Happiness Moments: A Wonderful Surprise

Happiness Moments: A Wonderful Surprise

Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us. ~ Boris Pasternak

So a new little writing experiment for the blog. I’ve been wanting to find a way to do some free writing as practice. And I’ve been wanting to capture the moments in my life that have brought me true happiness. I need that little pick me up right now with everything going on in the world and no real chance to travel. So, some writing about happy moments in my life, hope they bring you a little happiness too.

So yesterday I had the day off, it was actually a little bit of a bummer being home because I had planned to be in the Mojave Desert hiking, camping and watching the Geminid Meteor shower.  During the afternoon the phone rang, it was a call from one of my favorite people to talk to.  Ed is the first president  I worked for in California, our conversations are always filled with lots of laughter and the time flies by quickly.  Somehow I always end up with a new project after every call, but that’s a discussion for another time. Ed was one of my early professional mentors and has remained a friend.

I moved to California to take a job at Hartnell College as the Math Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) Director.  While there I’m proud to say we did some great work with that program.  Our students were incredibly hard working, the hardest working students that I have ever worked with.  They made me proud on a daily basis and what they achieved, in addition to transferring to great schools, they earned scholarships, graduated with great degrees and went on to get great jobs.  This is something that not just impacted them but their entire families.

Our president made it very clear to the management staff that he had a desire, he wanted to win the Bellwether Award.  According to their site, the nationally recognized Bellwether Award focuses on cutting-edge, trendsetting programs worthy of replication.  Ed wanted this award badly, so we decided to chase it.  Our biggest hope was that we might become a finalist for the award.  I was especially hoping for this  because finalists went to Orlando to present at a week long conference and I was madly in love and involved with a woman who was living in Orlando.  However, when we started looking at the submissions from other schools we realized we were likely outclassed.  But we put our packets together, cranked up a CD with some data, photos etc… and sent it off.

It was an amazing day when Ed called my office one afternoon to tell me that we were a finalist.  So a few weeks later, myself and a math instructor (Chuck), packed up and headed for Orlando.  We had to do a presentation and also man a booth at the conference.  Looking at the other booths we knew we wouldn’t win the award.  We’d probably spent $20 on each of our packets, we’d been required to bring like 25, so our total in on the materials was a little over $500.  Looking around at the other booths, we saw schools with full video systems and professionally made presentations running on their screens.  Talking to a few of the folks we realized that several schools had spent tens of thousands of dollars on their materials, and had brought presidents and trustees to the conference as part of their five person presentation teams.  Some of them were absolute veterans of the process and some were past winners.

So Chuck and I smiled, shrugged and did our thing.  Our presentation went well even if we did look like the scholarship students at a private school.  We had a great week in Orlando, the food at the conference was incredible and we made a lot of great contacts and hey, as finalists we’d still get a lovely glass trophy at the awards luncheon the last day.  So at the luncheon, we got called up, got our trophy, our picture taken and it was all really wonderful.  We returned to our table and dug into a really incredible lunch.  We’d made friends during the week with a group from another college who also hadn’t invested heavily and also was just enjoying the week with no thought of winning the award.  To be honest, we weren’t paying much attention to the award ceremony and were having a great time.  The Bellwether is broken into three categories and the first two category award winners were named, fawned over and congratulated.  Our biggest concern was making sure we got through dessert before we had to pack up and head to the airport after the luncheon.  As we were digging into our cheesecake, it was quite good, they were introducing the final winner by describing the winners’ program.  Suddenly Chuck dropped his fork, the table went quiet and our friends said, “holy shit, this is you.” Chuck immediately said, “you’re going up there, not me.”  Then they said it, and the winner of the Bellwether is Hartnell College.

It was an absolute mind blowing and truly wonderful surprise.  We got a huge glass trophy, photos that went national.  When we called the college, I made his assistant interrupt an important meeting, Ed lost his mind with excitement.  There was a lots of positive fallout, a nationally published article, Chuck, I and the trophy were featured on the schedule of classes and the catalog the next fall, I won manager or the year for the college.  It certainly helped us bring in additional money from NSF and HP for the program and out students.  It was a great honor.  Honestly no one thought we would win this award and it was a truly wonderful surprise and wonderful memory.

About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
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2 Responses to Happiness Moments: A Wonderful Surprise

  1. Jan says:

    I love finally seeing this story in writing…because i have shared this with graduate students (at Tennessee, then Northwestern, Columbia and now Cornell) annually, in one workshop or another, usually the job search workshop or the dissertation writing bootcamp. It always starts, “I’ve ever known only one PhD student who wanted to grow up and teach at a community college…” and it always ends, “After winning the national award that his president had always wanted his school to win, the president hosted a dinner in Michael’s honor. Michael had a real commitment to what he wanted to do….not what a graduate advisor or his faculty wanted him to do.” I’m glad to have the additional details. And I’m glad to know YOU! It’s still a great story after 28 years!

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