized training in these fields.
How might this quasi-interval scale apply to the preparation of graduate students? My assumption is that most students entering a masters program in family science have had some undergraduate preparation in methods and statistics, even though they may have learned things by rote and don't remember much. They would probably be at the 1 to 1.5 level. The goal for master's training would be approximately 2.3, where students are definitely comfortable with a range (albeit limited) of techniques. The goal of doctoral training would be to move them as close to a "3" as possible, and possibly beyond. My assumption is that entry level Assistant Professor positions in Research I institutions would be looking for about a 3.5 in terms of expertise. An ideal department would have several faculty comfortably at the 4 level, and a very fortunate department would have someone at the 5 level either in the department itself or psychologically nearby.
So what's your number?
Apart from your self-evaluation, I'd be interested in your thoughts about this scale. I will be teaching the master's level quantitative methods course again next spring and may use this in the class to give students a sense of the range of expertise in the field and help them identify their personal goals for developing quantitative expertise.
June 11, 2006
Minneapolis Institute of Art - Grand Reopening Today
Today is the grand re-opening of the Minneapolis Institute of Art -- congratulations to all involved, especially to staff, board, and donors. I love visiting the MIA - I just wish it were a little closer to where I live. But I have always found it accessible, inviting, and full of old friends and new surprises. I can't wait to go, but I think it won't be today along with the thundering hordes.
Today's re-opening features 113,000 square feet of new space, 49,000 square feet of renovated space, 34 new and renovated galleries, and a 40% increase in exhibition space (figures courtesy of Minneapolis StarTribune, pp. F8-F9).
A few things caught my eye in the Strib's coverage.
First, you may have read my blog post a few days ago of the new Blanton Art Gallery in Austin. I noted that it was not a comprehensive gallery, but did have considerable depth in some areas. The word used to describe the new MIA is "encyclopedic" - I'm not sure whether this is a "technical term" or just newspaper-speak, but it seems to fit well.
Second, the article featured an extended quote from Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Arts in Houston. He called the MIA "easily one of the top 10 or 12 museums in the United States in its collection's quality and range." (yay!) He also noted that "its only flaw is that it's not as well-known as it should be outside of museum circles. It's like they've almost taken pride in understatement..." (emphasis mine) Now that's the Minnesota way, isn't it? That encapsulates the Minnesota - Texas contrast that I've written about several times (see especially entry for Aug. 9, 2005). Texas would NEVER take pride in understatement. Of course understatement can have its underbelly - when there's a contest of pride to see who can be more understated. Anyway, you get the idea. but I thought the descriptive statement (offered by a Texas resident, no less) was quite apt. And having an understated but fabulous art institute is certainly fine by me.
Finally, the Strib published a rather sour review of the building's architecture, written by Linda Mack. I don't know her or her credentials, but I thought it was bad taste to publish such a sour review alongside the news of the MIA's amazing revival. (If you want to read it, you can find it yourself - I don't want to link to it.) Now she does praise the interior spaces of the MIA and talk about how well they fit the art, but she definitely was unhappy with the exterior. If I were the editor, I would have saved this critique for a later day ... even tomorrow ... but why today??
I am really looking forward to my first look at the new MIA. Remember, admission is free!
(Other items on my list to visit and blog about this summer: the new Minneapolis Public Library - just opened a few weeks ago, and the "Body Worlds" exhibit at the Science Museum.)
June 9, 2006
Friday Cat Blogging - Huddling on a Cool Summer Day
It's a cool, damp summer day, and the tribe is huddling to protect against the cold. When it was so warm earlier in the week, they were happily baking in the sun on the sauna-like porch. Go figure.
June 8, 2006
Mentos and Diet Coke - Watch Out!
Thanks to Cathy for sharing today's NPR segment about the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment. When you put them together, you get quite an explosion.
Here's the lead-in to the story:
All Things Considered, June 7, 2006 Â· Two months ago, we reported on the Web video phenomenon of Mentos and Diet Coke. The mint candies combine with the soda to create an explosive geyser. But a new video on the Internet transforms that rudimentary concept into a highly choreographed routine, complete with funky soundtrack. Two men in Maine, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, took 101 bottles of Diet Coke and crafted a mesmerizing, two-minute Mentos and Diet Coke performance that they call "a spectacular, mint-powered version of the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas."
Enjoy! After you listen to the radio segment, be sure to click on "see this video."
This might be an interesting urban substitute for forbidden 4th of July fireworks - Could we arrange for the geyser to stream out in red, white, and blue??
June 7, 2006
Blogoversary Eve Reflections
It seems somehow fitting that I approach my first blogoversary with this, my 100th post. Since starting Inner Geek last June, this blog site has received almost 2500 visits. (Some of these visits are from me, of course, since Site Meter records a visit every time anyone looks at the blog site.) It's been an interesting and enjoyable ride, but it's required effort too -- effort that could have been expended on other things. So as the blogodometer prepares to turn, it's time to reflect a bit about the experience and question whether I should continue, or just say "it's been fun - on to something else."
I decided on the title "Inner Geek" last summer while on a walk around the Broad, a man-made lake on the campus of the University of East Anglia (where I'll be returning in July). I had been thinking about blogging for a while, inspired in part by Yvette, over at Six Impossible Things to do Before Breakfast. As a former (high school) journalist and editor, editor of numerous newsletters and publications over the years, and writer of technical articles that must be presented in a highly formulaic way (APA Style), I was attracted to the idea of blogging because I could say what I wanted about whatever topic I wanted to discuss. No APA style manual, no deadlines, no editor (other than myself). Citizen journalism. And hey, I am a geek of sorts - always have been interested in the latest in technology. My tech colleagues call me an "early adopter" - and that doesn't have anything to do with adoption.
I've had several amazing encounters during the year. Last December, I wrote a post in memory of my favorite undergraduate anthrolopolgy professor, whose obit I had encountered in the Austin paper while visiting there for the holidays. Five months later, I got an e-mail from his wife, thanking me for capturing his spirit. She sent my blog on to her daughters, one of whom contacted me. We had a delightful set of exchanges, and she sent me a picture of him as well as the text of the tribute read at his memorial service. None of this would have happened had I not blogged about him.
Last August, Susan and I spent a week in Door County Wisconsin. I posted a number of pictures from that trip and raved about Malibu Moo's Frozen Griddle, in Fish Creek, where I had my daily dose of vanilla custard with Door County cherries folded in. Heaven in a cup! When she googled her shop's name in order to start marketing for the season ahead, the owner was led to my entry. She wrote me and we had some great exchanges. She noted that we were both musicians and sent me 3 of her CDs - she's a flute player.
Both of these experiences made the world seem a bit smaller and less isolating and alienating -- and for that, I'm grateful. In both cases, my correspondents were led to my blog by Google -- and this is consistent with Shane's comments that Google likes websites and blogs that have "edu" domain names. (So be careful what you write on UThink, because it will be captured by Google.)
Inner Geek has also allowed me to brag about others -- I wrote entries honoring my father, my mentor, my wife, my colleague, my grandchildren and a number of other folks. It's also allowed me to call attention to issues that I worry about -- homelessness, health insurance, adoption, discrimination. I've also enjoyed blogging about travel experiences and sharing reflections about my parallel universe as a musician. (Back to the citizen journalist theme.)
But it's also taken effort, and I'm never too sure whether all this writing has an audience. I've let go of audience-building as a way of justifying the time ... I do it because I want to. But if I were a "better" blogger, I'd probably post every day (or at least every other day) and do more marketing and things that would promote cross-postings on other sites. I don't have the time or inclination for that.
So as I approach my blogoversary, I'm reflecting on the blog-year past and thinking about whether I should continue. Stay tuned....
June 6, 2006
The States I've Visited
I found this nifty map-maker on another UThink blog site and thought I'd try it for myself. It's easy and fun - give it a try! If somone had just asked me what proportion of states I had visited, I doubt I would have said 90% - but here is the evidence. (The red states are ones I've visited.) Much of this travel comes from many cross-country road trips my family made when I was a teenager. Many summers, we embarked on 2-3 week driving trips that took us in all directions. We covered lots of miles and saw some amazing things. It gave both my sister and I a real love of travel. Since those years, I've had more opportunities to travel for business and pleasure, and I've lived in the northeast, upper midwest, west, and southwestern U.S. There's still lots to see. I look forward to Montana and the Canadian Rockies before too long. But not this summer - family events are joyfully taking precedence.
June 4, 2006
The Power of Pictures
Blogs are typically about the power of words. But today I want to talk about the power of pictures.
On June 2, ABC 20/20 ran a segment on the "Heart Gallery." At one level, it's about photographers taking pictures of kids in foster care who are waiting for permanent adoptive homes. (There are almost 120,000 such children in the U.S. today - many are older, many are children of color, and a number of them hope to be adopted with their siblings.) But the photographers in the Heart Gallery project didn't just take typical school photos of these kids. They donated their time to work with the children to catch them at their very best - to let their personalities shine through. One active little boy was shown suspended in mid air as he jumped on his bed with a huge smile. A beautiful teenage girl is shown in a very pensive mood, portraying her depth of personality and soul. The pictures are spectacular.
When the photos have been displayed in galleries around the country, the number of calls about adopting the kids has jumped many times over. It's wonderful that attention is being drawn to these children in our midst who are dreaming about permanent homes. The photographs are powerful, so watch out! One of the photographers ended up adopting a girl whose portrait she took.
June 1, 2006
Meeting the Blanton
We enjoyed the opportunity to visit the new Blanton Museum of Art on the UT Austin campus yesterday. The Museum opened just about a month ago. We had the good fortune to visit on a Thursday, when they're open til 8 and the admission is free all day.
It's a beautiful building, spacious and full of light. Here are views of the skylights and the courtyard.
The main floor has their special, current exhibits; the second floor has their European galleries, The modern and contemporary galleries, and an e-lounge. The e-lounge is high tech and enticing. It's a round space with a number of computer terminals and electronic resources.
The collection is interesting and nicely curated. The audio guides for the exhibition feature not only the voices of the curators, but also various Austin personalities who might have insightful things to say about specific works - a different touch.
I wouldn't call the collection comprehensive. I suspect that it has grown over the years through the acquisition of private collections. So there's interesting depth in some narrow areas, but not a full range of art.
My favorite space was a room set up with an exhibit called "The Invisible Jump" by Daniel Joglar (2006). It's a room full of items suspended from the ceiling by invisible lines. You can walk among the items, blow on them and see them move, and take different perspectives on the "floating" objects - it's kind of like walking in the solar system.
It was fun to watch the playful mood that the exhibit put people in - adults at least as much as kids. (me too!)
We followed our tour with a nostalgic walk across campus. So many memories -- along the main mall, I could recall that I had a calculus class in Benedict Hall, experimental psychology in Mezes, German in Batts, abnormal psychology in Batts Auditorium (with 500 other students), English in Parlin (where we studied "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" as poetry - a great class!, etc. etc. We passed the Academic Center (the "AC"), where we spent much of our courtship - studying together almost every night for 3 years. And of course, we walked across the main mall, which always reminds both of us of the Whitman shootings in August, 1966, just one month before we started college. We each knew people who were shot that day. It always gives me a bit of a shiver to cross that mall. But now that 40 years have passed since that day, this event has taken its place as one of the many, complex stories and locations that makes UT what it is today.