I have left the safe harbor of a BA in English and Psychology from Sweet Briar College and have embarked on graduate work. My first paper in graduate school was assigned by my Orientation to Graduate Studies course. It was an essay designed to prepare students for academic writing. It has been a LONG time since I have done academic writing. it is very different than blogging! I had fun writing it and was touched by Dr. Beth Cook’s feedback, “Beautiful job. I loved your use of metaphor and sailing terminology throughout. Your essay shows an unusual sophistication with writing. Great job.” This put some wind in my sails….so I thought I would share.
Stacey Sickels Locke
UCSP 615 9063 Orientation to Graduate Studies at UMUC (2162)
Dr. Beth Cook
15 February 2016
This I Believe: Sailing Teaches Life Lessons
I learned a lot from having a sailing captain as a mother and an Olympic athlete as a father. As a girl living in the Midwest, I sailed only small boats on little lakes. As I grew older and moved to the East Coast, I learned to sail larger bodies of water. Sailing has been a constant theme throughout my life from which I have learned many lessons.
In sailing, charting a course is essential. Without navigational charts and obeying markers on the water, I learned the hard way that I would run aground or miss a destination completely. In my career, the “destinations” were positions in fundraising with progressively greater responsibilities. The “markers” in my life were key people who advised me and helped me navigate. Without a course charted over the years, I am sure I would be floundering like a boat lost at sea today.
When sailing, winds and strong seas will constantly take a boat off its course. Yet, by adjusting the sails, a boat can tack from side to side while still making forward progress. Growing up, I moved fourteen times and had four high schools. I got very good at changing tack. Moving so many times makes me a very flexible and adaptable person. I know that I can weather any issue if I just adjust my attitude like I would adjust a sail in the strong wind.
There is a practice when sailing to wave at passing vessels whether it is a speedy powerboat, a gorgeous yacht or a small canoe with a couple. As a fundraiser, I work with extremely wealthy people. At the same time, I rely on people at all levels of the organization to get things done. Respecting diversity and keeping myself humble has led to a regatta of valued colleagues and friends.
When sailing, a good sailor leaves a clean wake. This includes not throwing trash overboard or leaving a sheen of oil on the water from a dirty engine. It has always been important to me to do the right thing. When I leave a job, I give double the notice time so that I leave things ready for the next person. I take care to return borrowed items either with a special treat or cleaner than I found them. Leaving a clean wake is a goal in life and on the water.
It wasn’t effortless sailing through life, in fact, it was often stormy and difficult. Having a clear destination in mind and guides along the way has kept me on track. Adjusting my attitude like the sails on a boat keeps me pressing forward despite occasional setbacks. Respecting diversity allows me to set sail in life or work with any group of people and be successful. Finally, treating people well and doing the right thing leaves me with a “clean wake” in life. My next voyage is a Master’s degree from UMUC. The lessons of the sea will guide me along the way.
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All my life group and team dynamics have fascinated me. As a psychology major at Sweet Briar College, I read my textbooks with great interest and began applying that insight in my life. Over the years, I have supervised hundreds of people, coached synchronized skating teams, served on boards and, more recently, experienced the intense team effort to save Sweet Briar College.
One of the most helpful and elegant models I have found in understanding human and team dynamics comes from Bruce Tuckman, PhD. His model is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Model. He added a fifth stage later in his career “Adjourning”. This model provides reassurance for those living through a time of uncertainty now. Applying the Tuckman model helps understand both the individual and team dynamics.
Forming – Stage 1
When a team forms, there is high dependence on a leader (or perceived leader) for guidance and direction. There is little agreement on the team’s aims and activities unless direction comes from the leader. Individual roles and responsibilities aren’t clear and often are not yet defined. Leaders will be besieged by questions about the team’s objectives, purpose, motives and relationships.
On campus, faculty and staff faced an uncertain future. Those working under the leadership of the President and Board followed their path to closure.
Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. formed and appointed a Board. They secured legal counsel to launch an important legal challenge. Their charge and mission was clear; however, there was a misperception that they would or should have the answers to all questions and provide all direction — which was impossible and not their charge.
Stakeholders of all kinds were filled with questions and they directed them in many directions, including the volunteer leaders of Saving Sweet Briar. The many stakeholders of Sweet Briar were uncertain as to who was leading them. People waited for direction and answers — answers that sometimes couldn’t be provided given the confidentiality of a legal case.
Social media allowed for teams and subgroups to organize themselves around work they found important: Students, Admissions, Research, Parents, Friends, and many more.
During the early formation of the teams organized to save Sweet Briar, I was unsure as to my best way to contribute. As a fundraiser, I saw the need to raise money. As someone who has worked in higher education for much of my career, I was called to take some of the issues I felt were important to a broader audience. I turned to my blog. My march blogs grappled with the broader issues I saw.
Looking back, “forming” was inevitable. It was understandable. The fact that this is normal is one of the reasons we must look back with an open mind at both perspectives — those who worked to close and those who worked to save. Each had their respective leaders and followers who were moving towards — and directed towards — different futures.
Storming – Stage 2
Storming is a normal phase for all teams and teams return to this phase when there is a change (such as a new leadership, key decision, even victory). In this phase decisions do not come easily in the group. Team members vie for position as they try to establish themselves in relation to other team members or the leader. The leader will receive challenges from team members. Team members will attack each other, especially those who may not appear to comply with what they perceive to be the leader’s goals. Clarity of purpose grows, but plenty of uncertainties persist. Power struggles are the norm and factions will form.
Chaos reigned in the following weeks. Chaos of all types. Students protested the Board’s actions with banners hung from balconies and the bell tower. Faculty unanimously voted no confidence in the leadership. Additional suits were filed on behalf of faculty, students and an alumna.
Social media provided a forum where various people and teams working to save Sweet Briar organized – and divided — themselves. In the weeks after the initial announcement of closure, “storming” was alive and well. The different groups working on the issues they felt were important experienced internal and external challenges. Different teams questioned motives of others. There was a strong desire to have “one” voice, “one” approach and to muffle any external statements that didn’t comply.
National media reported on the “fight” to save Sweet Briar. Board members posted opinion pieces. Op-eds, blogs, articles and social media brought to light the many issues of concern: Donor rights, honoring the founder’s will, faculty contracts, and more.
The “us” and “them” felt as deep as the Grand Canyon at this time with Board members and “closers” (as they came to be called) fighting it out in Court, through social connections and in the national media.
During this time, I wrote some of my strongest blog posts about what I felt was wrong. My discontent also took the form of frustration with the lack of process and procedure with the efforts to save the College. I also was – true to form – frustrated with my leadership. I wasn’t used to leadership unfolding in this way. I didn’t understand why we didn’t take on more volunteers. I didn’t want anyone to tell me to wait. I was in classic “storming” in my April blogs.
“Storming” is understandable. It is one of the reasons we must forgive each other. Without every team working towards its individual goals — even if we did not understand them — we might not have crossed the finish line we reached on June 20.
Norming – Stage 3
Agreement and consensus forms among the team. Leadership is embraced and their roles are further defined. Stakeholders of all types will see where they can assist and not wait for “spoon feeding” or regular direction by the leader. There is less questioning of those willing to work without direction and an appreciation that “many hands make light work”. Big decisions are made by group agreement. Small decisions may be delegated to individuals or smaller teams. Unity is strong and commitment grows. There may be fun and social activities bonding people together. Working styles emerge. There is a general respect for the leader and more leadership is shared. The leader faciliates and enables versus directing.
Norming took the shape of efficient fundraising. We celebrated million-dollar-sized milestones along the way. My team had regular conference calls. We secured a professional fundraising firm, Alexander Haas, to help coordinate things. As a fundraiser, this was a Godsend to me! The processes, procedures, lists and other tools I was used to using were suddenly available. We still had three different databases and some mis-steps along the way, but our collective apologies, thank yous and phone calls continued to yield success.
Back on campus, the practical matter of students transferring and faculty securing alternative positions outside of Sweet Briar unfolded. As much as people hoped for a positive outcome, practical steps were needed.
Fundraisers all over the country were held. Class challenges inspired giving from alumnae in far greater numbers than ever before. National news stories began to cover the stories of the fight to SAVE the College.
Performing – Stage 4
In a performing stage, the team is strategically aware. The team knows what it is doing and why they are doing it. There is a shared vision. The leader no longer has to be directive (nor is he/she expected to be). Sub-groups have confidence of their role and they plunge themselves into useful activity. Reporting structures become clearer. The team attends to relationships and processes along the way. There is self-care and mutual-care with people looking after each other. The leader is able to deliver even greater results with the efficiencies and often a group of leaders will be able to expand its ranks.
Looking back, it seems to me that those working to save Sweet Briar College hit the “performing” stage just in time for Reunion, 2015. The collective goodwill from the regional events and opportunity to reconnect with campus reinvigorated everyone, even if they couldn’t attend.
On campus, there was greater clarity for students and faculty. Quietly, there was optimism about the possibility of success.
National media stories continued with coverage of the efforts to save and the broader issues of importance to anyone. Strong leaders spoke out — and were heard.
The amazing thing to me is the sense of TEAM that has emerged collectively. I have never looked at my classmates at Sweet Briar and felt we were a TEAM until now. I didn’t expect to look to the classes around me and see us as a united front. In fact, there was often subtle competition at Reunions to compete for fundraising with the last class to reach our milestones. I feel UNITED with students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae, community and friends. We, Sweet Briar College, are a TEAM. This team building we have undergone has been painful, jubilant and TRANSFORMING.
I don’t see how this can be replicated at any other institution in the land and I hope no other place has to go through it. However, I can honestly say, I would do it all over again to reach this amazing place our team Saving Sweet Briar has reached!
Adjourning – Stage 5
Bruce Tuckman refined his theory in 1975 and added a fifth stage to the Forming Storming Norming Performing Model which he called Adjourning (it is also referred to as Deforming and Mourning). Tuckman’s fifth stage is the break-up of the group, hopefully when the task is successfully completed. Everyone can move on to new things, feeling good about what’s been achieved. From an organizational perspective, sensitivity to this stage is helpful, particularly if members of a group have been closely bonded or feel threatened by the change.
To be honest, I forgot about this step until I prepared to write this post. When I reviewed the material on Tuckman’s model, I hadn’t noted the fifth stage in the articles. Yet, it is very helpful to think about now whether from the perspective of the outgoing Sweet Briar College Board, the new members of the Sweet Briar Board or the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board who announced from the beginning that they hoped to be “out of a job” by the end of their efforts.
The Sweet Briar College Board collectively resigned after the Memorandum of Understanding was reached between the parties filing suit and Sweet Briar College. To their credit, they saw that their job was done. They took a vote, they took steps to execute that vote for closure and held their course. They served in a very difficult time and I am compassionate for how this must have been for them.
The Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board’s role for funding the important legal counsel was a victory – the County Attorney of Amherst achieved her desired goals and the outcome of “getting back the keys” resulted. The fundraising effort launched surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations. The work to secure a new President was successful. All parties to the suits put forward suggested names for new Board members for Sweet Briar College.
Fortunately, there is no “adjourning” for those who have worked to save the College. The cycle begins anew.
Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing
We can expect all of these stages in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, it can help us be more compassionate with those who are working on campus to welcome back students. Perhaps it could help us reach out to those who thought differently from us and welcome them into this future. We need all leaders, followers, rank-and-file, do-ers possible to begin the cycle again.
Soon, we will bring to you our regularly scheduled links at the College, but we don’t yet have the keys….
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988. She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign. During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards. As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement. She raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.
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Normally I use my blog, social media or just about any conversation I am in lately to share about Sweet Briar College and the amazing fight to save it. Tonight I am supposed to be on television. More precisely, on the news. WJLA 7 in the DC Metro area will air Part II on Sweet Briar and the efforts to save the College. You can see Part I here.
Link to WJLA ABC7 which will also stream live: http://www.wjla.com/video/2015/05/closing-of-sweet-briar-college.html
My fellow interviewee, Christine Bump, invited me to participate. Christine is amazing. The effort to save Sweet Briar is blessed to have people like Christine. In Christine we have legal expertise, passion for Sweet Briar and a gifted writer. Most of the communication distributed to thousands of alumnae began from her pen.
These types of interviews and opportunities do not come about by accident. A team of dedicated volunteers working to save Sweet Briar reaches out constantly to news media to share the “savers” side of the story. In the early days of the announcement, the “closers” story seemed to prevail. Thankfully, the tide is turning. In this story the reported WANTED to hear about the efforts. We hope we did them justice.
The “interview” was actually a conversation with the reporter, Jeff Goldberg. There is nothing like a television camera trained in one’s direction to clarify one’s thoughts (or leave a gaping hole where thoughts once were :)!!) It was so much better to do the interviews together. Jeff told us that the story would be three minutes — a very generous and lengthy story in news land — so that meant much would be clipped.
I thought I would share today some of the things that may make it into the story and some that are likely on the cutting room floor. I’ve also added some information learned since the interviews. I’ll share them in the form of the questions Jeff asked:
Financial benefit. The stated plan is to provide severance packages to employees. As much as I respect the faculty and staff at Sweet Briar, I would rather have them keep their jobs than to use endowment funds to pay severance packages. Usually employees of Colleges receive a small percentage of their salary each year towards their retirement. Those with the largest salaries would gain the most from the severance payment plan. Furthermore, using the endowment to close the College is against every law designed to protect donor gift intent.
Board Governance. There is a total lack of communication measured by the shock from students, parents, faculty, staff, community members and elected officials. The Board refuses to share its documents leading to its decision to close. The President has conflicted himself numerous times. Statements made about the financial need continue to change. I have worked for a school facing possible closure and they were honest with alumnae asking the questions, “What would you do if the school were in peril?” And, “What would a world be like without the school?” There are ways to ask these tough questions and Sweet Briar did not. It is misleading to pursue alternatives like a merger with another College when simultaneously recruiting students and accepting donations. Based on documents now public, it would seem that the functioning of this Board is cause for concern.
Misuse of charitable funds. Funds given by generous donors over the years should not be used to close the College. I worked for the College in the 1990s during their Great Expectations Campaign and raised $13 million of a $25 million effort. I still remember those donors and I feel strongly about fighting for their interests – some of whom are no longer with us.
Lack of Leadership. There is a profound lack of leadership on display since the President and Board announced its intention to close. The early statements about why the College had to close were embarrassing and should be a lesson to any leader how NOT to speak about higher education, women or diversity in 2015. The students whose lives were disrupted and especially those who felt blamed (particularly first generation college students and those receiving Pell awards), deserve far better treatment. Faculty feel their contract with the College was violated.
I am also working to Save the College because the world needs Sweet Briar and its graduates! Companies need female leaders. Tech companies with whom I work are desperate for diversity. Women’s Colleges have a track record for producing women leaders.
Christine shared that Sweet Briar College, like all women’s colleges, should be an option for the next generation of young women. It is a niche school, and it is not ideal for everyone, but that does not mean it does not have an important place in the educational landscape. Its small size, the attention paid by and dedication of all of the professors, and the immense opportunities it provides allow young women to push themselves to the fullest, find their true voice, and forge their own path in the world. Sweet Briar gave Christine the courage to step out from behind what everyone expected of her and define who she was supposed to be. Without Sweet Briar, she says she would have continued being who everyone thought she was. The next generation of women deserve that opportunity. Sweet Briar is the most important place in the world to Christine and she holds a place in her heart behind only my husband and my parents.
What does the future hold?
We are seeing one of the greatest stakeholder movements I believe the nonprofit world has seen. Sweet Briar can return stronger. Alumnae are ready for change — even if that change means going co-ed (and I hope people can hold open a piece of their heart for the possibility that my sons could attend one day). My father was part of the Citadel during its media flurry over its first female applicant. The media exposure and the increased enrollment leaves it stronger today than it ever was. I think we could thrive and have lines of students down the driveway.
Christine ended our interview with this poignant message:
We believe that saving the College will be one of its biggest strengths. Many institutions tout the strength of their alumnae network; what young woman wouldn’t want to attend a college with such a strong network of alumnae that they were actually able to challenge and overtake the status quo and save the school? Once we do that, however, Sweet Briar has to remain relevant. Alumnae are working on multiple committees to design what we are calling Sweet Briar 2.0. We are restructuring the College’s governing documents so that the Board no longer has ultimate authority. We are making curriculum changes to attract more students and integrate Sweet Briar’s biggest resource — its land — into the curriculum. There are many ideas being considered and foundations being laid so that we never face another crisis like this again.
Christine is right, who WOULDN’T want to be part of the amazing network that is the family of Sweet Briar College?
Thank you WJLA ABC7 for helping us tell our story…. To thank ABC7 you can tweet “@ABC7News”. T
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988. She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign. During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards. As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.
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