Weathering the Superstorm

At the time I’m writing this blog, it’s Friday, the day that would usually mark the end of a typical week in the office.  Instead, it’s capping off the end of a week that’s been anything but typical.  To put it lightly, I think we can all agree it’s been a very surreal, scary, and unbelievable week in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

It’s been a week during which many of us have wondered at the strength of Mother Nature, endured days of power outages, cleaned up flooded basements, and thrown out spoiled food from the refrigerator, to name a few inconveniences.   Whatever these crazy days have entailed, I can bet that all of us in Student Affairs have shared the same thought: what about our students? 

After having no power for a few days, no access to email, and intermittent cell phone service, I finally learned that students at the College of Saint Elizabeth have been given shelter at Centenary College.  This was a relief, knowing that they were in a place with electricity, heat, and hot water.  But I also wonder about the students who left campus to ride out the storm with their families, and I especially worry about the ones who went home to South Jersey.

It’s been a week full of misfortunes on various levels, but I know there’s also been selfless deeds, creative problem solving, and acts of heroism.  We have come to know the breadth and severity of the devastation throughout New Jersey.  We have been so inundated by bad news and daunting situations, that I’m eager to hear some good news, specifically the good stuff that pertains to how our higher ed institutions have responded to the storm and its aftermath. 

Who are some unsung heroes? 

What creative solutions have been implemented?

As for CSE, on the Friday before the storm, the food service staff was making loads of sandwiches to feed students for a few days in the event of a power outage.  The Facilities staff already make plans to stay on campus last Monday night into Tuesday, even if the rest of campus was closed.  I learned yesterday that the Director of Residence Life (and probably many others on the Res Life staff) have relocated to Centenary and are waiting out the displacement alongside our students.  I admire and have the utmost respect for these individuals who put our students first in the time of a crisis.  When campus eventually reopens and everyone goes back to work, I’m sure I’ll hear lots more details about the great ways in which our college responded to this emergency.

How about other campuses?  What are some positive things you’ve witnessed or learned about that have happened in response to the storm?  Please add your comments so we can learn from one another’s experiences, and in the short term, be heartened by some good news.


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Engaging Students in the Presidential Election

The other day, a student asked me if I would answer a few questions about the upcoming Presidential election and my views. I hesitated, as I didn’t want my answers to be spread around campus or, even worse, published in our University newspaper. As my coworker told the student, we must be careful about sharing our political views with students, to ensure we do not make them feel ostracized or uncomfortable. However, I felt as if I missed out on an opportunity to engage with that student on a whole new level. As administrators who must remain neutral and supportive to all our students, how do we intellectually engage with them about politics and, in particular, this upcoming election? After all, we know that young adults are not showing up to the polls as much as we hope and expect. According to an article in The Chronicle, 51% of people under the age of 30 voted in the 2008 election. Where were those other 49%? Although 51% is the highest percentage in history, we need to encourage more students to be civically engaged and act on their right to vote.Image 

Sounds great, right? So, how do we do it 

Obviously, the first step is to register to vote. The last day to register in New Jersey is TOMORROW, Tuesday, October 16. Voter registration applications can be found on the NJ Department of State website: Your students can either choose their home address or their school address. If they choose their home address and need to do a mail-in ballot, they need to apply by October 30. 

What’s happening around NJ?

Schools across New Jersey are creatively engaging with students on the upcoming election. Here are some of the awesome and innovative initiatives that are happening around our state:

Many campuses, including Drew University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, are hosting debate viewing parties, panels, and discussions focused on the presidential election.

Ramapo College has a First-Year Seminar class that focuses solely on the 2012 Presidential election.

Union County College offers a no-credit course that is open to anyone who wants to learn about the candidates and the issues of the presidential election. (1)

The Princeton University Press blog has been serving as the school’s election headquarters, posting all things election and engaging with students electronically. (1)

Many schools, like Kean University, are partnering with Rock the Vote to get students to register and head to the polls.

What is your school doing to engage with students on the upcoming Presidential election?



The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Youth Vote in 2008 Election Ranked Among the Highest Ever, Data Show.” April 2009.



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Everything 80’s Movies Taught Me About Managing Change

ImageI will state the obvious:  I love a good coming-of-age movie (particularly ones filmed in the 1980s). The idea of being able to start over, start fresh, and gain a new perspective on life is very appealing.  Molly Ringwald finally gets her man after a lifetime of being awkward in Sixteen Candles.  Robin Williams’ students finally break the mold and stand on their desks, chanting “O Captain! My Captain” in Dead Poets’ Society.  A major, transformative change happens in these characters’ lives that proves challenging but ultimately leads them to a deeper appreciation of their lives, whether the ending is happy or not.


Our daily lives in student affairs aren’t exactly as exciting as the hunt for One Eyed Willie’s treasure. However, we are lucky enough to witness coming-of-age moments with our students that can be just as valuable. It’s important for us to be able to help our students manage these major changes in their lives, whether it is moving away from home, stepping up into a significant leadership position, or even failing in the planning of a large-scale event.  I argue that we can best do that by modeling appropriate behavior whenever the winds of change come blowing our way.


Recently, a colleague of mine was very distressed over several large organizational changes happening at our institution. He constantly brought up feelings of shock and uncertainty, always asked for updates (“any news yet?”), and frequently gossiped about upper level administrators. Maybe I’ve become somewhat more adept at handling large and small-scale change, but my attitude has always been, “let’s not worry until we have something to worry about”. He and I have gone back and forth over these changes, analyzed every detail, and predicted some of the most outlandish outcomes possible.


As of now, nothing has come from these major changes. Valuable time was spent mulling over catastrophes that never materialized, time that could have been spent with students. It is important for all of us to reflect on the time we spend dwelling on the negative impacts of change, and considering how that time could be better utilized. Of course we can all take time to identify challenges, but the Goonies would never have made it out of the Fratellis’ restaurant if they spent all their time panicking about One Eyed Willie’s ghost coming to get them.


Change happens, whether we are ready for it or not. It’s up to us to respond accordingly and model the appropriate behavior for our students. And maybe, just maybe, that process involves watching a lot of great 80’s movies together.


I would love to hear your suggestions on how to best manage organizational change.  Feel free to comment below or share with me on Twitter @kristaknj.


Krista Kohlmann

Regional Programming Coordinator

The Jersey Alliance



October 10, 2012 · 8:25 pm

NJ STARS Struggle to Shine

It is no surprise that the price tag that comes along with a higher education is quite a hefty bill. Many of our students in New Jersey search for financial assistance to help them attain a college education, whether in NJ or outside of the state. According to, many NJ high school graduates look to receive their college education in other states due to the high tuition costs that plague many NJ schools. In 2010, then president of Salem County Community College, Dr. Peter B. Contini stated that, “the general consensus was that 50% of college students who leave NJ for a college education, do not come back.” Source

To address the flight issue for high school graduates leaving the state to attend college, one step the state government took to keep students in NJ was the creation of the NJ STARS program. In 2004 the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship program was established to financially assist the brightest NJ high school graduates attend community colleges in our state.

When the program began, it assisted high school graduates who were in the top 20% of their high school class to attend a NJ community college free of charge. The program is a blending of merit and “need-based” scholarship. Since its creation, the program has received a lot of criticism as the maximum household income for eligible students is $250,000.

The $7,000 NJ STARS scholarship could be spent on tuition, books, and required fees. In 2006, two years after the program began, the NJ STARS II program was unveiled; this program allowed NJ STARS students who completed an associates degrees with a 3.0 GPA (or higher) to continue receiving a scholarship to advance their education a NJ state school.

In 2009, the NJ STARS program suffered its first hit when the number of eligible students for the program was reduced from the top 20% of a high school graduating class to the top 15%. The NJ STARS II program also changed in 2009; the qualifying GPA to continue in the NJ STARS II program increased from 3.0 to 3.25. The scholarship amount changed too, it went from $7,000 per year to a fixed amount up to $6,000 for students with a 3.49 GPA. Only students who earned between a 3.5 and 4.0 GPA would be eligible for the $7,000 scholarship. The snowball of changes continued, and parameters of the scholarship were limited to only tuition coverage (no books or fees).

In 2010, Gov. Christie proposed increasing state aid $1.5 million for the NJ STARS program, however, if passed, that would have been the last of the state funding to support the program and the program would end when the $1.5 million was used. However, year-end budget changes in 2010, allowed the program to continue, with again, more modifications.

This past September, new terms were again signed into place for the NJ STARS programs. Students in the top 15% of their high school class are still eligible for tuition coverage for up to five semesters to attend their local community college. The price of books and other fees are still the responsibility of the student.

The NJ STARS II program will also continue with changes. Students can now use their NJ STARS funding to finish their education at one of NJ private colleges instead of solely at state schools. However, there has been a significant decrease in the scholarship funding. Students in the NJ STARS II program are now only eligible for up to $2,500 instead of the $6-7,000 some were receiving. In an effort to attract NJ STARS students, several NJ private schools, such as Seton Hall University, are offering to match the $2,500 NJ STARS scholarships with a $2,500 grant for students.

As reported by, the reaction to the latest changes have been mixed. Some students are highly disappointed in the decreased funding, others are grateful for the $2,500.

I personally think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of NJ STARS scholarship recipients based on household income. How much state funding was used to assist students in homes with incomes of $200-249,000? Is it fair that some NJ college students from homes with a household income much less than $100,000 receive a decrease in NJ STARS funding while those in homes with higher incomes continue in the program?

Let’s hear what you think – please comment below!

Michelle L. Brisson
Past-President, The Jersey Alliance

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Do as I say, Not as I do!


By Kelly S. Hennessy

Tis the season for everyone to take a breath and reflect on the past few months.  Student affairs professionals know all too well that the months of August and September are exhausting.  In order to take a breath, I feel that a big dose of humor is needed to realize that during the months of August and September, for a great many of us, we all do things that we would never teach our students.  So please sit back, relax, and reflect with me on my many wonderful “Do as I say, Not as I do” moments from these past few months.  It is my hope that you find yourself nodding your head in agreement, as I know you find yourself in very similar situations during the beginning of the semester.

1.)    Eat healthy:  Often we teach our students about the importance of eating healthy while at college.  However, during the month of August I find that I can go 14 hours without much more than a large dose of caffeine.  (I believe that I should purchase stock in Starbucks based on the amount of coffee my staff purchase during these months.)  Or on the very next day I find that I am eating cookies for breakfast and BBQ food from an event for lunch and dinner.   Sometimes dinner is a handful of animal crackers dipped in leftover cake frosting followed by peanut M&Ms for dessert (my meager attempt at getting some protein).  Every year I find myself saying “next year I will not gain the training 15!”

2.)   Exercise regularly:  When I discuss stress with students or student staff, I often talk with them about getting out and doing something active (running, swimming, intramurals, club sports) however during the month of August and September I stay in shape carrying around several large binders (extra important workout for aging backs), props for training, materials for 3 programs or events for one day, and speed walking from one meeting to the next.  Not a typical method of exercise, but hey it works!

3.)   Live a balanced life:  I say this to my professional staff all the time, with the explanation that balance means different things to different people.  But during the month of August, balance means I will get to other things besides work in exactly 27 days.  Balance also can be interpreted more like rollover minutes. Whatever fun I would love to have during the last months of summer are saved up for the wonderful months of fall.  For every time I did not get to go to the beach in August, I will go to the pumpkin patch in October.  For every time in September I could not get off campus to get an iced hazelnut latte, I will get a warm pumpkin spice latte in October.

4.)   Plan ahead:  I am a 20 Gold (for you True Color’s professionals), which means I love check lists, planners, and everything organized.  However, during the months of August and September if I have not planned it out by the end of July, then it will not get done until the end of September.  The best example of this is that I make or buy my son’s birthday invitations in July for a middle of October birthday!  But once August hits, I feel like there are days that I am living like an undergraduate student again.  Finishing training sessions the night before, hoping that there is no huge crisis, power outage, or computer failure that will keep me from accomplishing my task that is due the next day. The non-urgent, less important tasks that aren’t as time sensitive simply get moved directly from my August “To-Do list” to the one in September–or, heck, even October.

5.)   Get enough sleep:  August and September are the months when I am most exhausted and running on empty.  I have a serious LOVE/HATE relationship with these months.  The hate stems from the fact that sleep is my best friend and I get very little of it during back to back to back 17 hour days.  This year I figured I would solve that problem and bring my favorite blanket to work, so I could catch a few ZZZZs between opening halls and Welcome Week events.  So in a way I am sort of following advice that I would give other staff.   This approach also meant that at times I would head off to a program with bed head or creases on my face from slipping in a 20 minute nap. Even after 27 long days of working it is difficult to find sleep because all of those family and friends you neglected during these months want to do fun things with you and you want to do amazing things with them.  So for me my 1st days off were spent by going camping in an RV with 8 other people, including jamming 5 kids under the age of 6 into one room.  Most people would find this exhausting and I admit it was, but balance for me was spending quality time with all the people I love.  I can sleep another day.

6.)   Try new things:  Okay, finally some advice that I do manage to do very well during August and September.  I always find that I am trying new things during this month in order to get to know my professional and student staff.  At times these new things might mean climbing up a 15 foot pole, or running around like a chicken, or some other crazy thing.  The lack of sleep often means that I don’t have the energy to say no to team building experiences that might be a little more out of my comfort zone and a little more on the embarrassing side.

7.)   Spend time with people you love:  This one makes me laugh because most student affairs professionals know the feeling of not being able to do much of anything with friends or family (beyond their immediate family) during the months of August and September.  No weddings, no funerals, no dinners out, no beach, don’t call, don’t ask, I will see you in September.  The great thing about this profession is that it draws so many wonderful people that you are surrounded by people you enjoy on a regular basis.

So although I hope that my students are learning from my words and not my actions during the busiest months of the year for student affairs professionals, I do hope that they understand that I love my job.  At the end of all this craziness the WHY is the important part that brings me back for more crazy Augusts, Septembers, and Octobers.  I know what we do has an impact on students and help them have a more enriching experience while in college, which is how I know there are so many other wonderful professionals that are also living through these crazy months… we love working hard in order to provide the best experience for our students.

Feel free to share some of the funny things that you find yourself doing during the first 3 months of the academic year!

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Starting the New Academic Year with Purpose

Below is a letter that was e-mailed to all Jersey Alliance members on September 11th 2012.

Hello Jersey Alliance Members!

I am thrilled to be reaching out to everyone as we start this new academic year. The Jersey Alliance is still feeling the momentum from the Big Ideas in Higher Ed Conference this past May! We are in a new place as an organization. This past July, the executive board met to do some serious reflection regarding the purpose of our organization. We have wiped away the lengthy mission statement, and decided that our mission can be summarized simply in 6 words: Change Student Affairs, Change the World. We started as a state association, and hope to grow into a professional community of “game-changers”. In addition to the thoughtful introspection that occurred, we spent time crafting three action oriented goals that will help the organization go after this ambitious new mission. Below is a brief explanation, and how they apply to you.

  • Membership Involvement: Providing opportunities for members to get involved is of great importance to me and all members of the executive board. This month, we are working on building “job descriptions” for members to be able to take on manageable and valuable contributions in their own unique way. An example may look like this: The treasurer has a “finance team” and on that finance team might be someone interested in coming up with new ideas for fundraising, or someone looking for new sponsors that can help support programs/events. This is just one example- there will be teams that thematically fall under each of the exec board positions. These roles would be fulfilled by members! The week of September 24th we will be promoting all of the teams/roles to our membership so that you can get involved as a member in The Jersey Alliance. We hope that this new offering of opportunities will fulfill the interests of our members, and ultimately engage everyone in our mission to Change Student Affairs, Change the World. We have a few opportunities you can get involved in that are more general and listed them here for anyone looking to jump in right away!
  • Unconventional Programming: We believe in professional development programming that is driven by experts and experiences (more explained in this blog post). We also believe in sharing the expertise we possess as college educators with other industries (more explained here). The organization is working on a programming curriculum chalked full of unique experiences with experts in and outside of our industry. We will look to make the most of our awesome location and hope to offer some trips into NYC or Philadelphia to experience things that will in turn help us in our role in higher education as well as our jobs on respective campuses. Examples include:
  • A trip into NYC for a crowd-sourcing workshop, to see how crowd-sourcing principles could make us more resourceful and drive creative solutions in our work.
  •   A fresh take on the traditional communication workshop with presentations/workshops from a Stand Up Comedian and Hostage Negotiator.
  •   Sharing “call for programs” opportunities for conferences outside of Higher Education so that members are able to share expertise with the world and draw attention to the hard work we are doing in this field.

These are just a few ideas, but we need members that are willing to spearhead ideas or come up with new ones.

  •  Emphasis on Digital Resources/Community: Twenty years ago a professional community made up of educators from all over the state, country or world would not have been as feasible as it is today. We want to leverage the technology that exists to engage as many change agents in this field as possible. The biggest difference you all will see over the next few months is an overhaul of our website. We are working to make our website a hub for our members and those interested in the organization. This will be a gradual launch with the hopes of having a barebones version of the new website available in early October. Over time the plan is to add a member’s only section of the site with a forum, resource library, job postings (provided by members), and other member’s only information. We also plan to have an event calendar that can be viewed and synched by all visitors of the site, but members will be able to add their own events to the site (woohoo!).

We have laid it all out on the line. This is the direction we’re moving in, and the purpose driving the organization. Now it’s time to hear from you. What reactions do you have to anything we outlined in the e-mail? What excites you? What bothers you? What ideas do you have? Simply reply to this e-mail and we will be excited to hear from you. We have more to come in a few weeks when we send out several new opportunities for everyone to join the movement and get involved. Oh yeh and one more thing, in that e-mail we’ll also tell you about a new initiative that includes sending a “Burger King style” crown to a deserving colleague 🙂 Stay tuned! Here’s to a new year, new possibilities and big dreams!

Take care,
Courtney O’Connell
President, The Jersey Alliance

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Creatively Challenged?


Lately I have read several great blogs on how to be creative. I read closely, even taking notes as I am one of those people that lack the creativity gene. The one thing that I find most frustrating while reading these blogs is that they tend to be written by people that I believe are creative. They demonstrate this skill on a regular basis in their tweets and blogs.  They give great advice which is helpful, but might be missing the needs of those non-creative souls that find it difficult to generate their own creative juice. So I decided to write a short blog on how to be creative from someone who IS NOT CREATIVE but thinks that on some days I can fake it with the best of them. 

Thinking of outside of the box ideas does not come easy for me and for all the rest of you that feel you are in a similar situation here are 6 simple ideas on how to get your creativity flowing:

1. Read, read, and do more reading. Spend time reading about topics that outside your normal bookshelf choices.  Ask others about books or blogs that have been inspiring to them or changed the way that they viewed a topic.  Find ways to be introduced to new material that is cutting edge and inspiring.

2. Follow interesting people on twitter. Don’t just follow friends or the most popular stars or the major organizations in your field, but follow people with different interests and different politic viewpoints. Most importantly follow COMEDIANS. Comedians are always talking about smart ideas, politics with a twist, and things that are popular.  Interesting people talk about interesting things.

3. Surround yourself with smart people that are creative. During times where I am in groups that are brainstorming and thinking of outside the box ideas, it is easier for me to add to the conversation and be more creative.  I am a builder, once a great idea has started I can easily add to it and think of new and innovative ideas to add to the conversation.  I also like to hire this way. To keep a staff fresh and innovative having new energy and new ideas really helps get veteran staff thinking in new ways and can challenge supervisors and peers to dream big.

4. Use note functions in your cell phone, computer, or iPad. Often new ideas or sparks of new ideas, when they do come to me, come to me in the strangest places.  I might be at the grocery story, reading a book in bed, or playing with my kids at the park.  So being able to add these ideas to a note function on my cell phone allows me to remember them and address them later when I have more time. 

5. Look for the weaknesses in your department, division, or organization that you can be the expert in.  My supervisor recently asked all candidates what sets them apart and what made them special.  Sometimes being the person in your department or office that is the go-to person on a topic forces you to do more research, be more innovative, and learn a new skill.  It might not be in your job description, it might not be in anyone’s job description, but just having this skill adds value to you, your department, and the services you provide.

6. Think about what feels the most logical, the easiest, or straight forward way of doing something and do the complete opposite.  Trying to do things in a different way can open new doors, spark new ideas, and offer more suggestions to a task at hand.  Sometimes just asking the “why” questions and getting to the heart of a task can make you reexamine the “what”.  For example if your “why” is to energize students, perhaps the way you reach that why could be completely different than you have always imagined.  Since the end goal is the important part, it allows you to be much more creative with the process of getting there.

Know your strengths and if being innovative is not one of them utilize these simple tips to go from being creatively challenged to a creative genius.   Please add to my list of 6 with ways that you get your creative juices flowing! 

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