For many of us in U.S. higher ed, this week brings the start of a new semester and academic year. For me, this year is striking–in ways both sad and wonderful. This January, I will have been at my current home institution for five years–almost a record for me–but this milestone also finds me reflecting on change, particularly institutional change.
When I arrived for my first day of work, I met a host of colleagues–none of whom work here anymore. In fact, many of the colleagues I worked most closely with in my first year of work have moved on to different positions and institutions. So, now I go to meetings where I have been around the longest and have the most institutional memory, which is a very odd thing at not quite five years in. This does not happen, however, when faculty are in those meetings, too. Faculty are the institutional memory of a place–when they are tenured or tenure-line (and ultimately successful). This dynamic–with changing staff and administrators and a consistent faculty–can be both wonderful and challenging, but as students cycle through classes and graduate, the institution changes with them. For me, in this time of reflecting, that fact comes most clear.
My first students here at TCNJ have all graduated now and are off to bigger and better things. That also means that our first international degree-seekers have graduated. When I look back across these five (nearly) years, I note that most: the long, slow, climb with many hands that have moved us from no international alumni to some and to a fresh, bright cohort of international students joining the Class of 2020. Sometimes, I look around and see all the faces that are no longer here–owning the hands that helped us up or didn’t and the younger faces of those alums who are making the futures they dreamt of before they arrived. But most of the time, I look around and note the many ways our campus and its life have changed in these few years: new buildings, new technologies, new ways of doing things, and, of course, new world views and experiences coming with students, faculty, and staff colleagues.
I don’t know what the year ahead will bring for my home campus, myself, students I work with, or my colleagues and our students I don’t work with, but I look forward to this next level of work and feel like the fruits of my years here are finally ripening for the benefit of this place I dedicate my time and energy to. May you all find some of the same in your own new academic years.