Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts from the ‘Teaching’ category

9:00-11:00 AM at Saint Joesph’s University

I cry a little on the drive to work today.

Waiting at the crosswalk at City Line Avenue, a student is not wearing a mask.

I walk across campus to the tents organized along the track to get my mandatory COVID-19 saliva test. I sit under the canopy until I fill up a plastic vial with saliva. The results are supposed to take 2-3 days.

While waiting to cross City Line Avenue on the way back from the COVID-19 test there is another student with no mask. I debate what to do, (keep my distance? say nothing?) but end up saying, “Hey, would you mind putting your mask on, please?”

The student says, “yes,” and gives me a look.

Walking back to my office my bag begins to drip. I was so nervous when I had to get my glasses out of my bag during the spit test that my pencil case contents spilled everywhere along with a container of hand sanitizer. Sadly, this is not the first time something like this has happened.

I see groups of students walking 3 in a row down the sidewalk. One group is giving a university tour.

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Back in my office, I light a lavender travel candle for aromatherapy.

I put tissues in my pocket because I’ve been getting spontaneous nose bleeds this past week.

I answer emails, read the department Slack channel, fill out forms.

As a member of the Community Standards Board, I sign up for training sessions to serve on appeal panels related to pandemic-related violations (e.g. off-campus parties).

I take my books back to the library which I’ve had out since March. I drop them in the outdoor box, which has previously been locked.

Another university tour with parents goes by.

Cross the street again, walk back to my office, which thankfully, is a relatively private.

The roses that I planted in March are blooming for the second time this summer, but all the indoor plants have died.

Since the inter-library loan has opened up, I order some books from other universities; hopefully, they arrive before it shuts down again.

Look in my bag and there is still a library book in there.

Look in my drawers for something to eat.

Pop some microwave popcorn for stress eating.

We receive an email that the saliva test results will be delayed.

1:00 – 2:00 PM

Continue to line up our community partner projects for the Beautiful Social Research Collaborative.

Meet with four students before class to discuss upcoming community projects.

Bring out some chairs to the outdoor tents on the patio for class.

Chat with Mike, our department chair. We talk about anxiety and exposure therapy. He suggests maybe it won’t be so challenging in the coming weeks, once I’m used to this.

2:00 – 3:30 PM

Teaching my first class of the semester, COM 441 Social Media and Community Engagement.

We are spread out among three rooms on the lower level of Bronstein Hall.

I go from room to room explaining the course structure.

I keep repeating myself.

I talk to students about anxiety and the strangeness of being back.

I have to tell students not to sit on seats that have a sign “do not sit.”

They generally ignore the signs to stay six feet away from each other.

There’s no projector or slides because we are all spread out.

I’ve made a writable PDF worksheet for them to accompany the readings.

We have outdoor tents on the patio, but no one wants to sit out there.

It’s 90 degrees.

4 students sit on the patio when I ask them to.

I sit with them while we talk about this semester’s virtual projects with community partners.

Mike snaps a photo as he walks by.

The university issues an energy curtailment, due to the heat.

Students install hypothes.is a social annotation tool for social reading and we populate a text with annotations.

Students are diligent, polite, and quietly work on a writing activity.

All of this could be better facilitated online.

I’m looking into student’s eyes more as I speak to them.

Some of them look familiar, but it’s hard for my brain to conjure up the other half of their face, although I keep trying to.

I go back to my office to breathe for a moment and Mike visits me to see how it went and offers his support.

3:30-4:45 PM

My second course begins: Visual Design.

Again we are spread out in different rooms.

No one wants to be outdoors under the canopies.

I explain that 15 minutes ago I sent them an email with a PDF with the day’s agenda.

Several students raise their hands to say they didn’t receive it.

Some received it on their phone but not the email on their laptop.

One cannot open the PDF.

Two student-athletes come in during class and ask how to borrow laptops from the gear room.

I say there is a protocol for that but I don’t know what it is off the top of my head.

The gear information on our website has not been updated.

15 minutes later, the rest of the students receive the email.

The one student still cannot open the PDF.

The two student-athletes are sitting in the room listening to me as I explain the week’s activity.

Some students are coming right up to me trying to show me their laptop screens, to discuss where they are having problems.

I can’t really see their screens while trying to back away and keep some distance. I give them my best guess.

I go to my office, in the building behind Bronstein Hall, to resend the PDF for the student.

I have forgotten my keys.

I go back to Bronstein Hall to get the keys from my bag, go back to my office and post the PDF to Canvas in our Learning Management System.

I check on her but she still cannot open the PDF.

I explain that she needs to go to IT if she cannot figure out how to open it because she will need to open  PDF’s every week.

Different students are all at different places in the activity.

The student-athletes have procured laptops and are trying to do the assignment.

Oh, they are in my course!?

I try to help them while still maintaining a modicum of social distance.

One student says he is so lost, is that okay to not do it right now?

Students talk to me about how strange the campus feels. I tell them how anxious I was/am.

They say they too are anxious, “this year is so different and confusing compared to last year, with signs and arrows, masks, and distancing.”

One student says her computer is fried.

Class is now over and I sit and talk to the student who was lost for a while.

I pack my things.







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dogwood blossoming

This is a note to all of the graduating seniors in our Communication and Media Studies Department. First of all, congratulations on all of your accomplishments. We are so proud of you. For several days, I have had the urge to write, because my heart goes out to you. In what is normally an exciting but anxiety-ridden time, I can only imagine the degree of uncertainty you are having to cope with. I have no real answers for you (does anyone?). Instead, I offer these suggestions in the spirit of support, guidance, and camaraderie.  

Independent study

One of my heroes, Joseph Campbell, used his time during the Great Depression (when jobs were not available) as a period of deep self-study, which set the tone for the next period of his life and his work. See: Hero With A Thousand Faces. Reading, writing and contemplation are always generative choices.

Online Courses

The next months could also be a time of learning new skills to prepare for the workforce when the crisis is over. This could be via an online course through SkillShare, Adobe, or Code Academy. Harvard, MIT and many other universities have free courses that anyone can enroll in.

Graduate School

Graduate school is a viable option right now. If this was something you were thinking of in the next few years, the time to apply might be now. Here’s a timeline from the Princeton Review for what this entails. Many universities are currently waiving the standardized entrance tests for graduate school, such as the Graduate Record Exam or GRE. This could be the time to seize the day.

Volunteer Corps

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Poland XIV), I have to tell you that this was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Yes, it is a two-year commitment, but those two years could be the most critical years for learning new things, meeting new people, and appreciating different ways of being. They were for me. Applications are still open. There are also many volunteer organizations, on a local level, including AmeriCorps.

Know your Ikigai

This could be a time for introspection. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” This worksheet can be used as a guide to help you find direction or purpose in your life. I love to use these with students. A Find-Your-Ikigai worksheet helps you to see where your passion, mission, vocation, and profession meet. 

Understanding the Nature of Mind

Many of the above suggestions deal with using your mind, but what about understanding your mind? This quiet time indoors could be a blessing in disguise, providing a time and space for meditation and contemplation, much in the same way a spiritual retreat might work (but that many of us never find the time for). Undergoing a sustained period of self-study will help you to better cope with the current situation, as well as prepare you for life when this is over. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius notes that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This is about turning obstacles upside down. I wish I could give The Obstacle is the Way to every graduating student right now. In this book, Holiday presents a Stoic toolkit that focuses on the concepts of will, perception, and action and how these concepts can help you create opportunities in the face of adversity. Watch the short video here.

Marking the Occasion

I hope that these suggestions offer you some ideas and opportunities during this time. Graduation ceremonies are a right of passage – a way to mark an important milestone. Even if we cannot celebrate together this Spring, I hope you find a way to mark the occasion in a meaningful way.  And we will celebrate together when we can.

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Santorini – 36.3932° N, 25.4615° E 
One of the things I will always remember from Santorini is something that I couldn’t capture with my camera. We stayed at a Dominican Convent in Santorini – a home for 12 cloistered nuns of various nationalities. Although I never saw the nuns, I did hear them singing Vespers one evening; an otherworldly hymn that I first mistook for a professional recording. I will also remember the beautiful and serene energy of this place. It was palpable. We were the beneficiaries of these nuns who spend most of their days channeling grace through prayer.

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SYROS – 37.4385° N, 24.9139° E

Postcards from our month in Greece traveling, writing, and storytelling in COM 382 Digital Publishing.

When I look back on our two weeks on Syros I will be thinking about the blues. The seas, the skies, the bays, all in a range of that clear, impossible blue. If we can have that every day, perhaps it is enough. Maybe we don’t need as much as we think we need. That’s really the undercurrent of my time on Syros. The slower pace of life (except for the drivers!), the kindness of everyone we met, the three-hour meals with the waves lapping behind us, the raw beauty of the island, and the simplicity of its beaches. A towel and a tamarisk tree are all you need.

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COM 382 Digital Publishing in Greece May 24 – June 25, 2019

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Join us for a special COM course as we explore the islands of Greece.


  • Fulfills upper-level communications elective for majors & minors
  • Open to all majors at Saint Joseph’s University, no pre-requisites
  • Travel and study in Athens, Santorini, Syros, and Crete and many other locations

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Spend a month in Greece traveling, writing, and storytelling. The wide variety of digital media tools and platforms available allows us to share observations, research, and personal narratives with global audiences online. Using a variety of digital tools including 360 photography, video, audio, and social media, we will create a portfolio of stories for publication.

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As we travel throughout Greece, we will develop projects for digital publication. Each project emphasizes skills essential to writing for the web: finding, framing, and pitching story ideas; research, reconnaissance, and field recording techniques; the appreciation for and acquisition of story context; tools for evaluating issues of ethics; an understanding of story elements, organization, and assembly; writing, revising and editing for clarity and purpose; peer review and constructive feedback on your drafts; and finally, publication strategies for your work.

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Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 4.18.25 PMSee the Center for International Programs for more course information. studyabroad@sju.edu (610)660-1835


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A commitment to community building and civic action offers faculty and students in our field opportunities to address immediate real-world needs in our own neighborhoods.

Join us for a half-day workshop on Thursday, May 24, 2018, from 9-12 at Computers and Writing 2018 at George Mason University. With John J Silvestro, Bill Wolff, and Aimée Knight.

This workshop features several models to involve academic courses in digital projects with local nonprofits and community-based organizations. Learning to leverage digital media platforms to advocate for and with communities provides students a meaningful way to engage in designing communication for social change.

We discuss an array of research and creative projects that 1) serve the needs of community partners and 2) can be accomplished by students in one semester. We provide examples from completed projects in areas ranging from professional writing to digital production, including advocacy campaigns, social media audits, website design, digital storytelling, data visualization, video production, and social media content creation.

During three hands-on work sessions, we will provide guidance and support as workshop participants move through the process of designing and developing their own project or assignment that can be worked into a new or an already existing or a new course. Each participant will leave the workshop with a blueprint for a project which responds to community-identified needs and creates real-world deliverables that benefit students and communities. For more details, contact me @aesthetically.




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