Registration is now open for our 2019 Study Abroad trip to Tanzania. begin registration
Through this unique high-impact experiential learning course, participants will engage with our community partners cultivated through 10 years of engagement, friendship and collaboration. Students will participate in activities designed to foster critical reflection and transformative learning. Upon return, students will synthesize their experiences through mentored projects and explore ways to leverage their learning through digital badges, journal submissions, and Proximity Projects.
Although the course is designed for students, a few spots will be reserved for non-students who will share their expertise, resources and ideas through customized experiential learning projects.
Trip highlights will include:
- 2-week trip will begin and end in Dar Es Salaam, the cosmopolitan port city with cultural tours and visits to Bagamoyo
- After flying to Mwanza , we will drive along Lake Victoria to the Mara Region for 4 days of learning and engagement with our community partners
- A 3-day guided safari through the Serengeti Game Preserve, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara Region, before driving to Arusha
- Return visit to Dar Es Salaam with day trip to nearby island before flying home to work on final projects
I’m so excited to share our new book, “On Tanzania Time: Celebrating 10 Years of Friendship, Engagement and Discovery in the Mara Region”
This book is as personal as it gets. It shares the early stages of our partnership when I first met members of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa who were studying in Buffalo, and led my first trip to the Mara Region of Tanzania in 2009. But it also details the fascinating evolution of our engagement as we expanded our focus and eventually connected with diverse partners who share their stories and visions in their own words. Also featured are some of our outstanding UB students who have allowed their time in Tanzania to permeate their lives and career goals, and recollections and context from my dear friend and colleague Dan Nyaronga who happens to be from the very region, and town.
How do these stories, impacts and visions all connect? Please consider reading about our journey and allow yourself to imagine all that is possible when we come together toward ideas and goals that are larger than our own.
It is important to note that we are making this book available in a free PDF format which is accessible, downloadable, printable, and shareable from any computer or digital device around the world.
I hope you will all find inspiration as I continue to be inspired every day by our partners and friends who are committed to changing the lives of women and girls in the Mara Region.
On Monday October 1st we will welcome partners from Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania and Zimbabwe for our inaugural week of sharing, capacity building and networking toward the goal of creating new collaborations, projects and experiential learning offerings.
What will come from this exciting week of presentations, studio sessions and innovation modules? Our website is ready to receive idea submissions which will be synthesized and shared at our closing reception on Friday, October 5th at 4:30 pm in Silverman Library.
To expand the scope of possibilities, we are introducing a suite of learning platforms, resources, and opportunities that enhance students’ global collaboration experiences, through integrating them within their UB coursework while developing compelling narratives that will support their learning and professional goals, AND maximizing their impact within the communities they touch.
These evolving resources are now offered through our Global Partner Studio (GPS) and include:
- COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning)- we invite faculty to add collaborative course content to an existing course or engage in the development of new offerings. Through collaborative course modules and exercises, students can develop cultural competences, communication and teamwork skills while completing core courses and projects.
- Short-term study abroad. Together with our colleagues in International Education, we invite faculty to leverage their global relationships through the development of innovative high-impact study abroad trips during summer or winter session. Interested in reaching more students? consider integrating VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) in your next global adventure
- Global Collaboration Digital Badge. Once students have completed a global collaboration project, we invite them to enhance their experience through guided reflection and integration exercises, towards the goal of developing compelling narratives that connect with their experiences with academic and career goals.
- GPS Journal. Our new open-source journal hosted by the UB Libraries provides students with a platform for sharing research, insights and innovations. And to ensure active collaboration with partners and integration with coursework, student authors are required to provide testimonials from partners and subject librarians.
- Mentored Independent Study A great way to prepare for or enhance a global collaboration experience is to delve into related research and frame specific interests within broader questions and challenges. We invite students to engage in a semester long independent study in partnership with their respective department/program of study and ELN staff.
Global collaboration represents an exciting new frontier for high-impact experiential learning. I hope you will follow our work and consider joining us for our inaugural GPS Institute! – Mara
As I prepare for my upcoming trip to Tanzania I am overcome with a palpable sense of readiness- the knowledge that this trip will usher in a new and more impactful stage of engagement. One that is worthy of our collective hope, inspiration and commitment.
The fact that it has taken nearly 10 years of travel and engagement to finally reach this point strikes me as somehow important and worthy of unpacking.
What do I mean by being ready? It’s as if the conditions for engagement have finally reached some magical threshold or tipping point, setting our partnership into motion. Like a fan whirring into action, I can feel the speed of collaboration accelerating, the ambient space expanding, and interest and possibilities literally swirling around us.
Why has it taken so long? While our collective readiness is a catalyst, it is itself predicated on smaller currents, each complex and fragile, inherently necessary yet insufficient on their own.
I am reminded of this fragility as I reflect on my own work at the University at Buffalo. Only now, after 15 years of stewarding strategic engagement, am I confident that we are poised to actualize our potential. With the embrace of high-impact experiential learning, the creation of the Experiential Learning Network (ELN) and our new Global Partner Studio (GPS), we can now support and leverage engagement toward greater impacts, sharing stories and building further capacity through our new journal, digital badge and curricular tools.
When I reflect on the readiness of our Tanzanian partners, the growth is undeniable. Community leaders who have embraced the gifts of communication and technology are emerging as liaisons and change agents, boldly seeking additional resources and support; higher education institutions are open to partnering and sharing course content, travel experiences and technology-supported resources.
But none of this would be possible without the students and faculty who are seeking more meaningful levels of connectivity- activating their learning, teaching and research in ways that will take us farther and deeper into communities, complexities and the promise of collaboration.
When I think of the perseverance that it’s taken to get to us to this point of readiness, it’s not surprising that we have been tempted to withdraw or retreat along the way. As human processors we are terrible at discerning progress until we pass through some undeniably tangible milestone or indicator of success. In fact it is often just before we reach that turning point that our frustration and fear pull us into the weeds and out of the game.
As I think about my upcoming trip it is clear that many pieces are now firmly in place. Our partners are busy leading and communicating, our institutions are ready to leverage the benefits of our engagement, and students and faculty are eager to get involved. Even my own family members are contributing and connecting as the boundaries and barriers continue to melt away.
Maybe this notion of readiness represents an exciting new frontier. Once we have interest and resources to share, the challenge is really one of activating potential, making sure that the structures, processes and people are in place to support, catalyze and harvest the fruits of our collaboration.
But if we are truly committed to the work, imagine all that is possible. Imagine what we will accomplish, together, when we are ready.
One of the hardest things for people to talk or write about is themselves, and why they are uniquely well suited for a particular opportunity or honor. I have been noting this challenge at the University as I work with some of our most outstanding students. Despite the fact that they have so much to offer- travel, research, academics, the whole package- they often blank when asked to write a personal statement or to be interviewed about their experiences. Invariably, they insist that they’re not good at talking about themselves or bragging about their achievements. And yet ironically, they have spent so much of their time and effort collecting these very accomplishments.
Perhaps part of the issue is that we’re all in such a hurry. Students rush through high school trying to get into college, and then once in college we hurry them through as quickly as possible in an effort to save them money and get them into the work force. In our haste, perhaps we are failing to support their critical reflection- namely, helping them understand and articulate what it is that they’ve experienced and accomplished, what they can offer that is uniquely theirs. And yet, these are the very skills that will move them to the next level, allowing them to create and secure opportunities for growth, advancement and expansion. And perhaps most importantly, these are the skills that will help them self-correct when they find themselves in positions and situations that no longer connect with their cores values, interests or goals.
How can we help students get better at talking about themselves and their experiences? (Although intended for students, these techniques can be used by anyone for virtually any opportunity or goal.)
- Begin by listing the categories of skills and competencies that are of critical importance to your intended audience. You can usually find these in the specific posting but I encourage you to dig deeper. Look at reports, press pieces, or profiles of individuals who have held the position/opportunity (or similar position/opportunity) in the past. Allow yourself to imagine the perfect recipient/employee or candidate. What types of categories of skills and competencies would they possess and why are these important given the demands/honors of the opportunity of interest?
- Once you have a good list, allow yourself to reflect on your own positions, experiences and achievements and begin to note these under the specific categories with which they correspond. While you can start with specific responsibilities or activities, also note actual experiences that connect with these- both good and bad. Allow yourself to reflect around these experiences and note any big lessons, developments or growth. Ask yourself, “why was it important, what did I learn, and how did it impact me or those around me?” Keep going with this exercise until you have an extensive outline of key skills, experiences and competencies that you can reference and expand upon. Hopefully, at this point you can take some satisfaction in noting the abundance of experiences upon which you can draw.
- Now it’s time to look for patterns. Everyone has unique patterns that help describe the ways they approach choices in life and work. Patterns often reveal themselves over time and diversity of experiences. Once you can recognize and articulate these, they can be extremely helpful in telling compelling stories about you and what you will bring to any particular opportunity, along with how you will respond to challenging situations or contexts. Consider using critical questions to help reveal your defining patterns. What drives you? How do you define growth or success? How do you add value to challenging contexts? Consider how these patterns have propelled you on your path and have led to your current interest in this particular opportunity.
- The fourth step is perhaps the most important. It involves flipping your lens and focusing not on yourself and your accomplishments, but instead on what you can uniquely contribute to the potential employer, organization, opportunity, or broader community via your efforts. Through succinctly articulating how your unique skill set and experiences can complement and benefit the recipient, you can assure the decision makers that you have strong potential and are worthy of their investment.
Once you have worked through these exercises, allow yourself to practice talking about your experiences in relation to your signature patterns and sense of broader impacts/contributions. You can move between these levels of reflection, making connections, bringing up specific examples/evidence, but always tying it back to the specific opportunity and what you have to offer.
The most exciting aspect of helping students master these skills, is seeing them discover and internalize their signature patterns for the first time. There is something quite powerful in recognizing the unique ways in which we approach our lives and work. When these patterns resonate strongly with employers and the needs of the world around us, we feel empowered and more confident, and begin to seek out opportunities and choices that further strengthen our potential contributions. It is when these internal and external narratives strongly align that we can be our most impactful.
As I talk with women from diverse backgrounds and professions, the notion of “the weeds” seems to resonate universally.
The weeds are a highly emotional place, a vast and interconnected tangle of thoughts, memories, and experiences. Charged with emotion and fear, the weeds are highly sensitive. Once triggered, they ricochet us through patterns and responses, leaving us wounded and depleted as we struggle to regain our sense of balance and control.
Not surprisingly, growth doesn’t happen in the weeds. And yet that’s exactly where many of us find ourselves. Sent there by tragedy, crisis, relationships, and even complacency- almost any life or work event can serve as a trigger.
Over the years, I have developed an acute sensitivity to the weeds. I experience them as creeping vines, wrapping around our ankles or torsos. I can often sense their shadow as they approach- thoughts of self-doubt or defensiveness, a tightening in the throat or stomach. And in others, they manifest as a darkness, draining both energy and light.
From a cognitive standpoint, the weeds represent the lowest levels of our thinking. Laden with details and context, they keep us trapped in our emotions with little room for reflection or insight. But if we are able to leave the weeds behind, we can travel higher in our systems, entering a universe of concepts and ideas. Unlike the closely knitted tangles of emotions, these constructs are expansive and dynamic, able to be nested, stacked, and rearranged as we build and reconfigure our understanding of ourselves, our work and our worlds.
The cognitive differences between the weeds and higher thinking cannot be exaggerated. It’s like comparing the most innovative playground to the rings of Hell. But escaping from the weeds is neither easy nor intuitive. By definition, it involves getting away from danger but also finding something safer. In simple terms, breaking free from the emotionality of the weeds is only part of the solution. We must at the same time embrace the benefits of higher thinking, pulling ourselves upward through textured goals, commitments, and thought patterns. Imagine yourself on a climbing wall, searching for constructs to grab onto as you lift your feet higher.
The good news is that it’s all within our reach, and interest in this new frontier seems to be building. With every month, I’m being asked to speak about these and strategies with increasing frequency and enthusiasm. From companies wanting to provide their associates with tools to reach and dream higher, to women looking for opportunities for advancement, and organizations focused on community impacts, we seem to be collectively yearning for growth and expansion. Perhaps this is an area that is ready to be developed and cultivated. Perhaps the time has finally come for cognitive redesign.
As someone who has studied and thought about these ideas for over thirty years, I am excited and eager to share my strategies and insights. But I am also mindful of the paradigm shift that this approach represents. I’m curious to hear my readers’ thoughts and feedback. Does this notion of the weeds resonate with you? And are we really ready to embrace a more generative approach to growth and advancement?
My daughter Natalie can’t be burdened before she goes to bed. Any mention of schoolwork or summer reading is quickly dismissed. She explains that there is simply no room for serious thoughts. She must keep her head clear for the unicorns and other fanciful creatures that fill her dreams.
Not surprisingly, Natalie loves to go to sleep. She tackles her nighttime ritual with gusto, cozying under her covers and shooing me away after a quick book and kiss goodnight. And she always rises with a dreamy faraway look, slowly transitioning into the world of wakefulness and the promise of a new day.
Like Natalie, I too enjoy sleeping. But sadly, no unicorns visit me during the night. Perhaps my mind is too cluttered with serious thoughts. Perhaps there is simply no room for them to play.
Over the years I have worked at readying for sleep. I have trained myself to relax, replacing anxious worries with soothing calm. And most nights I am able to drift off into nothingness, a restful reprieve between busy days.
Yet the quality of my slumber pales in comparison to Natalie’s. What I wouldn’t give to glimpse her unicorns, to stroke their downy white fur and feed them sweet treats from my hand. But even more than her unicorns, I envy Natalie’s ability to slip into the world of magic and fancy by simply opening her mind.
Is this a blessed gift of childhood, or a secret all her own? I shall prepare my mind for unicorns and hope that they will come.
Like modern cars with interconnected systems and computers, our lives- and careers- have become increasingly complex. Although our sensors are robust when it comes to signaling feelings of dissatisfaction, many of us lack the specialized tools for diagnosing specific issues and making the necessary adjustments to get us back on track.
Serving simultaneously as drivers and technicians of our own lives can seem daunting. But if we accept the importance of this duality, we must begin to assemble the appropriate tools that are designed specifically to address the nuanced ways in which we find ourselves stuck or off-track, and can lead us toward greater satisfaction and fulfillment in our current and future roles.
Through my background in Cognitive Psychology and my professional experience in Higher Education, I have come to understand the various heuristics or short-cuts in reasoning that can undermine our growth and satisfaction. Regardless of the merits or constraints of your professional situation, these limitations can collectively undermine success and happiness. Luckily they can all be addressed through a deliberate “reprogramming” process, but they are critical to recognize and bring into awareness before such progress can be made.
While I usually try to keep my posts short and pithy, I will make an exception and provide more extensive details below. From my vantage point, the pervasiveness of “stuckness” in the workforce when coupled with the underwhelming job market makes these types of posts and strategies more important than ever, but I am curious to know whether readers are ready to embrace this type of assistance (see my request at the end of the post).
Consider the importance of labels in our lives. We give them to people, objects, and places, almost anything that can be described or categorized. We even label ourselves, describing our jobs, lifestyles, philosophies and political views. Labels fulfill many purposes. Although each of us experiences the world in slightly different ways, labels provide a sense of consistency across variation, allowing us to communicate, connect, and operate on common terms. They also allow us to make inferences and guesses, helping us to process information quickly and efficiently. Clearly, without labels life would be unmanageable- a barrage of specific, personal experiences with limited opportunity for reflection or sharing.
In the workplace labels can be especially powerful. Even though individuals bring a wealth of experience, skills, and abilities to any position or role, they are often viewed through a narrow band of features and competencies most closely associated with their labels. They may only be invited to certain meetings or given assignments associated with these narrow bands, even though their talents and competencies extend well beyond. In this way, our titles and labels begin to define us and how others view and respond to us, resulting in pigeon-holing which in turn can feel constraining and tight, contributing to feeling stuck and underutilized.
While others tend to reinforce this narrowing of identity, we are largely responsible for doing it to ourselves. Many of us are eager to assume new roles and titles, wanting to be viewed as competent and successful, giving our employers exactly what they want. We may, especially in the beginning, stick with expected skills and activities, hesitant to offer insights or experiences outside the narrow band of expectations. Although this pattern may be more pronounced in lower level roles that are more defined and constrained, we can see it across all levels and domains.
The good news is that we can change these patterns, both for ourselves and those who view us. This tendency to label, and to do so restrictively, is only a default setting that allows us to make some assumptions and best guesses. We know that secretaries at minimum have administrative skills and expertise, so we can assume that they will be helpful with certain types of tasks. We also know that counselors tend to have good interpersonal skills and are trained to help people with problems, so we might seek them out if we are experiencing a personal crisis. But nowhere does it state that these are the only skills that people possess, or that we can only draw on specific activities or expectations associated with these narrow bands of features.
Chances are that every person with whom you meet or interact possesses skills, experiences, and talents well beyond their traditional duties or responsibilities. Virtually no label fully defines a person’s skill-set or what they have to offer or draw upon in any given situation. At any time we can surprise ourselves and others by bringing forward new skills and ideas, changing the ways that we are perceived and treated by those around us. But be forewarned, doing so can upset the delicate balance of relationships and expectations, and should be implemented with caution.
In addition to constricting our space with narrow labels, we also set our gaze too low, forcing ourselves to stoop, eventually stunting our growth. Think of your mind as a web of interconnected layers of labels, concepts, and ideas. At the lowest levels are your actual experiences, things that are happening or have just happened- individual conversations, images, or thoughts. These low level experiences are highly personal, charged with emotional details and content connected in turn to other personal experiences that are similarly charged. As you travel higher in your web, you find more general and abstract labels, ideas, and beliefs that have fewer personal details. While lacking in emotional content, these higher level labels can offer rich guidance, helping us to understand complex situations and make strong decisions through reflection, reasoning, and higher order thinking.
In the professional realm our highest levels might include strategic priorities, mission aspects, or general beliefs about our work and what we do. This level tends to be the most resistant to change, regardless of new leadership or contextual influences, our highest level ideas serve as anchors providing us with consistency and guidance through periods of change and uncertainty. In the middle layers you might find strategic goals and objectives, or threats that are of immediate concern. And at the very bottom are our day to day meetings, activities, and interactions.
Of course each of your layers and networks combine and interconnect, making up a complex web of information, thoughts, ideas, and memories with various levels and sub-levels. As human problem solvers we have total access to this universe of connections. We can work from the top down or bottom up depending on our needs and situations. We can jump between layers and sub-layers, connecting disparate experiences, deepening our learning and understanding towards better decision making.
And yet despite this expansiveness, we tend to stay at the lower levels, focusing on immediate experiences that are emotionally charged while offering little insight. Just like junk food that gives us a quick fix but little else, these low levels perpetuate a hunger and craving for more stimulation. Just walk around a coffee shop, shopping mall, or other public venue and listen to the conversations of passers-by. You will hear play-by-play accounts of conversations and experiences, emanating with emotion and interpersonal drama. Since low-level details are emotionally charged, they easily trigger other experiences and past dramas, creating patterns and priming reactive responses. Although staying at this level can provide immediate validation and temporary relief, it does little to create movement or open the way toward greater growth and fulfillment. Instead, it keeps us stuck.
In the workplace, this tendency plays out in different ways, causing employees to perseverate on low-level tasks and activities without seeing the larger picture or goals. They may focus on being busy, seeking validation, looking for respect and growing frustrated when they feel undervalued or appreciated. Others may fixate on interpersonal relationships with co-workers or supervisors, complaining about how they are mistreated or about the toxic environment in which they work. Although people universally crave growth and respect, they often look to be given it through opportunities, titles, or responsibilities. And in doing so they may fail to access the universe of possibilities that surrounds virtually every choice and decision they make.
As problem solvers we are notoriously lousy at seeing the world through others’ perspectives. Researchers have long studied the limitations that accompany human cognition. Many of the classic studies focus on young children, who, depending on their specific developmental stages can make some surprising errors, being fooled by the way things look. They tend to focus on the most obvious dimensions, believing that a taller and thinner vessel contains more liquid than one that is squatter, or a stretched out row of pennies contains more money than one that is close together. As adults it’s easy to smile at these errors, dismissing them as endearing examples of children’s naivete and innocence. But the truth is that even adults get fooled by appearances, trapped by our own perceptions and perspectives.
How we view the world and the decisions we make are largely influenced by our personalities, experiences, and cultural backgrounds. What comes into our sensory systems in terms of images, sounds, or stimulation is interpreted by our minds which activate concepts and labels in our interconnected networks to give them meaning and context. Our languages help us make sense of the sounds through perceiving words and sentences; our religious and moral frameworks help us interpret right and wrong; and our individual cultures and families help us discriminate between opportunities and threats. Even though we understand at some level that others may have different views, we are quick to believe the veracity of our own interpretations and experiences, jumping to conclusions and diving back into the weeds.
Luckily there are some powerful ways to gain insight into others’ perspectives. They involve moving ourselves out of the lower layers to find more powerful frames and labels with which guide our insights and specific perceptions. We should recognize that is only through the understanding of others’ perspectives that we can adapt our own behavior and decision making to be maximally effective and impactful.
We expend a great deal of energy trying to preserve ourselves in all of our facets. We are wired to see threats, both literal, in the coming to attack you sense, but also more subtle emotional kinds. Once we perceive someone or something as bad or somehow “against us”, we begin to interpret their behaviors and actions through this lens, which in turn becomes highly charged and primed for activation.
Categories associated with dangers and threats are of a special kind. Even at the highest levels of our networks they elicit fear and strong emotional responses. Some have theorized that these labels are necessary for survival and are rooted in a fight or flight response. But regardless of their origins, they seem to have a uniquely loaded nature, heightening our negative reactions once ideas or labels are associated or connected. Another way of looking at this is through the idea of thresholds which are levels of activation necessary for a label to be “fired.” Although many high level concepts require significant thought and reflection to be accessed and understood, categories like danger, fire, or enemy activate more quickly and easily, as soon as a threat is perceived.
Because we exert a great deal of energy to preserve and feel good about ourselves, and our tendency to see the world through our own perspectives, we are likely to assign others to enemy-related categories in the face of conflict. Especially when we are engaging at our lower levels where emotions run high and thresholds low, we are quick to trigger the danger response. Unfortunately, once these labels are triggered, our openness shuts down, in essence turning of the lights and missing out on the other information and details that could lead to other decisions and perspectives.
In addition to danger-based labels, we all have other categories and frames that are easily triggered and activated. Some of us are especially sensitive about our appearance, our families, or some other characteristics that make us feel threatened, vulnerable, or inadequate. We might also bring perceived threats from our childhoods or pasts, situations that made us feel weakened or small, that set up permanent triggers that remain ready to be fired. Once triggered they result in a shutting-down or darkening, mobilizing our resources for self-protection and defense. In this mode little growth and movement can occur. In the next chapter we will explore techniques for guiding ourselves through perceived threats and dangers in order to maximize learning and maintain our movement. But for now we should begin to consider the power of threats and triggers and how they can force us to shut down in the face of perceived danger.
Confronting our Fears
Take a moment to put these tendencies together- too tight; too low; too close; and too dark. It’s not surprising that collectively they elicit negative feelings. In fact these same words could easily be used to describe a torture chamber befitting a horror movie, the idea of being trapped in a tight and dark chamber without room to stretch or breathe. This scenario automatically triggers feelings of vulnerability and helplessness and makes us long to turn on the lights, and escape from danger.
The irony is that when it comes to stuckness, we are all trapped by our own doing. The same systems that allow us to be constrained- the network of interconnected levels, labels, and ideas- will also allow us to move and grow. It is completely our choice to override our pre-programmed tendencies and stretch beyond. I am happy to share some new tools that can help us more fully utilize our systems toward greater movement and growth, if there is an interest. Please reply if you find these types of posts and information useful…..-Mara