Moving Forward from CI

This is my last week at CSU Channel Islands. After three-and-a-half years of working with my stellar Teaching & Learning Innovations teammates, I have chosen to accept a position with the California Community Colleges. In my new role, Faculty Mentor, Digital Innovation for @ONE and the CCC Online Education Initiative, I will be coordinating systemwide professional development efforts related to emerging technologies in online teaching and learning.  This move will come as a surprise to many people, as I have openly shared how happy, supported, trusted, and valued I have felt at CI.

As I look back on my career, it looks more like a Jackson Pollock painting than the linear progression of roles typically correlated with “success” in higher education. In the past, I’ve made career decisions that have made others scratch their heads.  In 2002, I left a position working remotely for a high tech company to accept a full-time faculty position at a California community college. That change came along with a 44% pay cut (which I now see was a privilege I had due to the support of my working husband). That decision was stupid in the eyes of some but, at the same time, several peers reached out privately to share how much they had made similar decisions earlier in their career. Then in 2009, I left my tenured faculty role in the midst of an economic recession to accept an administrator role at a 4-year university. That move placed my family in the California bay area with a much higher cost of living, a 90-minute commute, a 12-month schedule, and a comparable salary. I’ve taken many risks and while I don’t like to view any of them as “mistakes,” because each choice has provided me with new insights about myself and higher education and challenged me to cultivate new skills that set me apart from many others with similar skillsets.

"Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads." -Erica Jong
A gift given to me by Diana Wakimoto, a former colleague.

One thing I’ve learned is that happiness, for me, derives from following my inner compass. I can choose not to pay attention to that compass for a little while, but that’s when you’ll see my passion and commitment for the things that are important to me fizzle.  And I cannot, will not, allow that to happen. Trust me, there are times I wish I could reach inside, retrieve that compass, and throw it far away. Life would be a lot easier. Following my inner compass has taken me through some dark, lonely years. During those years, I was challenged to cultivate an identity without an institutional affiliation and create jobs for myself. It it wasn’t for my decision to start this blog ten years ago, I do not believe I would be where I am today and I know I would not have inspired many of you. Those dark, lonely places taught me to understand what my strengths and weakness are and how to find people that align with my skills and values. In many ways, I feel stronger as a college educator because I have experienced the realities that our students face after graduation. And I can see the disconnect between this reality and the skills fostered in college.

During my journey, I met many mentors including Michael Berman. Michael believed in my ideas and invited me to speak at his campus, CSU Channel Islands. It was just a 15-minute talk to a faculty audience, but it gave me an opportunity to speak candidly about my approach to teaching online that places value using emerging technologies to cultivating student-instructor relationships. That talk planted some seeds and a few years later, Michael connected me with Jill Leafstedt. Jill was an Education faculty, working on reassigned time to create a new program to introduce blended learning to faculty at CSU Channel Islands. I did some consulting with CI during this time and worked alongside Jill to support her vision. After several years, CI opened a full-time position to support their online and blended faculty, which I applied for and was hired — as a remote employee.

CI is a special place. I was given an opportunity to join a small, young campus that was founded on the principle of being innovative. Relationships, experimentation, and teaching are all values that are held in high regard at CI. My colleagues provided me with the sense of community that I needed more than I realized. They valued my ideas and trusted me. They embraced my remote work location as an asset, rather than a nuisance, and went out of their way to include me in their face-to-face activities.

Michelle holding up a TLI pizza

When CI’s founding president, Dr. Rush, retired they made sure I could waive good-bye (from an iPad) along with a procession of colleagues as he drove out of campus for the last time. When they went out to pizza to celebrate our teammate’s graduation, they had a pizza delivered to my doorstep, 400 miles away, and then ensured I was at lunch with them (via Zoom on an iPhone). Technology allowed for these things to happen but people — caring, empathetic people — cultivated them. With this foundation of trust, inclusivity, and innovation, we created a unique and exciting model of untethered faculty development and humanized online/blended learning that received international recognization from the New Media Consortium this past spring.  And we reconceived what it means to be and have a remote employee. I am proud of the imprint I have made at CI. And I have no doubt the work we’ve done together will continue to flourish.

As I prepare to return to the California Community College, where I first began my career in higher education, I feel energized by the opportunities and challenges ahead of me. When I left my last full-time role in CCC system in 2009 (I’ve had many part-time CCC roles since then), I hoped that, some day, I would be part of an organization committed to using emerging technologies to support high quality online teaching and learning. Eight years later, I feel like I’ve found that opportunity.

Moving forward is not easy when it requires you to leave people you love. But it helps to know that meaningful relationships do not fade in our connected era. You will always be in my heart, my friends.

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