Category Archives: Teacher Talk
By: LTC Kalith Smith, Director of Admissions
Choosing a school comes with lots of questions and a good deal of pressure. Students who get to a turning point in choosing where to attend often have not prepared for the decision, and it can be so overwhelming that you may not give it more than a passing thought before you return to the ‘normal’ schools that everyone else chooses. For many students ‘normal’ is good enough. For some students, they want to find the best possible place to fit their learning needs. A school that will challenge them to achieve while supporting their development as a whole person. Once you start to think about what school best serves you, the variables are numerous. Let me be clear in my personal bias: I hold the belief that education that is ‘one size fits all’ will never be as beneficial to students as an education that allows students to place into courses based on their ability. Working with students to find the courses that best fit their needs also put them in the best position to know what type of college or university fits those needs and work toward admission to those schools.
Today I read Scott and Borgman’s comic strip, ‘Zits’:
Sometimes students need more than just ‘guidance’ when planning for their education, they need a psychologist! When I first arrived in Roswell in 2006 I came here as a guidance counselor. I had been in the business of college admission for close to a decade and it was time for a change. At NMMI we pride ourselves on our college placement and our support of students through their decision making process. By helping many students through decisions on their future education, I have found that emotions take over if there isn’t a written list. This works wonders to help clarify and somewhat quantify your choice of school or the whole decision can end up being very emotionally driven. There is certainly a part of the equation that is ‘feel’, and that is included here, but that can’t be the whole equation. So, as you go through the decision on where you will spend next term or next year, make a list creating a ranking of your top schools that is what YOU want out of college is not as hard as it seems!
Each of us likes to see things spelled out clearly. We love rankings. However, in school selection, the only rankings that matter is you finding the best possible school for you. So, making your own list is quite personal, but the most important part in school selection.
My list would look something like this:
- What do I like to do best?
- I enjoy history best out of my subjects in school
- I like to make good, long-term relationships
- I enjoy music
- I love the outdoors
- I like to be challenged and learn new things
- I like complex ideas and solutions to those complex issues.
- What are my strengths?
- I work well with others.
- I like to plan ahead and make sure everything is in order.
- I am a hard worker
- What are my weaknesses?
- I don’t like it when someone feels they are right all of the time.
- I value other’s opinions even if I don’t agree with them
- I struggle with math unless I see the purpose
With this list, you begin to see a picture of yourself as a student. Now, it can also be helpful to have your teachers and others who know you come up with a similar list, but be cautious if you aren’t ready to listen to what they have to say, it’s better not to ask.
Once you create your list of important factors, you need a way to rank them. My ranking list suggestion is here for my love of history:
- School has no history courses=0
- School offers history courses=1
- School has a full offering of US and World history=2
- School has a full offering with other niche classes (Such as art or military history) =3
- School has a special program or a major in history=4
- The program at the school has a full offering and opportunities to study abroad and visit locations I learn about=5
This provides me with a way to rank the schools, for my own needs, that I am interested in attending. Once you go through all of your points from your list, then you have a ranking of your schools by point value.
At NMMI we rank very high in the percentage of faculty members who have advanced degrees, meaning that we have a very well qualified faculty, the percentage of students on some form of financial aid, diversity of our student body and the number of advanced courses we offer. Those are our top rankings, but what ranking matters to you? There is no ranking for a leadership program, but that may be important to you. Our Ropes Course is a big part of that, again no rankings. Bottom line is what ranks up there for you!
Once you have a list based on what you would like in your school, look at their value proposition. How much will the education cost at each school and how much can you afford? Schools do have aid packages and scholarships to help, but for this practice let’s assume you will pay the highest price possible based on the schools published costs and discounts. Remember, most schools will not offer any aid until you have gone through the admission process successfully. This ranking might look like this:
- I can afford this school no matter how much aid they give me =5
- I can probably afford this school with a little help=4
- I may be able to afford the school with considerable help=3
- I may be able to afford the school with substantial help=2
- I can afford the school if they give me a full ride=1
- I can’t afford this school even if they pay for everything=0
Once you rank the schools based on your fit from the first equation and your ability to afford the education in the second equation, it’s time to schedule some visits!
Visit the top schools that fit you best and you likely can afford.
Finally, after you conduct your visits, give each school a third ranking based on the visit and how the school fits you. This is a ‘feel’ ranking that does take into account how you feel on the campus. Now, double back to the question of can they support your strengths and weaknesses and fit into your initial criteria and you likely have narrowed down your choice.
Of course, I hope that New Mexico Military Institute is on that short list, but our primary objective is to find students who will be successful here and to help those that aren’t a good fit find a great educational home elsewhere.
Each year as we approach Thanksgiving, a plethora of commentaries appear concerning the meaning of the day. I would suggest that all the ideas fall into one of three categories regarding what we celebrate on this day. Put differently, there are three Thanksgivings, but only one that matters.
First “The Historical Thanksgiving” recalls the events of 1620 when Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock founding the Massachusetts Colony. Today, we celebrate “The Historical Thanksgiving” by feasting on turkey and all of the fixings believing that the Pilgrims and Native Americans did the same in 1620. Controversy now surrounds this view of Thanksgiving in terms of how the colonists treated the Native Americans, the Pokanoket tribe. In fact, just before the holiday this year, the National Geographic Channel will air a two-part special USA Today headlines as, “Telling the True Story of Thanksgiving.”
The second Thanksgiving, “The Commercial Thanksgiving,” normally initiates the Christmas holiday shopping season (though recently that has begun as early as Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch!) This is the Thanksgiving of the Macy’s Parade, football, and above all Black Friday, which might be better described as Good Sales Friday. We celebrate it by standing in long lines for many hours, waiting for the stores to open so we are first in line to get the specially marked down sale items. “The Commercial Thanksgiving” has been referred to by some as “The Forgotten Holiday” intimating that we have forgotten what we celebrate.
This brings me to the third Thanksgiving, what I will call “The Meaningful Thanksgiving.” This is the Thanksgiving one Native American, D. J. Vanas, referred to when he opined that Thanksgiving can “…be a more meaningful holiday for all of us. Beyond the historic context, beyond the idea that fall was a traditional harvest celebration time for Native people, beyond turkey and beyond football is this: simple gratitude, a sense of awe, that we are blessed beyond words no matter where we are or what we’ve been through on the journey.”
This is the same Thanksgiving President Lincoln proclaimed as “…a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Now, some who read this might ask, “What is there to be thankful for?” given the state of the American economy, the increasing domestic violence and random shootings, the concerns with American education, and the world engaged in conflict if not an actual war, as the President of France put it, on those who perpetuate terrorism.
The answer to those who ask this and would have us believe that our nation is in a downward spiral is that this is not the first time adversity is our unwanted companion. Resolutely, each time we as a nation have been challenged; we have met and overcome the adversity. Doing so has bettered us. For example, this year we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812, which enabled us to finally secure our independence from England. We also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end World War II, which defeated the greatest threat to our values and insured our position as a world leader. I am reminded of the words of Wilbur Wright: “From adversity comes innovations and success for all mankind,” and Lee Greenwood who sings that he is, “…proud to be an American.” Perhaps this Thanksgiving we should change the lyrics so that we all can say: “I am thankful to be an American!”
We should celebrate “The Third Thanksgiving” by remembering who we, Americans all – have been, are and will be – a nation built upon a foundation of values, principles, and rights that establish, guarantee, and protect the life, liberty and happiness of the individual, regardless of origin, makeup, or status in life, and the family, regardless of how defined. Rather than apologize for our efforts and sacrifices to extend these same rights to others in the world, we should applaud them. Lest we forget the young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafza, who was seriously wounded by a Taliban gunman because she demanded that girls have a right to be educated, as educators, we should be thankful for and celebrate the right of education for all Americans.
The purpose of this piece is not to suggest that individuals or families cannot gather to share a blessing, have a great meal, watch their favorite team, and shop until they drop. Those activities have become part of the celebration, and that is OK. But, hopefully, we will pause – perhaps at half-time, or before the meal – to remember that for which we are thankful and, in that way, tell the children the real meaning of the day.
Let me close with this thought. There is a place where what I call “The Third Thanksgiving” is always celebrated, where the real meaning for the day is not forgotten. This year that place celebrates its 60th anniversary. In 1955, the founder told Americans that his construction “…will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world.” I like to think that those words of Walt Disney capture the meaning of the day and that D.J. Vanas and Abraham Lincoln would agree.
Dean Murray is fond of quoting Thomas Friedman’s recent book, That Used to be Us. (Macmillan, 2011). In the book Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, discusses the importance of being technically-savvy in a competitive, global world. A desire to help students become comfortable with mobile technology and to take advantage of some of the latest devices as tools for learning led the Dean to convene a task force to study the idea of issuing devices to students. The result of that committee’s work was the 1:1 laptop program which issued its first laptops to all new NMMI cadets this fall.
As a teacher, every now and then, something really is a wonderful moment. People come into our lives and make an instant impression. In 1979, while studying for my master’s degree on the GI Bill, I tutored athletes at Washington State University. One American Samoan student-athlete I helped but a single time, in preparation for an essay test in 20th Century history. We studied for the World War I portion of the course, and looked at various strategies for taking essay tests. The next day, he received the highest grade of my tutoring group. I was quite pleased for him and expected that he might join one of our tutoring sessions again – but his confidence grew and he was on his own.
His name was Samoa Samoa, and he went on to play in the National Football League, selected in the ninth round of the 1981 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. There the former WSU student served as back-up quarterback and running back for a Bengals’ team that compiled a 12-4 regular season record, before going all the way to play in the 1981 Super Bowl.
In the late 1980’s I read an AP wire story about him coaching high school back in Samoa. I sent the article to him and wished him well. As a professor at the New Mexico Military Institute, I met many students of Samoan descent and always asked them if they knew Coach Samoa Samoa. These youngsters could not imagine Coach Samoa as a college student.
I once sent my NMMI business card with a note via a cadet returning to the Islands, and forgot about it. Years later, in 2004, Samoa Samoa called me! He had saved my card and brought it with him during a trip to the American Mainland where he was to be inducted into the Long Beach State University Hall of Fame. It was Spring Break; I was not supposed to be in my office. I just happened to be there. What were the chances? Coach Samoa said he was calling, “To thank you for helping me along the way.” It was a deeply moving gesture.
In 2012, his son Samoa Samoa (Carl) arrived at NMMI to play football and was my student! When I met cadet Samoa for the first time I asked him if he knew who I was. He replied, “You are the woman who helped my dad.”
As the 2013 season began, Carl Samoa said that his father, having retired after thirty years of teaching and coaching, was coming to watch him play. I was surprised, and very pleased by that news. Carl Samoa told me his family would be at Saturday’s Glendale game. All week, I spoke of the imminent reunion to colleagues, cadets and friends. One of my cadets in class advised me that “Both of you probably have white hair now.”
On Friday, 30 Aug 2013, Coach Samoa Samoa was on Old Post. NMMI Head Football Coach Joe Forchtner had Coach Samoa speak to the team before the game. The players were impressed by his message. The Samoan players were especially moved by his remarks in their native tongue.
On Saturday I wore a WSU shirt to the NMMI-Glendale game, to make it easier for Coach Samoa to identify me. A tall fellow wearing his number 29 Bengals jersey said, “WSU?!” I responded, “Samoa Samoa?” And thus, a thirty-four year acquaintance was renewed. We spoke of WSU, our connections through the years, our teaching careers, and NMMI’s support for its Samoan cadets.
This experience at New Mexico Military Institute is one of the cherished “things that will not vanish, no matter where we go.”
I’ve been blessed enough to spend three years at New Mexico Military Institute, over this not so long but not so short period of time I’ve met not only many great friends and leaders, but also awesome teachers. I got here as a senior in high school and I am currently a sophomore in college. Coming as a student from Mexico I was missing many credits which made me take three history classes my first semester at the Institute in order to graduate in time.