Archive | September, 2011

Lessons on trust in times of a crisis

30 Sep

Driving to campus yesterday was like driving through a cloud. As it often does on crisp fall mornings, fog blanketed LMU. I found it soothing and hoped it would set the mood for a calm and productive day at the office, one I was hoping would allow me to catch up on a number of outstanding projects. However, one thing I have learned in my six years on the job at LMU, days can get away from you rather quickly for any number of reasons. That was certainly the case by midmorning yesterday.

It all started well. I was able to print 1,500 flyers promoting the upcoming start of the basketball season with Midnight Madness during Homecoming. I started to design a series of newspaper ads for all the Homecoming highlights and accepted a couple of meeting requested and updated my calendar. When my phone rang midmorning, I could see from the caller ID that it was Dean of Administration Lisa Blair-Cox. The call started friendly enough with an easy greeting and an exchange of “how are yous?” Then the soothing, peaceful morning shattered as she revealed the reason for her call. “I wanted to let you know about a situation we are dealing with here,” she said. Lisa went on to tell me that someone had made a threat on a couple of people working at LMU. She said that Director of Campus Safety and Facilities Management Richard Owens was with her and they were convening the crisis management team if I would come down to join them.

Well, there went the morning.

As I left Kresge Hall, I noticed a Claiborne County Sheriff’s department vehicle turning around in the parking lot. In our brief conversation, Lisa had told me that we would see a heightened law enforcement presence on campus.  She was right. As I drove the short distance to the student center I saw a total of five Sheriff’s department vehicles on campus. As I hustled into the President’s office, I knew that the rumors on campus must be already flying. Five police cars would surely spark conversation.

Once, in the office with the rest of the team, Lisa gave an update on what was going on.  She reported that the Sheriff’s department planned to remain on campus until the person who made the threat was in custody or their location could be confirmed in another part of the state. They emphasized that it was safe to continue with our normal activities on campus. That made it easy for the crisis team to make some quick decisions. Dr Dawson was in Chicago for the Duncan School of Law American Bar Association hearing, so after a couple of phone calls with him we had a definite plan of action.

The University was not going on lock down. We would post an announcement on Pathway to explain the added law enforcement presence and we would keep the J. Frank White Academy kids in the academy for lunch. Hoping to keep heads cool on campus, the team decided to disband and return to our normal responsibilities.

When we emerged from the meeting, the President’s office staff told us that calls were already coming in with questions. After crafting a message, I posted it to Pathway, hoping that it would relieve some of the burden on the President’s office. The more people I encountered after the announcement, the more I discovered that the message had not put an end to questions.

A statement I repeated many times yesterday was the simple truth. The University was not on lockdown, because the situation didn’t warrant lockdown. I know that it is easy to get swept into the whirl of rumors and speculation and certainly there were a lot of rumors and speculation afoot yesterday.  I heard everything from bomb threats to actual gunmen on campus. As people continued to question the crisis team’s response to the incident, I started to feel my composure slip and to get frustrated with people. Thankfully, I gave myself a gut-check and didn’t let the frustration get the best of me.

I tried to keep in mind that it is not our job or role in this situation to gather or corroborate information on the incident. Nor was it my responsibility to broadcast largely unsubstantiated reports to anyone. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to public safety. As a campus communicator, I am tasked with following the procedures in place to notify our community in an appropriate time and with an appropriate message providing the information vital to public safety. Likewise, the onus is on the community to seek the information from the proper channels.

The University has an e-2-campus texting program where text alerts are sent in case of emergency. This system is only activated in case of imminent threat, either weather or crime related. The Crisis Team did not use this in this case because the threat was never imminent and we did not want to cause a panic. This incident does offer a good reminder that e-2-campus is service that you have to opt-in to. If you have not registered to receive the e-2-campus alerts, be sure to do so. If the information we are distributing warranted an e-alert, it would have had one. Since it was only posted on Pathway, I had hoped it would have signaled, that yes there was a threat made, but it was not one that should cause panic. Had an imminent, serious threat been in the area, I assure you the University has a plan for that and immediate action would have been taken. Certainly, the community can take their cues from how a message is delivered and what is in the message.

For me, this incident can be summed up with one word. Trust. We as a crisis team had to trust that the Claiborne County Sheriff’s department was providing us with the proper information and guidance when making our decisions. In turn, and I think the breakdown in this situation, the LMU community has got to trust that the administration is doing what the situation demands. The community has got to trust that we would not purposely put anyone in harm’s way. The public is never going to be privy to everything that is happening in a public safety situation. These situations are very fluid and information changes quickly; so it is imperative that the community trusts that information that is being disseminated is credible and pertinent.

Along with trust, it is vital that our community be vigilant about their safety, but also respect that policies and procedures are in place to reinforce their safety. The policies have been tested and rehearsed. It should instill a lot of confidence when officials say these things are being followed.

 

They’re baaack!

28 Sep

Prospective students visiting DCOM for interviews listen ad Class of 2015 President Kirubakaran Sivagurunathan makes a presentation.

Walking through DCOM this morning, I passed the fishbowl (the first floor conference room with a glass wall) and spotted the black suits for the first time this year. It’s hard to see the black suits and not sense their excitement and nervousness.

 Twice a week from mid-September to mid-May, twelve fresh faces arrive in Harrogate, Tenn., for in-person interviews as part of the medical school application process. We call them the black suits, because most of them where black suits to their interviews.

 Every Tuesday and Wednesday, 12 DCOM hopefuls get a chance to see why at least thirteen people have applied for each and every seat since the school opened in 2007. Typically in a year, 500 black suits will filter through for interviews.

 

The official interview comes after the admissions committee reviews the applicant’s AACOMAS application, supplemental application and test scores. The personal interview itself is 30 minutes, long but interviewees go through a full day of programming.

 

Since the second class went through interviews, DCOM’s Student Osteopathic Medicine Association (SOMA) has sponsored an informal pizza night to give prospective students a chance to meet current students and ask a wide range of questions in a relaxed atmosphere.  Pizza night occurs the evening before the interviews. Often, attendance is determined by travel schedule as applicants travel from across the country to check out DCOM.

 

On the actual interview day, the black suits will be shuttled from hotels in Middlesboro to the LMU campus. One of the comments we often hear after interviews is how friendly and relaxed our process is. From the start, our visitors are welcomed into the LMU family whether they ultimately choose to attend DCOM or not. Our greatest ambassador is our shuttle driver, Bob Jackson. Bob has been with DCOM from the beginning, when he volunteered to help with whatever the medical school needed because he was proud of its mission and wanted to be a part of it. Bob picks the black suits up in the morning and helps them to relax on the short drive to campus. When their day is done, he picks them back up and gives them a quick driving tour of LMU and often visits some of the highlights in the area, like the Pinnacle in nearby Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

 

The day officially gets underway with a welcome session conducted by the admissions staff. When he is in town, Dean Ray Stowers also makes a special point to welcome the black suits. The welcome session is followed by a financial aid overview as well as information about the preclinical and clinical curriculum from faculty. Next, the prospective students are interviewed in one on two sessions with faculty. The students will be paired with a DO and a PhD for the individual interviews. Current DCOM students also make a point to drop in and talk with interviewees while they wait for their time to interview.

 

Following the interviews, DCOM student ambassadors give tours of the building. The black suits are then joined by current students for a lunch in LMU’s dining hall. After lunch, Bob gives his tour and takes them back to the hotels.

 

The admissions committee typically meets on Thursdays, following the interview days. This helps the committee make decisions while the interviews are fresh in their minds. The admissions staff tries to have letters out no later than Monday of the next week, but it often depends on the Dean’s schedule as he has final say and review on all applicants. The letters can also be delayed, because Dean Stowers enjoys calling the accepted students personally to offer them a seat in the class.

Take a Swing with the Alumni Association

22 Sep

Calling all Railsplitters! Come on we know you are out there. Step up, take a swing and support the LMU Alumni Association as it hosts its very first golf tournament tomorrow at Three Ridges Golf Course in Knoxville. All the proceeds from the event will benefit the Association’s Democrat Hollow Renovation project.

Planned by the LMU Alumni Association Board with the assistance of Director of Alumni Services Donnie Lipscomb, the tournament promises to be fun. Teams finishing 1st, 2nd, 10th and last will win prizes including GPS systems, putters, golf bags and weekend getaway packages. There will also prizes for closest to the pin and longest drive.

The Alumni Association has gathered a host of sponsors including DeRoyal Industries, The Village Market, Kramer-Rayson LLC., Attorneys at Law, The Lodge at Valley View, Middlesboro Coca-Cola, Lee Motors and the Ideal Print Shop. There will also be the opportunity to win a new car, compliments of Lee Motors, with a hole in one on a designated par three hole.

The festivities get underway at 1 p.m. with a shotgun start. It is not too late to be a part of the action. There will be door prizes and silent auction that includes autographed memorabilia from Pat Summit and Derek Dooley, plus Tennessee football and Bristol Raceway tickets.

The tournament will wrap up with a dinner and awards ceremony immediately following completion of play. For more information or to register visit https://secure.imodules.com/s/1119/index.aspx?sid=1119&gid=1&pgid=537&cid=1479  .

White Coats & Tradition

21 Sep

As traditions go, 18 years is relatively new. That is exactly how long medical schools in America have been “coating” first year students in a ceremony that has become a rite of passage for medical student. The first White Coat Ceremony was held in 1993 at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and is now a standard ritual in medical schools across the country. During the Ceremony, each medical student is presented and “robed” with his or her short white laboratory coat, formalizing and welcoming the student’s entrance into the study of medicine.

 

Of course when you are talking about new traditions, it seems that is all that the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine has. Now in its fifth year and celebrating its fifth entering class, DCOM’s White Coat Ceremony, set for Saturday, will be steeped in the young traditions of the new school.

 

Traditions like a DCOM family barbeque in Democrat Hollow the evening before the ceremony. It’s the first opportunity for the extended family of the newest DCOMers to meet and mingle with faculty, staff and other families. A fresh take on the tradition this year is that the meal will be prepared by  Dean Ray Stowers and Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation/OPP and Assistant Vice President for Program Development Michael Wieting. The pair are certified barbeque judges and the “two Docs” of Two Docs Barbeque. They hosted a similar event during the Inaugural Class Commencement week.

 

Since the very first White Coat Ceremony in 2007, the Tennessee Osteopathic Medicine Association (TOMA) has provided the white coats for the students of Tennessee’s only osteopathic medical school. During the ceremony, a TOMA representative, usually the president of the organization, makes a presentation to the class. The students are actually “robed” by faculty representatives. Another DCOM tradition is closing with the Osteopathic Oath of Commitment — A pledge the students will also recite during commencement.

 

The White Coat Ceremony is an important rite of passage for new medical students. The white coat is another tool of the profession. Dr. Stowers said few new students really understand the confidence a white coat can instill in a patient.

ROTC service & scholarship

19 Sep

At LMU, there is a long history of military service. In fact, as the United States was preparing to enter World War II, LMU was preparing pilots to enlist as an official training ground for the U.S. Army. The official presence of a military branch on campus has come and gown over time, but in the last five years, a resurgence is underway.

LMU’s U.S. Army Reserved Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) resurfaced on campus through a partnership with the Carson-Newman ROTC program. The program reached a milestone last week as it awarded its first Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty (GRFD) Scholarship to junior Christina Dudash. Dudash is studying medical technology. She has been involved in the ROTC program since she started at LMU.

GRFD scholarships are available through the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) for students that desire to participate in the Senior ROTC program. These scholarships guarantee that the student once graduated from school and commissioned in the U.S. Army must serve their obligation in the USAR or Army National Guard. The scholarships provide for two years of benefits. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must have exactly two years of school remaining. With the tightening of budgets and limited available funds, the scholarships are very competitive.

The GRFS scholarships cover tuition and board up to $20,000 a year. They also include funding for books and a monthly stipend. Students are selected based on grade point average, standing in ROTC program, major and grade point average in military science class as well as Army Physical Fitness Test scores.

Military Science courses are open to all students. However, to enroll in advanced ROTC courses which lead to a commission as a Second Lieutenant, a student must meet US Army administrative, physical, medical and mental standards and be accepted by the Professor of Military Science. The LMU program is tied to the Carson-Newman ROTC program. Many of the advanced lab and train programs are done jointly

Six years & six memorable moments!

15 Sep

Happy Anniversary to me! Six years ago today, I started work at Lincoln Memorial University. It was a glorious day for sure. Not only, did I get to come back to higher education, I managed to stay off unemployment after my last employer was bought out. In honor of my six fun-filled years in Harrogate, I have come up with a list of the six most important or memorable moments since I joined the LMU family.

 

                6.  Ribbon Cutting & Grand Opening celebration at LMU-Cedar Bluff (June 17, 2010)

LMU-Cedar Bluff Ribbon Cutting

The University had outgrown its former West Knoxville Extended Learning Site on Hayfield road. Home to the MBA program and graduate education classes, the facility was at capacity and the University was looking to expand its offerings in Knoxville. For months LMU Chairman Pete DeBusk and President Jim Dawson scoured the area for space. The pair kept coming back to a then-vacant former Food Lion location in the Cedar Bluff area. The lease deal became final in January of 2010 and the construction team immediately got to work with the goal of having the facility ready for fall classes.

                The timeline accelerated after it became apparent that the facility would be needed for summer classes. This also meant marketing the new facility and programs would need to be bumped up as well. Pulled together in less than two months, the Ribbon Cutting & Grand Opening kicked off the campaign. Once we started an award-winning advertising campaign promoting the event, the nail biting started as it wasn’t 100% that the facility would be ready on time. Thankfully, all was well that ended well and the day went off without a hitch. Hundreds of people streamed through the open house and now almost a year and a half later the site is a vibrant hub of activity.

                5. COM Announcement (January 18, 2006)

  

LMU Chairman Pete DeBusk announces plans to bring a College of Osteopathic Medicine to LMU

              The day that LMU announced its intent to pursue a College of Osteopathic Medicine was an important day for the University, but it was memorable to me as an early test in a new position. Though I had been on the job for four months, it was the first time my writing was really scrutinized. I think we rewrote the press release nearly fifty times and it was frustrating. In the end the announcement was made to a full crowd of media, alumni, local politicians and guests. The press release was pitch-perfect. As much as I stressed about the press release and questioned if I was good enough for the big job I had taken, the day was pretty enjoyable. Though the thought of a medical school on campus was very exciting, the idea of it was pale in comparison to the reality that is now the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine

                4. DSOL Naming (March 27, 2009)

 

The Duncan School of Law Seal

               In February of 2008, University officials signed a lease to take over the occupancy of one of Knoxville’s most historic buildings, Old City Hall. At that time the University didn’t have specific plans for what it would put in the building, though the idea of a law school had been floated. By March 27, 2009, LMU had renovated the facility, received Sothern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and Tennessee Board of Law Examiners approval for a School of Law and hired a dean for its new school. What it hadn’t done was announce publicly the name for the new venture. After months of careful planning, a press conference and reception was held on site. It was the public’s first opportunity to see the multi-million dollar renovation of Old City Hall. Once again, it was an event that I spent a lot of time planning and stressing over. When the day arrived I panicked as the new sign for the school was delivered and installed early in the morning. As the sign was hoisted into its position the covering flew off allowing the morning rush hour traffic at Summit Hill and Henley to see what in a few short hours we intended to announce, that the law school was being named in honor of Congressman Jimmy Duncan. I can still picture myself stomping out to the installation team demanding them to cover the sign. Surely, we couldn’t have our guests driving past a sign declaring the very thing that we had invited them there to announce. Thankfully, a new cover was found. Again, the announcement was made without a hitch and the event was beautiful. Congressman Duncan’s wife, Lynn, went to special lengths to invite many of her husband’s congressional colleagues to be on hand for the announcement.  The surprise guests made the day all the more special.

                3. The Arrival of Amy Drittler (September 5, 2006)

                In my first year on the job it was not unusual for me to be at the office by 6:30 a.m. and work until 6:30 p.m. There were at least six months between the time that my predecessor left and I started at LMU. Catching up and getting a feel for what needed to be done was overwhelming. Handling all the marketing and public relations for the University, which was just 2,802 students strong in 2005, was a big job and I was determined to prove myself. Then at the turn of the new budget cycle, my boss told me that we would be hiring someone to handle the public relations and marketing for the then “proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine.” Prayers had been answered, I was getting help. Unfortunately the search process took another three months.

                My savior, Amy Drittler, started on September 5, 2006. In 2006 the University had under-3,000 students, the medical school had not opened and the school of law wasn’t even a glimmer in the administration’s eye. In the five years that we have been a team, the University has grown rapidly. The PR and Marketing department on the other hand, remains a team of two. As much as we have grown, learned and gained valuable experience from our hard work, I think we would both agree that our friendship has been the grand prize.

                2. DCOM Inaugural Class Graduation (May 14, 2011)

The LMU-DCOM Class of 2011

                The DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine has been the catalyst for LMU’s rapid growth.  I’m not sure event Pete DeBusk would have predicted how much the medical school would change not only LMU, but the surrounding community. Having been there from the very first announcement, the inaugural commencement ceremony was special to witness. From the initial announcement, to the groundbreaking, to the entrance of the first class, I had had been a part of many milestones for the institution, but no one was more poignant that watching that first graduate go up the steps a student and come down on the other side as a DOctor.

                1. The First Remote Area Medical Clinic (August 19 & 20, 2006)

People lined up for the first LMU Remote Area Medical Clinic

WOW! What a weekend. It is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The experience truly changed me. The whole RAM saga started when my boss invited me to join her for meeting about “something health related.” It turned out to be the start of a movement at LMU. The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corp. provided a wide range of free basic health, dental and optical services to the people of Southwest Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Northeast Tennessee. At the time the Knoxville-based organization kept thing fairly local, though they now travel across the country and around the world. In this instance they were looking to fill a whole in their schedule. The good news was that LMU could do it. The bad news was we had less than three months to pull everything together. A host of issues compounded matters and in the end I went from attending a meeting to coordinating the entire event. When the weekend arrived we didn’t know what to expect. By the time the doors opened at 6:30 a.m. more than 200 people were waiting in line for the free services. All told, LMU and RAM served over 500 people and provided services in excess of $100,000 to people who may otherwise have not been able to pursue care. Additionally the expedition provided veterinary services to 231 animals. The people we served were so grateful for the services it was overwhelming to be a part of such good works. The University’s mission was so in line with the RAM mission, that we have made in annual event.

               

 

Remembering 9/11/2001

11 Sep

Every generation has their defining moment. Whether it was President Kennedy’s assassination; the attempted assassination of President Reagan; or even the Berlin Wall coming down; most generations had a moment they could point to that made remember exactly where they were when that moment took place.

Until ten years ago, I always thought that moment for me would be when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. It was January 28, 1986. I was home from school with a sore throat and fever. At the time I really wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, so I was very disappointed that I couldn’t go to school because we were going to watch the space shuttle launch. My mom being the responsible adult that she is, wouldn’t allow me to leave the house with a fever, so she promised that I could watch the launch at home. I remember being so excited and then so confused when just over a minute into the launch the ship exploded right before my eyes.

I carried that moment as a defining moment for 15 years. Then came September 11, 2001. It was a defining moment not for one generation, but all generations and our nation. Even the children born after that day feel its effects.

Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven lives were lost on September 11, 2001. Hundreds more have lost their lives in the last decade in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have followed.  Out of the tragedy and ashes came national pride and patriotism. Streets that only saw flags on the Fourth of July and Memorial Day were draped in the red, white and blue. Young men and women flocked to military recruitment offices and the United States was united in grief, anger and outrage.

I can’t tell you where I was when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I don’t know where I was when that plane crashed in the Pennsylvania field. It’s not that I forgot or that I don’t care. I don’t know because I was in the air.

Ten years ago I was a media relations graduate assistant for the University of Tennessee. I travelled with the Lady Volleyball team and every other week or so we were travelling around the country. It was early in the season and that meant non-conference play. That particular road trip was a big one. We played in a tournament at the University of California and picked up one single game at San Jose State before heading back to Knoxville. We caught the red-eye back to the east coast after the match Monday evening. Not only was it an exhausting travel experience, it was even more miserable because the team lost the last match. We landed in Charlotte, N.C., early Tuesday morning, and boarded our last flight to Knoxville a little before 9 a.m.

Nothing seemed amiss until we landed and taxied to the gate. Then the captain came over the loudspeaker and said something about aviation history and grounding of planes. When we made it to the concourse, it was deserted and silent. The captain has said a “bomb or something” had gone off in New York. In the hours that followed I watched the TV in horror and answered worried relatives calls. I have family scattered in New York, Boston and Washington. One cousin in particular was a regular flyer on Flight 93 from Washington to the West Coast. It’s the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. Once I knew that all my family was safe I breathed a sigh of relief, but I still felt an overwhelming need to be close to the people I love.

Ten years later, I still wish I could be closer to the people that I love everyday. But now home is here. Home is LMU. My family is not just the people that I left behind in New York, Boston and Washington. My family is my husband and two beautiful daughters. My family is the wonderful people I am privileged to work alongside and brilliant faculty members who I get to learn from everyday. I cherish this life I have made for myself and in a lot of ways I would have taken all of this for granted had the events of September 11, 2001 never happened. So for me, this defining moment may have been rooted in hate and war, but it planted the seeds of love and understanding.