Posts Tagged ‘UNC’

The moment we learn a skill or acquire any knowledge or wisdom it is our responsibility to share it with those younger than us. Not doing so would be a selfish waste of that skill, knowledge or wisdom. I came about mentoring by the same circuitous and unknown to me way as most things happen in my life.

My college years were incredibly constructive: I wrote a column for the school newspaper, I had the classical music program at the radio station, I was president of the International Club, I was International Student representative to the Student Government, and my senior year I was appointed Student Government representative to the Board of Trustees. I sat next to a sweet old man, who by means of his mystical powers, realized I badly needed some guidance in my life. Thus, unbeknown to me I had my first mentor. Jere Dykema was a quiet, sweet and brilliant lawyer and investment manager in Boston. The fact that he was a trustee at Bentley means he was also well connected and probably rich. After graduation I did an internship at the Societe de Banques Suisses in Geneva, and in September of 1987 I moved to New York hoping to get a job in Wall Street at the same time as the financial markets took one of their biggest hits in history, Black Monday. Somehow Jere Dykema stayed in touch with me throughout – this was before personal computers and the interweb. After eight fruitless, should I say, jobless months in NY, Jere put me in touch with an acquaintance from his squash club in Boston. That acquaintance was Eyk Van Otterloo, and the rest, as they say, is history: he made the mistake of offering me a job, and I moved back to my beloved Boston, where I would regularly meet Jere Dykema for lunch. That is when I realized the importance of mentoring.

After a few years I moved back to Madrid to work for a stockbroker. We soon received a young college graduate from Atlanta on a one year internship. Sure we became good friends to this day, but more importantly I could help him get his professional “sea legs”. From that point on there was always someone I could help out. When I started my company in 1994, one of my biggest responsibilities, but also pleasures was training, coaching and mentoring my team, I loved it. Becoming a teacher in the US also meant automatically becoming a mentor. Advising students is a great way of putting my 20 plus years of business experience and my 50 (soon plus) years of life experience to good use.

In the photofinishing industry I was again lucky to find wonderful advisors. Although Renaud lived in Paris, he still helped and advised me, and made sure I was ok. I loved working with him and knowing that he always had my best interest in mind.

Back in the States, strangely enough, an old university professor became my mentor. Twenty years after teaching me, and having stayed in contact all these years, Prof. Nurick and his wife Diane became friends, advisors, mentors. I still remember conversations and advice they gave me. Being a Tar Heel himself, Aaron Nurick wrote a letter of recommendation for me to UNC, I don’t know what sort of lies he wrote, but it worked, they accepted me!

At UNC, other than with my students, I had a couple of great mentoring opportunities. We had the chance of guiding the graduate students that came into the department after us. My first year I had the best possible mentor. Grant Gearhart took me out on nice long bicycle rides where he patiently explained the ropes of graduate school to me. As expected we became close friends. Starting my second year it was my turn to help an incoming student. The Newman Church also had a mentoring program, so I also got involved with that. I was paired with Mauricio and Simdi, they were both great. We would meet for a meal, mostly sushi at Akai Hana, my favorite place in Chapel Hill (actually Carrboro). Mauri graduated and Simdi and I continued our tradition of meeting for great meals and chats.

Part of the beauty of mentoring is that there are as many different styles of mentoring, as there are mentors. Some mentors are so subtle you do not realize you have been mentored until after the fact. This was the case with Dean Minetti who was such a presence during my college years, but I did not understand how he had helped me out until much later. Other cases might be more obvious, which was the case with my father.

As I am about to post this, I am happy to report that my new school, Seacrest Country Day School has a faculty mentoring program, and I am thrilled to have the awesome Patrick Duffy as my mentor.

I hope my help and guidance advice have been of some use to those I have shared them with over the years. I can’t wait to continue helping those younger than I.

April 23rd marked the 400 anniversary of Cervantes’ death. UNC had two great events to celebrate, and as a Cervantes and Quixote fan I am very happy and proud to have participated in both.

The 22nd Annual Carolina Conference for Romance Studies hosted the “I Am Quixote Festival” panel… and I was asked to be the chair! Needless to say, I was thrilled to be asked and I jumped at the opportunity.

Given the importance of this 400 anniversary the conference room was packed, and the panel was filmed. The panelists were Alexandra Veronica Combs from UNC-Wilmington who presented on “The Heroines of the Quixote who Challenged Narrative Structures”, our own Colleen McAlister, who presented on “Violence and Fame in the Quijote: Corporeal Manifestations of the Search for Identity”, and finally, University of Texas at San Antonio professor Santiago Daydí-Tolson, presenting on “The Contrasting Diets of Don Quixote and Sancho”. They were all awesome and great sports to boot. I must confess I was as proud as a schoolboy when my Dissertation Director, Irene, came to the event. In case things got out of hand, I picked up a copy of the Riquer edition of the Quijote.

One of the main responsibilities of a panel chair is keeping the panelists from exceeding the time limits. This is always a delicate matter that can – if the panelist ignores the time limits – result in awkward situations. The problem is that it is also difficult for the chair to elegantly interrupt the panelist to let them know that they are running long. Of course part of the problem with this is the culture of these events where the panelists just sit there and read their papers, it would be much more interesting and fun if they just talked about their research! But that is not something I am going to change regardless of how wildly popular my blog is. I thought long and hard about how I was going to deal with my panelists if they ran long. The solution came from football (soccer if you are American). I bought a yellow and a red piece of paper and cut them down to card size. The first warning when the panelist was approaching the time limit I would slide the yellow card under their noses, sorry, eyes. If they still kept going, We would pull the red card, just like in football!! Fortunately, or unfortunately my panelists stayed well within their allotted time and I didn’t have to use my revolutionary new technique.

The second event was a marathon reading of Don Quixote. For this event my whole class signed up to read (ok, I bribed them with a free class period – but it was well worth it – and they all read in Spanish, in front of an audience). You can see them all read on the attached video, my bit is at 5:08:50. For this event I sourced a real suit of armor from a great theater costume shop in Raleigh and wore bits and pieces as Don Quixote, it was a great way to promote the event and it was a lot fun. As luck would have it I read the hilarious bit where Sancho is tossed in a blanket at an inn while his master looks on from outside the inn’s wall. I was – as I always am – reminded of how funny, brilliant, clever and well written this book is, and how fresh it remains at 400 years old.

Now, if you have not done so already, go read Don Quixote, the first modern novel, it makes a great summer read, extra points if you read it in Spanish.

Don Quixote Marathon reading at UNC

If we do not take time to appreciate beauty, how are we spending our time? This year has been another remarkable year for art, culture and beauty in Chapel Hill. It is a town with an exquisite taste for that which is beautiful. I have been lucky to enjoy that, even when in the stress of finishing my dissertation I had to miss some great performances.

The season started for me with Juliette Binoche, of whom I have been a big fan since the 80s, playing Sophokles’ Antigone in the T.S. Eliot translation, what a presence! I love strong women (now you know my vote for November 8).

UNC artist-in-residence, violinist Gil Shaham played Bach’s six violin solos. I think I still have goosebumps.

Two days later Shaham played Verdi and Tchaikovsky with the UNC Symphony.

As I become older, I have become more and more selective in my taste, but being a lover of the Portuguese Fado, I went to see Mariza, It was very nice, although I miss the tavernas in Alfama.

Another highlight of the year was listening to Riccardo Muti, directing the Chicago Symphony’s Beethoven’s Fifth and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. Of course as an encore he regaled us with some Verdi!

In November I saw The Ensemble Intercontemporain play some modern pieces. Pierre Boulez’s sur Incises for three pianos, three harps and three percussion blew my mind. Rock and Rollers talk about Phil Spector’s “Wall of sound”, I have also heard it mentioned about Brian Eno and U2, but this piece is more like a tactile wall of sound, like a curtain of sound. Watch for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments section!

Before the Christmas break, I saw the great Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker. Don’t mess with tradition.

Gil Shaham performed again in February, playing Prokofiev and Beethoven and I got to go with my composer friend, James.

After defending and delivering my dissertation I managed to catch a few more great events. The evening my dissertation was accepted by the Graduate School, I rode old Rocinante to a nice opera recital in Durham, Talya Lieberman sang a fantastic mix of Handel, Ravel, and Kurt Weill. Brava!

Back at UNC’s Memorial Hall I saw Les Arts Florissants perform a repertoire of Baroque Serious Airs and Drinking Songs. What a brilliant way to say farewell to four great years of jaw dropping concerts at Carolina Performing Arts.

Again with my dear friend James, we saw the North Carolina Symphony perform Handel, Haydn and Stravinsky’s modernist masterpiece The Firebird (1919).

On the theater front I saw not one, but two, Chekhov plays: Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, which the last time I saw performed was by my students at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts! I also snuck in one musical: Sweeney Todd, lovely Gore!!!

Of course I always support students’ productions and concerts which included two operas, the UNC Baroque Ensemble, the UNC Symphony Orchestra, and the University Chamber Players.

All in all, an extremely rewarding season, the likes of which I do not foresee enjoying in the near future.

Finding a job has been a fairly lengthy and tedious process, so I will break it up into two parts: Applying for university teaching positions, and Part II, looking for secondary school jobs.

Applying for that endangered species, the elusive, under paid, tenure track, university teaching job is quite a silly process, one basically has to start in the fall of your last year as a student. Although this is not entirely true, as we shall see… I was all geared up to join the ranks of the job seekers in August when the first question popped up: How many academic articles have you published? And where? Well, I did try to publish one a couple of years ago, in the fairly respected Boletín de la Biblioteca de Menéndez Pelayo. It was rejected, and I decided to move on and focus on my dissertation, which I deemed far more important than publishing anything. As usual, I was wrong. Tenure track university positions are so scarce nowadays that it is totally a buyers’ market, they get to set the rules. Also basically all universities are strapped for cash which is, as we shall see another crucial factor. So what one has published and where becomes a key deciding factor, who cares how good you might be as a teacher.

You see, years ago, I think it was my old Bentley College Dean and dear friend and mentor Bob Minetti explained to me how you have the big research focused universities and the “student centered” or “teaching centered” universities. This made perfect sense to me and it is what I have assumed as true ever since. Being passionate about teaching I figured these would be the schools I would apply to, that might value more my worth as a teacher than as a publishing machine. Now, with the cash crunch and oversupply of applicants, universities basically want candidates that have already published top articles in top journals, this is what will bring prestige, and thus money to their institutions. So do not believe the “student centered” or “teaching centered” spiel. That might have been years ago, they still preach that concept, but believe me, it looks like they could care less.

Besides the article business they want to see a Statement of Teaching Philosophy, a Research Statement, mock syllabi, etc. This is just a smoke screen, a distraction from what they really want. I am confident that if you have an earth shattering Teaching Philosophy Statement, and the best crafted (mock) syllabus, unless you have published at least one article in a respected, peer reviewed journal, you are nothing. They do not care about your teaching, if they do, it is not their priority. Which brings us to the fallacy of the teacher/scholar. Universities like to boast of their teacher/scholars. It is a very rare occurrence in nature to find a leading scholar who likes to spend hours, days in libraries, reading, writing – a rather lonesome job – I can guarantee you, who also loves to be in the classroom teaching and sharing what they are learning in their research, this requires a very different skill set and personality from the research oriented person. One is really either a teacher or a scholar, with maybe one in a hundred having both characteristics. My graduate school experience both at Simmons College (a small liberal arts school) and at UNC (a top research university) prove this point. So, to summarize, if you are looking to work in higher education, you have to ask yourself: am I a researcher or a teacher? Which is basically the ancient Greek saying from the Oracle at Delphi: “Know thyself”.

Going back to the academic journal issue. Basically the academic journal is nothing but the ID card for a club. One has always needed an ID to get into a club. Now, this is my theory: originally the universities taught in Latin. This was what set the educated from the masses. If you wanted in, you had to master Latin, sure, this was a lingua franca, but it was also a proof of membership, of how bright one was. Latin started losing its grip as early as the 13th C.[1] Eventually universities had to switch to the vernacular – and they are still smarting about that. So now you have to gain access by writing a long article, full of big words that you might not necessarily need, quoting second rate theorists like Lacan or Bakhtin. Remember that this is all my conspiracy theory, but then, why did Galileo Galilei publish his Dialogue for the general public and not for the cognoscenti? Ditto Albert Einstein who chose to publish his last thoughts on General Relativity in a “small journal after spurning the peer-reviewed process at a better-known journal, the Physical Review. To an editor at the Review: ‘I see no reason to address the erroneous comments of your anonymous expert’”.[2] In no way am I comparing myself to Galileo, Einstein, or Groucho Marx when he said: “I do not want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member”.[3]

Sorry about my rant. Now, back to my job search. Teaching two classes, writing my dissertation, preparing my job search materials, I wrote another article. At least I could say in my CV: “article submitted to…” (it eventually got rejected by an “anonymous expert” as Einstein would say).

Basically all university Spanish teaching jobs go through the Modern Language Association (MLA) job database. This year there were well over 200 different Spanish teaching jobs in the US. Most of those were for visiting professors, meaning you get a one year contract, non tenure track jobs, meaning you are “hired help” and treated as such, or for the “trendy” subjects, the ‘in vogue” topics. Of all those, there was only one posting for an 18th and 19th C Spanish Literature specialist. It was at Wake Forest, a perfectly good university. They sent me a nice email in December saying they were going to call me for an interview and another very nice email in April telling me they had chosen a candidate. I also applied to a more “generalist” position at Gettysburg College  (yes, that Gettysburg) only to receive a three line email that they had hired someone. All in all, I guess my heart was not into teaching at a university, and it showed. But I still had to “tick the box”.

This process led me to learn a few fascinating bits: I am a passionate teacher, I want to teach, to share, I love learning – from my students – not from some pompous punk that thinks they are the last Pepsi bottle in the desert because they got an article published. Universities are hiring very bright young things that might be good researchers and writers, but might not have a clue how to engage a room full of curious, sceptic students. Second: I do not want to be a member of that club, I would rather teach at a secondary school as I did in Boston before getting my PhD.

So I asked myself: At the end of a day teaching, would I rather go read an academic journal full of big words quoting Lacan and Bakhtin, or would I rather go coach soccer, tennis or fencing? The answer for me was clear, and that leads me to part II of this tirade.

[1] Paul F. Grendler. The Universities of the Italian Renaissance. Baltimore: JHU Press, 2002.

[2] Popular Science, November 2015

[3] Telegram to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills to which he belonged, as recounted in Groucho and Me, Da Capo, 1959, p. 321.

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Discussing job strategies with my Dissertation Director, the one and only Irene Gómez Castellano in Valencia with horchata and  fartons. 

 

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During my four years at UNC I have taught a great bunch of students, Carolina’s finest indeed. Every single one of them had a great talent: I have finally understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, thanks to a student who made a presentation on it – in Spanish! I have taught students that had full time jobs, students that were in every kind of club and activity imaginable. And I have taught many athletes: Rowers, Soccer players, Track and Field stars, Baseball players, female Rugby players, Swimmers, Football players – it is very rewarding when star wide receiver Mack Hollins stops you (not the other way around) on Franklin Street to say hi and catch up! -, and Softball players.

I taught a few Softball players my first year at UNC, and those girls probably told other incoming players, so throughout my four years I’ve had a few take Spanish with me. Walking across campus one day this Spring, I bumped into Lauren Fuller and Erin Satterfield, those girls are like sisters, and they asked me if I would – as their favorite teacher – throw the first pitch in the senior recognition game.

Confession time, I have never played, never mind pitch softball, so I watched a few Youtube tutorial videos, those girls are good. Then on March 25 I rode Rocinante down to the softball stadium. Those girls think of everything, I even had a parking spot reserved with my name on it!

All the seniors’ favorite teachers pitched at the same time. It was very nice, even a bit emotional, which would be a nice excuse to explain why my ball is now one of the moons of Jupiter, that’s how high I sent it. After that, I stayed to watch the game against Florida State. Although I do not know the rules, it was very exciting to see all my students play. What an honor to have been a small part of their Carolina experience and to be so generously rewarded!

It has been nine months since my last entry. In my defense, it has been a crazy year. I am at Miami International Airport and this is the first chance I have to write, it feels good.

You see, I was busy finishing and defending my doctoral dissertation, which was a very difficult but rewarding process.

As soon as classes started in the Fall I was having my twice weekly coffee with Irene, my director, to finish and fine tune each chapter. At the same time I was teaching two classes: Advanced Intermediate 204, a new class for me, and Intermediate 203, my “standard” class. Oh, and I had to write an academic article if I wanted to have any chance of applying for a university job. On top of all that I had to prepare my job search, but those items will have their own blog entries.

The work only got more intense in the spring. I was assigned an extra class from the regular Spring load of one section, this one teaching Advanced Spanish at the Gillings School of Public Health. I had to give up my volunteering shift at the Ronald McDonald House, as well as cutting down on the number of concerts and plays I went to (although I did not totally give that up).

April was when the proverbial rubber met the proverbial road. Finishing and editing my dissertation and going to job interviews. Spring Break was anything but break, driving to Charlotte and flying to Florida for job interviews.

But everything came to a head on April 8. That morning I spent two and a half hours locked up in a conference room with four of the professors on my committee, and Ana Rueda from the University of Kentucky looming over all of us, Skyping in on the massive screen, like a science fiction overlord, only much nicer and sweeter! I also had like ten spectators: old students, friends, including Mandey from Zog’s, my friendly librarians Teresa and Becky, and colleagues that came to give me moral support. Poor things, they had to endure my grilling session.

I passed. Walking out of the meeting, feeling exhilarated but exhausted and numb, I had a message on my phone. Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida – my top choice for work – had made me an offer while I was defending my dissertation. Coincidence? I think not.

After defending I thought things would slow down, wrong again. I still had to do edits on my dissertation, dress up as Don Quixote for a marathon reading celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death, chair a panel at our Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, teach and wrap up my four years in Carolina. My mom and my little sister came for my hooding ceremony and we had a blast. After that I moved to Florida and had only enough time to dump my boxes before heading back to Spain for my nephew’s First Communion, which explains why I am sitting at the airport now.

*with thanks to Murray Head from his song One Night in Bangkok

The first times I saw Mélanie I must confess I did not pay much attention to her. In my defense I must say that I was in a bit of a rush and that in that very room was Francis, yes, the Saint Francis, done by my old friend Vicente Carducho. Nearby was Aesop, no, not Velazquez’s Aesop, but a version by my old Boston buddy John Singer Sargent, even Picasso was there. Ok it was a silly dish with a Centaur, which he probably whipped up between a swim at the beach and lunch at Vallauris, but still. But what really captivated me was my granddad’s old paisan Francisco, yes Francisco de Goya, he was upstairs in a couple of his Caprichos prints. Imagine finding Goya in a village in the middle of North Carolina, my mind was blown and I fell in love with Chapel Hill and with the Ackland Museum. My story with Mélanie came later.

Mélanie and I were formally introduced by a common acquaintance, a curator in the museum, in the Winter of 2013. After that I quickly grew to like her. We started seeing each other every Sunday. I would go to mass, then I would grab a coffee at the Carolina Inn and do some reading, and then I would go see her for a while. That was over two and a half years ago and we are still going strong. Our secret? when I am not reading to her, I monopolize the conversation.

After visiting Melanie just about every Sunday for the last few years – except during summer, I can tell you a few things about her: She is French, if you must know, from the South of France, Provence. She is a Marquise, so less than a duchess or a princess, but more than a countess or a baroness. This means that she is not the first French noblewoman I fall in love with, but that is a different story and it was a long time ago. At any rate, she is 30, she has been 30 since I met her, in fact, she has been thirty since 1789 when she was painted. Not a single wrinkle, that’s French beauty for you. Yes she is rich, check out that dress, that is heavy silk, with a stoat or ermine trim! She is artistic. Can’t you see her blue drawing paper? Where do you think the word blueprints comes from? Yes she loves to write, see the stylus in her hand? although the artist forgot to paint in an inkwell or bottle, or was he trying to tell us something? Hmmm. She is religious, her sash and medal means she belongs to a religious order, you know, for the nobility. She is wise, see the statue of Athena, or is it Minerva? never mind. Some people say she is married, but I don’t see no ring – and wedding rings have been around since the ancient Egyptians and Celts – go listen to Beyoncé.

Her full name is Mélanie de Forbin-Gardanne, Marquise de Villeneuve-Flayosc. Some call her Madame, maybe because she is nobility, but to that I say read the previous paragraph. Being noble and rich goes hand in hand with being a bit of a celebrity, even if she does not like it one bit. So besides the gossip that goes with being 18th C French nobility, and the painting, and being a “Grand Lady”, writer Allan Gurganus wrote a bit of a story about her, which, by the way is totally ficticious!!!

But enough of this superficial silly talk. Mélanie has a heart of gold. She was extremely well educated, she loves the arts and culture, and philosophy. Therein lies the problem. The Estates-General has just met in Versailles, ending up in a tennis court after Louis XVI kicked them out of the Grands Salles, where they were meeting. Heads are about to roll, many heads, literally. If you look closely, Mélanie has a longing in her gaze, her eyes are almost watery. She could care less about the painting and the painter, and the dress and the furniture. She has read Kant and Hobbes and Locke and Voltaire. She knows we can have a better world, but these Enlightenment thinkers full of Reason are forgetting a small detail: love. My Mélanie knows we can, and should, have a better world with everything that entails. When I go see her on Sundays she tells me all this, just with her eyes.

I can’t wait for next Sunday to go see Mélanie.