EDITORS' NOTE: Dr. Paine returned to UT Austin two years ago this month. Below is her very first column about the value of looking at our work “Through Beginners’ Eyes.”
“The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning with the first small and scary step.”
-July Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Creativity
The academic year. Except for the first four years, I have lived my entire life by the academic calendar. Ask me what year I got married and I’ll tell you 1989-90. It doesn’t hurt that I have a summer birthday, meaning each one of my years straddles the calendar year and fits neatly into the academic year. I may be an extreme version, but I don’t think I’m all that unusual because for most of us in Student Affairs, or in the academic world as a whole, the reality is that the year begins in August.
August – hot and miserable, when the possibility of a cool evening seems far away and a cold day is just a faint memory. August is really the beginning of the New Year for us. It is also the beginning of another Fall Term, with another group of new students arriving on campus. It is the time of the year when all things are possible. New programs begin and all have the potential of success. We are surrounded by friends and yet unfamiliar faces are everywhere as new faculty and staff members join with incoming students to recreate the campus community all over again.
Of course, this fall is truly a new beginning for me at UT Austin and, because of the role I have, it becomes a new beginning for the Division of Student Affairs. As a new person on campus, I have a lot to learn, so I will be asking questions – lots of questions. I’ll need to learn acronyms, find offices and meet people. There are pronouns to shift – UTSA is now “they” and “we” are UT Austin. I know I’ll be a bit confused for a while.
I will also be asking for explanations, looking for context, and trying to understand the organizational culture of both our Division and the University as a whole. In other words, though I know some things about this campus and Student Affairs, I will be a beginner. However, it’s possible for all of us to look at our world through beginner’s eyes, to forget our assumptions that we know it all because we’ve been here for several years or have extensive experience in our fields. To do that we have to do as Cameron suggests: be humble and open, willing to explore. We have to check our assumptions about our favorite programs and ask if they are still fulfilling campus needs. We have to be willing to learn something new or try a different technology. Scariest of all is to admit that, perhaps, if we were able to make a change, there might be a better way of doing our work.
As we start this semester, this New Year, I invite you to join me in being a beginner again. I will be working to meet as many people as quickly as possible and asking as many questions as I can. I hope you will take the opportunity to introduce yourself to me and ask as many questions as you can – of me and your colleagues. I am glad to be part of this wonderful community again and I am looking forward to the adventures of the coming year.