Friday, November 27, 2009

Paper Chase - the race is on!

When we last met, I had just come to the realization that I’d seen the writing on the UNT wall as it were, and if I was encountering this much resistance and obstruction to registering and getting started, the whole experience might likely be as arduous. I decided to write the summer semester (and the $40 UNT registration fee) off as lost in the research process. I had not found the best program and had to pick up the pursuit again.

Texas A&M University – Commerce had the same type of Bachelor degree and offered all online classes, but the program was more oriented towards business rather than training, as the UNT program was. I emailed the contact for the program at TAMU-Commerce. To my happy surprise, I was assured that I could not only register all online, but there was no reason I would ever have to make a personal appearance on campus. I made sure of that detail, since that was the final straw with UNT, the requirement to sit all day on campus for “Transfer Orientation” before I could register for any classes.

A note here – while it may seem perfectly reasonable to require an on-campus all-day orientation for transfer students, and UNT seemed to believe fervently in the need for this – it is overlooking the whole point of online classes and degrees – that it now becomes available for people of all circumstances to do college work – regardless of age, location, family or work commitments. I considered it very non-insightful for a university to overlook this important point. (I guess I’m really not through chastising UNT about this).

Back to TAMU-Commerce – with as much as a few emails, I was registered for classes. Yesssss!! The way it should be. The evaluation of my 8 million hours at LSU was done and most of them transferred, even the oddball art classes. Quickly I had the list of required classes before me, and I set about to tackle them. Here’s where the plot thickens a bit…

While at LSU, I started out my freshman year majoring in Psychology (some of you who knew me in high school knew of my plans to pursue this). At the time, in my narrow range of understanding, I thought that I’d have to get a Masters degree to practice Psychology or Social Work. At that time of my life, that sounded like eons of school years to me, and I thought that all I could do with a Psychology degree was be a psychologist (I know differently now) and I decided to change majors. One should have a new plan to change TO before deciding to change, but that’s not how I did it. When I did change into an Architecture/Interior Design program (because I’d seen my friends returning with portfolios of work they’d shown at the interview to get into the program), I was most pleased that no math appeared to be required. The perfect major for me.

Ah, life had the last laugh. Of course, now in order to complete the degree at TAMU-C, I would have to fill in some gaps here and there, after all, degree requirements are not the same as they were a couple of decades ago in a different state. Gap-filling would include one semester of American History, 2 semesters of Government and….College Algebra!!! (scary horror music). Even Macro and Micro Economics did not strike the same fear in my heart as having to face down the Algebra dragon that I’d evaded all my life. The good news was that TAMU-C allowed me to take as many classes at nearby Collin College, which saved a lot of money. Collin also offers many web classes, so those could all be done online as well.

So I dove into the requirements – choosing Microeconomics as my first class. For those of you (and it’s almost 100%) that say you could never do an online class – I’ve done many of them, including ridiculously complicated subjects and I did well – so no excuses! I made a B in that first class – and learned what I needed to do for an A, which I did get in Macroeconomics the next semester. Online classes are good because you can work when it fits your schedule and you can listen to lecture material over and over all you want, unlike “live” classes. The Micro/Macro were taken through Collin College, and used an Austin-based class material system named Thinkwell, which sought out the best professors in the country to get their lectures on DVD. My Micro/Macro material was delivered from a well-known professor at UT-Austin. I couldn’t have had access to these great professors otherwise.

Another way that life had its last laugh on me – now I had the determination, but not the memory cells. Oh, cruel trick of nature, why dost thou mock me? I started popping B complex supplements each day along with vitamins to prop up the lagging brain power and get it up to speed just enough to get through this. I had to have been obsessed to complete the program, how else could I get myself through?

Adding insult to injury, health issues arrived to further drag me down. This was the stage where my family affectionately (?) remembers that I could fall over sideways on the couch around 7pm each night. Simple solution – pop large quantities of dark chocolate to jump-start the brain with a shock of caffeine! A side research project at the time was to investigate the many varieties of chocolate with high-percentage cacao quantity. There was a down side to that, as might be expected.

My life became a routine of work-come home-hit the books and laptop-fall asleep-wake up. On weekends I could start reviewing stuff at 5:00am. That commercial for “studying in college with your pajamas on” is pretty misleading…I may have had my pajamas on… but maybe all day long while working on school!

Wow, I thought this would be the final installment and it’s not working out that way… if you are actually reading this, I will deliver the finale soon…”the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say. Stick around for the slaying of the Algebra dragon…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not So Trivial Pursuit

chasing the Bachelor degree...continued

Now that I had the resolve to finish my Bachelor degree, I had to figure out how. Again, this was the third go at it – the previous two tries were limited to in-person attendance at a school and the necessary funds to pay for them. Two things I had little of were money and time. Now as I sought out a program, I was no more advantaged with money or time – but swift winds of change had brought about technological development – the internet. Fortunately, I had always been close to technological developments and I was very well-suited for internet-based offerings. Traditional universities had evolved to offer online classes and the possibility of completing a program in this way. It was the only feasible way for me, I thought, as a person with a family and full-time job. Finding a Bachelor program that could be completed through online classes without paying exorbitant tuition was a challenge. Sadly, in-state and out-of-state tuition levels exist even for online programs, which one would think would cross state or international boundary lines. Online classes were not just a convenient option for traditional students who did not or could not appear in a live class, they brought possibilities to untold numbers of people who could not attend classes due to a number of reasons. But that is a paper I wrote for a class…

Might I add that naturally, my search for this program was done exclusively online – a good indication that online programs can work for you – if you are already adept and comfortable with internet usefulness.

Let me tell you that when your criteria is a Bachelor program that can be completed all online, with in-state tuition, you have narrowed your search considerably – in fact, it narrowed to two options for me. Usually people choose a major or program according to interests or job-related skills. In my case, further consideration had to be given to the 100+ credit hours already in my possession from the four full years + a summer at LSU. Not to mention that many of the credits were in Architecture, Art and Design which would normally only apply to a similar degree. Program choices were becoming mighty slim.

My first attempt to start back to school in an online program was with UNT – University of North Texas. This was largely due to the program offerings they had posted on their website, which included a degree in Training. Having spent numerous years in Training and support, this was very appealing.

Alas, it was not to be. Just because a school offers an online program and classes does not mean they are evolved enough to understand how to apply it or make it work for the people who need them. The bad vibes started right away, when I contacted the counselor assigned to me alphabetically by my last name. I sent an email to this person – time went by – no response. I called and left messages – turning back to older technology. No response. I contacted another counselor for a different alphabetic grouping. That person did respond but couldn’t do the work for his fellow counselor.

Amazingly, I was simply trying to find out what classes from LSU could apply and what classes I needed to start. I had already applied and been accepted to UNT – sure, that process was easy because it involved taking my money. But I ran into wall after wall of zero information and incompetence at every turn. The counselor never ever contacted me. With further searching by phone all over campus, I talked to someone in the College of Education, which included the online program I sought. This person in an administrative position in the college informed me – a full-time working single mom with 3 kids – that it is a UNT requirement to appear on campus for a day of “Transfer Student Orientation” to even be evaluated for the classes needed. When I explained (incredulously) that I’d have to take a day of vacation from work to drive up to Denton and sit around on campus JUST to be able to register for classes and that this did not seem reasonable for an online program, the administrator very rudely snapped “well, that is what most people expect to do when they decide to go back to school”. End of conversation as far I was concerned. The writing was on the wall – even if I did continue to go by their inane rules and start their program, I was going to be hurdling one giant obstacle after another. UNT was a school of people completely out of touch with the real world, like so many other institutions of education. I knew from experience from the college my kids were attending that it was possible to find a university with a professional, respectful attitude towards students.

This time, I was not a kid – I was a grown adult that had carried many responsibilities for decades and I was working for every dollar in my income. Excuse me, but I am not going to be blown away by the condescending arrogance of out-of-touch education administrators. In case you think I sound like a rebel with a history of fighting authority, quite the contrary. I very simply had a realistic view that I wanted a quality product for the thousands of dollars I was about to spend. Incompetence and unanswered promises were not going to be acceptable for me.

What a shame – UNT had what appeared to be a fine online program – in print, anyway – but absolutely no clue how to administer it and make it feasible for real people. They certainly were not interested in my worldly perspective on the subject either. I had wasted a good summer semester in this pursuit – but it was yet another stepping stone on the path of finding the answer. The $40 I had paid for application to UNT just became a contribution to their coffers.

Time to cut bait and move on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stuff catches up to you...eventually

I was inspired to recount this journey after talking to a woman at work today who was completing a college degree. She was, like me, well past her traditional college age years...

Between Fall 2006 and December 2008 I spent all of my “spare” time pursuing the completion of a Bachelor degree. I say “spare” time because I had a family and a full-time job outside the home. Although I attended college for 4 complete years + 1 summer in the traditional timeframe after graduating high school, I had changed my major, which required an extra year to complete the program. Life, at the time, opened up a big sinkhole for me to drive into, and I never did return to finish that program or get the piece of paper. That hung over my head for (X) number of decades.

There were attempts to correct this travesty in subsequent years: I enrolled at UTD in 1985 and had just gotten a few weeks into that pursuit when a job promotion came along. It was a good promotion: I was the first female District Sales Manager in my company. And, lucky me! My territory was north Texas and Oklahoma…in the late 1980s!! Um, ring a bell? That’s when the bottom fell out of our economy…but I digress. The job promotion required being on the road 3-4 days per week. This was “back in the day” when all classes were in a brick and mortar format, requiring actual physical – and mental – attendance. As I was already reeling from the debit and credit ledger concept in my Accounting class and had not successfully logged into the campus lab computer for my COBOL class (does that date me or what) I was all too happy to abandon my degree completion plan yet again for what looked to be immediate career progress. At least a few times I thought to myself “who needs a degree to do well in a career”.

Well, let’s see…a few more life sinkholes later…and after voluntarily and happily spending eight years as a stay-at-home parent, I found myself at the bottom of the workworld food chain. I’m talking krill here. If there is something that plankton feeds on, that would be about the right level. It’s as if all of my previous work experience, accomplishments and skills didn’t exist…all for naught. Starting over in what I considered a job “beneath my talent level”, I knew that it was nonetheless necessary for income, insurance and survival for me and my 3 kids. I recall having an attitude that sadly must have been discernible to others: “wait a minute, I was the first female District Sales Manager for my company, organized countless training classes and escorted many fledgling sales reps into the unknown, scary domain of military bases and corporate accounts all over the US and Puerto Rico. I have written more training material than you can imagine – surely you must recognize and appreciate my potential!” I was actually told by the condescending assistant manager that I worked with: “you are paid to do tasks, not to think”.

Thus began my journey of discovery that yes, the world has people who are not particularly attuned to my past career experience and project management wizardry. Think “Private Benjamin”. I was, figuratively speaking, relegated to clean the latrine with my electric toothbrush.

Fast forward – at a grindingly excruciating snail’s pace – to eight years later, where I had evolved up the work food chain a few notches to the status of “small tadpole in a large pond”. The fight had not been completely beaten out of me yet – I had managed to survive some aggressive attempts to wipe out my species, but I still expected to be progressing to ever-expanding career opportunities every 18 months or so, like it was before I dropped off the face of the work world to stay at home. During the five years that I waited to arrive at the next level, I had a discussion with my boss’ manager. These discussions were arranged to facilitate communication in an upwardly direction, and possibly to give some insight for higher level managers to develop empathy towards the lowly creatures of their domain. It was during this discussion that the moment of resolution arrived for me.

My co-workers collectively held their breath when I talked to this manager, who was well-established as one who ruled with an iron fist approach. A two-way conversation could be construed in his mind as “backtalk” from an unworthy knave. I bravely mentioned some issues that I incorrectly perceived he would be interested in, such as career path development for the employees. I suggested that it’s difficult to get promotions in the department, to which he responded defensively that the newsletter was full of promotion announcements. Sure, people in other areas or moving from one hourly job to another. It was no use continuing the discussion. But at that moment I decided I was going to look around for a job outside the company.

Long story short, again I found out that my past work glory, I mean, experience didn’t seem to count any more. For almost every job of interest, a Bachelor degree was a minimum requirement. Guess what? I hit a ceiling… choices made in my earlier life caught up with me. I couldn’t move on without this piece of paper. And so, with the knowledge gained from getting my firstborn child into college, I set out to find a program for myself. The year was 2006, 29 years after I first went off to college.

All that to tell the story about how I decided to return to school to finish a degree. How I went through that process is another story! …or two…or three…

Sunday, August 23, 2009

alter egos

You hear it in the media and in guidance for career development: Google your own name to see what’s posted on the World Wide Web about you.

OK, so I’ve tried that. What I have found is that I have many alter egos that all seem to be quite accomplished in fascinating occupations. Every now and then, I will Google up my name to see what we’re up to now.

Many Lisa Smiths are artists in various media: lighting, ceramics, photography, furniture. There is an ultra-endurance marathon trainer and a Clinical psychologist. Our credentials include patents, magazine covers, New York Times articles and at least one Ph.D. We live around the world.

There is a fictitious urban legend circulating about the untimely demise – and even ghosts - of one. Another has experienced a heart-wrenching loss.

It should be no surprise that Lisa Smith is found doing so many things, when it is one of the most common names in English-speaking countries. Recently an article counted up the Lisas, the Smiths and Lisa Smiths on Facebook alone. Each name made the most frequently-found list in its category:

Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that I never had any biological siblings that I feel a kinship with these strangers of the same name…in a way, living vicariously through them. Although I am personally most drawn to creative pursuits like my artistic adopted sisters, at one time I aspired to a career in psychology. The closest I’ve been to being an endurance or marathon trainer was riding in the 2003 MS150 biking fundraiser. I’m still riding the same 1980 Schwinn 10-speed, but not to such high levels of attainment.

I’m happy that only one Google link turned out to actually be me – I prefer to live “under the radar” of the internet information-seeking world. That is, except for where I am making modest efforts to claim some fame in my own right.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

mixed feelings

A few years ago I started "looking" for friends from high school or college that I hadn't talked to in years. People I shared lots of fun memories with. Largely due to the advancement of internet technology and the flattening world, I've found many.

Some of us are on Facebook. My searches have focused there in an effort to expand my Friends list and stay in touch. Tonight I was looking there for a friend that I just reconnected with last year. It was so great to correspond and exchange some memories on a blog I set up just for that purpose.

Well, the search came up with a tribute, it couldn't be. She was gone in April. It was really disappointing to realize the loss.

I'm glad she knew we were thinking of her and cared enough to find her.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Battle of the Wounded Knee

Well today I wiped out on my bike…or should that be OFF my bike. It was a nice day, I was on a bike trail, had successfully dodged doggies and many walkers/bikers along the way. Was in the home stretch.

Two Biking Lessons:

1. wear the helmet, like it or not
2. don’t turn your head to look behind you or talk to someone

I followed Rule #1 – wore my helmet. It’s Rule #2 I screwed up on. Turned around to look behind me, the front wheel went just off the paved trail, skidded along the side and in that second I didn’t get control to drive through the grass. Meaning I tried to pull back to the pavement, the wheel didn’t make it and I found myself spilling over. Would have been great to fall on the grass side, but no – skidded along the pavement.

There was a really loud thud on the left side of my head. Left brain took a hit – well, I never liked doing math anyway. Hope nothing important goes on over there. Otherwise, my knee took the brunt of the fall, with other contact points on both hands, shoulder and one ankle. Pretty good coverage, eh?

I laid still for a minute to assess the damage, paying attention to how my head was feeling, if I was conscious, anything not quite right. Natasha Richardson, the actress that fell and hit her head while skiing and didn’t make it, came to mind. Mostly my knee and right hand were hurting – a lot.

After sitting in the shade for a bit, I fixed up the wounds as best I could with a few first aid things I have on my bike. After a while I was OK and got back on the bike to finish the trip home. I’m sure the bright red, uncovered wounds were scary to small children and animals as I went by.

In closing I will say that the last time I wiped out on/off my bike was in 1996, so I think 13 years of biking without mishap – especially during 2003, riding in the MS150 and getting lost on a training ride in Irving Texas…is pretty strong.

And…I guess sometimes it’s a GOOD thing to have a hard head! (covered by a helmet)

Monday, May 25, 2009

MORE fame...not fortune...

Been seeking a good web service to display photography and make it easily available to people for purchase. Through connections with other photographers on Twitter, I found

Spent a lot of time this weekend sorting through a few thousand images from the last couple of years. RedBubble has a global community and groups of special interest. So far I've contributed to Texas (of course), New York and Italy. The cool thing is my photos made each of those group pages, displayed under "Recent Work". By the time you read this, they may be gone because the work rotates quickly. But it was gratifying to see my photos on those pages and getting at least a few clicks for viewing.

To answer your question: no, I have not yet quit my "day job".

But now I see that all things take time, and if I'd stuck with some projects I started about 9 years ago, I'd be a lot further along now. So, re-starting...

Texas group:
Italy group:
New York group:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kids are home!

Kids are home! From college, that is. This may be a familiar scene to some as summer nears. Hey, it could be worse - could be piles of clothes sitting by the washer! Amongst the stuff here is a diploma folder - so it's all good. This is truly a transition time. Eldest daughter about to go off on post-collegiate pursuits. Big plans. Headed for LA. Not one to go for the easy, predictable route in life. Other college daughter will be spending summer in classes and at a job to keep down costs. Son will be here another year before college. I don't think it's totally hit me yet that one of the brood is about to "leave the nest". I'm being eased into the empty nest stage of life slowly - over about 9 years! Yep, there will be one or more kids in college for that long in my family. At least I'm done, took one off the rolls. Now, how many years will it be to pay for all of this higher education?? I'm workin' on my alternative means of income!!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fame...not Fortune (yet)

Ironically, some of the stuff I follow on Twitter is related to positive thoughts, advice etc.

One of them asked for input on how to advise someone how to avoid worry, and he selected my "Tweet" (140 char limit) of suggestions. It's posted on his blog:

Yes, that is my NYC-standing-in-freezing-night-for-UCB-tickets photo that I'm using on Twitter and this I am NOT a Sith Lord, thanks for asking...(Smith Lord, maybe)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Blue Grotto

Basically a hole in the side of the cliff that is the Isle of Capri. The big boat arrived with small rowboats in tow. The group got into the rowboats, 4 people each. We each rowed into the hole in the cliff, ducking all the way flat as we went in. On the inside, it was a totally dark cave, except for the beautiful glow of the water. The sunlight comes in under the cave walls and illuminates the crystal azure waters of the Mediterranean. The guides' stories were that the ancient Romans swam "au naturel" in here. No doubt an inspiration for Hugh Hefner centuries later, with intentions of lesser nobility.

Friday, April 17, 2009

and..."remember the Alamo!!"

Love this Tweet from Texas Monthly magazine about Rick Perry's comments on Texas seceding from the union - sound familiar? "when I get that feeling I want....Secessional Healing" (apologies to Marvin Gaye) @TexasMonthly Secessional Healing begins with John Cornyn:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

STAIRS of Horror!!

Yeah, that could be the title of my new book...hmmm. In Florence Italy, the icon of the city is the Duomo (dome) which towers high over the city, the tallest building. No doubt city zoning has ensured it will remain the highest peak. Naturally the Duomo crowns the cathedral Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. First stone laid September 8, 1296! Dome completed in 1436 - we're talking 15th-century stairs to the top, folks. Other than the sad proliferation of "Squiggy loves Laverne" type graffiti in 20 languages throughout the entire stairway and even on the marble columns at the top, the Duomo is essentially in its original state, save for a bit of electrical lighting and the occasional handrail. At right is just one shot - I tried to document the journey. The reward is a view from the top of all Florence and surrounding mountains, quite an Italian vista.

The Italian high school students were not daunted in the least on their way to the top. A few years ago I would have been the same, but at this stage of my life I think whether I have enough insurance to cover any mishaps. Don't worry I'm not a total scrooge, I did appreciate the view and the beauty - it's just that the trip up was like a medeival dungeon that kept on going! NOT for the faint of heart or medically-challenged! I did it!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Buon Giorno!

I finally crossed "the pond". Now back from a 10-day trip to Italy. The group was following the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope with Astronomy magazine. Thus, we started with 2 days in Rome, followed by 3 in Florence. 4 of us opted for an additional 3 days in Sorrento to see Pompeii and Capri. I feel I basically saw much of the history of mankind, including an extensive exhibit in Florence covering the history of astronomy, with artifacts from the earliest conceptions of the universe. Star constellations played a major role in the development of answers to the question "how did we get here", with the creation of astrological signs and gods to explain the forces of nature.

On a very secular note, along with the prominent and profound art and architecture I saw, one of the highlights was visiting the "Pizzeria da Michele" made famous in the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. This visit was certainly not part of the tour, but devised by me in the quest for finding the best pizza in the world. As we landed at the Naples airport, we besieged the poor driver to diverge from his assigned task to take us to Pizzeria da Michele on the way to Sorrento. Happily, the driver knew how to get to it and we found it to be a very unassuming facade on a small street that almost no one but locals must know about. As I expected, there was a line waiting outside the door. Undaunted, we went in to ask for pizza "via" or to go. We were able to order it at the cash register and then stand inside to wait. Sadly, I got the abbreviated version of the whole experience but I did get to witness the guys making the dough and putting the pizzas in and out of the wood-fired oven. It is a small place, hence the line waiting outside for table space. While waiting, a very nice older man dressed in a white outfit and apron chatted with us, albeit in Italian. He was so friendly. Eventually in my broken Italian I said that I spoke a little French. He said (in French) that he also spoke French - so then in my fragmented high-school French phrasing I asked how long he'd worked there and he told me he was the son of the founder of Pizzeria da Michele! Then I asked his name - Luigi - and I finally understood I was talking to the proprietor! He was so sweet and one of my prized photos of the trip is of me and Luigi...

I took about 3000 photos from the trip, so after I get them organized I will post a few here.