September 2014

In the fall of 1987, I sent my big girl to kindergarten. And every year since then, I have sent a child to school. I hang my giant “Back to School” sign on our front door, humming “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and spring for new shoes and/or a backpack.

So it is with a heavy heart now that I anticipate the opening of yet another school year. My baby, 22-year-old Tom, graduated (from SHU!) in May and flew the coop. He’s gainfully employed in North Carolina. While that is something to be celebrated, I am a bit snifflely right now about my empty nest status. And not only is Tom far from his mom’s grasp (488.2 miles away), but that big girl I referenced above is moving 2986.1 miles away to San Francisco. So our empty nest is really quite empty. I will adjust.

But for those of you who are celebrating the milestone of sending your first child to college, cherish the quiet. Take one child out of the complicated mix that we call modern family life, and it really does change the dynamic. Enjoy it. And give your college student some room to breathe and grow away from the family.

I tell my students that it’s time to change and that I even changed my name when I went to college. It was my way of becoming the person I wanted to be. Students have this one opportunity in life for a “do-over” on the way to adulthood. Transitioning to college is a time when you can analyze your faults and make adjustments. No one knows the you that you were before.

Your student’s transformation might not be as dramatic as a new name (my Mom still calls me by the old one!), but your children will change when they go to college. It’s a good thing. At its best, college provides students with a graceful transition to the “real world.” Here’s hoping for an excellent school year filled with good adventure, opportunities to grow spiritually and intellectually, with a little bit of good fun sprinkled in. Go Pirates!

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May 2014

2014 SHU Commencement

2014 SHU Commencement

To quote that great sage John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Life caught me off-guard last week.

I have a distinct memory of bringing three-year-old Tom to nursery school. He wrapped himself around my leg screaming while his teacher pulled him away and shooed me out. I raced to Seton Hall University for my 9 a.m. class, walked into my class and burst in to tears.

Fast forward 19 years to the Izod Center on May 19th when that baby walked across the stage and I had the rare honor of handing one of my children his diploma. There was a whole lot of living between those two events, but I wasn’t paying close attention.

Can I be melancholy and jubilant at the same time? Where did the time go? The countless concerts, baseball games, parent-teacher conferences, field days, marching band performances and bake sales – finished. Now there’s something to celebrate! But it is bittersweet, this last milestone of my son’s childhood.

I told my 90-year-old mother that now that my three children had all graduated from college, I was done. She burst in to laughter and shook her head knowingly.

Still, it is an accomplishment. As a college professor turned administrator, I really wanted my children to graduate from college. The road was littered with bumps, but ultimately each of our children was successful. And that is something to celebrate. Here comes the roller coaster we call real life!

Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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January 2014

Every year I make a few New Year’s resolutions. This year is no different: I have yet another chance to get it right. But in addition to the usual lose 10 pounds and exercise more litany that has been part of my resolves since I was old enough to step on a scale, I have also committed to continued self-improvement.

My brother-in-law writes a list of 100 resolutions every year and then at the end of the year tallies his scorecard for a personal evaluation. His goals are modest: read six books, go to the movies five times, clean out the basement, paint the upstairs bathroom. But I’ve always admired his clarity of purpose and his ability to articulate a model for living a good life through a list of 100 simple good things.

In the interest of brevity (and mostly because I don’t want to clean the basement or paint the bathroom), I’ve come up with a list of 10 great things I want to do this year to improve my life. I present them to you here in the hopes of inspiring you too to live 2014 as fully as possible.

  1. Stop with the worrying. My ability to worry is near limitless. My wise mother-in-law told me not to worry because I would always end up worrying about the wrong thing. She was right.
  2. Sleep better and longer (see previous resolution about worrying). I am very good at falling asleep, but not so good at staying asleep. I do not have the answer to this one, but I will before the year is out.
  3. Read more. I used to read 50 books a year; that number has dwindled to about 15. There is plenty of room for improvement.
  4. Turn off the TV. My capacity for mindless television is insatiable. I have been known to sit in front of a marathon “Say Yes to the Dress” broadcast for hours. It needs to stop.
  5. Hike farther. 2012 was the year of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey — all 72.2 miles. 2013, we tackled the AT in NY. This year? Who knows? But it has to be better and longer.
  6. Let my children live their lives (see resolution #1 – again). I have three great kids who have shown themselves to be great young adults. Let them live their lives the way my folks let me live mine. Enough said.
  7. Take up Mahjong. I used to play when I was a teenager and I can’t remember a thing about it except that it was a fun and relaxing way to pass the evening with my friends.
  8. Have an excellent adventure. Every year must have adventure, especially the older I get. Last year, I went to China. It was the adventure of a life time. This year? Stay tuned.
  9. Start crocheting again. Thirty years ago, I made an afghan for everyone I knew. Those blankets are old and smelly. It’s time to do it again.
  10. Be a better person. Gossip less, be kinder, pray more often, give generously and love expansively.

Just ten little things. Try it. It could change your life. Let’s hope it’s a great year.

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December 2013

One of the things we do well at Seton Hall is celebrate Christmas. Our President, Dr. Gabriel Esteban, has brought his deep devotion to this sacred holiday to our community in a special way. The academic calendar being as it is, much of the holiday spirit occurred in years past after our students had gone home. We’ve changed that now to create an early celebration that all of us have come to love: Christmas at the Hall. The big pine in front of President’s Hall is festooned with 43,000+ lights. Who cares about Rockefeller Center when Seton Hall has our blue hat festival with carols, treats and  the tree-lighting?

This year is even more special as members of our community have pledged to perform “12 Acts of Kindness” during the holiday season. This was the brainchild of nursing student Hillary Sadlon who performed 22 Acts of Kindness over the summer to celebrate her 22nd birthday. Then she decided to keep up the good work during the Christmas season. So we at Seton Hall are following the example of one of our own. Maybe it will translate into a kinder, gentler student who comes home to you at Christmastime.

Here’s wishing a happy, healthy and holy Christmas Season to all!

Go Pirates!

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October/November 2013

Now that we are at mid-term, your students should have an established a studying routine. Some students like to head to a study carrel in the library. Others find a niche on campus – the Study Lounge on the first floor of Mooney Hall is popular as is the fifth floor of Jubilee Hall. Some students head to the bustle of the Pirate Cove while others like the solitude of Pirate Cellar in Boland Hall. Whatever the preference, students should establish regular times for study, reading and review. Commuters can use the time between classes to get their studying done (although back in the day when I was a commuter, I tended to waste that time playing Pinochle. Do as I say, not as I do!). Residents often use that time for napping or relaxation, but the hours between classes are really the best times to hone up on course work. Students are awake and refreshed during the day, the best time to soak in information.

Talk to your students and see what their established study patterns are. If they don’t have a pattern, encourage them to get one. Our Academic Resource Center (on the second floor of A&S Hall) is sponsoring a series of workshops this fall to help students study better and study smarter. It can only help!

By Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Services

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January/February 2012

I just did the arithmetic and was staggered by the fact that as Dean of Freshman Studies for the past 11 years I have shepherded about 13,000 freshmen through Mooney Hall! It’s given me a unique perspective into the mindset of an 18-year-old.

Now, I move beyond the freshman class to the concerns of all students as the Vice President of Student Services, a new area that encompasses Student Affairs, Special Academic Programs and Freshman Studies. I will be supervising student activities, student judicial affairs, health, counseling and career services, retention and advising, Greek life, housing and other student concerns. But before I go forward, I decided to pause and reflect on what I know to be true about student life.

When I was a professor teaching News Reporting, I used to make my students reserve a section of their course notebooks for “Tips from Tracy.” By the end of the semester they had accumulated a litany of advice about journalism. When former students come back to visit, “Tips from Tracy” is the one thing they remember (although I am not certain they can recollect any of the scintillating tidbits). Thus, for parents, some “Tips from Tracy” culled from years of observation on what works, and what doesn’t, in trying to shepherd our children toward commencement.

  • Let them make their own mistakes. This is the hardest one for us, myself included, to abide by. For better or worse, this generation of students is closer to their parents than we ever were. And more dependent. When I started in Freshman Studies, I used to beg my students to call home so their parents knew they were alive. I would tell them to call when no one would be home and say, “Hi Mom! Just checking in. Everything is great. I love you and miss you!” Now, when I am advising students, I often see that they are texting their parents the information that I am giving them. Still, it is our job as parents to teach our students how to achieve academic independence. We are hampering their journey to adulthood if we refuse to allow this to happen.
  • Make sure the career they choose is theirs, not the one we want. I must concede that we ask an awful lot of 17- and 18-year-olds by forcing them to declare their life path in high school. If national stats are to be believed (and I think they are pretty much on point), about half of the 13,000 freshmen who trekked through our program changed their major en route to graduation. My intention as a high school senior was to be a math teacher. Ha! That fantasy only lasted one semester, when I was introduced to calculus. Students come to college with majors based on day dreams, on their parents’ hopes and aspirations, on really cool television programs and, in a few cases, reality. Some students really are destined to be doctors and nurses and teachers, but for many, the first year of college is one of exploration. Testing whether they were meant to be biology majors is a part of the mix. And first semester grades, whether they are among the 49 4.0 students or among the students on probation, provide a litmus test for a student’s aptitude for and interest in a major. Students who didn’t do well in their major courses need to assess their plan of action. Students who thrived but were miserable also need to assess.
  • Give your students lots of advice, but then step back. I call it coaching from the sidelines. My suggestions should in no way diminish your role in your children’s lives. My children would chuckle at the very idea —they always know what Mom is thinking.
  • Encourage your students to embrace all of college life. The happiest students are the ones who are engaged in the college. If your student doesn’t seem content or is making noise about wanting to transfer, the best course of action is a heart-to-heart conversation. What went well last semester? When was your son or daughter happiest? And what went wrong? By far, the No. 1 way to assure satisfaction is to be engaged. Was your student involved in an activity? Strategize now and make sure your student promises to get involved. Try a club or organization or extra-curricular activity. As a Comm professor, I always encouraged my students to join The Setonian, our student newspaper, or WSOU-FM, our radio station, or the Theatre Council. All of these extra-curricular activities take solid chunks of idle time away from students, provide a ready-made circle of friends and also provide a line on a resume. But most importantly, the activity helps your student adjust to college. And it provides students with a group of “peeps” who look out for each other. Best of all, it makes them happy, and that’s what all of us really want.

Hope your student has a great semester.

By Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.
Vice President of Student Services

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November/December 2011

We parents are sometimes so busy molding our children’s lives that we forget that we are the ones who really need some serious work. That was my situation a few years ago when I came home from a family vacation and saw the photos my niece posted on Facebook. I was flabbergasted. There was no denying that those pictures showed an aging, overweight woman who could barely move. I had to do something.

Now, 26 months later, I am here to tell you that I changed my life. I lost 70 pounds. I went from a sedentary, arthritic person who watched a lot of reality television to a walker/jogger/hiker who exercises every day. When people ask me how I did it, I usually give them the short answer — a combination of Weight Watchers online and the dance program Jazzercise. But the long answer is a lot more complicated than that.

I had an epiphany. I smile as I write this because here at Seton Hall University I am always urging my freshmen to have their “epiphanical moment.” You are not going to find the word “epiphanical” in the dictionary anywhere because I made it up to describe the “aha!” moment our students often need to have. They need to change their lives — when they abuse their new-found freedom as college freshmen; when they realize that the major they have chosen is too hard; when they discover their life’s vocation; or, when they make poor choices and get themselves in some sort of trouble.

We parents are very good at barking out orders that force our sons and daughters to  change: “You’ve got to fix that math grade;”  “You need a haircut;” “Get a job!”; “Stop hanging out with that kid”; Maybe the best thing we can do, however, is to lead by example. We need to be agents of change.

My niece who is a senior in high school just asked me to read her college essay that describes someone she admires greatly. She picked my mother, a woman who raised nine children and graduated from college at the age of 75. What a great role model for her 31 grandchildren! At a time when many are retiring from work and putting up their feet in front of a television, Maryrose’s grandmother was trudging between Fahy and Corrigan halls (yes, another SHU graduate!) to get to her classes. She showed first hand that we are all capable of change and that, even as we age, change is hard, but good.

My own epiphany came at a time that I was at a crossroads. Either I gracefully accepted the indignities that aging was foisting upon me, or not. I chose not. I can’t really say why it worked this time. My mindset changed. I had friends being diagnosed with breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart conditions. My bones were creaking from arthritis.  Something clicked. And I changed.

My epiphany spread ripples around my house. I threw out junk food, turned off the television and got moving. My husband, in a show of support, started eating what I ate. He lost 20 pounds.  The turning point came for both of us about nine months after we started. We arrived at the train station in Giverny, France, and had two choices: we could get on a shuttle bus that would take us to the artist Claude Monet’s home, or we could get on a bike. We pedaled the six miles each way. There was no turning back. We started hiking. Our weekends are now spent trekking through remote corners of North Jersey.

Our children have gotten on board, too. While there is a certain amount of grumbling about the paucity of junk food in our cupboards, everyone is reading labels, discussing and incorporating fiber into their diets. “Our family is obsessed with food,” my daughter declared recently when all five of us were chopping and sautéing a family meal together. “But in a good way,” I added.

The message this month is that we too can be agents of change for our children. Sometimes we can make our points better by saying nothing but by going about our business making ourselves better and more fulfilled. That kind of change speaks volumes.

~Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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September/October 2011

As the academic year gears up (this year, in fits and starts thanks to the path of Hurricane Irene), I am immersed in the cliché-ridden language of over-used sports metaphors. Sports seem to naturally creep into our vocabulary as we try to focus our students on things like winning, success, and persistence. We say things like “Get back in the saddle,” or “It’s the bottom of the ninth,” or “It’s only the first quarter — there’s plenty of time left on the clock.”

Here at Seton Hall, we have a new initiative — Academic Coaching — for students who are struggling or lacking confidence. Working with our new “coaches” has thrown me in to the ring, so to speak. It was boxing’s “Greatest” Muhammad Ali who reminded us that success only comes to those who work. “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” It worked.

I’m no hockey fan, but Wayne Gretsky’s explanation of greatness is easily translated into a metaphor for academic success. “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Surely, great students anticipate and infer where the professor is taking them and find ways to get there at the front of the class.

Olympic runner Jesse Owens, whose participation in the 1936 Olympic games created an international incident but helped chip away at America’s prejudices, observed about his sport, “A lifetime of training for just ten seconds.” Surely, our students dedicated to careers in nursing, medicine, and other health professions can apply his wisdom to the life and death situations that just could arise in their work. They may never need the knowledge, but they must be prepared.

Football’s Aristotle, the late Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi, had a lot to say about being a winner and about attitude. “Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing,” he quipped, words of thought for students who get in the habit of doing poorly.

Tennis great Billie Jean King also had words for our students who are beaten down by failure: “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” I regularly remind students that Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team.

And then there’s baseball, my own special love. It’s a sport “where a curve is an optical illusion, a screwball can be a pitch or a person, stealing is legal and you can spit anywhere you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the ball,” to quote journalist James Patrick Murray. I love baseball because, aside from its beauty, it is a metaphor for life. It’s a sport where athletes who fail 70 percent of the time make the Hall of Fame; it’s a sport that has a lot of tedium and routine, punctuated by moments of breathtaking splendor; it’s a sport where the athletes look like the kid next door and the manager dresses up in a uniform that never gets dirty. It’s a sport that gave us the wisdom of Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra. It was Casey who observed the value of humility in sports (and academics): “If we’re going to win the pennant, we’ve got to start thinking we’re not as good as we think we are.” And Yogi, who says he never said half the things he said, tells our procrastinating students who are unable to plan ahead, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Baseball legend Hank Aaron’s advice works for students who have struggled with a poor test grade or a failed course: “My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.”

Here at Seton Hall, former baseball coach Mike Sheppard, also a retired professor in our College of Education and Human Services and now one of our new academic coaches, reminds all students, not just the players, “Never lose your hustle.”

Our own Freshman Studies Associate Dean, Robin Cunningham, herself such an outstanding athlete that her jersey hangs from the rafters in Walsh Gym, works with our summer bridge program, the Seton Summer Scholars, to provide an extra boost of studying and academic preparation before classes begin. She adopted the motto, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish” to inspire her students.

Through our newest initiative from our Academic Success Center in Mooney Hall, we have mandated academic coaches for students on probation and we are offering the service to other students who are tentative about their work habits and time management. The concept applies the techniques of one-on-one athletic coaching to the academic arena. Seton Hall employees volunteered to go through two days of training to provide our students with a free service that parents could pay up to $60 an hour for privately.

I was working one-on-one with a student the other day to help him plan for a better semester than the one he had just completed. We talked about course options, we strategized about time management and I gave him some advice about communicating with professors. “Gee, I get the feeling Seton Hall really wants me to be successful,” he said as he was leaving. I told him to go hit one out of the park.

Students interested in working with a coach this semester may visit the Academic Success Center in Mooney Hall, Room 11, or call (973) 275-2387 for an appointment.

~Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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May/June 2011

I have a friend whose almost-adult children clamor to spend time with her and her husband. Now this comes with its own set of problems, but there is something tremendously appealing about “The Brady Bunch” togetherness that I somehow have never been able to pull off.

I have to admit here that we Gottliebs sometimes struggle to create quality family time. I dangled the lure of a family trip to London and everyone jumped at it, but then our oldest got a new job and she had to bow out. Then, we rented a house at the beach, but the older ones couldn’t get away from work. We scaled down our expectations and tried to simply gather for dinner out at the Star Tavern in Orange. The line was so long, we ended up at two separate tables. What’s a mother to do?

I had this genius idea a few weeks back that I was going to invite my children to a dinner party. It was over Easter weekend and I gave them plenty of notice so I didn’t get too much push back. Our 18-year-old was away with a school event and was out of the picture until dessert. I was disappointed but that suited him just fine because he hated the very idea of the trendy butterflied marinated leg of lamb that I planned to grill.

The older children were intrigued. They had never been invited to a dinner party before. We had a little setback when we all had to attend a wake that Saturday night, but the delayed start to our dinner actually gave it a more formal feel. Darkness had descended so the candles we lit provided both light and atmosphere. The oft-neglected dining room table was set with the non-dishwasher-safe China. It was an event worthy of Christo.

If I am being honest, my expectations were pretty low. I simply wanted to enjoy my children the way I enjoy my friends. I wanted to fuss over them a little bit and I wanted to see if we could spend an evening gathered together in love and friendship.

I am pleased to report that my experiment worked nicely. Everyone was on their best behavior. The leg of lamb wasn’t such a big hit, but the Easter basket desserts for each child went over smashingly.

This modest success at family collegiality reinforced my belief that our relationships with our children as they grow to adulthood need to shift. We need to abandon the “Mommy will tell you what to do” often-adversarial relationship that we can find ourselves in and position our children in the same perspective we hold our friends and siblings and parents. Bite your tongue when they say something outrageous, just the way you would if your best friend went on a rant. Somehow, because it’s our kids who are talking, we think we need to solve the problem, change the behavior, run interference, slay the dragons… but we don’t.

Now that our children are emerging on the other side of a long, long tunnel that included infancy, childhood, and the teen-years, they are equipped to be adults. We made them so. We taught them through our own words and example how to fight their own battles and form their own opinions.

It is now our turn to sit back and let them succeed as adults. And this, of course, means lots of personal failures and situational problem-solving. They will continue to run to us to make the bad things go away, but that’s not our job anymore. Every time a parent calls me at work to complain about his son’s grades or her daughter’s tuition bill, I want to shift the conversation to the disservice the parent is doing to the child. Fighting your children’s battles for them when they are old enough to do so isn’t helping them; it’s probably crippling them as functioning adults.

Thus, my rather simplistic solution: invite them to dinner. Talk about their lives. Chat about their problems over a leg of lamb and a package of stale Peeps. Offer perspective and advice. And then scoot them away from the table to solve their situations, while you tackle the dirty dishes.

~Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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March/April 2011

I can’t think of anything more irritating than dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn all summer long for work while my college-age student sleeps until two in the afternoon. Then, while I am prepping for bed at a reasonable hour before David Letterman starts cracking jokes, that same college student begins primping and preparing for an evening out. So, since this is all about me, that nightmare scenario is enough to prompt a heart-to-heart with my freshman in college.

“Let’s talk about the summer,” I say while the wind howls through the trees outside our house and the winter’s second blizzard is blocking all exits to our street.

I am greeted with a blank look.

It’s tough out there. My hometown slashed the summer work program for teenagers this year. With unemployment in New Jersey hovering near the double digits, the influx of college students into the seasonal work force is difficult. Our students need to be planning now for the three-and-a-half month hiatus from school that begins in May. In fact, if they haven’t given any thought to the summer, they are actually running behind.

We encouraged all our students, not just graduating seniors, to take time out from Spring Break to attend the Big East Career Fair in New York City. That opportunity is gone, but students should still be looking to parlay their Seton Hall credentials into networking or employment opportunities.

First stop for the interested student should be the Career Center website. We dissuade students from the erroneous notion that they don’t need to be concerned about the location of the Career Center (second floor Bayley Hall) until their second semester senior year.

We introduce students to the Career Center when they are freshmen in their University Life course. We require students who are undecided about their major to take an online career assessment course that helps them identify their personal strengths and consider ways of turning these strengths into work skills and, ultimately, a college major.

The savvy student takes this introduction to the Career Center and parlays it into a four-year relationship that provides regular stepping stones to the work force. For rising sophomores in the class of 2014, that often means using the Navigator job list (that they can link into from the Career Center website) to find summer work. For a sophomore and junior, that relationship should be extended to find an appropriate summer internship. Ultimately, the Career Center is the go-to place for post-college employment.

“Hiring employers expect to see that college students have utilized their summers in productive ways,” says SHU Career Center Director Jacqueline Chaffin.

As parents, we want our students to be productive so they gain valuable experience during college that makes them more attractive to employers when they are finished with college. We want them to learn how to network and to understand that the people they meet along the way can open doors, make introductions and move them along their chosen career path.

We parents want our children to use their summers off from school so productively that they collapse exhausted in bed at a reasonable hour every night and that they spring out of bed in the morning excited to see what the work day brings. Lacking that, we would appreciate a little money in their pockets so that the Bank of Mom doesn’t have to open for business.

The time is now to whisper good ideas in their head. Psssst. The Career Center. Psssst. Internships. Psssst. The Navigator Job Bank. Spring Break might be over, but there’s still nine weeks left until Commencement – plenty of time to transform the time off into a life-affirming summer.

By Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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