A tiny blue stain

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...

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The other day, my husband came home with a small ink stain on his shirt where he had put his arm down on a pen. Immediately, I sprayed the stain with Zout only to come back a few hours later to see that the Zout had worked too well. Now the tiny blue spot was a huge blue spot that had run onto the placket of the shirt and down the back. Immediately, I washed the shirt. After every washing how, I found more remnants of that one blue spot. More Zout, a little Shout….more washing….still the little blue spot remained.

While researching a composite piece on the late Inez Graybeal Roop (’35), I thought about that stain and how no matter how much effort I put into it, it kept popping up, spreading, appearing. The more I thought about it, I realized that the legacy of Inez and her husband, the late Ralph Roop, is just like that little blue spot. It has gone everywhere. I pops up at unexpected places and it never seems to ever disappear.

Ralph and Inez grew up in the 1920s and entered college during the 1930s, a time when few lived on “easy street.” They were fortunate, however, to have come from homes where education was valued, a philosophy they embraced. They understood the value of education and never took it for granted.

The investment in education that Ralph and Inez made throughout their lives, investments of time, fortunes, commitment, service and encouragement will continue to reverberate throughout education, both at Virginia Tech, Ralph’s alma mater, and at Madison. Few investments in life, as both the recipient of education and as the deliverers of educational support and change, have a greater impact on the future.

Inez and Ralph Roop, lifelong champions of education

But it takes far more than money. It requires an understanding of the promise of education. Without such an understanding, education dollars spent are squandered, whether they are funding a Headstart program in an inner city, a rural governors school, a charter school or a major state university.

Recently I watched the movie Gifted Hands, the story of  Ben Carson, the world’s most renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. He grew up in a single parent family in the worst neighborhood in Detroit. But his mother, who could not read, understood the power of education. She insisted that her two sons read a book a week and deliver to her a written book report.  This came before television, sports, any other activity. She understood the value of education.

Few institutions have the power of change so firmly in their grips. Education, by its very nature, promotes change.

I found Inez and Ralph Roop’s story especially interesting. Not only were they both natives of Southwestern Virginia, as I am, they both grew up in homes where education was deeply valued. During the Great Depression, one farmer in that area sent all of his eight children to college. He wasn’t a wealthy man. He carried the mail to make ends meet. Still he sent his four sons and four daughters to Virginia Tech, Radford, William and Mary, and Emory and Henry. Only one failed to graduate, and several went on to earn advanced degrees at Columbia and the Medical College of Virginia.

They valued education.

Many of today’s students do as well. As a result, many incur significant debt to pay for it. An article published in The Wall Street Journal in May said that the average student debt for the just-graduated Class of 2011 was $22,900. “That’s 8 percent more than last year and, in inflation-adjusted terms, 47 percent more than a decade ago,” the article said.

Students willing to work their ways through college and to incur significant debt to pay for it, understand the value of education. Those who have to struggle to pay for it, understand it perhaps even most acutely.

In the next issue of Madison magazine (look for “Special Report”), you’ll read about some of these students and how alumni are working together to meet their goals. While today’s students are not facing the Great Depression, the Great Recession has put a dent in many budgets. But there is reason to hope, especially in the generosity of people who believe in the power of education.

The result is like that little blue stain. No matter how far it goes, no matter how dim or thin it gets, education continues to pay back the investment. It is never wasted. It is, in the end, an investment in changing the world.

To read the entire text of the WSJ story, go here: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/05/07/number-of-the-week-class-of-2011-most-indebted-ever/

Look out for the next issue of Madison magazine in your mailboxes and online in mid-August.


How to succeed in business

Rude clerks. Snippy receptionists. Belligerent managers. Insufferable co-workers.* We’ve all experienced this not-so-great side of the business world. On the other hand, we’ve also had great experiences. What’s the difference?  Interpersonal skills!

COB's home, Showker Hall

While I was pondering what to blog about this morning, Phil DuBose, professor of management in the College of Business, walked into my office. Phil and I started talking about summer and jobs and business. He teaches COB 202, Interpersonal Skills, an innovative course required of all JMU business majors, who take the course during their sophomore year.

When the course was initially offered more than 10 years ago, only two or three sections of the course were offered each semester.  Now 15-20 sections are offered a semester, with class sizes averaging around 24 students. Class sections need to be that size because of the highly experiential nature of the course.

Unlike many other courses, COB 202 is not about sitting and taking notes but rather is about doing. Students learn many skills, such as working in teams, negotiating, managing conflict, running a meeting and making effective presentations.  In almost every class, students are either engaging in some skill-building activity or discussing a skill-building activity that they have just executed.

It is to the college’s credit that they recognized the essential need for this kind of instruction and institutionalized it with COB 202. The course fits into a very specific niche and is offered by very few schools. Most schools offer courses in communication and in organizational behavior, but interpersonal skills is something different from either of those courses, and is really unlike any other course offered at most schools.

When initially conceptualized and implemented, the course had a very specific short-term goal of preparing students to function effectively as team members in COB 300, a course integrating management, finance, marketing and operations. Students, in teams of five or six, spend an intensive semester creating a business plan — not unlike how the real world does things. Throughout the process, they must work together, integrating the four business components.

COB 300 is not easy.  Any business major will tell you it’s intense and demanding. But it’s how the real world works, and success often depends on how well a team gels.

“If you can’t function as part of a team or get along with other people, you’re doomed to fail,” one recent COB graduate told me. COB 202 and COB 300 change the playing field for COB graduates in the job market. It gives them an edge.

Validating this is what recruiters and employers often report back: how well JMU graduates do in the boardrooms and offices. Their edge is what COB calls the Madison Quotient.

And it begins with COB 202 because it all comes down to connectivity. Interpersonal connections. That’s how to succeed in business.

You can read more about the impact of the Madison Quotient on job prospects for students at: http://www.myvirtualpaper.com/doc/jamesmadisonuniversity/MadisonSummer09/2009061101/12.html#12

* I have no insufferable co-workers. All of mine are wonderful.

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