Fifteen Years Later

Fifteen years ago today, I moved into room 302B of the Central Campus Residence Hall at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. I did not know that I would put roots down in the Rocket City. If I had not co-oped, I would have graduated in 3 1/2 years and would likely have swooshed my way out of town to the highest bidder. I wanted to go to school here, but I didn’t plan on staying. Instead, I invested myself in the city, the Tennessee Valley, and Alabama.

I moved home for 10 weeks during the summer after my first year at UAH; I drove back three times for SGA business. Until my dad had his heart attack in April, I hadn’t been gone from Huntsville since then for longer than 10 days at any stretch; when I was gone for three weeks, I was losing my marbles. Huntsville is my home. I really don’t want to live anywhere else, and looking for jobs outside the area is hard ((But necessary, and I’m doing it, so yeah)) for me to do.

Huntsville means a lot of things to me: my alma mater, our hockey program, the 11 years of my career to-date, buying my first home, my churches, my coffee shop, my life. My friends are here. My best friend is here ((Someone I’ve known for half of his life and a year longer than I’ve lived in Huntsville)). My family aren’t here, but not for lack of trying, and I have friends that are as close as family.

As I write this, I’m in Nashville and not at home, and I won’t be home until Saturday. I’m reminded of my friend Andy Osenga’s song with The Normals:

And if you have a place where you belong
You’re a lucky one, for time was meant to waste
A laugh with good old friends or walking hand in hand
I can’t believe I’ll be there and this time I can stay

But I’ll be home soon
I’ll be home soon

A great song written by a band of guys that missed home when they wrote a great record really fits what I feel.

See you soon, Huntsville. Leave the Saturn V lights on for me.

Back to School

I hit my mark: the kid who doesn’t want to be back in school.

With more free time than I intended to have these days ((Again, thank you, AK, for that. You really pumped my tires.)), I’ve decided to go back to school. I still live close to my alma mater ((This means “nourishing mother” in Latin, which you probably didn’t know if, like me, you didn’t take Latin, or if you hadn’t looked it up on Wikipedia.)), and I knew that I could get re-admitted with a minimum of fuss. The premise was pretty simple: with Washington a mess and my likely next engineering career path on hold until government contracts are let, I’ve got the semester to knock out some coursework. I tried to get to full-time status, but I just couldn’t get the fourth class I wanted as I didn’t apply for admission until late July.

I had options as to what I could do, and here’s what I considered:

  1. Engineering management. I’ve actually started on this once before, but I got very busy at work and something had to drop. I could have taken two, maybe three classes in this. I decided against engineering management because I wanted some flexibility in my academic support of my professional pursuits. Going back to engineering management would be pigeonholing myself, and I’m not even sure that it’s what I want to do right now.
  2. An MBA. This would be along the lines of the EM work, but it would be towards the center of the business field and open up a lot of positions. I’ll admit that I really didn’t think about this until Dad inquired about where I was going, but I don’t think it would have been the right fit. I wanted some more undergraduate work.
  3. English. During the fall of my first year at UAH, my honors seminar professor ((The late Dr. Stephen Szilagyi. Man, I liked that guy.)) asked me, “Why do you want to be an engineer? I could walk you down to the department office right now and have you in an English program of study within the hour.” I explained that I liked technical problems as well as having a steady job. He conceded my point mainly on the merits of my first response. If I ever had the unlimited time/funds to do it, I would enjoy a double major in English and psychology. It would probably take me five full-time semesters, but it sure would be a lot of fun thinking about things.
  4. Mathematics, which is what I chose.

Mind you, when I was an aerospace engineering student, I needed just one additional 300-level mathematics course to have a minor. Did I do it? No. I saw math as a tool and not something to be studied, so I kept on with my other studies ((And all the other extracurriculars. I looked at my transcript the other day and I was not happy with my performance.)). If I could go back 11 years and tell me that I’d be in this position, past me would have a good laugh.

Why mathematics? I see mathematics as foundational to the sciences and engineering disciplines in the same way that English is foundational to the liberal arts. If you can logically think through a mathematical construct, you have a sense of the issues at hand in the same way as a focus on the study of my mother tongue would have me carefully considering the words that I choose to speak and write. Having a mathematics background will keep me from being pigeonholed as an aerospace engineer, as I do have a greater breadth and depth of knowledge. Engineering curricula are designed to teach you how to think about problems and their solutions, but shortcuts are often sought to maximize efficiency. That’s nice, but I find myself wanting to dig a bit deeper.

I could also teach with a mathematics degree, something that I could not do with an engineering degree. I don’t know if secondary education is for me, but I would like to try it. If I cannot find a job in the short- or medium-term, my goal is to support myself with substitute teaching and tutoring work. It will make for busy times, but these bills do not pay themselves.

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I have to complete eleven classes to get this degree, eight of which are upper-level mathematics courses. I’m in the foundation course now as well as a couple other general education requirements for a BS degree that weren’t a part of my BSE curriculum. ((UAH offers a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree. It’s designed to be a well-rounded engineering curriculum upon which the major coursework is laid. I don’t know how well-understood it is.))

Student Email Accounts at UAH

Back when I was getting my first ((I start my second on Wednesday)) baccalaureate degree at UAH, students were not automatically issued email accounts. This was 1997, and the University’s IT department created individual, access-limited accounts on a UNIX machine. If you knew what you were doing, you could do a lot of UNIX stuff with that account. I knew enough to be dangerous and find the limits. [Somehow, I didn’t get shut down.]

Getting those accounts was an interesting process, though. Students went to the SGA office and filled out a form to get an account. We filled out a form by hand. This was peculiar to me then, and it’s a historical footnote that I wanted kept alive. After joining SGA that year, I was a part of the team that handled those requests for IT. I asked one of the staff members—who still works for UAH, so I won’t name him—why this was done, and he told me that SGA got involved because IT got overwhelmed with requests, and SGA was equipped to know which people were and weren’t students and then get information to them as appropriate.

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Fast forward 14 years and the IT system now makes it impossible for me to pay them. We’re talking seven clicks after a login, and then only if you know exactly where you’re going. Maybe I should give the SGA my debit card number.

On Depression in College

In a post-Virginia Tech world, it’s understandable that colleges and universities would want to watch “at-risk” students. But as NPR notes, more often these days the schools are sacrificing the student to limit their liability.

I’ve become more vocal in the last year about mental health issues, mostly because I’ve owned up to mine and sought treatment. The stigma of mental health issues is, quite frankly, right up there with sexually transmitted diseases. The difference, of course, is that STDs come from promiscuity and non- or mis-use of contraceptives, but I can’t find a single case where anyone actively causes themselves to have a mental health issue.

You might think I’m overstating the case a bit, but think about how people generally discuss mental health issues—hushed tones, furtive glances, closed-off body language. Heck, I’m pretty open about my struggles with chronic major depression, and yet I still fall into these behaviors myself. It’s just hard.

I understand that universities are worried about their students’ well-being. But I assure you that there are a lot more depressed students on your campus who need treatment, care, and concern than there are Seung-Hui Chos who will snap and kill their students. My depression extends back into my college days, including times when I certainly was ideating. I vividly remember considering killing myself in my apartment bathroom at one point in my college career, considering how I could shoot myself in the head without hurting my roommates or anyone else. Now, I was too damn stubborn and stupid to seek help then, but if I had been ready to do so and was then faced with the prospect of being put on involuntary leave from school because I needed a break from school—and I can name at least two semesters in college where I should have withdrawn and come back later—and also risk losing scholarships and my very spot in the school, I would not have sought treatment. And that, folks, is simply a tragedy.

“We’re not sitting on the porch playing banjos down here.”

When we played Colorado College to start our season, Scott Owens, CC’s radio voice and a former member of the Michigan State organization, called our coach, Danton Cole, to talk about the Alabama-Huntsville team. Cole is an MSU alum, and so the conversation was free and easy.

And then Owens asked about recruiting. And then … then I got to remixing.


That was a fun ninety minutes last night … and now I have to mix it down to 30 and 60-second loops before tonight’s game.

Five Years

Well, today is Mother’s Day, so it means that UAH will be having commencement. [They’ve been doing this for more than the decade I’ve been associated with the school.] And so I realized this after I cleared out the cobwebs: five years ago yesterday, I graduated from college. I’ve now been out of post-secondary education as long as I was in it. [Ignoring, of course, two brief turns through graduate school.] Even goofier, five years ago today, I in-processed as a full-time, salaried employee. Today, I’ll go in to the office to build charts for a program management review with our customer; tomorrow, I fly to Houston to represent the company.

Seems like it’s all moving a bit fast, but … this is how my life goes most of the time. 🙂

Norm Has Nothing on This Guy

My friend Norm—and most anyone who went to UAH from, say, 1993-2003 knows Norm—spent ten years working on his degree; amusingly, he now works for the university. But he has nothing on Johnny Lechner, who’s spent twelve years at Wisconsin-Whitewater. I love the closing comment:

Michelle Eigenberger, an editor at The Royal Purple, said Lechner may have achieved celebrity status, but most students are tired of it.

“It’s getting old,” she said. “For the sanity of the rest of the campus, we want him to get out of here.”

It’s just how the UAH SGA folks felt about me! 😉

UAH President Frank Franz to Retire in 2007

My friend Chris Brown wrote in with the following:

UAH president announces plan to retire in 2007
Dr. Frank Franz, president of the University of Alabama in Huntsville since 1991, made a surprise announcement at todays UA trustees meeting here: He plans to retire at the end of the 2007 spring semester.

Franz told trustees, who were meeting in Huntsville, that hes approaching 70 years old and, as trustees often transition off the board when they hit 70, he felt a university president should also.

The announcement took the entire board and UAH staff by surprise. Dr. Malcolm Portera, chancellor of the UA system, said the system would begin formulating a search process to replace Franz once he retires.

Frank, I raise a glass to you. You’ve been a wise mentor and friend, a steady hand on UAH’s rudder. You have your critics, and they have their points, but I have appreciated your efforts over the years. I’m surprised that you’ve stayed this long, but I’m glad you have. I wish you all the best.

SGA President? HA!

I was asked by someone last night—I won’t say who, to protect the innocent—if I was going to run for President of the UAH SGA next year. I tried not to laugh at the person’s suggestion, but it is pretty laughable. Why? Look, I was Executive Vice-President. I had a President who almost got thrown out on his keister. Some people considered me the de facto President that year. You know what? That job sucks. You couldn’t pay me to do it, and they sure wouldn’t pay me enough to do it.

Not only do I not have the time, but I do not have the inclination, at least not right now. I am far more enjoying being at the bottom of the organization—getting people riled up and getting them to think about what we’re doing and how we can do it better—than I ever enjoyed being EVP. A well-motivated member of the Assembly can do far, far more to effect change than the SGA President has, purely because the Assembly has the power of the pen and the power of the purse.

The only reason I’d ever consider doing the SGA President thing is in terms of a study in leadership and management. [And yes, studying leadership and management is why I’m back in graduate school, and I consider this second SGA experience to be a part of that process.] But not right now.