Bay Bridge Engineering

This weekend they’re taking out a 3,200 ton section of the Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland and replacing it with a new section connecting to an alternate road. (needless to say the bridge is closed until Tuesday 5am)

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I know this is geeky, but this is pretty cool. Although a bit of a traffic nightmare, sometimes you gotta let go of what you have to get what you want.  Pretty excited to see this happen around 1pm PST, Friday.  There are some web cams here with more detailed info:

http://baybridge360.org/

http://baybridgeinfo.org/1/index.html

40th Anniversary of EOP and Marquette Alumni Reunion

This weekend is alumni reunion weekend at Marquette University. For me its for my 25th reunion – yet another I’m going to miss, but this one feels different.  I want to be there.  It also marks the 40th anniversary of the Educational Opportunity Program, a federally funded TRiO program.  TRiO, is an academic program that motivates and enables low-income and first generation students, whose parents generally didn’t go to college, to attend and graduate from post-secondary educational institutions. I’m a Marquette EOP graduate and grateful.

I can’t begin to describe the impact the folks at EOP had on me and the other students in the program.  At the time, the program was designed to help ethnic students graduate from predominantly white institutions.  Admission was one thing, but matriculation was another.  The idea was to provide both academic support and counseling to fill the gap as necessary.  There were 100-200 students from all ethnic backgrounds in the program when I was there. At first, I didn’t get the cultural gap that some folks experienced when they first arrived on campus. For some who came from segregated urban environments, they had rarely interacted with people outside their ethnic group and community, much less in a rigorous academic environment.  There was tuition aid as well, but that wasn’t the half of it.  In addition to providing tactical and academic support, what they really did was help us realize our potential and get out of our own way.

There are a few moments that I remember distinctly.  As a freshman, I wasn’t too focused on academics (a bit of an understatement). My counselor, Howard Fuller (a community activist, educator, secular leader), met with me every few weeks.  The end of quarter meeting was the most dreaded.  He sat me down and kept asking me why this, why that,  “why, why, why” demanding me to be honest about why my grades sucked.  He was brutal on me and others. He told me about the talented 10th and explained my obligations. He made it clear that being marginal was not acceptable.  He gave me specific tools and direction. Most of it turned out to be show up, show up on time, pay attention to your choices and the consequences, and work hard. He gave me everything I needed at that moment.

Later Sande Robinson, now the director of the Marquette EOP, continued to provide the same guidance and assistance. Most of all she believed in us and created opportunities for us to succeed and develop confidence.  The best was a night security job at one of the campus buildings that provided no other opportunity but to study while I “guarded” the rarely opened door.  A bit better than my other job working as a bouncer at a local bar.  Sande was always there to talk about what was going on in our lives. She recognized we were individuals, we would make mistakes, but she tried to help us avoid and mitigate those ill-advised decisions.

During that time I also got to know Dr. Arnold Mitchum (“Mitch”), then director of EOP, and head of the national association of Trio programs where he lobbied for educational funds at the national level.  Mitch also changed my life. I loved hanging out with him. He has a brilliant mind, an insightful knowledge of history, an infectious laugh, all combined with action. He brought me into his family, showed me that no matter what path you’re on, you can change it.

Mitch is a policy wonk as I aspired to be at the time.   He shared his reading list with me. I learned to ask people what they read.  I wanted to work on the Hill, but I didn’t know how to get a job there. He told me with confidence “walk the halls” every day.  I did.  I got my first job working for Senator Levin (D-MI). On my last day at Marquette, I was over at his house.  I was really scared as a new graduate heading back to D.C. The last thing he said was “it’s going to be all-right” with a warm smile radiating the confidence of his experience. He gave me what I did not have.

He was correct. There were a few more lessons to learn no doubt, but they did their job, rather their vocation, for which I am eternally grateful. For all of you folks at MU this weekend, especially you “ethnic alumni” as you’re now called, enjoy and thank you!

Did Someone Say NAACP Twitter Channel

This year the NAACP turned 100 and the challenges it faces are different both externally and internally. Like all organizations, they have to deal with the same core issue -how to stay relevant and differentiated. How does the NAACP address the problems of its constituents today?  How do they stay meaningful in people’s lives.  How does the organization attract and engage new contributors in its human rights mission? Who are its constituents?

Last fall the NAACP selected Ben Jealous as its new President and CEO.   What a good move. Ben is young, incredibly smart, trustworthy, steeped in the contributions of the NAACP, and yet at the same time, keenly aware of the organizations new role in the future. As Ben once said, [in the Brown v Board of Education era], “the fight used to be about going to the same schools, today people want to go to good schools.” I think he gets the relevance thing and the new challenges, but I suspect a 100 year old organization steers more like a tanker than a jet ski.

During the last U.S. Presidential elections, the NAACP demonstrated relevance through its voter registration efforts that used both old school get-out the vote techniques as well as viral, electronic organization methods. There are even some NAACP twitter channels which no doubt will be used to help engagement and generate heat on current events. This is a good start on the next 100.

It was even more exciting to learn that the NAACP is interested in exploring ways to use web 2.0, and open source tools and organization principles to enhance the impact of the organization. I suspect there’s a wealth of technical experience and an untapped willingness to assist out there which is available provided people connect with the purpose, and are given easy ways to engage. It will however require a new and broader concept of membership.

There are folks who’ll spend hours figuring out how to apply software to the problems, use social networks to spread information, make great contributions, and who may even remain anonymous, but they won’t go to chapter meetings or be involved in traditional ways. Morphing the organization to capture this kind of engagement will be essential to its future success, and I’m optimistic the current leadership will adapt.  For sure it will be uncomfortable and awkward at first, but the very willingness to solicit feedback and new ideas is a really good start. Merely communicating about the needs of the institution opens up the possibility for greater engagement by larger and more diverse audiences, all for the good.

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