Student Perspectives - Derek’s Blog
Born and raised in Central Maine, Derek Francis received his B.A. in Journalism and Minor in Theater at the University of Maine in 2011. He is currently in the University of Maine’s Student Development in Higher Education M.Ed. program.
Derek is also a Graduate Assistant for New Student Programs at the University of Maine as well as an intern for the university’s Student Wellness Resource Center. He has a passion for academic success programs as well as student wellness initiatives. Derek is involved in an independent study for the Office of the President.
As the spring semester comes to a close, it is a great opportunity to take the pulse on just what UMaine community members know about the Blue Sky Plan and how they feel it affects them personally.
In the spirit of the traditional “Man on the Street” interview style, I thought it might be beneficial to interview folks at UMaine about the Blue Sky Plan in this candid format to truly measure their engagement with the Blue Sky Plan. Without limitations on who I would approach—whether they be students, staff, or faculty—and considering that there were no wrong answers, the possibilities were wide open.
While combing the mall in front of Fogler Library for potential interviewees, I ran into a co-worker—and fellow Team Maine member—Jason Myers. Keep in mind, I was actively avoiding interviewing people I knew, but I knew that Jason would be a great person to talk to about Blue Sky. Jason, a sophomore English major from Connecticut, is not only a Team Maine member, our tour guides and student ambassadors, but he is also a resident assistant (RA). Being so involved, Jason seemed like a great person to give an undergraduate perspective on Blue Sky. The following is from our talk during a particularly beautiful day out on the mall:
“What do you know about the Blue Sky Plan?”
“Well…it was begun and progressed by President Ferguson. [As an RA] most of my experience comes with raising school spirit with students [Pathway 3 – Morale and Marketing]. RAs really try and get our residents to come to more games…which is fun…”
“How do you feel about the Blue Sky Plan?”
“The stuff I see [regarding Blue Sky] is good! And it seems like President Ferguson really has a purpose for the Blue Sky Plan…But I do wish there was a little more info [aimed at] students…more in-depth and targeted info towards students could be helpful.”
“How does the Blue Sky Plan apply to you personally?”
“These initiatives show what UMaine has [to offer]. So, it applies to all students…[The Blue Sky Plan] is trying to get us more on the map. And we already have a lot to offer here, but the people on top are trying to show Maine our potential…and more than engineering and sciences, but [show what he have] in all majors!”
As I suspected, Jason has a pretty good grasp on the overall general goals of the Blue Sky Plan. Maybe I will see YOU around campus and we can have a chat about Blue Sky as well!
Derek’s Blog No. 3.
My favorite Blue Sky Pathway—or at least the Pathway that I feel closest to—is Pathway 4: Transforming Lives: Strengthening the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Experience. As a student, the objectives of Pathway 4 feel the most immediate and tangible to me. Pathway 4 deals directly with student success. And, if you have read my short bio at the top of this page, you will find that student academic success is near and dear to my heart. Maybe it is because I took a more casual approach to my undergraduate career and hope that my shortcomings can help others students find success faster than I did. Or- maybe I just want to see everyone get the most that they can out of their college experience. Regardless, Pathway 4 will be the focus of my closer look at the Blue Sky Pathways.
To achieve this lofty goal of student success, Pathway 4 focuses on bolstering residential life, increasing graduate research fellowships, undergraduate internships, as well as creating more opportunities for advising and environments for learning. That is all well and good, but just how does Pathway 4 aim to accomplish all of this? Now, this is a blog and not a doctoral thesis, so I am going to focus on only a few highlights. You can follow along by pulling up http://umaine.edu/bluesky/the-five-pathways/pathway-4/
An exciting development within the realm of Pathway 4 is the STRIDES program. STRIDES stand for Students, Technology/Marketing/Branding, Responsibility, Inclusivity, Development, Engagement, and Staff. What STRIDES represents is a game plan, designed by the Division of Student Life, by people who work with students in a mentoring capacity on a daily basis. “ It is not a strategic plan, but a starting point,” as emphasized by those who developed it. It allows those working with Student Life to better meet the needs of students and better facilitate the avenues in which students can be served.
But here is what is most fascinating to me about STRIDES—its framework is built around not just Pathway 4, but with all of the Pathways. When initiatives are designed with Blue Sky thinking in mind, it becomes all but impossible not to incorporate all 5 Pathways into your work. To improve the student experience it will require aligning with Maine’s needs, an eye towards financial sustainability, building a community and culture of excellence, and a commitment to stewardship of place. It is inherently inclusive and mindful of each Pathway -no matter which Pathway directly affects you-or is your “favorite.”
Pathway 4 also has some neat initiatives such as a Greek Initiative that involves self-assessments for fraternities and sororities to turn good organizations into great organizations. The Greek Initiative also is considering a sorority village, which will help provide an oft-desired housing complex for members of our university’s sororities.
Take a look at Pathway 4 for yourself. You will see all of the hard work that is going into improving student life and hands-on learning and leadership experiences for our students. I am a bit jealous of the students who are moving up through the undergraduate ranks and the growing opportunities that are being developed for them.
To wrap-up up this love fest for Pathway 4, I think it is important that everyone realizes that each Pathway is as potentially impacting as the other. And each Pathway, as the STRIDES framework illustrates, depends on all Pathways-with the entire UMaine Community- to move forward. I feel like that is kind of a big deal-and the value of the Blue Sky Project.
Derek’s Blog No. 2.
In “A Strategic Planning Primer for Higher Education” Alexandra L. Lerner (1999) stresses that a successful strategic plan allows constituencies to work together towards their common goals and allows them to reflect creatively. The Blue Sky Plan’s website allows us all to do just that. Through the website’s easy-to-read progress charts, news articles, and informative videos, the UMaine Community, as a whole, can obtain a clearer picture on how each Pathway functions in achieving our common goals for a better University of Maine.
To begin, it only seemed logical to spend some time navigating the site and get the most of what the Blue Sky Plan website has to offer. Although this website is one banner-click away from the main UMaine page, I still found it helpful to bookmark the Blue Sky Plan page. If you are anything like me, the UMaine website is my homepage when I open up any web browser. However, any sub-site that I find helpful I like to have bookmarked and on my browser toolbar. I just like the instant access, I suppose. You can bookmark the Blue Sky Plan site at: http://www.umaine.edu/bluesky/
Now that you’ve bookmarked the site (…or not–your call), let’s look at what the Blue Sky Plan website has to offer. Each Pathway is multi-faceted and holds depth in what it is aiming to achieve. Believe me, I get that it can be hard to keep track of some of the nuances of each Pathway. I have been knee-deep in Blue Sky for a couple of semesters now and I find myself referencing the individual Pathways all the time. But I think that reflects the integration of each Pathway with another creating a breadth of common ground. So, if you need to reference anything from the individual Pathway goals to an overview or executive summary of the Blue Sky Plan, this site has got you covered.
The meat and potatoes of the website- for me, anyway—are the handy Pathway progress charts. These are located conveniently in the middle column of the page. This is where anyone can see the specific initiatives of each pathway and where we stand on reaching the goals. And if that particular initiative has been completed, it gets checked off from our Blue Sky Plan To-Do list.
The Blue Sky Plan site also now features a few new items that may be of interest to you. You can tell they are new because there is a little [(NEW)] tag next to them so you can’t miss them! These new features include in-depth videos that overview each Pathway in easily digestible and aesthetically-pleasing clips. As of this blog post there are currently videos for Pathways 3 and 4, but more are on the way. The other new feature, perhaps not as impressive but hopefully worth a peek, is called “Derek’s Blog”. I hope that you enjoy it.
As you will hopefully see, the Blue Sky Plan website provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made towards our goals and take note of what still needs to be done. It helps keep us informed as well as motivated. I think Ms. Lerner would be proud.
Even as a student, I find myself wandering through the various pages of the site. Personally, my favorite aspect of the Blue Sky Plan site is the News Report page where we learn about the great things UMaine is achieving through the lens of the Blue Sky Plan. These are achievements that have given me a certain sense of Black Bear pride as I read some of these news stories. And prior to this news aggregate page, I may have not even been aware of these accomplishments by the UMaine Community. So, if you haven’t spent a few spare minutes navigating the Blue Sky Plan site, I hope this overview has given you a reason to do so. Spending the time to check out this blog is certainly a good way to begin Blue Sky thinking!
I will start off by saying—I prefer not to think of the Blue Sky Project as merely just another strategic plan.
Typically, the term “strategic planning” induces a glazed-over look on many in higher education—or a labored sigh, at best. It is the buzz word to end all buzz words. In fact, Benjamin Ginsberg’s article “The Strategic Plan: Neither Strategy Nor Plan, but a Waste of Time in The Chronicle of Higher Education (7/17/11), suggested that
“interchangeability of visions for the future underscores the fact that the precise content of most colleges’ strategic plans is pretty much irrelevant. Plans are usually forgotten soon after they are promulgated…The plan is not a blueprint for the future. It is, instead, a management tool for the present.”
As a future student affairs professional, I must say that I am inclined to empathize with such a response. Googling four-year public institutions for a gander at their strategic plans only emphasized just how clichéd the practice of developing one has often become.
In my pursuit of learning what other four-year publics are doing, words such as “expand”, “sustainability”, and “focus” were in many of the strategic plans that I read. Our strategic plan, the Blue Sky Project (BSP) has words like that too. The difference? The lion’s share of strategic plans of the institutions I looked at seemed like simply that—plans. They are laundry lists filled with hopes and dreams, but without a real road map of where the institution was going.
It seems that the plans of many other institutions are not as concrete-no specificity and no ways to measure success. There is presumably much effort put into the planning process at these universities. Some of them had really snazzy-looking pages for their plans. There was even lots to say about the planning of the plans. It was as if the planning portion was all that needed to be done. In fact, one state took their whole planning show on the road, sharing “what might be” for their constituents to see.
The Blue Sky Plan is different.
The Blue Sky Plan has built-in short-term goals for real results targeted for the UMaine community as well as long-term goals that will strengthen our academics, faculty, staff, student life, and infrastructure through five well-maintained pathways: Maine’s Renewal, Money & Management, Morale & Marketing, Mentoring & Modeling, and Master Plan & Maintenance.
Although the development process in the Blue Sky Project was inclusive-many participated in its design- the Implementation phase is designed to be just as inclusive, enriched with people-driven timelines. This will only help us make constant progress towards our goals. That seems to me like a plan-with a plan!
Each entry of my blog will take a closer look at what each pathway means for you, for me, and for the larger community. The Blue Sky Plan is not just talking about planning, it is intended to solve some problems, improve our work and study environment and take us to a higher level-a better and brighter University of Maine.