Monday, August 30, 2010

First Impressions

And I thought I wasn't going to have anything Coast Guard-related to write about. Silly Girl.

Like a good new grad student, I went to the Orientation dinner last Wednesday (the "business casual" dress code almost threw me for a loop...I've only got biker chick clothes with me until my house hold goods get here. But luckily, there's a really good thrift store close by: for $10 I went from biker chick to business chic). I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was lots of people standing around, socializing, networking. I didn't know *anybody* and I hate just walking up to someone, "Hi, my name's Charlotte." Anyway, I made it through until people sat down at their respective tables, and the Dean started to speak.

Dean Kettl is Dean of the School of Public Policy, and he started out his welcome by telling us all how great we were, how this was the largest class they've ever had, but how it was also the most competitive class for entry. We, apparently, are the cream of the crop.

But then he asked if any of us knew who Tony Hayward is. A few hands raised here and there, and I knew I had heard the name, but just couldn't place it. Well, Tony Hayward is the former BP CEO who said, at the height of the Gulf oil spill crisis and in concert with his departure from BP, "I just want my life back."

That statement still sounds ridiculous.

But Dean Kettl quickly contrasted Mr Hayward with the individual who is in charge of the federal government's response to the oil got it, ADM Thad Allen, USCG (retired). Dean Kettl briefly discussed how things started happening after President Obama and ADM Allen sat down with BP execs to get the response effort moving along. He also mentioned some of ADM Allen's background, specifically his assumption of the federal government's response to the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His main point was that ADM Allen's brilliant leadership was the key to his success; he was able to motivate people, break down overwhelming problems into manageable bits, and generally approach any crisis with an attitude of effectiveness. In Dean Kettl's words, "You throw any problem at [ADM Allen] and he'll solve it."

How cool is *THAT*?!

I mean, in the Coast Guard, we all know ADM Allen is The OG Rock Star, but it was so amazing to hear the same thing from such an unexpected and completely unrelated source. I will selfishly bask in the glow, the associated cache, the credibility and coolness offered by being a part of the same organization as ADM Allen...and, of course, the thousands and thousands of other Coasties that made his Rock Star-ness possible.

The rest of the orientation events proceeded without any other CG-related fanfare. There were plenty of opportunities to meet the other first year Policy students, and some good sessions helpful to getting started with classes. Unfortunately, the one thing they didn't cover is the one thing I wish they would have. I haven't been in a higher education classroom since 1997. A *lot* has changed technologically in the last 13 years. There's this new thing called "Blackboard" which many of the professors use to post syllabi, reading assignments, discussion boards, etc. I fumbled my way through it, but definitely feel like I'm at a disadvantage being somewhat tech-unsavvy. I figured out my smartphone, though, so hopefully I'll be ok.

I'm halfway through the first reading assignment for my first class that starts tomorrow. Interestingly, one of the discussion points is about accountability and how public policy is really a compromise between politics and bureaucracy (crap, I really need to learn how to spell that word without looking it up every time). Bureaucracy is built on the need for accountability. We've got a couple of writing assignments in this class, and I'll probably try to find a way to write about the accountability issue.

One of those other questions I want to explore during school is the relationship between responsibility and accountability. As a CO, I heard and talked lots and lots about responsibility, for my ship, my crew, my mission, and accountability, and initially I thought the concepts were relatively interchangeable. Further consideration leads me to believe however, that accountability is the enforcement side of responsibility. Need to think about it more to be more coherent about it.

So, first impressions are that I'm glad I chose UMD. It's gonna be a great deal of work, but most everyone seems enthusiastic and engaged.


Azulao said...

Good gob, when ADM Allen is done in the Gulf, can he come our way? Because someone needs to kick our collective asses.

OTOH, I wonder what ADM Allen would do with a mess where literally 50% of the people involved could not be meaningfully disciplined.

In higher ed, what we usually mean by accountability is writing Yet Another Report that goes off into the ether. We never hear about it again, and if we do, it's something bad. IMO, we *should* be accountable but there has got to be a better way of making it happen.

Very glad your first days are positive! You'll figure out Bb and find it helpful, except for the discussion boards that your profs will make you do. Those are usually a waste; if you want a good discussion, public blogs are a lot better.

Erich Telfer said...

LT - outstanding blog! By way of introduction, I am a career Coast Guard officer who will be conducting a one-year research fellowship in Washington, DC. I have just come from a major command and applaud your taking a deeper look at command functions and responsibilities. As a fellow researcher, I would welcome the opportunity for a dialgue as we both spend a year, essentially, outside the Guard. Having completed two graduate programs myself, I understand your enthusiasm and would also welcome the chance to be a sounding board during your year.

I do not have access to a workstation so my personal e-mail is the best way to reach me: