I still remember that moment, now more than 10 years ago. I was in my office, serving as the Director of Systems at Bowling Green State University. Our university had recently hired a new Vice President, and we were just a few days away from the start of the fall semester. I looked out my window, which overlooked the center of campus, and saw our new VP walking quickly near our student union. I should mention that this VP was not responsible for the enrollment division.
Barely missing a beat, she spotted a piece of trash lying on the sidewalk, scooped it up, threw it in the nearest trash bin, and kept on towards her next destination.
I’m not sure why that moment stood out to me. In highsight, it shouldn’t have. Perhaps it was because I was early in my career and thought that picking up trash was below a VP level position. Perhaps I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be part of a campus community. That moment taught me a number of very important lessons:
Creating a great experience for our students, alumni, and greater university community is a shared responsibility. This means more than doing the best you can with your explicit job duties. It means attending admission events, smiling when passing prospective students on campus tours, welcoming alumni back to campus, and yes, picking up trash when you see it.
Lead by your actions. I am certain that the VP at the beginning of this story did not pick up the trash thinking that it would be a good example for someone else. That 10 second example of thinking about the big picture is stuck in my head after more than 3,650 days!
The small things sometimes matter as much as the big things. We always think about how the academic program, travel abroad opportunities, financial aid, student organizations, experiences with faculty, etc, impact our students. But sometimes, the reason a student picks (or returns to) the campus of their dreams is due to the 100 small things that happen along their journey.
I try to recall that moment often as a reminder of my role in the success of our university. What can I do to make Ohio Wesleyan University a better place? What can I do to set the right example for others? What can I do outside of my job description to make a difference?
Do you have similar observations? Please share!
Brian A. Rellinger, Ed.D.
Associate Provost for Academic Support
Chief Information Officer
Ohio Wesleyan University