Friday, September 4, 2015

A boy soldier brings stories that are medicine

Ishmael Beah captivates students at an ASU forum
I have come to accept a new standard of measure when it comes to communicating with today's university student. It can be posed in the following question:

Are you better than a smart phone?

It's a daunting task. Think about what is relevant and exciting and engaging via a student's smart phone feed and then consider the content you are about to present.

What wins? Your lecture or digital social media?

Image courtesy
That conversation played out in my head during fall convocation at Appalachian State University. It was my seventh convocation. The speaker each year is the author of our university summer reading book, chosen as a common theme for all freshman.

Not all prior convocations were necessarily well received. Authors sometimes seemed less than committed, or quite brief. Student attendance was sparse. It was more an exercise in formality than a christening of an academic year...with a message.

The 2015 convocation was a new game, a new paradigm and yes, the speaker on this day was much better than a smart phone. He captivated a full auditorium and carried the crowd of students for over half an hour. In an era where student attention spans can snap around five minutes, this author brought his A game and it showed.

It should be noted this author and speaker had a unique story. His insights were built through special circumstances. This convocation author had been a boy soldier who killed to stay alive.

Some of the detail was startling. About how oral tradition and story telling can be medicine. How we can examine tragic events to find learning opportunities. How soldiers universally hold one set of standards - how to eat, where to sleep, and who must be killed in order to survive. How his migration to America brought a self-imposed code of silence, an insulation to protect against stereotypes attached to children who fought in war.

Some of Beah's comments were funny, but only in a bittersweet way. At one point in his university education, wealthy classmates took Ishmael to upstate New York for the weekend. Their choice of play? Paintball. A story ensued and you might imagine who wins.

Beah was thoughtful, humble, authentic, transparent and sometimes controversial. His words and actions greatly affected our students. He supported and helped us by bringing social debate, to heighten experiences. BEah prompted students to ask "what if?" or "what would I do?"

If stories are medicine, Ishmael Beah's words brought balm to sooth the wounds of war. And for that, we are grateful.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Our students...are the future

Had a great night at Hoey Hall. It's always fun to start a new semester and integrate with incoming residents.

Tonight we had Geralyn Mitchell from Career Development come and speak. Just a bit of academic personality testing; did you ever draw a pig? Amazing what Geralyn could deduce from the images that the students created.

Sure it was fun, but it's also serious business. Students at Appalachian State University today are tomorrow's leaders. In a few short years, they will be running the world.

And that's the way it should be. I feel fortunate that we can assist in the journey.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

It's a long shot for Nature's Bakery and Danica

Photo courtesy
Just this week, The Stewart-Haas NASCAR racing organization made a big announcement. It had accomplished the formidable task of replacing exit-sponsor GoDaddy with a new primary supporter for Danica Patrick's racing team in the top tier Sprint Cup Series.

The sponsor? Reno, Nevada based Nature's Bakery.

Motorsport media is hailing the announcement as a great fit and sign of new growth in the sport. However, it's also akin to David stepping into the role of Goliath.

There's no disrespect meant, none whatsoever. I'm a fitness athlete and have purchased Nature's Bakery fig bar products. Good stuff and good content. But it's the size and magnitude of the business that brings some concern. News reports and some web searching indicate the company was founded in 2010, has approximately 500 employees, and has attained fairly good national distribution of product across retail chains. It has also been reported that the food manufacturer stepped in to sponsor the majority of Danica's NASCAR events in 2016 and has committed to the primary sponsor asking price that hovers near the $20 million mark.

It's always fun to play with some math. According to, consumers can purchase a 12 pack of Nature's Bakery fig bars for $14.91. Now, let's consider the possible profit back to the company on that sale. According to Timothea Xi in a Demand Media article, we can learn more about gross margins across bakery venues. Xi writes "According to the Retail Owners Institute, gross margins for retail baked goods stores have been fairly constant from 2008 to 2012, ranging between 53.7 percent and 57.7 percent. For in-store grocery bakeries, gross margins were 47.2 percent in 2012, up from 46.8 percent in 2011."

Let's suggest Nature's Bakery carries a 56% gross margin. So for that $14.91 Amazon sale, it will retain $8.35. This is just one way of looking at it, but based on a $20 million sponsorship, Nature's Bakery will need to sell 2.39 million 12-packs of fig bars in order to earn its ROI at break-even point.

This is the hard reality of sponsorship. The company will have to use the Danica marketing machine to move a huge incremental amount of product. Can it happen? Will NASCAR fans - and other Danica supporters - step up at that magnitude, wallets open ready to buy?

I hope it's so, but this is a big reach for a small company. Let's wish them the best in this exciting and somewhat risky endeavor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ronda Rousey sets mark for religion, education

If you spend any time at all following modern media, Ronda Rousey has crossed your path. She's the fastest rising sports star today and she's hard to define. She's a fighter, a winner, a model, a rising movie star, and possibly most important, she's the new standard and role model for many young females in America.

I embedded one of Ronda's YouTube videos. It only runs 42 seconds and as of today it's at almost 2.6 million views. I'll add all the obligatory disclaimers here - don't watch if you are offended by graphic language, F word, etc. That's part of the package with Ronda. What you see, is what you get. She's transparent and in that tranparency comes amazing influence.

If you choose, watch the video. Watch Ronda unpack her version of the empowered female, in her terms a statement against a "DNB." It might be controversial, but it resonates. I have watched and pondered her approach and it prompts more discussion.

As a university educator and closet theologian, it's responsible to reflect on Ronda's message and how it affects women. It's about empowerment through fitness, about how females makes choices regarding how they wish to be perceived. It's about how you make your living, about self-perception of the female physique. And it's presented by a woman who delivers the knock out punch.

How might we bring Ronda as a case study into the classroom? There is surely relevance among many of the communication and advertising courses I teach. And in an even bolder move, what pastor would dare bring Ronda into the pulpit? Who might have the courage to frame DNB and create a message of biblical proportion? It might be possible to preach about loving oneself...before one can love others.

Just a few thoughts on the day, but social scientists will have to keep their eyes on Ronda. We must watch her every move, because millions of our students are surely doing just that.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Making essential changes for the 50+ achiever

I recently made my way through the arduous tenure process and received my "all good" letter from the provost.

Now what?

It seems similar to the NFL, I have approached my own personal deflategate. There is six years of hard work and focus, the goal is achieved, then a feeling of emptiness on the other side.

I started my academic career late in life. MBA 2005 and PhD 2009, then on to Appalachian State University. It is a rewarding experience, with a great group of peers and students. But I don't rest well and there must be more, a new plan to follow.

What I have envisioned can work for most anyone who wants to make positive changes and reach new achievements. Picture a small circle around your body, mind and soul...this is the aura of what makes you unique. From this circle, move outward. Create another slightly larger circle and that will become your first adaptation to change.

The initial circles going out are things you can change now; the future concentric circles will be big play changes you will make into the future.

Here's an example of how it's working for me:

1) In the Thomas Pyncon novel (and movie) Inherent Vice he states “Can't say it often enough - change your hair, change your life.” That is true. I haven't had long(er) hair since 2008. Project underway.

2) Purify your body. I'm currently in Italy and went off the rails on cookies, bakery and gelato. Sugars and grains crashed my physical state and mental psyche. I'm sugar free for three days now and headed into ketosis.

3) Strengthen your body. I thought my running days were cooked. They weren't. I made a comeback, jog quite slow and ran the 10K here in Florence. Also doing six miles each morning. It's less than before, but it's happening nonetheless.

4) Write. A news editor early in my career harshly rejected my fiction work and I parked it for 40 years. I'm back at it. Kindle and CreateSpace book to come. Depending on your point of view and perspective, it's either a steamy romance or a horror story.

I'm not sure where the concentric circles of change will lead, but I do intend to make them continue outward. You can too. Don't settle into the paradigm that you can't "teach old dogs new tricks." We can all affect change and build the next chapter in our novel of life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Top performers earn Lambda Pi Eta awards

It's always a pleasure to be part of a top performer's evening at Appalachian State. Here's our Communication Department's latest braintrust, getting reading to change the face of media communication.

We had our Lambda Pi Eta awards night. Fun, social, and catered food. It's a busy time of year as the Spring semester rushes to a close.

Sometimes being a professor feels as if I'm at the train station, as the train rushes by. Each year we see a great group of students break free and fly off to prosper. It's our job as educators to send them on their way, offering encouragement and support.

That's the way it should be. Travel well, and prosper.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Can Amazon save academic publishing?

The London School of Economics and Political Science just launched a recent blog post on how scholars are judged in academic publishing. It's an enlightening piece on how scholarship should be valued and what might be in the future for successful researchers:
Some of the facts in this post are startling:
  • Eighty-two (82) percent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once
  • One study indicates only 20 percent of papers cited have actually been read.
  • The authors of the blog post suggest that on average, a manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal is read in its entirety by no more than 10 people.
Those who publish academic research know that it requires a tremendous effort, diligence, and a predominant amount of hours during our "off time." As one who has just achieved tenure, I am highly aware of the "publish or perish" mandates within university. Thank goodness I had a 25-year sales background, as I had to use every possible tactic to promote my work, then go through heavy rewrites and negotiate with editors in order to get it to press.
Most can relate to the peer-review process; I find it similar to a diving competition. You climb to the highest tier on the diving tower, step off and execute a perfect triple flip, then knife into the water.
You surface and look to the judge's stand. 10, 10, 9.9, 9.8 and a 2. A 2? Where did that come from?
So it goes with peer reviews. I have received " wonderful analysis publish as is" to "completely irrelevant and not supported with proper literature"...and that's for the same paper. On some occasions, dozens of hours produce zero ROI.
Where do we go from here? I had a new concept in academic publishing and wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, but never heard back. Maybe the rest of you can reach out to Jeff in social media, so that he might reconsider.
Here's my idea: Amazon can launch and govern new academic journals on its Kindle digital publishing platform. At first, these journal would encompass broad categories, such as Journal of Mathametics, or Journal of Social Sciences. Editors and peer reviewers for each journal can be assigned. After all, it's Amazon - they know how to figure things out and deliver customer service.
This model has a new financial distribution plan. If you get accepted for the journal, you pick the sales price. Under the right parameters, you keep 70% of Kindle sales. Instead of the new (and ugly) model where unscrupulous journals are asking scholars to pay to be published, this model would put the money back where it belongs - in the author's pocket. As "Amazon Academic" grew, more journals specific to each area of study could be developed.
This could offer a big advantage. I'd suggest top Kindle journal articles would receive increased readership. Young scholars fighting for tenure would receive much-needed supplementary funds. Overworked and underpaid adjuncts would have an opportunity to build a digital publishing revenue source. Also, many state governments are reducing subsidies to universities and salaries are either frozen, or small incremental increases are given. This might be an opportunity for profs to compensate with alternative income streams.
I realize that many of our top academic journals are needed and will remain prestigious within the research marketplace. However, a partnership with Amazon would bring a new era of wealth distribution to how we share our passion and our papers.